September 30, 2008

In what direction we are moving

"I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving."


"The brain can physically 'rewire' itself through adulthood, albeit in a more limited way in comparison to the process that occurs during childhood."
Source: Mindhacks

Also read: Every time we consciously focus our attention .....

September 29, 2008

The ongoing benefits of deliberate practice

Remember that I wrote about deliberate practice before? Here is some additional information on that:

"Irrespective of skill level, stimulating deliberate practice will likely improve performance."

September 28, 2008

Language matching

In solution-focused coaching, an important aspect in communicating with the client is to use the language of the client. Paul Watzlawick discovered that in helping clients working with the concepts of the client is much more powerful that using professional jargon (Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974). When you as a coach replace a word of the client by a professional term this usually works contrarily because the client may feel corrected or misunderstood. Solution-focused coaches join their clients as much as possible by using their language, both in their summaries and in their questions. This skill of solution-focused coaches is called language matching. It requires the coach to listen attentively and has several advantages.

A first advantage is that the coachee notices that the coach is very attentive which helps to make him feel taken seriously. A second advantage is that the coachee notices that the coach understands and accepts what he has brought forward. This gives the coachee a feeling of security and trust. A third advantage is that language matching helps the conversation to proceed fluently. This is because the coachee does not have to correct the coach and no time is lost on discussing the precise definitions of terms. Steve de Shazer was very skillful in matching his language with that of his clients. Often, in his questions, he used several words taken from the last sentence of the client.

Doctor inside

"Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. They come to us not knowing that truth. We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work."
~ Albert Schweizer

September 26, 2008

Brief attributional interventions

In my post of yesterday I mentioned the important solution-focused technique of creating an expectation of positive change. Some time ago I came across some research which beautifully proves the effectiveness of applying this technique. Timothy Wilson (photo), Michelle Damiani and Nicole Shelton have written a chapter entitled Improving the Academic Performance of College students with Brief Attributional Interventions in this terrific book. In it, they describe research by Wilson and Linville (1982, 1985). These researchers tried out certain interventions with students experiencing academic setbacks in the first year of college, which, by the way, is rather common due to the transition from one level of school to the next. The authors write:
First-year college students might be helped by an intervention that encouraged them to attribute any academic problems they were having to temporary factors. One way of accomplishing this, Wilson and Linville reasoned, would be to convey the simple message that many beginning college students experience academic difficulties, but that these difficulties tend to improve after the first year. The effects of this simple intervention were dramatic. Compared with the control condition, students in the treatment condition improved their grades in the following year and were more likely to remain in college.
Lots of replication studies and follow up studies have been carried out since and the results are surprisingly consistent. For more details read the terrific chapter. These results are very interesting from a solution-focused perspective. If we look more closely at what Wilson and Linville did with their intervention we can easily recognize two familiar solution-focused techniques: 1) normalizing, and 2) creating an expectation of positive change. The first part is normalizing: "many beginning college students experience academic difficulties". The second part is creating an expectation of positive change: "these difficulties tend to improve after the first year".

I am sure there is much more research that confirms elements of the solution-focused approach. I quite like this 'elementary' approach of researching solution-focused interventions. If we only rely on a more 'moleculary' approach, in which we only compare effects of sets of interventions combined, we miss the opportunity to learn on a more detailed level.

September 25, 2008

Creating an expectation of positive change

In his second book, Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy, Steve de Shazer began to emphasize the importance of creating an expectation of change (De Shazer, 1985). He claimed that change was inevitable and he more and more began to use interventions that were based on this assumption. By asking questions that implied that change was certainly going to happen, the therapist contributed to the client’s trust that the change was actually going to happen. An example of such a question is: “How will you know things will be better?’ This formulation implies that change is going to happen more than this formulation: “How would you know things would be better?” The latter formulation is more conditional, it leaves open whether the change is going to happen or not.
This is a fragment from this article.
Tomorrow, more about creating an expectation of positive change.

September 23, 2008

Non-confrontational influencing

In my latest Youtube video I mentioned Clayton Christensen saying:
"Never did success come through a head-on attack against the regulations and network effects that constituted the power of the status quo."
Christensen is specialized in the subject of disruptive innovation and perhaps he has never heard of the solution-focused approach. So why include him in a list of solution-focused quotations? Because his quote fits so well with the solution-focused approach. In the solution-focused approach can lead to fundamental shifts in thinking and doing but achieves this in a non-confrontational manner. Another person who has perhaps never heard of the solution-focused approach, philosopher Daniel Dennett, explains why:
"You seldom talk anybody out of a position by arguing directly with their premises and inferences."
A solution-focused coach does not confront his client and does not 'hold a mirror' in front of his client. Instead, he asks questions about what the client wants and what might help and works only with what the client says and believes. By asking these kinds of question he helps the client develop a more realistic, constructive and useful perspective. Sometimes solution-focused therapists and coaches get so enthusiastic about the approach that they want to start 'selling' it to their colleagues: "This is great, you should try this too". While this is usually well meant, the other person is often hearing a different message: "You way of working is wrong, you should work differently and I am going to tell you how!"
If you want to make the solution-focused approach available for other people you're advised to use a strategy that is congruent with the approach itself. In other words, don't sell it, be non-confrontational. Instead, be inviting and respectful. Leave people who are not yet interested alone and continue to do what works. Once they start showing interest, teach them. Insoo Kim Berg, in the early days, found out the hard way. She told me in my 2004 interview with her:
"I made the mistake of talking too much about what we were doing. That way it got too much attention. We should have just continued without talking much about it."

September 17, 2008

Solution-Focused terms and their origins

I have updated my page with solution-focused terms and their first mentions. You can find it here. Your corrections and additions are welcome.

September 16, 2008

5 tips for sustaining change

Every now and then I am asked what you can when a change process stagnates. How can you bring back energy in the change process? What can you do when the energy for change seems to disappear? What can you do when confronted with setbacks? A brief article I wrote a few years ago presents five tips derived from the solutin-focused approach.

1) Don’t focus on stagnation when it is not yet a problem
2) Look for signs that indicate that change will be maintained
3) Normalize it when it happens
4) Focus on what has been achieved so far
5) Apply again what worked before

In this article I explain a bit more about this tips. Maybe there are more tips that can be derived from the solution-focused principles (readers are invited to send them in).

September 15, 2008

Sue Young's Support Group Approach ≠ the No Blame approach

Yesterday, I received an anonymous comment about Sue Youngs solution-focused support group approach, an approach for responding to incidents of bullying. About half a year ago I interviewed Sue about this fascinating approach. You can read the interview here.

This comment contained two questions:
  1. If so, is the no-blame / support group approach to bullying "solution focussed", considering that it is widely held not to work? See this link: The comments from Prof. Dan Olweus are the ones with the most weight.

I contacted Sue and she was glad with the opportunity to clarify this. In brief: The no blame and Sue Young's support group approach are two rather different approaches with different interventions and different effects on children. Here are Sue's answers:

Is a solution focused approach supposed to work?

Yes, there is plenty of evidence that solution focused practice, whether support groups or individual solution focused interviewing, does work well in bullying situations. I cannot say that it always works – I don’t know that anyone would claim that solution focused strategies always work. On the other hand, I don’t know any other strategies that work more effectively, or I would recommend them!

If so, is the no-blame / support group approach to bullying "solution focused", considering that it is widely held not to work? See this link: The comments from Prof. Dan Olweus are the ones with the most weight.

The ‘no blame’ approach (as it was opriginally called) is different to my solution focused support group approach. For example, the no blame approach involves asking the child to do some writing or draw a picture about how bad they feel when they are being bullied whereas solution focused practice concentrates attention on times when the problem is not happening, what will be happening in the ‘preferred future’ and on behaviour rather than feelings.

The website mentioned refers to criticism of the "No Blame" approach - I very much regret the confusion between my approach and this one, caused partly because I acknowledged the 'no blame' approach as my starting point in my original published article. Maines and Robinson (authors of ‘No Blame’) have ever since claimed my approach was no different and used my successful outcomes as evidence for their strategy, and gradually changed the name of their approach to include ‘support group’ in their title. There is very little I can do about this! There are a lot of things I don’t agree with about the ‘no blame’ approach. My recommendations for support groups are in Coert’s interview (read it here).

Re the critisism of the ‘no blame’ approach on the website mentioned – and just to be clear about the difference in my support group approach: Unlike the ‘no blame’ approach, I do not advocate asking the child for a piece of writng about how they feel or telling the group how bad the child is feeling – I think these ideas are potentially harmful. If I were a parent, I would object to this too. The children in the support group are certainly not made to feel distressed. I would find that unacceptable. I want the children in the support group to enjoy it – that’s part of what helps it continue to be effective over the longer term! The support group meetings keep going until the child, the group, teachers and parents are all satisfied that the child is happy in school. I certainly recommend records are kept – I still have mine… Thanks for this opportunity to clarify this confusion!

The development of Charles Darwin's mind

"I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music."
"On the favourable side of the balance, I think that I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully. My industry has been nearly as great as it could have been in the observation and collection of facts. What is far more important, my love of natural science has been steady and ardent. This pure love has, however, been much aided by the ambition to be esteemed by my fellow naturalists. From my early youth I have had the strongest desire to understand or explain whatever I observed,—that is, to group all facts under some general laws. These causes combined have given me the patience to reflect or ponder for any number of years over any unexplained problem."
"My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive."
These quotes from Charles Darwin's autobiography illustrate the neuroplasticity of the human brain. During learning the brain constantly rewires itself. In this earlier post I wrote: "Our characteristics are less carved in stone than we tend to think. Dysfunctions are often less definitive than we have long thought. We can consciously keep on developing our brain and our functioning in general. And we do. Everything we do and think shapes how we further develop. Everytime we consciously focus our attention, we change structurally." One thing that is interesting about these Charles Darwin quotes is that they show the power of focused attention (Charles Darwin being one of the most influential thinkers of all time). The other thing that is interesting about it is that Darwin describes the use-it-or-lose-it aspect of mental abilities as well. He explicitly uses a muscle metaphor to the brain, by using the word 'atrophy', which current day many scientists do too. Here are some related posts: here, here, here, and here.

September 13, 2008

The client's uniqueness

"The more popular a therapy approach becomes, the more likely it is to gain the reified status of a "model". One ultimate result of this is that practitioners may become so focused on implementing the model that they lose sight of the client's uniqueness and the therapeutic relationship. Therapy works best when we adapt our methods to clients instead of queezing them into our preferred models and techniques."

~ John Murphy, professor of psychology at the University of Central Arkansas (source: Solution Focused Brief Therapy in Schools: A 360 Degree View of Research and Practice (Oxford Workshop Series), p 119). Indeed an important point to remember. What John Murphy says here is not limited to therapy. It is just as valid for coaching, techning, and management.

September 12, 2008

Understanding human actions

"I have labored carefully not to mock, lament, or denounce human actions, but to understand them."

When I read this quote I had to think about the solution-focused approach in which a coach or therapist patiently tries to understand what a client means and wants. If a client does or says something which may seem a bit strange at first, a solution focused professional may say something like: "You must have a good reason to say (or do) that....." which is an invitation to explain.

September 11, 2008

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

I watched this interesting NOVA DVD 'Judgment Day - Intelligent Design on Trial- Evolution vs. Intelligent Design'. Here is a brief product description.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial captures the turmoil that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in a landmark battle over the teaching of evolution in public schools. In 2004, the Dover school board ordered science teachers to read a statement to high school biology students about an alternative to Darwin s theory of evolution called intelligent design the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and so must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The teachers refused to comply, and both parents and teachers filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the school board of violating the constitutional separation of church and state.Now, NOVA explores the arguments by lawyers and expert witnesses in riveting detail and provides an eye-opening crash course on questions such as What is evolution? and Is intelligent design a scientifically valid alternative? Featuring trial reenactments based on court transcripts and interviews with key participants and expert scientists, this gripping program presents the celebrated case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District.

Also view this interesting video with Matt Damon (especially at 1:20 which is about Palin's views on intelligent design):

Hypothetical exception

In solution-focused therapy and coaching an important concept is the hypothetical solution. The hypothetical solution is term which refers to the situation in which the problem will have been solved. Through questions like the miracle question, the client is asked to imagine what the situation would look like when the problem will have been solved. The client is encouraged to describe what will be better in that situation. This is a standard solution-focused technique which is often extremely helpful.

I got a mail from solution-focused coach Daan Rookmakers. He told me he had improvised an interesting technique when a client of his could not find an exception or to his problem or an earlier success. After the client could not find an example of a situation in which things had been better, Daan asked: "'Imagine that you would be able to recall a situation in which things were better..... What could that situation have looked like?" The client could answer that question quite clearly and the conversation produced some very useful ideas for moving forward for the client.

You might call this strange question the hypothetical exception question. It is a nice example of the sometimes amazing flexibility of the human mind and the subtlety of the solution-focused approach.

September 8, 2008

Finding Solutions in Fluctuation

Here is a new Youtube video I have made. It explains how the solution-focused approach helps you to find solutions making use of the fact that any problem will fluctuate in its intensity.

September 7, 2008

Person-activity fit

"This is a theme that runs through my book. It is called person activity fit. You need the kind of strategy that fits your personality, your resources, your life style, your goals and interests."

I found this Authors@google video (I love this series by the way) through solution-focused coach Paolo Terni. I like this bit in the video because i think the importance of the concept of person-activity fit is underrated in positive psychology.

September 4, 2008

Mindset - questions to explore

"There are so many questions still to explore. One major question is how organizations or settings convey a fixed or growth mindset. For example, in a new study we are finding that even talking about geniuses and extolling them conveys a fixed mindset, whereas talking about people who fell in love with their chosen profession and developed amazing skills conveys a growth mindset. We want to understand all the different ways the mindsets are communicated. There are still many questions about how people function when they are in a fixed or growth mindset. For example, in new research we are seeing that when people experience a blow to their self-esteem, those in a fixed mindset repair their self-image by trying to feel that they are better than others. In a business setting this might take the form of a boss blaming or taking things out on an employee. Those in a growth mindset recover their self-esteem by trying to improve themselves and correct their deficiencies. We would love to know even more about the inner workings of the mindsets. Perhaps the most challenging research question is how best to create change in an organization as a whole. So far, we've had a great deal of success changing individuals' mindsets, but reorienting beliefs, values, and practices on a larger, system-wide scale is a more daunting (and exciting) task."

September 3, 2008

Dealing with negative thoughts (quote by Roz Savage)

"We all have those little negative voices that pop up in our heads - but they are not who we are. They are just voices - maybe echoes of people from our past, or our own self-doubts. They will always be there, but we can choose whether or not to listen to them. I try to discipline myself to acknowledge them, say to them, "Thanks for sharing", and then ignore them if they do not serve me well."
~Roz Savage (thanks to Jim Mortensen who pointed me to her site)

Meaning in life

Have you seen the interview with Elam Nunnally by Tapio Malinen which I mentioned three posts ago? It contains a beautiful quote on meaning in life:

nunnally.jpg"In life, making money and using power are meaningless, unless you also further the human condition. It doesn't matter what you work with, as long as you do what you do meaning well."

~ Elam Nunnally

Also read: Life is a point in time

September 2, 2008

Disrupting Class

"Never did success come through a head-on attack against the regulations and network effects that constituted the power of the status quo."
This quote is taken from the new book by Clayton Christensen, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, which he co-wrote with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson. This quote may be valid in many contexts but Christensen is specifically talking about innovation. I view Christensen, professor at Harvard Business School, as the world's leading expert on innovation. In 1997, he wrote the classic book The Innovator's Dilemma in which he explains the mechanism behind innovations that can disrupt whole industries (for more background on this read my review of The Innovator's Dilemma).
Disrupting Class is again a high class book. Christensen has applied his disruptive innovations theory to the US education sector en presents a crystal clear en compelling vision on what is going on in that sector. In a transparent way he also comes to a prediction of how education will change. Christensen foresees student centric education which is facilitated by online courses. Maybe I'll write more about this book which is a must read for policy makers, consultants and managers in the education sector.

September 1, 2008

Updated Youtube video on the history of the solution-focused approach

I have updated my Youtube video on the history of the solution-focused approach:

A Conversation with Elam Nunnally

Now, Tapio has translated from Finnish an interview from 1999 which he did with Elam Nunnally, who was an original member of the Brief Family Therapy Center, the institute where the solution-focused approach was developed in the beginning of the 1980's.

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