December 31, 2008


"Too many of us think [that peace] is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams, but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only immediate goal. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions -on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. [...] Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process -a way of solving problems. [...] So, let us not be blind to our differences -but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world save for diversity."
~John F. Kennedy, in his Peace address at American University, June 10, 1963

Everything has a small beginning

Omnium rerum principia parva sunt
(Everything has a small beginning)

~ Cicero, Roman statesman and philosopher, 106 BC – 43 BC

Thanks to Jim Mortensen who sent me this quote. I did not know this quote from Cicero but it reminded me right away of a quote by Peter Senge.

December 30, 2008

Jeffrey Sachs interview

Economist Robert H. Frank once found in research he did that studying economics appears to inhibit cooperative behavior. Students of economics are thorougly confronted with the too simple 'rational man' or 'homo economicus' theories which dominate economics and as they do they get less and less inclined to show prosocial behavior. For more information on this you may listen to this interview or read this research description or read this book.

One economist who certainly seems to have been able to escape this effect is Jeffrey Sachs. This leading economist is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. As can be read on his wikipedia page, Sachs is renowned for his work on economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization.

December 28, 2008

Magic and the brain

Interesting article in Scientific American. Magic tricks often work by covert misdirection, drawing the spectator’s attention away from the secret “method” that makes a trick work. Neuroscientists are scrutinizing magic tricks to learn how they can be put to work in experimental studies that probe aspects of consciousness not necessarily grounded in current sensory reality. Brain imaging shows that some regions are particularly active during certain kinds of magic tricks. Read the article.

An interesting demonstration of what the article is about is this video. Have fun watching it.

Most read posts of 2008

Here is the top 5 of most read posts written in 2008:

1. Positive psychology, the strengths movement and the solution-focused approach
2. Milton Erickson
3. A situational model of solution-focused change
4. Remembering Insoo Kim Berg
5. Poll: most frequently used solution-focused techniques

December 27, 2008

Broken window theory of crime reduction

An interesting post on BPS research digest about some new research which confirms The Broken Window theory of crime reduction, which was described in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Briefly, that theory says the following: Signs of petty anti-social behaviour really do have a powerful effect on people's tendency to disobey basic rules, even increasing their tendency to steal. More serious crimes can be averted by reducing low level crime such as littering and graffiti. Read the article here.

December 26, 2008


Some years ago I read the book Sync by Steven Strogatz. Now, Ted has posted a presentation by him, titled: How things in nature tend to sync up (I am posting the Youtube version here). It is very interesting to watch. Some beautiful pieces of film with flocks of birds, school of fish, and so but also some fascinating examples of inanimate objects synchronizing with each other. It is still largely an open question to me what all of this implies for human behavior but it is surely interesting to think about that question.

December 19, 2008

How relevant is homework?

Here is an interesting article (plus discussion) by Christine Duvivier on the relevance of homework: Have You Done Your Homework?
Did you ask your child about his or her homework this week? In parent circles, homework has become a point of contention. Parents ask each other, “Do you agree there is too much homework?” If you are one of the parents questioning students’ school assignments, you may want to do your own homework on this subject. Read on.

December 16, 2008


Not trying to convince people to use SF

"So, you are trying to get everybody to use the solution-focused approach?", asked the manager of the organization who had hired the solution-focused trainer, and he smiled. The solution-focused trainer smiled back. Then he said: "Well... actually we are not trying to do that...."
The manager looked honestly surprised and asked: "Really?" The trainer replied: "Really!" "Why not?", asked the manager. The trainer replied: "While I am very enthusiastic about it, it is not for me to say what approaches other people should use. However interesting the solution-focused approach is, I am aware it is not the only interesting and effective approach in the world. I know that not everyone is interested in SF and I think it is probably not the best approach in some specific situations. So, what I am trying to do is to train people who are interested in learning to use the approach, so that they can decide what they want to use and what not".

December 15, 2008

Derren Brown and priming

Have you looked up some video's of Derren Brown (see this post)? Here is an example: BMX trick. Doesn't that remind you of priming research? See for instance this example and this example of priming research.

December 13, 2008

The Amazing Brown

Gwenda Schlundt Bodien, knowing of my interest in skepticism, mentioned Derren Brown to me. This guy does illusionist trics which are really amazing and which make Uri Geller look like a beginner. Another difference between Derren Brown and Uri Geller is that, while Geller claims to have supernatural powers, Derren Brown is a self-professed skeptic regarding paranormal phenomena. This makes Derren Brown a worthy succesor of James Randi, a.k.a. The Amazing Randi. Here is a quote from the wikipediapage on Brown:

Teaching math without wasting a student's time

Working with what is already there can be an extremely powerful principle when instructing people. A math teacher used this principle to help a student who had to do a math re-examination. The teacher asked the student to make a list A consisting of topics that he already understood and a list B of topics which he did not yet understand. When both list were finished the teacher complimented the student with the result: "Wow, there are already many things you understand. Excellent!” Then, he asked: “Which is the first of the topics on the B list you would like to move to the A list? The student chose a topic from list B. The teacher asked: “Okay, let's start with that topic. I don't waste your time so before I started explaining things that you may already understand I'd like to ask you what you already understand about this topic.” The student explained what he already understood about it and what he did not yet understand about it. Then, the teacher explained the part he did not yet understand. This process was repeated with every topic on the B list. Every time when a new topic was discussed the teacher asked what the student already understood. By doing this, the student realized that he already understood parts of many topics of the B list and his self-confidence grew. Another advantage was that they could use the time very efficiently. No time was wasted on things that were already clear to the student. Topic after topic was mastered by the student with the help of the teacher. The student passed gloriously for his exam.

December 10, 2008

Impulse reduction

Arjan Broere pointed me to this video of Benjamin Zander. It is a lovely video to watch but there is one thing that I found particularly interesting. It starts as 01.12 and it ends at 04:06. The topic is impuls reduction. That is intruiging. In applying the solution-focused approach being able to control impulses is very important too. You don't just go with with every impulse or reflex. Instead you deliberately choose your interventions. Apparently, with practice the skill becomes more fluent and the number of impulses decrease.

Pacing: helping clients find an optimal speed of change

I was sent a copy of the article "The Family Has The Solution" by Don Norum (he is mentioned in this post). This article which is said to have been influential to the development of the solution-focused approach was written in 1978 by only published in the year 2000 (I don't know whether the 1978 version and the 2000 version are identical). The central them of the article is that because necessary changes for solving emotional problems exist within the family therapist's don't need to provide insight nor induce change but instead helps the family in identifying and applying their own solutions. An interesting topic in the article is the technique of pacing.

December 9, 2008

Aren't these questions too difficult?

On a solution-focused network site somebody asked me the following interesting question:

"Some of our participants who work in the social sector, regularly tell us 'these SF questions are too difficult for our clients and they ask us, how can we apply the SF approach with people who have limited mental (cognitive) abilities? My answer then is that you can take a SF attitude, use very simple or nonverbal language, make drawings, show objects etc.... I wonder: do you have more ideas about this? Have you trained people in actually doing this?"

December 8, 2008

Improving language, improving life (article)

Effective use of language can be surprisingly powerful. Not only can effective language help to improve cooperation with other people, it also can help you develop a more productive outlook on life. The purpose of this article is to help you make your language more constructive and effective. Many of these suggestions are based on recent findings in psychological research and on techniques which have been developed by solution-focused practitioners and researchers. Read on.

December 7, 2008

Happiness as a collective phenomenon

Here is an article that offers a network science approach to happiness: Happiness is a collective - not just individual - phenomenon. Here are some findings reported in that article:

The researchers found that happiness spreads through social networks. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year. The opposite is not the case: sadness does not spread through social networks as robustly as happiness. Happiness appears to love company more so than misery. They also found that popularity leads to happiness. People in the center of their network clusters are the most likely people to become happy. However, becoming happy does not help migrate a person from the network fringe to the center. Happiness spreads through the network without altering its structure.

An SF-approach to reducing hospital infections

Here is an interesting blog post by Paolo Terni: A case study: a solution-focused approach to reducing hospital infections.

December 6, 2008

Lang Lang and deliberate practice

Jim: When did you start playing the piano?
Lang: At 2 ½ years old.

Jim: How many hours a day did you practice?
Lang: For the first 15 years, 8 hours a day.

Jim: And now?
Lang: 3 hours a day.

Jim: Every day?
Lang: Yes.

Read more

December 5, 2008

Why are companies here?

"Why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists solely to make money. Money is an important part of a company’s existence, if the company is any good. But a result is not a cause. We have to go deeper and find the real reason for our being. As we investigate this, we inevitably come to the conclusion that a group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company, so that they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately - they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental."

~ David Packard, co-founder Hewlett Packard
Also read: Meaning in life

December 4, 2008

The Tallest Oak

"The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured."

~Malcolm Gladwell, source, p. 19
Also read: Geek Pop Star

December 2, 2008

Solution-focused practice in groups: room for ruminating on problems?

An interesting question was asked in the solution-focused change LinkedIn group:
"I've had great success by leading with SF questions and techniques. By immediately focusing on where we're going, I've been able to set the right tone. On the other hand, I can tell that some people are disappointed that they didn't get a chance to ruminate on problems. Anyone else experience this?"
This is the suggestion I gave:

How good does it get?

Here is a new article based on some earlier posts on this site: How good does it get?

Positive thinking seems to be back in style. Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, solution-focused change, and positive deviance are some popular positive change approaches. These approaches tend to focus on resources and virtues that enable individuals and organizations to flourish. Positive change approaches hold a great promise. Maybe they can help us to improve our lives, our organizations and hopefully even our world. But just how positive can we expect life to become? This may be an important question. If our expectations are too low, they can make us passive and thus prevent us from improving our circumstances. In these cases our expectations have become self-fulfilling. High expectations may be self-fulfilling too, up to a point. If they are unrealistically high, they can turn into a recipe for disillusion and frustration. Expectations play an important and sometimes paradoxical role. An example is a party. Sometimes you go a party with low expectations and you are pleasantly surprised by how much fun it turns out to be. At other times your expectations are high -this is going to be so much fun! - and it turns out rather disappointing. In these cases the contrast between what we expect and what we find seems to impact our feelings and behaviors dramatically. So, what is wise to expect about life? How good can life actually get? Is a problem-free life within our reach? Can we ever approach a total peace of mind, free of worries and fears? Can we always be feeling good about ourselves and our accomplishments and live in peace with our fellow human beings? Or is it wise to lower our expectations drastically and expect life to be one damn thing after another? Or is there a middle way? When is life good enough? Read on.

December 1, 2008

Barbara Arrowsmith Young

Norman Doidge's book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books) contains a fascinating chapter on a woman called Barbara Arrowsmith Young. As a child, she suffered from asymmetry in her brain which meant that she had both exceptional abilities (like her auditory and visual memory and a great drive) and signs of retardation and an asymmetric body. She had serious difficulties in the following areas: pronouncing words, spatial reasoning, kinesthetic perception, span of vision. She had trouble understanding grammar, math concepts, logic, and cause and effect and she behave odd socially because of her trouble understanding cause and effect relationships. Her emotional development suffered and she had few friends. She felt like living in a fog.

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