January 30, 2009

Intrinsic motivation supporting communication

In response to this video I got a question from Jim: "So Coert, what is the solution? How should a parent encourage a child to exhibit certain behaviors in ways that support intrinsic motivations?" Thanks for that question. For those interested here are some suggestions for reading more about how you can communicate in ways that are likely to support intrinsic motivation:

January 28, 2009

The knowing-how-to-proceed scale

The scaling question, which was invented by Steve de Shazer, may be the most popular solution-focused technique. This article explains the basic steps you take when asking scaling questions: Scales: practical change tools. It also describes four common uses of scaling questions: 1) success scales, 2) motivation scales, 3) confidence scales, and 4) independence scales. Here is a video example of the use of the scaling question.

Here is an example of the independence scale, an application which can be very useful but which quite a few solution-focused practitioners don't know. The independence scale is often used in situations in which the client has some kind of decision problem, for instance a dilemma or a career choice. The effect of the independence scale is often that it strengthens the independence of individuals or groups in the process of change. Here is an example of how the independence scale may be formulated.

January 27, 2009


Knowing what you want to accomplish focuses your attention and guides you in a constructive direction.

~ Claire Raines & Lara Ewing in The Art of Connecting (2006)

January 26, 2009

How excellence is achieved

Excellence is often the product of cooperation, and even individual achievement typically is built on the work of other people's earlier efforts.

~Alfie Kohn, (1993)

There is nothing inevitable about ...

One of the phrases that impressed me most in Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey Sachs was: "There is nothing inevitable about...." Here is how he used it in the book: "There is nothing inevitable about Africa, or any other region, remaining stuck in extreme poverty." It was not long ago that large parts of Asia suffered extreme poverty too. But as we know, Asia has started a great economic climb. Why wouldn't this be possible for Africa? There is nothing inevitable about its current problems.
The phrase 'there is nothing inevitable about' could be applied to many other things too. For instant to the topic I wrote about yesterday: the test performance gap between different ethnic groups. It is a well known fact that -on average- Afro Americans score lower than other groups in tests for intellectual ability. But there is nothing inevitable about this. Here are two arguments for this assertion. One is the Flynn effect, which says that average IQ test scores over generations can rise drastically. Certain ethnic groups have managed to close performance gaps within a few generations. Now there is reason to believe that Afro Americans have begun to do that too. William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn have observed that Afro Americans have gained 5 or 6 IQ points on non-Hispanic whites between 1972 and 2002. A second reason to believe that these performance gaps are bridgeable lies in the promising research on stereotype threat.

January 24, 2009

Obama and stereotypes

When Barack Obama got elected I wondered how it might affect stereotypes and vulnerability to stereotypes. Stereotypes, and the feeling of being stereotyped, can have some strong effects on performance. Researchers like Joshua Aronson and Claude Steele have done studies on stereotype vulnerability (the tendency to expect, perceive, and be influenced by negative stereotypes about one’s social category) which allow for some optimistic expectations on bridging performance gaps between different social and ethnical groups (read my earlier posts: Stereotype vulnerability research: bridging social and ethnical performance gaps, 5 Experiments that make you think, and Self confirming beliefs). I wondered whether Obama's election might both lessen stereotypes about Afro-Americans and strengthen a growth mindset in this group.

January 23, 2009

The most powerful idea in science

Scientific American has a special issue out on Evolution, which it calls the most powerful idea in science. The issue is, of course, full of information on the history of the theory of evolution and its recent developments and on its originator, Charles Darwin. As an appetizer, here are just a few quotes from the issue:
  • "A Victorian amateur undertook a lifetime pursuit of slow, meticulous observation and thought about the natural world, producing a theory 150 years ago that still drives the contempory scientific agenda."
  • "Darwin's breakthrough insight was not that a simple mechanism -natural selection- made evolution possible. Rather it was that in organisms whose environment changed nonrandomly and whose reproductive success in that environment depended on inherited traits, evolution became inevitable."

January 22, 2009

A curious aspect of the theory of evolution

A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it.
~ Jacques Monod.
I found this quote in this book: Why Evolution Is True (by Jerry A. Coyne)

Doen wat werkt

Here is my new book (in Dutch). Translated the title means DOING WHAT WORKS

January 21, 2009

What's important is that it works

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.

~Barack Obama

January 19, 2009

The fun of learning

The website Mindhacks is a constant source of stuff that is entertaining and informative. Here is a contribution that deals with exactly that combination: learning and fun.

One of the many negative things about the misconception that education is about transmitting content is the idea that any fun you have is taking time away from proper learning, and that 'proper learning' shouldn't be fun. Learning can and should be fun. This is not just a moral position, but a scientific one too. Read on

January 18, 2009

Solutions for the educational and medical sector

In 2001, I came across the work of Clayton Christensen. He is one the world's leading authorities on innovations. Here the review I wrote back then of his book The Innovator's Dilemma. In this book introduced the concept of disruptive technologies. In every industry the focus tends to lie on improving their best selling products because they can generate the best highest profits. But then some smart people (usually working at a large and leading company) develop a disruptive technology. This is a technology which makes the product smaller, simpler, more accessible and cheaper. During the early stages of the development of a disruptive technology, its performance cannot compete with the traditional product. Therefore existing clients are hardly interested in the product which makes it impossible to sell high volumes and achieve high profits at first. This is why these disruptive technologies are often discouraged. What tends to happen then is that the developers of the new technology step out, start their own firm and start selling the product and step by step improve it. At a certain point, the product is not only simple, small and accessible but also its performance has become competitive or superior. This is when a whole industry tends to get disrupted.

January 17, 2009

Conversations with Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has done many interesting things in his remarkable career. Recently he has started to publish several series of thought provoking conversations (I haven't viewed all of them but I will). Here is an example. At the beginning he explains why he chooses this form of unmoderated conversations.

January 16, 2009

Highly effective tutors: how do they do it?

  • "These tutors often manage to avoid ever saying explicitly that the student has made an error. Rather, in the face of an incorrect problem step or a mistaken answer to a question, these tutors are likely to pose a question that indirectly implies the existence of some error and, sometimes, the location of that error. Their goal is to prompt students into retracing their own steps and "catching" their own errors, while avoiding the negative motivational consequences of pointing explicitly to mistakes and failures on the part of the students."
  • "These top tutors also seem less likely to provide explicit or effusive praise to students, especially praise directed at the person rather than the process of problem solving."

January 15, 2009


"Influence is inherent in all human interaction. We are bound to influence our clients, and they are bound to influence us. The only choice is between doing so without reflection, or even with attempted denial, and doing so deliberately and responsibly."
~John Weakland (Source: Hoyt, 2001: Interviews With Brief Therapy Experts)

January 14, 2009

Personality can be changed

Focusing on people's beliefs... helps us answer in more precise ways questions like: What personality factors allow people to function well in their lives - that is, to grow and learn, sustain satisfying relationship, achieve well in school and careers, be caring toward others, or recover from setbacks? This is because beliefs can typically be defined very precisely, measured very simply, and altered through interventions to reveal their direct impact.

January 13, 2009

Pacing and leading, hypnosis

In Tricks of the Mind I read some interesting stuff about how hypnosis is done. Here is a quote: "Hypnosis is based primarily on the understanding of pacing or feeding back the subject's experience to him and then leading him to the new desired behavior." The following example is given: "As you sit there, and as you, despite your environment, really focus on these words, and as you carry on reading this page, and the more you try to think about it, the more you'll notice the increasing feeling of wanting to scratch." So first there is the feeding back (pacing) of aspects of the current situation, and then, gradually, there is a shift towards the lead, which is a description of a new behavior or feeling.

Milton Erickson is known for his use of these kinds of hypnotic techniques in therapy. In fact, he is often seen as the father of hypnotherapy. And some solution-focused practitioners might use elements of pacing and leading too, in particular in such techniques as the miracle question. But the pacing and leading technique is probably more common than you think. When writing an article, for instance, authors often do the same. They start off by mentioning things which the reader will recognize as his current situations. The reader will be able to relate to the topic that way and will become interested to learn more. And in presentations it is also common to use pacing and leading.

January 11, 2009


"Science is unusual in that it is cumulative. It is a system built over time, wherein useful information is retained and ideas that simply don´t stand up are discarded, based on the confirmation of knowledge through testing. Science, like technology, is inherently progressive and by definition represents the model that can be shown to work best. ... [w]e live in a time when misguided aspects of relativist thinking are still around us and unscientific, scaremongering stories are popular with the media. Scientists are painted as the corrupt hacks of evil big business, and as proper thought is too easily drowned beneath waves of misinformed public feeling, we often forget the importance of evidence-based fact."
~ Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind, p267-268

January 10, 2009

"You must have a good reason to . . ."

".... When you feel your own lecturing and urge to educate without being invited by the client welling up inside of you, even though they are all with good intentions, instead slow down and catch yourself before you utter the usual preachy word and begin with a sentence that starts with . . . "You must a good reason to . . ." (drink too much, lose your temper, slap your child, wanting to kill yourself) and listen carefully to the client's answers. My experience is that some very bright and perceptive clients will catch on and immediately begin to either burst out laughing or say things like, "Not really, but I do drink a lot," and then explain what he or she must do to correct the situation. Of course this makes our job easy since we just need to follow up with . . . "What have you been thinking about doing, for a starter . . . ?" Some clients who have been hearing a great deal of "preaching" about what he or she ought to do, automatically begins to defend himself by listing all the "good reasons (or what others call them "excuses"). It is helpful to listen carefully to these and keep asking for more and more "good reasons." Most clients tick off 5 or 6 "good reasons" and then begin to repeat themselves. When you are patient, waiting for more "good reasons," then eventual arrive at the conclusion that you are not going to reprimand, cajole, or demand that he or she change. Many clients will say, "Actually, you know, I drink too much." Once the client has reached this point, then you can discuss what some ideas for solution might be the right approach to take."

~Insoo Kim Berg, 25 July 1934 -10 January 2007

January 7, 2009

Helpful questions and interventions research

An article by Tom Strong and Kate Nielsen, Constructive conversations: Revisiting selected developments with clients and counsellors, was published in Counselling and Psychotherapy Research.

The research identified five common themes that both counsellors and clients called core experiences in social constructionist conversations: 1. Exploring and adopting the client's perspective, 2. Identifying alternative perspectives, 3. Identifying strengths, possibilities and solutions, 4. Developing a shared understanding, 5. Struggling to talk in a different way.

Cliënts indicated the following aspects as the most helpful in the conversations: 1. Counsellor showing interest, 2. Counsellor stopping and checking in, 3. Counsellor asking questions to gain clarity, 4. Counsellor summarizing understanding, 5. Client responding to counsellor's understanding, 6. Asking similar questions repeatedly.
Hat tip to Gwenda Schlundt Bodien for mentioning this article.

January 5, 2009

Czech Article Translations

Kamila Novakova is a Czech solution-focused professional specialized in issues of organizational development and development of HR. She has translated two of my articles in Czech: A brief history of the solution-focused approach and Looking at the Other Side of the Coin (co-written with Insoo Kim Berg). I don't understand a word of what came out of the translations but they look interesting. Here they are:

Anotace - Pokud jako manažeři změníme způsob, jakým se díváme na lidi, můžeme najít mnohem jednodušší a snadnější řešení, takže se můžeme věnovat složitějším věcem, které vyžadují více času. Pro řízení lidí je třeba více než černobílé vidění. Přestože je jistě velmi důležité vyjasnit si očekávání a pravidla řízení, není to tak jednoduché, jak se píše v učebnicích. Řada dobrých manažerů zjistila, že řízení lidí je spíš umění než věda, a že je na čase rozvíjet a zdokonalovat uměleck… Pokračovat

1. Předchůdci přístupu zaměřeného na řešení V polovině minulého století doslova visela ve vzduchu změna. To se dotklo i psychoterapie jako profese. Mnoho psychoterapeutů bylo nespokojených s tradičními názory na psychoterapii. Od vzniku psychoterapie jako samostatné disciplíny převládal názor, že psychoterapie by se měla zaměřit na problémy a příčiny jejich vzniku (Walter & Peller, 2000). Terapeut byl vnímán jako odborník, který popíše povahu a příčiny problému tak, aby mohl být vyře… Pokračovat

January 3, 2009

Diagnosis skepticism

On the website Mindhacks there is an interesting article on DSM-V, the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual that defines mental illness: More on secrecy behind the new book of human troubles. Here is how Mindhacks cynically describes it:
"Diagnoses decided by an unelected committee in secret sessions that are legally prevented from discussing their work. Science marches on." Read more. Also read: New psychiatric diagnoses developed in secret, and Soft money in psychiatry muddies manuals, airwaves, and Against diagnostic checklists.

January 2, 2009

The synthetic principle

Unfortunately, it does not seem to be enough to protect the neutral objectivity of each separate science, in the hope that the knowledge generated by each will be integrated later at some higher level and used wisely. The synthetic principle will have to become a part of the fundamental axioms of each science.

~ Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, source

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