March 31, 2009

Google trends search reason for optimism?

On twitter I saw a tweet by TED host Chris Anderson about a google trends search he has done (click on the picture or here for the online page). Chris' remark: Do these Google search trends mean the global mood is starting to lift?'
I like the cleverness of this approach and maybe this indeed is an indication for an increase in optimism. What do you think?

March 29, 2009

The discounting principle

Paolo Terni sent me a video of a TED lecture by Barry Schwartz which contains an example of the discounting principle. The discounting principle describes the human tendency to discount our judgment about the causal role of one factor (for instance intrinsic motivation for playing the piano) when there are other plausible explanations (for instance being rewarded with candy for playing the piano) (Wilson, 2002). In other words: when you 'reward' someone for doing something this may well undermine his intrinsic motivation for the task and hurt his performance too (also read: Demotivating effects of incentive pay and Praise can demotivate).

Here is that example: "In Switzerland, about 15 years ago, they were trying to decide where to site nuclear waste dumps. There was going to be a national referendum and some psychologist went around and polled citizens who were very well informed and they said would you be willing to have a nuclear waste dump in your community. Astonishingly 50 % of the citizens said 'yes'. They knew or they thought it was dangerous. They thought it would reduce their property values but …. it had to go somewhere and they had responsibilities as citizens. The psychologist asked other people a slightly different question. They said: if we paid you six weeks' salary every year, would you be willing to have a nuclear waste dump in your community? Two reasons: it’s my responsibility and I’m getting paid. Instead of 50% saying 'yes', 25% said 'yes'."

Morality as a key to economic recovery

These days I find it useful to read Jeffrey Sachs. Here is a quote from a recent article by him, Capitalism and Moral Sentiments:
"The great scholars of capitalism, from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes, understood full well that a functioning economic system depends not on greed, but on moral sentiments and an acceptable social contract between the rich and the rest of society. The rich can make money, of course, but they must not flaunt it or consume it frivolously. Instead, they must invest their wealth for social benefit, whether in business or in philanthropy, or in both as in the case of history's most celebrated capitalist-philanthropists, from Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. It is only the dangerously arrogant rich or the servants of the rich who believe that morals don't matter in the great matters of finance.

March 24, 2009

Understanding Science

Some of the confusion of lately about whether Evolution is 'just a theory' or if it is factual has to do with a general misunderstanding of what science is. Some time ago, I quoted Derren Brown who said this about that: "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."

Now, there is a new initiative which can help to enhance general understanding of what science is: a website called Understanding Science. Here are some key points about science:

Tips for the G-20

Soon, on April 2, the G-20 meeting, the group finance ministers and Central Bank Governors from 19 of the world's largest national economies, plus the European Union, wil start London. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute, hopes the G20 will not only address issues like regulating the financial sector, reforming the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, avoiding protectionism and reciting the measures that individual countries are taking. He asks for a system of effective cooperation so that a coordinated effort can take place to solve the current problems. Also, he ask for special attention and action for fighting global poverty and mentions three topics in particular: 1) food security, 2) the fight against the three pandemic diseases (AIDS, Malaria, tuberculosis), and 3) clean energy investments in the poor countries. (read more about this here).

If you think Jeffrey Sachs is doing good work you might consider a donation to the Earth Institute.

March 23, 2009

Democracy in the workplace

Have you ever thought about what democracy can mean for the workplace? Do democratic workplaces exist? Maybe you have heard of Semco. But are there other companies using democracy? If so, how do they apply democratic principles? And what does that lead to? Does it work? Who benefits? Doesn't it make organizations very slow? Is there still a hierarchy in democratic organizations? Traci Fenton (photo) founder of worldblu has given a lecture at the University of Michigan which addresses these and other questions about democracy in the workplace. It surely does not answer all my questions but I think it is an interesting place to start exploring the question of how democracy in the workplace might be useful. View it here. Your experiences and comments on this are welcome.

March 22, 2009

Careful with that goal!

Several authors have accentuated the importance of well formed goals in solution-focused practice (for instance De Shazer, 1991; DeJong & Berg, 2008). So given my special interest in goals (and my belief that it is often wise to challenge what I think I know) I was interested to come across this blog post at The situationist: The downside of goal setting. One article mentioned in that post drew my attention in particular: Goals Gone Wild. The authors of this article acknowledge that goals can produce positive results but say that the challenging character of goals can also cause them to 'go wild': 1) When goals are too specific, 2) When goals are too narrow, 3) When there are too many goals, 4) When an inappropriate time horizon is used, and 5) When goals are too challenging. Goals gone wild can lead to: 1) excessive risk taking, 2) unethical behavior, 3) negative psychological consequences in the case of goal failure, 4) inhibited learning and cooperation, 5) a culture of competition, and 6) harmed motivation. The authors call for a use of goals with careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.
As always, comments about how any of this maybe useful (and other comments) are welcome.

March 21, 2009

Knowing is not walking

"There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."
~ Morpheus , character from The Matrix, played by Laurence Fishburne.
This week, while zapping a bit, I landed on a rerun of The Matrix (part 1). Having seen it lots of times, I intended not to keep watching but I failed :). The movie contains so many fascinating ingredients (storyline, acting, special effects, references to literature, etc) that it never fails to hold my attention. This quote about the difference between knowing the path and walking the path is an intriguing one. It reminds me of how the solution-focused approach is not so much explanation focused. Instead it is progress focused. It is a theme I have written about several times too. Full understanding is not necessary for making progress. Here is an example: You don't have to fully understand yourself or anyone else.

March 20, 2009

Breaking self-made rules in order to remain safe

"Any rules we found ourselves making we would generally try and break. It always seemed an unsafe idea to try to be safe."

~ Paul McCartney, source: The Beatles' Creative Disruption

March 19, 2009

Question: what got you here won't get you there

Here's a question I would love to hear some ideas about.

There is a book with a title which goes something like 'what got you here won't get you there'. I have not read the book but the title intrigues me. It sounds logical that what has worked to get you to where you are now is not necessarily the same thing that will work to get you to a higher level. I have seen this happen in coaching conversations. A controller said he was now at a 3 on the scale. What got him there was to slam his fist on the table in the management team meeting and to demand the attention from the other managers. What eventually got him to the level of 7 on the scale was something rather different though (asking questions, encouraging the other members to participate, helping, listening, responding patiently, etc). How does this idea of 'what got you here won't get you there' relate to SF's rule of: find out what works and do more of it? Any ideas about this?

Client Requirements Scale

Henri Haarmans sent me an email about how he uses the scaling question in IT project management:

"I use the technique during IT-projects very often. In an IT-project is very important that every participant from IT understands the requirements from the users very clear. The scaling question helps me to find out how clear the requirements from the users are, which information is missing and who can help the participant in finding the information. Mostly a workshop starts with presentation of the customer. In this presentation he gives an overview of all his wishes. After the question from the IT-people and most of the time a discussion, I ask the IT-people to give their knowledge of the wish of the customer a score on the scale from one to ten. The next question is why they give themselves that score and why they don't have a lower score or what knowledge they need to give themselves a higher score. If the IT-people have explained which knowledge they need more I ask the other participants who can help the IT-people. From that moment the people help each other and I can lean back. After a workshop I always repeat the scaling question, because that gives me the information about the usefulness of the past workshop."

March 17, 2009

What is doing what works? (2)

As the title of this blog suggests doing what works is one of the core principles of solution-focused practice. In an earlier blog post I have written about how doing what works is not always as straightforward as it looks.

In that post I explained that a too narrow here-and-now focus on doing what works may lead you to neglect the need for maintenance and investment. In other words, be careful not to become too short term focused in your pragmatism. Another example of how your time frame is important for determining whether something works or not is the following. There are cases in which something seems to be working well at first but after some time it turns out it doesn't.

As an example of this I mentioned how trait praise to children ("well done, you're very smart) at first seems to work well (proud smile) but after some time turns out to have negative consequences (avoiding challenges, giving up easily, not believing in the value of effort, ignoring useful negative feedback, feeling threatened by the success of others).

March 15, 2009

Saving new brain cells

Interesting article in the new Scientific American: Saving new brain cells by Tracey L. Shors (photo), neuroscience professor at Rutgers University, NJ. Here are the key concepts of the article:

  • Thousands of new cells are generated in the adult brain every day (neurogenesis), particularly in the hippocampus, a structure involved in learning and memory.
  • Within a couple of weeks, most of those neurons will die, unless the animal is challenged to learn something new. Learning -especially that involving a great deal of effort (effortful learning) - can keep these new neurons alive.
  • Although the neurons do not seem to be necessary of learning, they may play a role in predicting the future based on past experience. Enhancing neurogenesis might therefore help slow cognitive decline and keep healthy brains fit.

Also read: Challenge

Seeking after truth requires one thing

Peter sent me this (it is from one of Anthony de Mello's -see photo- books):

To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth the Master said:
  • If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.

  • I know: an overwhelming passion for it.

  • No, an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.

March 14, 2009

Embracing the Wide Sky

"Every brain is amazing [...] Anyone with the passion and dedication necessary to master a field or subject can succeed in it. Genius, in all its forms, is not due to any mere quirk of the brain; it is the result of far more chaotic, dynamic and essentially human qualities such as perseverance, imagination, intuition and even love. Such an understanding of the human mind enriches, rather than detracts from, the popular appreciation of the accomplishments of highly successful individuals."
~ Daniel Tammet in Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind

March 13, 2009

What it takes for professionals to change their professional views

Leo Tolstoy (photo) once said: "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."

Most people indeed find it hard to be open to new facts and change their views according to these facts. I have noticed that I sometimes wrestled with the fact that some of the professional views I used to have shifted gradually when I learned more. I guess what made it bit harder is that I had once published these previous views. A few examples of the topics are: intelligence, the strengths perspective, compliments. Here is roughly how my views have shifted. With respect to intelligence: I used to view intelligence as something that was largely fixed, now I have learned that it is far more valid and useful to see it as something which can be developed to a large extend.

March 12, 2009

Must deliberate practice be unpleasant?

Some time ago I wrote quite a bit about deliberate practice. Now there is one thing I keep thinking about with respect to deliberate practice. In Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Calvin says that deliberate practice is hard and not particularly enjoyable. He seems to rather stress how unenjoyable it is. But should it really be so unenjoyable?

March 11, 2009

The perils of accentuating the positive

Yesterday, an interesting book fell on my doormat: The Perils of Accentuating the Positive (edited by Rob Kaiser). In this book 15 authors challenge claims by some advocates of the so-called strengths movement that in order to flourish we should focus on identifying and developing our strengths instead of fixing our weaknesses. The authors argue that this perspective is dangerous and describe several problems. One of them is that there are important differences between an individual's strengths and what organizations and jobs ask of them. If individuals ignore the part that is asked of them but does not fit with their strengths, performance will suffer. A second problem is that a strict distinction between strengths and weakness is hard to make (for instance: strengths can become weakness when they are overused). A third problem is that the strengths perspectives ignores that working on weaknesses does matter (if a skill is required in your role and you're not good at it, it helps to improve it).

March 10, 2009

4 level scaling

With Solution-Focused Scaling Questions it is important to use effective scale anchors. This is particularly the case with the 10 position. Scales usually work best when the 10-position is defined not in too idealistic terms (the ideal future) but rather in more realistic terms (the desired situation, the situation you would be satisfied with). Being idealistic in your definition of the 10-position has two disadvantages. The first is that you can be sure that an ideal situation will never be achieved. Problem free, ideal situations don't happen. There are always problems, challenges, and tensions, they belong to life. A second disadvantage of the 10 as ideal is that it will make the client scale the current situation lower. When the 10 represents an ideal situation the client may score the current situation as a 2, while he may score a 4 or a 5 when the 10 would be defined as the situation that would be good enough. A too idealistic 10 can demotivate.
Riccardo Benardon and Marco Matera (see photos) have developed an interesting structure for using scales which prevents coaches and clients from using a too idealistic 10 position. Because the 10 position is often hard to achieve during the coaching Riccardo and Marco work with a 4 level scale. Riccardo has explained it to me and it works as follows:
1- before the beginning of the coaching
2- today
3- the end of our coaching process
4- the desired situation that will once (later) be achieved
It looks interesting doesn't it?

Restoring science's position

Obama's decision to lift stem cell research restrictions seems to be just one step in the restoration of the position of science in American society, which is great. He said: "Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values," and: "It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

March 8, 2009


Do you know our FORWARD acronym? Gwenda Schlundt Bodien and I made it up in 2007 to help beginners in the solution-focused approach to have a handy and simple tool to remember some of the basic elements of the approach. Often, they find it rather useful. Here it is, maybe you'll like it too.

Read more about it in Moving FORWARD with solution-focused change

March 5, 2009

Request - Links between SF and social psychology concepts

I am interested (and may write a book chapter about it in the future) in exploring links between solution-focused principles and techniques and concepts from social psychology. I have already begun to explore this some time ago. For a few examples see these posts on my websites: Reactance theory, Automaticity of goal development, Intrinsic motivation. I know these are only a few examples and I would love to hear more ideas (because I know there are many more examples) about overlaps between Sf and social psychology. Any ideas? Do let us know!

Using scales as a speaker

A few days ago Peter West from Canada (see his websites here and here) and member of the Solution-Focused Change Linkedin group sent me this message of how he uses scales as a speaker:
I'm asked to speak on a regular basis to executives who are between employment opportunities. I start by asking them how they'll know that the next hour was a good use of their time. This is to get them thinking and contributing rather than sitting back being "motivated" as one said he wanted from my talk. I explained to him that I don't do motivation. To help them discover if the talk was a success, I ask them to scale where they are right now on a happiness or satisfaction scale from 1 to 10. I get them to write that number down. At the end of the hour, I bring them back to scaling and ask them to write down where they are now and to notice whether the number went up (or down) and then we discuss why. Then I suggest they can use this handy technique any time to determine whether life/work/love is improving or not.
Also read: The Power of 11

March 4, 2009

11 on the scale

George Agafitei from Romania sent me the following case in which he used scales as a team coach:

The client is a small cosmetics' distributor in Romania. They have to organize their semi-annual event to which 150 were supposed to participate. According to their previous experience they need to send 300 invitations, most of them followed by at least one conversation. There are 4 people in the organizing team that need to do a lot of other activities, beside the event. The participants are cosmeticians from various towns in Romania. Two weeks before the event, the situation is desperate: only 50 invitations sent and only 5 confirmations. The goal: "how to achieve the target of participants in the short remaining period?" After about 40 minutes of working with the scale, with a lot of focus on what has already been achieved and previous successful experiences, the level of motivation was so high, I could feel it in the air. There were two people from the client side (the general manager and the marketing manager). Their faces spoke more than a million words. So, I asked: "You mentioned at the beginning of our discussion that on the scale of 0 to 10, you are at 2. Where are you now, at the end of our discussion?" The answer came spontaneously from both participants: "at 10!" (I was a little bit shocked. "How could this happen in such a short time?") After I have asked what is different for them now, I continued: "So, let's suppose that we have such a power that we can extend the scale. How does 11 (eleven) look for you?" :)) The marketing manager could not see anything at 11, as for her, the scale could not be extended. But the General Manager added a wildest action (she had a big smile on her face when she said "wildest"): to make an itinerary trip in largest towns and invite participants in short group presentations, in a warm and touching way. Two weeks after, they reached to invite around 250 people out of which around 120 participated. Happy client, happy coach!

March 3, 2009

Will and effort

"If there is no dark and dogged will, there will be no shining accomplishment; if there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant achievement."

March 2, 2009

Busy managers are not eager to try out someone's pet ideas

In a soon to be published article David Creelman has some useful advice for professionals:
Once you have educated yourself on a topic it is natural to become an enthusiastic proponent of the subject and urge managers to try it out. This is natural but it may not be the best strategy. Busy managers are not eager to try out someone's pet ideas. Enthusiasts often end up angry because no one wants to take advantage of their new expertise. The best strategy is to talk to managers about problems and opportunities. When you really understand their situation then you will eventually find situations where your newfound knowledge genuinely is of use. If you are working to address their need, rather than working to promote your area of interest, then you will be much more successful.

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