May 29, 2009

Complementary pursuits

"Just as we should enjoy all things in moderation, any strength becomes a weakness if not balanced by complementary pursuits."
~ Barbara Fredrickson, in Darwin's regret.

May 26, 2009

The Obama Effect tested and disconfirmed

In the post Obama and stereotypes I speculated how the election of Barack Obama might affect stereotypes and vulnerability to stereotypes. Thinking about the amazing studies by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson and other researchers (see for instance this post: 5 Experiments that make you think) I wondered whether it might enhance things like test performance and academic performance of African Americans. An article in The New York Times (Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers), describing research by Ray Friedman, David M. Marx and Sei Jin Ko suggested that, ideed, there might be such an Obama effect. But Joshua Aronson commented that the design of the study in question was problematic so that there was no reliable evidence for this presumed Obama effect.

May 25, 2009

What happens when we understand something?

"We often make the fatal mistake of thinking growth opportunities come to an end when something or someone becomes part of our daily routine. When things become familiar and predictable, we become mindless drones. We tune out. As soon as we think we understand something, we stop paying attention."
This quote reminds me of a post Avoiding automaticity which I wrote some time ago. I agree with Todd that when it seems like you fully understand something this is always wrong. When you curiously explore that thing you'll find out there is always a great complexity beneath your current understanding which offers great opportunities to learn. This process of exploration is basically asking yourself some questions like: What do I precisely understand about the topic?, How could I explains this topic in simple terms? How does it work?, How do I know this?, How does this topic relate to other topics?, How can I understand how and why other people view this topic differently?

May 23, 2009

When and where can you find solutions?

(Repost) I have made a simple visual to illustrate when and where solution-focused practitioners may look to find ideas for solutions. It is based on the assumptions that the intensity of problems and successes always fluctuates. In other words no problem is there all the time. There are always times when things are a bit better, or a lot better. The picture visualizes this schematically. So, my question is: WHEN and WHERE do solution-focused practitioners look to find ideas for solutions? This video provides two answers.

May 22, 2009

Scaling questions used in organizational transformation employee attitudinal surveys

Nick Dayton has the following question:
"In reading about solution focused change and appreciative inquiry as it pertains to organizational development and transformation, I'd like to develop and integrate scaling questions into an upcoming employee satisfaction survey. Do you have examples or can you point to examples of scaling questions used to determine employee satisfaction and engagement in an organization undergoing significant cultural and other changes? I can come up with some myself, but I'd like to use some if possible that have expert development and some degree of validation and positive past use. Thanks in advance for your help and insights."

Has anybody got any ideas or experiences to share on this?

May 20, 2009

Future Reality Show Question

In this video we showed how evoking positive behavior descriptions lead to positive action. By inviting people to describe their future in terms of positive and behavioral terms, the likelihood increases that they will start behaving positively. One reason why this happens is that positive behavior descriptions bring people in a positive mood which opens their mind and makes them more creative and aware of opportunities (see Barbara Fredrickson's broaden and build theory). Another reason is that, as neuroscientists have discovered, there is a strong and automatic link between perception and behavior. In other words, perceiving a positive future automatically sets in motion a tendency to start behaving accordingly (even when it is an imaginary positive future which you have described yourself).
I emailed with Ben Butina and he mentioned an interesting question to evoke a positive behavior description I did not yet know. It relates to visible behavior and Ben calls it Reality Show. Here is how ben describes the question: "Now suppose I was making a reality show about your life. I'm following you around everywhere you go and I'm filming everything. What will I see that will show me [CHANGE]? Imagine that, next year, I'd come back a second season. What further changes would I see?"

May 18, 2009

Creating happiness by embarking on a longer-term program

"Interestingly, the familiar phrase pursuit of happiness implies that happiness is an object that one has to chase or discover. I don't like that phrase. I prefer to think of the creation or construction of happiness, because research shows that it's in our power to fashion it for ourselves. [...] To continue accruing happiness-boosting benefits, you will need to embark on a longer-term program. The good news about a lifelong plan to build and sustain personal happiness is that the effort to do so is greatest when the new behaviors and practices you'll learn don't yet feel natural, but with time the required effort diminishes, as such strategies become habitual and self-reinforcing."

May 17, 2009


Paul Watzlawick used to tell this story: "It seems a chronically ill patient waits in the hospital for the famous diagnostician. The physician steps into the examining room with his medical students in tow and looks over the patient. "Moribundus" he says, telling the students the patient is dying. Some years later the patient runs up to the doctor to thank him. "Everyone told me I could never get better until they knew what was wrong with me. When you said I had moribundus, I knew I could recover."
Thanks to Lynn Johnson through whom I learned this anecdote
Also read: Language matching

May 16, 2009

I miss the audaciousness of the early years

In a recent interview Gale Miller, who was involved as a researcher at the Brief Family Therapy Centre in the time the approach was developed, talks about his mixed feeling about where SF is now. This is something to think about. Here is the quote:

"I have very mixed feelings about what's happened [...]. There is no denying that this approach has become more influential in the world than anyone could have imagined. You think about this little group of less then ten people in Milwaukee formulating something that would be applied in medicine, schools, businesses, and on and on ... it's unthinkable, too big for me to get my head around. So in that sense it has exceeded its potential. But all of this has been achieved at some costs - that's where my mixed feelings are. One of these costs is what I would call a decline in 'openness to whatever works'. Because it has become more crystallized in the teaching and writing people do, questions that get explored are narrower now than they were in 1984 - you could ask anything you wanted then to see if it worked better. But when you develop an identifiable approach, then you have the question about ‘is this SF?' I miss the audaciousness of the early years - it's not that it has become a religion or anything like that, but it has become narrowed."

May 14, 2009

How can you continue to invoice an insurance company?

This interesting question came in today:
"Many clinicians here in the USA are cautious on the SF approach deeming it overly simple ... as well as their love and admiration for the "diagnosed problem." In fact a lead at one of the nations leading children's hospital noted that he considers his team's work a "diagnostic mill." So ... the SF approach, which seeks to enhance the functional capacity (regardless of the specific diagnosis) is much too uncomplicated. And ... how can you continue to invoice an insurance company when a person comes to the 'best hopes' in 3 sessions?"

I am no psychotherapist so I am reluctant to answer. Who's got some useful tips on this?

May 13, 2009

The effort is the prize

"In the end the great truth will have been learned that the quest is greater than what is sought, the effort finer that the prize (or rather, that the effort is the prize), the victory cheap and hollow were it not for the rigor of the game."
~ Benjamin Cardozo, former justice of the US Supreme Court, quote found here, p18

May 12, 2009

Who is the first to notice improvement?

In his book Words Were Originally Magic (1994), Steve de Shazer (SdS) describes an intriguing type of observation suggestion. He describes a case in which he ends his session with his client and her case manager as follows:
"And so, what we suggest you (looking at client) do, between now and next time we meet, is to observe whatever you do and whatever happens that begins to move you up to 4, and gets you up to 4. Ok? But keep this a secret to yourself. Keep it a secret from the case manager. Let’s see if she can figure out when you have moved up that one step. As soon as you (looking at client) reach 4, you call and set up another appointment. And as soon as you (looking and case manager) think she has moved up one step in the scale, you call and set up the appointment. Whichever one’s first."
Then he writes:

May 11, 2009

Nonlinear dynamics and SF

Yesterday, I asked Paolo Terni to write a bit about his experiences with nonlinear dynamics and about what he sees as the link with the solution-focused approach. Here is a new blogpost by Paolo on that topic.
"My fascination with nonlinear dynamics goes back to my University years: my 1994 dissertation was about applying nonlinear dynamics concepts to team dynamics. In the mid 90s I had the privilege to work with Stephen Guastello, and Jeffery Goldstein; we did some work for IBM here in Europe - complexity was hot back then." Read on.

May 9, 2009

Marcial Losada

Marcial Losada, whom I mentioned yesterday in my review of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, is a psychologist who works as a consultant and researcher. With Barbara Fredrickson, he wrote Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing (2005). Their work has led to important insights into how positivity affects human functioning. One thing that distinguishes Marcial Losada from the large majority of consultants and researchers is that he uses nonlinear dynamics to make sense of the complexities of human interaction. Later this year, his book Meta learning: The nonlinear path from languishing to flourishing in relationships and teams is planned to come out. If you can't wait for that to learn more you can read Want to flourish? Stay in the zone and Work teams and the Losada line: new results.
I'm curious what you think of this approach.

Update oct 2013: I have written a post about how Losada's approach have been shown to be flawed: Fredrickson & Losada's Positivity Ratio built on quicksand

May 8, 2009

Review of Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson

Review of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive by Barbara Fredrickson
Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and a pioneer of positive psychology, specializes in research on positive emotions and human flourishing. She is best-known for her so-called broaden-and build theory of positive emotions. This book describes in an accessible and captivating way what the research by her and her colleagues has taught her about what positivity is and what is does.
In her explanation of what positivity is, she mentions ten forms of positivity: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. As to what positivity does, maybe it is best to start with six facts she mentions about positivity: 1) positivity feels good, 2) positivity changes how your mind works, 3) positivity transforms your future, 4) positivity puts the brakes on negativity, 5) positivity obeys a tipping point, 6) you can increase your positivity. A briefer way of describing what positivity amounts to is that it opens your mind and helps you get on a positive trajectory, an upward spiral. In other words: it makes you flourish. Flourishing is more than being happy. In Barbara Frederickson's words: "Flourishing goes beyond happiness, or satisfaction with life. True, people who flourish are happy. But that's not the half of it. Beyond feeling good, they're also doing good -adding value to the world. People who flourish are highly engaged with their families, work, and communities."

May 7, 2009


As I have said before, I think the concept of strengths is overemphasized in positive psychology (read Overemphasizing strengths). I do, however believe in the usefulness of concepts like thriving and flourishing. While I fear that a primary focus on measuring, applying and developing strengths is too individualistic, focusing on thriving or flourishing allows for a more realistic interactive, dynamic and situationalist perspective.
In Barbara Fredrickson's book Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive (which, by the way, I am very impressed with), she explains the concept of flourishing like this:

Curiosity as an engine for growth

Todd Kashdan describes in his new book Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life how curiosity functions as an engine for growth:
"By being curious, we explore. By exploring, we discover. When this is satisfying, we are more likely to repeat it. By repeating it, we develop competence and mastery. By developing competence and mastery, our knowledge and skills grow. As our knowledge and skills grow, we stretch and expand who we are and what our life is about. By dealing with novelty, we become more experienced and intelligent, and infuse our lives with meaning. Curiosity begets more curiosity because the more we know, the more detail that we attend to, the more we realize what there is to learn. Why? When we embrace the unknown, our perspective changes, and we begin to recognize gaps -literal and figurative- that weren't apparent before."

May 6, 2009

Don't be too timid about your actions

"Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, (found the quote in this book)

May 5, 2009

Overwhelming negative emotions with positive ones

"To deal with emotions, our general advice is to take constructive action. Rather than worry about labeling emotions, diagnosing their causes, and figuring out what to do, you can often overwhelm whatever negative emotions a person might have with positive ones. This is done if you express appreciation, build affiliation, respect autonomy, acknowledge status, and choosing fulfilling roles."
~ Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro in Beyond reason

May 1, 2009

Positive Organizational Scholarship blog: Leading with lift

Monica Worline, Bob Quinn, and Ryan Quinn have launched a new blog on the topic of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS): They intend to post a new entry each week that 1. Introduces a piece of POS research, 2. Explains its implications for practicing leaders, 3. Depicts the concepts in a story or current event. Sounds like an interesting blog to follow.

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