December 30, 2010

Attributional charity

The fundamental attribution error
The fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency of people to over-value factors inside the person to explain observed behaviors of others while under-valuing the influence of factors outside the person for those behaviors. Put differently, people overestimate the importance of dispositional factors and underestimate the importance of situational factors. We do this in particular when explaining behavior of other people. When we try to explain our own behavior, especially when things did not go well, we have more consideration for situational factors.

December 29, 2010

Bad baskets spoil good apples

I have just finished reading Philip Zimbardo's book The Lucifer Effect, How Good People Turn Evil. Zimbardo is the social psychologist who ran the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, which was 'a classic demonstration of the power of social situations to distort personal identities and long cherished values and morality as students internalized situated identities in their roles as prisoners and guards'. The book's website, The Lucifer Effect, gives, among other things, an overview of the book's content, and contains sections about heroism, resisting influence, and dehumanization.

December 24, 2010

This year's blogposts

I enjoyed blogging this year. I learned a lot from writing these 229 posts and from the interaction that emerged from them. Thanks to all the followers of this site. Here is a selection of some of what I think are some of the most interesting posts.
  1. 3 Tips for students of the solution-focused approach
  2. 6 critical reflections on the importance of doing what works
  3. A mathematical look at change can be helpful for practical change professionals
  4. Applying the strength of weak ties to find a new job

December 23, 2010

Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions

In the post Losing the surplus problem, I said that people who feel bad sometimes have a surplus problem. Their primary problem is that they feel bad, their secondary problem, the surplus problem, is that they feel bad about feeling bad. They view the fact that they feel bad as a problem. This may be because they feel that their feeling bad makes them abnormal. In that post I argued that it is not uncommon for people to think that other people don't have as many problems as they have. "One reason for this may be that from the outside ‘inner stresses’ are usually rather hard to perceive. When people experience problems they will, in general, put on a happy or brave face when showing themselves in public. We generally don't wear our heart on our sleeves. From a distance people usually look rather calm and controlled. This may falsely create the impression that we have problems while other people don't. And it may explain why we are susceptible for professionals who try to convince us that experiencing difficulties must mean we need (their) professional help."
Having negative emotions is normal. Other people experience it too although that is sometimes hard to see. A new study confirms that people tend to underestimate the prevalence of others' negative emotions.

December 21, 2010

Leadership and attribution styles: does modesty work?

Cora Hagen asked me an interesting question about Jim Collins' Level-5 leadership relates to Martin Seligman's explanation of optimistic attribution styles. First, I'll explain these concepts briefly and then I'll reflect on Cora's interesting question.

Level 5 leadership: the window and the mirror
In Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team have analyzed the leadership behaviors of leaders of extraordinarily successful companies (more about this here). They called the leadership style of these leaders Level 5 leadership which was characterized by professional will and personal modesty. Collins uses the metaphor of the window and the mirror to describe how Level 5 leaders talk about failure and success. When results are poor, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors or bad luck. When results are good, they look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company to other people, external factors and good luck.

December 7, 2010

What would you like to learn to like?

Have you always liked everything you like now? Did you always appreciate every type of music you appreciate now? Have you always enjoyed doing everything you enjoy doing now? I think you will answer these questions with 'no'. Apparently, what we appreciate is not fixed, it can and will develop over time. I remember, it must be more than 20 years ago, how I put down a book which I disliked because I found it extremely boring and abstract. I was very surprised when, a few years later, I found myself reading in the book thinking how marvelous it was and what a great resource it was. It struck me how much my frame of reference must have changed and how different my sense of what was interesting apparently had become.

December 4, 2010

The Center of all Things

Nice video. I agree. I think this: A challenge for individuals as they grow up is to become less egocentric; for humanity it is to become less anthropocentric

December 2, 2010

Effective conversation: focus and sensitivity

Achieving success often depends on many factors like knowledge, experience, planning and organization, access to capital, technology, timing, and luck, and so forth. But nearly anything in life we would like to accomplish also critically depends on our conversation and communication skills. Ineffective conversation can be spoiler of success. When is conversation effective?

Effective conversation depends critically on 1) a focus on what you want to achieve and 2) sensitivity to the frame of mind of other people. This clear focus makes it possible to concentrate on what needs to change and on what that change should result in. In general, people appreciate the honesty and the clarity of focusing on the desired situation. Sensitivity to the frame of reference of the person you’re talking to is just as important. It enables you to communicate in subtle and respectful manner. In general, people find it very important to be taken seriously. When you take them seriously, it will be very likely that they will to the same to you. People have a strong tendency towards reciprocity; they tend to respond to a positive action with another positive action.

November 30, 2010

Formulate one very optimistic statement about the world or humanity

Of course, I know, throughout the world in each and every life there are many problems and there can be lots of suffering. I acknowledge that. Also, I know that there are serious problems and threats going on in the world, right now. Having said this, I think it is very important to also acknowledge that many things in the world are going right and that with respect to many important issues things are actually improving and have been improving for a long time. Also, I think it is important to acknowledge that many pessimistic predictions of the past have not come true. Believing positive change can happen and that we can make it happen is important because the belief that beneficial change is under our control is a prerequisite to achieving it. With that in mind, in this recent post, I formulated a list of optimistic statements. Here are a few examples:

November 29, 2010

Preserving the client's words in solution-focused practice (micro-analysis findings)

Anton Stellamans and Paolo Terni mention on their websites unpublished micro-analysis research by Janet Bavelas, Harry Korman and Peter de Jong comparing solution-focused therapists (SFT) on the one hand with cognitive behavioral and motivational interviewing therapists (CBT/MT) on the other. This micro-analysis focused on the degree to which therapists: 1) preserved the clients words (literally or deictically), 2) deleted (overlooked) words or phrases of the client, 3) rephrased what the client said in altered form, and 4. added to what the client said. The following findings were presented:

November 27, 2010

Interview with Claude Steele

By Coert Visser (2010)

Professor Claude Steele is a social psychologist and the Provost of Columbia University. He has written the book Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us about the work he and his colleagues have done on a phenomenon called 'stereotype threat'. Stereotype threat is the tendency to expect, perceive, and be influenced by negative stereotypes about one’s social category, such as one’s age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, profession, nationality, political affiliation, mental health status, and so on. Stereotype threat can be harmful by creating racial, gender, and social class achievements gaps in schools and in the workplace and tensions across group lines. In this interview Claude Steele explains, among other things, what stereotype threat is and what can be done about it.

How would you explain in simple terms to people like teachers, managers, and policymakers what stereotype threat is and why it is important for them to be informed about it?

November 25, 2010

Vivid descriptions of positive future events can start to feel like descriptions of events which have already occurred

As I have written about several times before, the solution-focused approach helps to build a bridge between success in the past and success in the future. I have proposed that when a client defines a desirable future he or she does so by tapping from positive memories. After all, how can we desire for something we have no knowledge of and experience with? In my post Positive memories are building blocks of desirable future scenarios, I cite research which supports this presupposition.

November 24, 2010

Coaching positively enables people to open up cognitively, perceptually and emotionally and helps them to visualize their desired future

Advantages of giving students choice in homework

Solution-focused trainers and teachers give their students much choice in homework. They assume that students are motivated and will do what they can and feel they need. A solution focused trainer or coach will generally not check whether the student has done the homework well. Instead, he or she will assume that the student wll have had a good reason for doing or not doing the homeworks. I once observed (or I read about it- I forgot) Insoo Kim Berg in a training. A student walked up to her with a guilty expression on her face, saying: "I am afraid I have not done all of my homework ... I am so sorry about that. Is that a problem?" Insoo smiled and answered as follows: "It is not a problem. I suggest you act as if you have done all of your homework." Then she wishpered in a conspiratorial tone: "I bet we won't even notice you haven't done all of it." The student walked away smiling.

The belief that beneficial change is under our control is a prerequisite to achieving it

Research into self-theories has shown that the belief that beneficial change is under your control is often a prerequisite to achieving it. This even applies to personal attributes which have long been viewed as immutable both by psychologists and laymen, like intelligence and personality. Research by Carol Dweck has shown that people who see intelligence as unchangeable, a view which she calls a fixed mindset, develop a tendency to focus on proving that they have that characteristic instead of focusing on the process of learning. They tend to avoid challenges and respond defensively to failure. When people view intelligence as a potential that can be developed, a view which Dweck calls a growth mindset, this leads to the tendency to put effort into learning and performing and into developing strategies that enhance learning and long term accomplishments (Dweck, 2006).

November 21, 2010

Assumptions In Solution-Focused Change

What is solution-focused change?
What I call ‘solution-focused change’ is an approach to helping people achieve change which is based on solution-focused brief therapy (de Shazer, 1988; Walter & Peller, 1992; De Jong & Berg, 2001; ) and which is now used also in fields like coaching, management and teaching. Solution-focused change can be defined as an approach in which a practitioner, for example a coach or therapist, supports clients by viewing and treating them as unique and competent, being responsive to whatever they say, helping them to visualize the changes they want to achieve and to help them make progress by help them build step-by-step on what they have already been doing that works while meeting non-negotiable demands (Visser, 2010).  Well-known solution-focused techniques are scaling questions (de Shazer, 1986), the miracle question (de Shazer, 1988), coping questions (Lipchick, 1988), exception-seeking questions (de Shazer, 1985) and past success questions (de Shazer, 1985).

November 17, 2010

The Motivation Continuum (Self-Determination Theory)

Also read: Self-Determination Theory Meets Solution-Focused Change: Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness Support in Action

Discovery learning only works well when there is guidance

Activating students to try out and discover things for themselves is a modern and great approach to education. It also fits very well with a solution-focused perspective. The idea is that discovery learning could be better than instructive explicit instruction because students are actively engaged and will feel competent and motivated when they find solutions themselves. Also, these solutions may be remembered better.

However, I sometimes feel that this approach of discovery learning is taken too far in practice. This is the case when students don't really understand how they should try out and discover things, and when they start off but get stuck early on yet receive no further help. Louis Alfieri and his colleagues have done a meta-analysis which shines a light on the relative merits of instructional and discovery learning. Here is the abstract:

November 16, 2010

Self-Determination Theory in the Huffington Post

As you may know I am a 'fan' of Self-Determination Theory and I wrote an article in which I looked at the Solution-Focused approach through a Self-Determination Theory lens (read the article here).

Now, there is an article on Self-Determination Theory in The Huffington post: "Edward Deci and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester have led the way, with an aspirational framework known as self-determination theory. I find it amazing that this remarkable tool hasn't made its way into the public consciousness. Self-determination theory is a veritable GPS to fulfillment, decoding our innermost longings and linking the world of science and spirit. It's been vetted by hundreds of scientists in more than a dozen cultures." Read full article >>

November 14, 2010

3 Tips for students of the solution-focused approach

Jennifer Gordon, a student of social work in Ontario, Canada, is interested in the solution-focused approach and doing a project on it. She asked me what my advice to student social workers on the solution focused approach would be. Although giving advice is something solution-focused professionals are generally a bit reluctant about, being asked for advice is often nice and it makes one feel appreciated. So, I have given it some thought and here is my advice. If you are, or want to become, a student of the solution-focused approach I have three tips for you.

November 13, 2010

Language style matching in writing: synchrony in essays, correspondence, and poetry

Ireland ME, Pennebaker JW.

Each relationship has its own personality. Almost immediately after a social interaction begins, verbal and nonverbal behaviors become synchronized. Even in asocial contexts, individuals tend to produce utterances that match the grammatical structure of sentences they have recently heard or read. Three projects explore language style matching (LSM) in everyday writing tasks and professional writing. LSM is the relative use of 9 function word categories (e.g., articles, personal pronouns) between any 2 texts. In the first project, 2 samples totaling 1,744 college students answered 4 essay questions written in very different styles. Students automatically matched the language style of the target questions. Overall, the LSM metric was internally consistent and reliable across writing tasks. Women, participants of higher socioeconomic status, and students who earned higher test grades matched with targets more than others did. In the second project, 74 participants completed cliffhanger excerpts from popular fiction. Judges' ratings of excerpt-response similarity were related to content matching but not function word matching, as indexed by LSM. Further, participants were not able to intentionally increase style or content matching. In the final project, an archival study tracked the professional writing and personal correspondence of 3 pairs of famous writers across their relationships. Language matching in poetry and letters reflected fluctuations in the relationships of 3 couples: Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, and Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Implications for using LSM as an implicit marker of social engagement and influence are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved). Full article >>

November 8, 2010

Research: Solution Focused Techniques Help Improve Mental Health and Employment Outcomes

Can Solution Focused Techniques Help Improve Mental Health and Employment Outcomes?

Authors: Wells, Alyson; Devonald, Melanie; Graham, Victoria; Molyneux, Rebecca

Solution Focused Techniques have their routes in therapy and have evolved into a broader framework for facilitating lasting change and improving psychological health. The Solution Focused Approach explores future possibilities with a person rather than finding out about their past and focusing on their problems. Instead the focus is on finding a person's resources and exceptions to the problem they are having. This piece of research aimed to test the hypothesis that applying Solution Focused in the context of an employment agency, such as Jobcentre Plus, would improve not only the mental health, but also employment/activity outcomes for unemployed people.

November 7, 2010

Sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits

Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits.

By Reis, Smith, Carmichael, Caprariello, Tsai, Rodrigues, & Maniaci,. - Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 99(2), Aug 2010, 311-329.

Abstract: Sharing good news with others is one way that people can savor those experiences while building personal and interpersonal resources. Although prior research has established the benefits of this process, called capitalization, there has been little research and no experiments to examine the underlying mechanisms. In this article, we report results from 4 experiments and 1 daily diary study conducted to examine 2 mechanisms relevant to capitalization: that sharing good news with others increases the perceived value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically, and that enthusiastic responses to shared good news promote the development of trust and a prosocial orientation toward the other. These studies found consistent support for these effects across both interactions with strangers and in everyday close relationships. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)

November 4, 2010

Subtly provoking positive language and amplifying rapprochment in solution-focused mediation

One domain in which the solution-focused approach is used is conflict management. Solution-focused professionals are asked to mediate between conflict parties. Sometimes there may be a conflict in a team in which case the solution-focused professional may have many conversation partners at once. Sometimes there may be two conflict partners such as colleagues, neighbors or a married couple.

Many, if not all, of the solution-focused principles and techniques are useful in these types of situations. Some specific examples of particularly useful interventions are:

November 2, 2010

Problem induction

In this post, I told you about problem induction. Problem induction is a term solution-focused theorists use to describe how professionals may evoke client problems through their interventions. By 1) asking certain kinds of suggestive questions ("But are you really happy in your relationship?"), 2) sharing certain kinds of impressions ("I get the impression that you have quite a bit of suppressed anger"), 3) offering certain kinds of diagnoses ("it seems like you have an anger management problem"), and 4)  directly stating the client cannot proceed without professional help ("I advise you to seek professional help to learn to deal with your anger in a healthy way"), client may start to think their problems are worse than they thought and that they are dependent on the professional to solve them.

9 indications that intelligence can be developed


October 31, 2010

Solution-focused coaches manipulate clients in the direction of their own choice by subtly directing their attention

Did you like the video I posted on magician and pickpocket Apollo Robbins? It's good entertainment, isn't it? But that is not the only reason I find it interesting. As the scientists in the video explain neuroscience can learn a lot from magicians about the workings of the nervous system. Good magicians, like Apollo Robbins and Derren Brown, are masters of manipulating the nervous system to create the illusion of magic.

October 27, 2010

Encouraging self-compassion in solution-focused coaching

Trying to boost someone's self-esteem can be rather unwise. In an earlier post I have explained that the idea that we first have to feel good about ourselves before we can function well is wrong. Trying to improve people's functioning by praising them abundantly in order to make them feel good about themselves does not work. In fact, trying to boost someone's self esteem is likely to encourage an unrealistically positive self-perception, a lack of concern for others, a tendency to dismiss negative feedback, trivialize one's own failures, take less accountability for one's own harmful actions, and agressiveness.

October 26, 2010

Losing the surplus problem

My view is that problems and tensions are an inevitable part of life. A life of constant comfort, completely free of fear, dissatisfaction and frustration is, I am convinced, an illusion. Why this is so? Well, the complexity of life brings with it unpredictability and lack of clarity. It is inevitable that we will be confronted with conflicting demands, adversity and opposition to what we try to accomplish. Also, the complexity within us brings with it that we will have contrary impulses and doubts.

Solution-Focused Interaction Grid

October 24, 2010

Creating impact as an educator requires facts and sensitivity

"Being an educator is not only getting the truth right but there has got to be an act of persuasion in there is as well. Persuasion is not always "Here’s the facts, you’re either an idiot or your not!". It’s "Here are the facts and here is a sensitivity to your state of mind. And it’s the facts plus the sensitivity, when convolved together, which creates impact."

~Neil deGrasse Tyson (source - 1:08-1:32)

October 23, 2010

People whose confidence in closely held beliefs gets undermined may become stronger advocates of those beliefs

When in Doubt, Shout! Paradoxical Influences of Doubt on Proselytizing
by David Gal and Derek D. Rucker

A seminal case study by Festinger found, paradoxically, that evidence that disconfirmed religious beliefs increased individuals’ tendency to proselytize to others. Although this finding is renowned, surprisingly, it has never been subjected to experimental scrutiny and is open to multiple interpretations. We examined a general form of the question first posed by Festinger, namely, how does shaken confidence influence advocacy? Across three experiments, people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined. The effect was attenuated when individuals affirmed their beliefs, and was moderated by both importance of the belief and open-mindedness of a message recipient. These findings not only have implications for the results of Festinger’s seminal study, but also offer new insights into people’s motives for advocating their beliefs.


October 19, 2010

My 21 videos on the solution-focused approach

Teaching solution-focused skills to elementary school children

Every now and then people say things to me like: "They really should teach elementary school children solution-focused skills!" I like the idea and I know, here and there around the world, there already  are some examples of how children of this age (5-11) have been taught some of the solution-focused techniques and principles. I am curious about what you think and what you know about this and I have three questions:
  1. Do you think it would be a good idea to teach elementary school children solution-focused skills?
  2. If no, why not? If yes, what are some of your ideas about how this could be done effectively? 
  3. Do you know of any examples of how this has already been done? (If yes, tell us about it)

October 18, 2010

A belief in willpower as a non-limited resource makes people stronger in their ability to work through challenges

Ego Depletion—Is It All in Your Head? Implicit Theories About Willpower Affect Self-Regulation

by Veronika Job, Carol S. Dweck and Gregory M. Walton

Much recent research suggests that willpower—the capacity to exert self-control—is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion. We propose that whether depletion takes place or not depends on a person’s belief about whether willpower is a limited resource. Study 1 found that individual differences in lay theories about willpower moderate ego-depletion effects: People who viewed the capacity for self-control as not limited did not show diminished self-control after a depleting experience. Study 2 replicated the effect, manipulating lay theories about willpower. Study 3 addressed questions about the mechanism underlying the effect. Study 4, a longitudinal field study, found that theories about willpower predict change in eating behavior, procrastination, and self-regulated goal striving in depleting circumstances. Taken together, the findings suggest that reduced self-control after a depleting task or during demanding periods may reflect people’s beliefs about the availability of willpower rather than true resource depletion.

Conclusion: A belief in willpower as a non-limited resource makes people stronger in their ability to work through challenges


October 17, 2010

Science should become less reluctant to answer questions about morality

The dominant view among both scientists and laymen is that science can say useful things about the workings of the physical universe and about the invention and refinement of technology but nothing about what is morally true and about how we can best lead our lives. Sam Harris has written a book, The Moral Landscape, in which he challenges this view saying that science's reluctance to take a stand on moral issues has come at a price which is that science seems to have divorced itself from the questions which are most important for people's daily lives.


May there be levels of thriving which none of us have yet reached and ways of thriving which none of us have yet discovered?

October 16, 2010

Is it okay?

Is it okay to complain about complaining? To be intolerant about intolerance? To stop violence violently? To criticize criticism?

October 14, 2010

Post #1000

Here we are at post 1000!

In 2005, I first heard about blogging and I remember I did not really understand what it was. They explained it was something like an online diary and quickly decided it was nothing for me. In 2006, a few people suggested to me to start blogging about the solution-focused approach. Although this surely sounded a lot better than 'online diary' I replied that I really could not see myself writing something on a nearly daily basis. Where on earth would I get ideas to write about so frequently? But after turning the idea down, I kept thinking about it and decided to try it out anyway so that I could better judge whether it would be something for me or not. I started a Dutch blog and several months later I started this blog, in February 2007 and decided to see where it would go.

6 critical reflections on the importance of doing what works

Doing what works is one of the core principles of solution-focused practice. Doing what works means that when you try to accomplish something you pay careful attention to what is working, or has worked before in a comparable situation, and do more of that. Another aspect of doing what works which most solution-focused practitioners adhere to is 'If it ain't broken, don't fix it' which means something like, 'If something seems to be working well enough, there is no need to change it.'

I am generally a fan of the principle doing what works (the title of my first book was even Doen wat werkt, which means -you guessed right-  doing what works). But because I believe in the value of critically examining and challenging your own views and practices I'd like to reflect critically on the importance of doing what works and to think about some objections, complications and limitations. Here are six:

October 12, 2010

Who Confronts Prejudice? The Role of Implicit Theories in the Motivation to Confront Prejudice

Aneeta Rattan and Carol S. Dweck

Despite the possible costs, confronting prejudice can have important benefits, ranging from the well-being of the target of prejudice to social change. What, then, motivates targets of prejudice to confront people who express explicit bias? In three studies, we tested the hypothesis that targets who hold an incremental theory of personality (i.e., the belief that people can change) are more likely to confront prejudice than targets who hold an entity theory of personality (i.e., the belief that people have fixed traits). In Study 1, targets’ beliefs about the malleability of personality predicted whether they spontaneously confronted an individual who expressed bias. In Study 2, targets who held more of an incremental theory reported that they would be more likely to confront prejudice and less likely to withdraw from future interactions with an individual who expressed prejudice. In Study 3, we manipulated implicit theories and replicated these findings. By highlighting the central role that implicit theories of personality play in targets’ motivation to confront prejudice, this research has important implications for intergroup relations and social change. Source

October 11, 2010

Top 40 posts on Solution-Focused Change

We are approaching the 1000th post on this blog (this is post 997 - I miscounted yesterday) so maybe it is nice to step back for a moment and have a look at the posts. So that is what I did. I took some time to look over all the posts on the site and selected a few which I like best. Below is that list (in semi-random order):

Forget about automaticity (and other tips on forming good habits)

A few days ago, Peter Damoc commented on my post about Building healthy and productive habits. He mentioned how hard it is to form good habits and and asked me for some additional insights. This is what I said:

"Thanks for your interesting comment. I sympathize. I have found it hard to form good habits, too. Reading about this research does help me understand a bit better and I think brings it a little more under my control. Here are some thoughts:
  1. It may take longer than you think: 66 days seems to be an average but for some people it takes a lot longer. I think I have often stopped too soon to reach automaticity.
  2. It depends on the behavior. Gym and meditation certainly seem to qualify as complex behaviors, so I think you should expect automaticity to take long.

October 6, 2010

Judgmental and confrontational style of communication style of doctors seems to work counterproductive

On this site I found a summary of research on the effects of doctor's communication styles:

"Researchers found that three months after a visit to the doctor, those patients whose doctors talked about diet and weight loss in a more motivational fashion using predominantly reflective or empathic statements — were much more likely to lose weight, compared to those whose physicians used a more judgmental or confrontational style of communication. Patients whose physicians communicated well lost about 3.5 pounds three months after the visit, which is substantial given most overweight and obese patients gain weight over time. Read the full article."

Interesting. A judgmental and confrontational style of communication style of doctors seems to work counterproductive.

Building healthy and productive habits - how do you reach maximum automaticity?

Research Digest Blog has an interesting post on How to form a habit which describes research by Phillippa Lally and colleagues. Habits can be defined as those behaviors that have become automatic, triggered by a cue in the environment rather than by conscious will. Building healthy and productive habits is, of course, very useful but little systematic research into habit building has been done. Lally's research in which she asked participants to adopt a new health-related behavior suggests some interesting things:
  1. 66 days needed on average: The average time to reach maximum automaticity was 66 days.
  2. It varies per person, though: The time it took to build maximum automaticity varied greatly between participants from 18 days to a predicted 254 days. This is much longer than most previous estimates of the time taken to acquire a new habit. 

October 5, 2010

The BRIEFER project - capturing the solution-focused process in an expert system

One of the interesting projects that was done by the pioneers of the solution-focused approach was the BRIEFER project which tried to formalize the therapy process and capture it in an expert system. In the interview I recently did with Wally Gingerich, he tells about how he looks back on BRIEFER and about what it was about and what it amounted to.

"I had been interested in expert systems for some time, and Steve was also interested in computers, so we hit on this idea of developing an expert system that would serve the advising function of the team behind the mirror. The therapist would conduct the first part of the session, then come behind the mirror and ask the computer what kind of task to give the client. The computer would ask questions about what happened in the session and the therapist would answer. After about half a dozen interactions the computer would make its recommendation and the therapist would go back into the room and give the task. This is a simplified version, of course, but that was the idea.

October 4, 2010

Creating value with people

Creating value with people seems to require 2 things:
  1. a focus on what you want to achieve, 
  2. subtle and respectful communication

Wisdom is keeping a balance between knowing and doubting

What is wisdom? In a book chapter on wisdom, organizational scholar Karl Weick builds on age-old wisdom by philosophers like Confucius who said: "To know that one knows what one knows, and to know that one doesn't know what one doesn't know, there lies true wisdom".

Weick quotes J. Meacham (1990) who wrote: "The essence of wisdom ... lies not in what is known but rather in the manner in which that knowledge is held and in how that knowledge is put to use. To be wise is not to know particular facts but to know without excessive confidence or excessive cautiousness. To both accumulate knowledge while remaining suspicious of it, and recognizing that much remains unknown, is to be wise."

October 1, 2010

For that, you have to be Superman!

Jan Kuipers told me a nice example of a solution-focused conversation he had had with a young school child. Paul is boy who has driven his teacher to despair by pushing all the light buttons every time he walks out of the class room. The teacher has told him time and again not to do that, but he just keeps on doing it, claiming he can not leave it.

Jan met Paul and asked him whether he had an idea about how he could walk out of the classroom without pushing the buttons. Paul thought for a second and answered: "That is so hard, for that, you have to be Superman!" Jan smiled and thought for a second. Then he asked: “Oh, is that right, can Superman do it? Can you show me how he does that?" Paul answered: “I can't, for that I need to have Superman with me!" "Aha, I understand”, Jan said, "and do you have Superman?” “Yes, I do!” said Paul enthusiastically, “Shall I get him?” “Ok, do it”, Jan said and Paul ran out of the classroom.

September 30, 2010

A Self Determination Theory perspective on effective management

As you may know, I am a fan of Self Determination Theory (SDT) and I am convinced there is strong parallel between SDT and the solution-focused approach (read my article in which I explain this). The two researchers who have done most of the pioneering work in SDT are Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Bestseller author Daniel Pink (of Drive) describes their work as "an absolute treasure trove of research on human motivation”.

A new article by Karen McKally, Self Determined, features Deci and Ryan's work and describes an interesting SDT perspective on management. It is good food for thought.
What’s a Boss to Do?
Self-determination theory does not offer a license for permissiveness, say Deci and Ryan. Nor is it meant to promote individualism, an idea that assumes the needs of individuals and the community are in conflict. Instead, the theory relies on shared commitments and responsibilities. So how do you, as a boss, a teacher, a parent, or a doctor, encourage autonomy while ensuring that goals are met? Here are some guidelines:

September 29, 2010

Helping applicants prepare for their job interview with the STAR technique

In general, it is wise to prepare well for a job interview because it will help you communicate more effectively about your experiences and qualities. Here is a way to help job applicants prepare for their job interview (or yourself if you're the one who is applying for a job) that I have found to be very effective. This way of preparing, which can be seen as very solution-focused, is based on the so-called STAR technique.

STAR is an acronym which stands for Situation - Task - Action - Results. The interviewer asks the candidate to think of a situation that is relevant for the job. Then, the interviewer asks the applicant what his or her task was in that situation (what was expected from the applicant given his or her role). After that, the applicant is asked to describe actions, what he or she specifically did to solve the problem or accomplish the task. Finally, the candidate is asked to describe the results, outcome of his or her actions.

September 28, 2010

Interview with Wally Gingerich

By Coert Visser (2010)

Wallace Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Social Work at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. As a core member of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee (BFTC), Wisconsin, in the 1980s, he has been an important contributor to the development of the solution-focused approach. In this interview, he looks back on how and why he joined BFCT and on how the solution-focused approach emerged in the next few years after he joined. Also, he talks about the BRIEFER project and about a soon to be published review of the research on the effectiveness of the solution-focused approach. Finally, he reflects on the ways the solution-focused approach may further develop.

Could you tell a bit about when and how you got involved with the Brief Family Therapy Center?

September 27, 2010

How desirable is progress?

Many posts on this blog take the idea that progress is desirable for granted (for example this one, this one, and this one). In fact, I view SF essentially as an approach to help clients to make progress in the direction of their own choice. I view progress as crucial for finding meaning and gratification in life. You could say I'm a fan. But there is another and less attractive site to progress as well which may be interesting to reflect upon. Here are four less attractive sites to progress.

1. Inherent aversiveness of progress: although progress has a beautiful and rewarding site to it, you might also argue it also has an inherent aversive site to it. For instance, imagine you are a doctor who has the opportunity to improve his diagnostic skills. On the one hand this seems attractive because this offers a greater sense of competence. On the other hand it can be threatening because this new insights might confront you with a greater awareness of the fact that your previous diagnostic skills were not so good. You may even become aware of some serious flaws in your previous diagnoses which may have endangered your patients. This mechanism may apply to may circumstances. For example, if you fundamentally change your outlook on some important topic - religion, politics, etc - this may feel like progress and as something good in the sense that it is more realistic or constructive. But at the same time, it may be aversive because it may make you wonder how you could ever be so stupid or wrong not to have understood what you now understand.

The psychologist's bias cont'd: misattributing situational effects to dispositional causes

In this post I have said that I think, independent variables in positive psychology are usually too narrowly chosen by over-emphasizing strengths and virtues as possible causal factors of flourishing and focusing too little on contextual, situational, or structural factors. I said it would be good to put more focus on other determinants of thriving than strengths and happiness, in particular situational determinants.

In this post I quote Claude Steele who, in his book Whistling Vivaldi, stresses the same point by saying: "I am a psychologist with a psychologist's bias - that of looking inside people for the causes of their behavior and achievements. [...] Psychologists focus on the internal, the psychological. [...] We emphasize things about the actor - characteristics, traits, and so on - that seem like plausible explanations for her behavior. And we deemphasize, as causes of her behavior, the things we can't see very well, namely, the circumstance to which she is adapting".

September 26, 2010

Solution-focused before you ever heard of it

Before I had ever heard about the solution-focused approach I have on several occasions in my life, I guess intuitively,  acted and thought in a very solution-focused way. One of these occasions which I remember ironically took place in the beginning of the 1980s around the time the approach was developed. 
Many solution-focused colleagues have told me they too have acted and thought solution-focused before they heard about the approach. I am curious about your experiences. 

September 22, 2010

An adaptive mind-set

"An adaptive mind-set is the opposite of what is conventionally considered a visionary approach. An adaptive mind-set is highly pragmatic. It values tangible facts about today more than guesses about tomorrow, doesn't expect that everything will work out as planned, and prefers lots of small failures to big ones. Above all, an adaptive mind-set is willing to say, "We learned something new; we need to change course."

~ Eric Beinhocker, source The Origin of Wealth, p 348

September 20, 2010

The dual human nature: competitive and cooperative forces

Traditionally, many people in business and economics have thought the human tendency to compete was much more important and powerful than the human tendency to cooperate. They thought that human selfishness, greediness and hunger for power and status could only be controlled and limited by strict rules. But this view of human nature is very limited.

Although a competitive side of human nature does indeed exist, it is complemented and countered by another side of human nature which is about cooperative tendencies, which are equally important and powerful. In their excellent book Secrets of the Moneylab, Kay-Yut Chen and Marina Krakovsky describe these two sides of human nature as follows:

September 19, 2010

Progress-focused Circle technique exercise

Here is a nice little exercise you may do with a training group or team to make them familiar with the solution-focused circle technique. The exercise does not have to more than 20 minutes. Invite the participant of your group to form duos. Ask them to draw two circles on a piece of paper, an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle represents what has already been achieved. The outer circle stands for what has yet to be achieved.

Ask the couples to interview each other using the following questions.

1. What would you like to get better at? Think of a something you enjoy doing (a hobby or a sport for example) and which you would like to get better at. Please name that activity. (Suggestion for the interviewer: give the interviewee some time to think if necessary).

2. What are you are already good at?: mention and write down what can be written down in the inner circle. What have you already accomplished? What are you already good at? What is going well? (Suggestion for the interviewer: encourage the interviewee and keep asking 'what else?', nothing is too small).

3. What needs to be in the outer circle?: mention and write down what you want to learn, master and/or accomplish next.  What do you want to achieve? What would you like to become better at? (Suggestion for the interviewer: help the interviewee to phrase what comes in the outer circle in positive terms).

4. What is your next step forward? which thing from the outer circle would you like to move to the inner circle first? Think of a small step to make a start with that.

September 18, 2010

Applying the strength of weak ties to find a new job

Trying to get a new job? Have you sent out many application letters but without any success? Well, sending application letters in response to job openings might no be the most effective approach to getting a new job. Maybe a change of tactic may help open some new doors for you. First, here is a brief explanation. After that, I'll offer a suggestion of how you may use it.

The power of weak ties
Sociologist Mark Granovetter wrote a classic publication in 1974 called Getting a Job. He has studied how people had actually found their current job and found out that 56% of them had found it by networking, 18,8% through formal channels (job openings, recruiters), and 20% by applying directly. Furthermore, he found that of the people who had found their job through networking (which the majority of the people did), 16,7% found it through a close relationship (a "strong tie"), someone whom they met a least once a week, 55,6% found it through a relationship they met only occasionnally, more than once a year but less than twice a week (a "weak tie"), and 28% through a relationship they met with only rarely, once a year or less (an insignificant tie). The surprising conclusion is: people usually don't find their new jobs neither through formal channels, nor through close friends and relationships. Instead they find them through weak ties, people they meet only occasionally, people in the periphery of their personal network. The reason is your friends and close relationships move in the same circles as you and see and know roughly the same as you. What they know, you are likely to know too already. But the weak ties people introduce you into new worlds. They have links to new networks and see what you don't see. Therefore, they may be the people who may catapult you into new environments.

An example of using the power of weak ties

September 17, 2010

Assumptions of solution-focused career guidance

One of the areas in which the solution-focused approach is applied is career guidance (see this article from 2004: Realistic career guidance). The solution-focused approach to career guidance differs quite a bit from a traditional approach. Here is an explanation of some of these differences.

Usually, in career guidance, the professional has the role of an expert. This expert usually administers different types of tests, determines what happens in the sessions and provides much advice to the client.  The dominant approach to career guidance follows a linear approach which, in a simplified form, can be summarized as follows:

September 16, 2010

Secrets of the Moneylab: How Behavioral Economics Can Improve Your Business

I have now started to read Secrets of the Moneylab: How Behavioral Economics Can Improve Your Business by Kay-Yut Chen and Marina Krakovsky. A rather important change has been (and is still) taking place in the science of economics in the last few decades. In 2002, the Nobel prize was awarded to psychologist Daniel Kahneman "for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty" and to Vernon L. Smith "for having established laboratory experiments as a tool in empirical economic analysis, especially in the study of alternative market mechanisms". The increasing popularity of the experimental method in economics had led to -and is further leading- to importants insights about what motivates human beings and how they decide in matters of money.

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