August 31, 2010

Deliberate practice overcomes plateaus and limits on improvement of performance

Since Sir Francis Galton’s book on Hereditary Genius, many scientists have argued that heritable factors set limits of performance and only allow a select few individuals to attain exceptional levels. However, recent research rejects the associated learning theory and its implied performance plateaus and shows that expert performance is mediated by acquired complex cognitive mechanisms. It describes different types of deliberate practice activities that develop and refine mental representations, which in turn permit attained performance to exceed performance resulting from extensive experience only. Empirical investigations are reviewed to show that expert performance and outstanding achievements will be primarily constrained by individuals’ engagement in deliberate practice and the quality of the available training resources.

Read complete article

Results driven improvement

I have mentioned the article Successful change programs begin with results by Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thompson before on this site (here). In that post, I did not link to the original article because I could not find it online. Now, I have found it (it is here) and I recommend that you, as someone who is interested in the solution-focused approach, read it. Here is what I wrote about the article in my previous post:

August 29, 2010

Smart swarms

Social insects like ants, bees and termites and flocks of birds, schools of fish and herds of caribou distribute problem solving among many individuals. The often beautiful and amazing patterns of these groups of animals don't come from pre-existing blueprints or designs but they emerge from the bottom up as a result of interaction among the many individuals of the group. Here is an example:


August 28, 2010

A mathematical look at change can be helpful for practical change professionals

A few months ago, mathematics professor Steven Strogatz wrote two columns in the New York Times called Change We Can Believe In and It Slices, It Dices. The columns are about calculus, a branch in mathematics focused on limits, functions, derivatives, integrals, and infinite seriesCalculus is the mathematics of change. Its two basic branches are differential calculus and integral calculus. Without giving an in-depth explanation of these two topics, here is a brief introduction.

Differential calculus
is the study of the derivative of functions. Calculating the derivative is called differentiation. The derivative tells you how fast something is changing, how far you’re going up or down a slope for every step you take. The derivate is the approximation to the slope of a graph. The derivate can be calculated for each point of a function but also for every point which leads to the derivate function (see picture from When a slope is going up its derivate is positive, when a slope is going down it's negative. At the peak and the bottom of a curve it is zero. At those points, change momentarily stands still.

August 26, 2010

What has science got to do with morality?

My post of yesterday mentioned Sam Harris' book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Traditionally, scientists have refrained from interfering much with morality, leaving moral issues largely to philosophy and religion. But this reluctance seems to get less these days. Recently Edge even organized a conference called THE NEW SCIENCE OF MORALITY with Roy Baumeister, Paul Bloom, Joshua D. Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Sam Harris, Marc D. Hauser, Joshua Knobe, Elizabeth Phelps, and David Pizarro as speakers.

A central theme of many morality scientists is how human moral behavior is shaped into us over the course of both biological and cultural evolution. Matt Ridley is one author who has written about this.

August 25, 2010

The Moral Landscape: Q & A with Sam Harris

1. Are there right and wrong answers to moral questions?
Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

2. Are you saying that science can answer such questions?
Yes, in principle. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors—ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.

Read the whole article here

August 24, 2010

How should one live in order to live a good life?

What is a good life?, is a question many people throughout history have thought about. Is a good life just about being happy? Well, that does not seem to be a complete answer. After all, how, precisely, do we become happy and stay happy? Is it by doing things that can instantly make us feel good, like watching TV, eating, making love, or listening to music? Hardly. In small doses these things are good and improve your daily life, but the effects are not additive. In other words: a point of diminishing returns is quickly reached. Also you don't become happy by having to do nothing. Both intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something) and extrinsic motivation (having to do something) are preferable to not having any kind of goal to focus your attention. The question is hard and it is one which will forever be asked. So I like to ask it now.

August 23, 2010

The Solution-Focused Aproach is not an Island

"In more than one sense, SF is not an island. First, however unique the background was that has led to the development of the set of assumptions and techniques that we now call SF, in many ways SF overlaps with many adjacent approaches, such as appreciative inquiry, positive psychology, the positive deviance approach and non-violent communication. Instead of keeping a distance from these approaches, we argue it would be wiser to foster cross links so that cross fertilisation may happen and more useful knowledge and techniques may emerge for more people to use. Second, SF is not an island in the sense that it can not permit itself to refrain from following scientific developments and making scientific contributions. Individual clients, client organisations and society at large rightfully demand that SF professionals not only discover things that work but also justify what they do by scientifically testing their claims. In order to justify what we do, we need not only to do systematic research but also to explore and establish links with research into other approaches and disciplines so that knowledge can be integrated across disciplines and further developed. By reaching out like this more people will be able to benefit from the great discoveries that have been done in the field of SF. Just as importantly, the SF community is bound to learn from other disciplines and approaches."

~ Source: Supporting Clients´ Solution Building Process by Subtly Eliciting Positive Behaviour Descriptions and Expectations of Beneficial Change

Solution-Focused Intervening leads to Self-Determination


August 22, 2010

The WHAT, WHO, and WHEN of successful change

In this post, I have explained that the claim that 80% of the change initiatives fail is largely unfounded and potentially harmful. Published success rates vary rather widely per type of change and over time. But they also depend on the types of success criteria used and on whom you ask. Following up on that post, here are some thoughts on how you might differentiate in the way you measure the rate of success of a certain change program. I suggest to distinguish three dimensions:

1. The WHAT of successful change is about the question to which types of improvement the change initiative has led. Remember, a project may be successful in one sense but less so in another sense. There are, of course, many different ways of distinguishing dimensions of effectiveness but I'd like to elaborate on one provided by Dutch consultant Weggeman. He once wrote that better can mean: more effective, more efficient, more flexible and more pleasant. I'd like to change a few things about that and turn it into:

August 20, 2010

Belief in Free Will Predicts Better Job Performance

Belief in Free Will Predicts Better Job Performance
Do philosophic views affect job performance? The authors found that possessing a belief in free will predicted better career attitudes and actual job performance. The effect of free will beliefs on job performance indicators were over and above well-established predictors such as conscientiousness, locus of control, and Protestant work ethic. In Study 1, stronger belief in free will corresponded to more positive attitudes about expected career success. In Study 2, job performance was evaluated objectively and independently by a supervisor. Results indicated that employees who espoused free will beliefs were given better work performance evaluations than those who disbelieve in free will, presumably because belief in free will facilitates exerting control over one’s actions.
Found it via Vaughan Bell (Mindhacks)

August 19, 2010

Solution-focused planning

Here is a nice and simple solution-focused technique to plan and manage what you have to do on a certain day. You can view it as your solution-focused alternative to-do list. Here is how it works.

Two circles: Hang a flip-over sheet on your wall and draw two circles on it, an outer circle and an inner circle. The outer represents what you have yet to do. The inner circle represents what you have completed. So, write everything you have to do, this day, on small post it notes and hang the in the outer circle.

Tasks you have to do after today, you can hang outside of the circles and move them in the circles later. As soon as you have finished one of these items you pick up the post it note and hang it in the inner circle. The nice thing about this is that, during the day, you see the amount of work you have completed grow before your eyes which can be quite motivating. (Contrast this with the usual way of planning where everything that has been completed gets removed from the list and therefore becomes invisible ...).

August 17, 2010

Complex problems ask for the simplicity of the solution-focused approach

Here is a hypothesis I have about the suitability of the solution-focused approach: the more complex a problem is, the less effective a traditional problem focused approach to change works and the more appropriate the solution-focused approach is. Below, is a translation of part of an article I wrote about this with Louis Cauffman in 2003.

By complex we don't mean complicated. Examples of things that can be very complicated and require great experitise to understand are how the motor of car works, how a legal document is structured and phrased, and how a financial statement is made. But these things aren't complex in the sense that is meant here. What I mean with a complex problem is a problem that takes place in a complex adaptive system (a CAS) and that is related to the complexity of the system.

August 16, 2010

Competence without comprehension - doing what works without understanding why it works

In this presentation, the great Daniel Dennett explains how comprehension is often not a prerequisite for competence. In nature, comprehension is not the cause of competence but the effect. Natural selection, over many generations, shapes characteristics into organisms which makes them competent without them realizing why they are competent. There is no evolutionary advantage to shape understanding into the organism of why the characteristic is so beneficial; the characteristic itself is enough. "Your butterfly that has eye spots on its wings does not have to understand why this is a good thing for it to have. It scares off the birds but it is none the wiser."

Does this principle only apply to organisms? No, it also can apply to artifacts made by organisms. Of course, comprehension can precede competence. Daniel gives the example of the Catalan Spanish architect Gaudi who was extremely competent and knew exactly what his cathedral should like before the first stone was laid. But individual termites, in nature, mindlessly perform some simple tendencies that were shaped into them by evolution and, together, manage to build something amazingly similar (to compare, see picture on the right).

A nice example of competence without comprehension which Dennett gives, is how Polynesian boats are developed and improved "Every boat is copied from another boat ... it is the sea itself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others." "If it comes home ... copy it! That's natural selection."

How does this relate to the solution-focused approach? Doing what works is one of the key principles of the solution-focused approach. One assumption we have is that understanding why something works is less important than knowing it works in the first place. Often, we identify things that work, and we can use them, but we are not completely sure why they work. We may have some ideas about why something works, but sometimes we may have no clue at all. Still, this does not keep use from doing what works.

August 15, 2010

A psychologist's bias - deemphasizing the circumstances to which people are adapting

"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 cause of her behavior, the things we can't see very well, namely, the circumstance to which she is adapting."
~ Claude Steele in Whistling Vivaldi

This quote underlines what I say in this post: "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."

August 14, 2010

Search for meaningful contact points and bridges between what we want to learn and what we already know

"To ensure a safe learning environment, you have to make sure to accept all answers, and build on them. We should view students as plants and flowers that need careful cultivation: grow some areas, help reduce others. [...] There is really no upper limit on learning since the neurons seem to be capable of growing new connections whenever they are used repeatedly. I think all of us need to develop the capacity to motivate ourselves. One way to do that is to search for meaningful contact points and bridges between what we want to learn and what we already know. When we do so, we cultivate our neuronal networks."
~ James Zull, Source: The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, p 17/18

We are all exquisitely attuned to messages telling us what is valued

"We are all exquisitely attuned to messages telling us what is valued. I think we go around all the time looking, trying to understand, 'Who am I in this setting? Who am I in this framework?' So that when a clear message comes, it can send a spark"
~ Carol Dweck, quoted in The talent code, p136

August 11, 2010

Khan Academy wants to become the world's first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything--for free

A few days ago, in a comment to this post, Peter Damoc said the following: "The best thing I found recently regarding education is the Khan Way. Basically, a series of movies should be created to explain the concepts and then have the kids go through the moves and learn the concepts by themselves."

I had a look at the website of the Kahn Academy and to a wikipedia page about it. Then I viewed a few videos. The Kahn Academy is an initiative by one person, Sal Kahn who made all the videos you'll find on the site. His ambition is to make Khan Academy the world's first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything--for free. I think this is a wonderful and admirable initiative. Let me know what you think!

August 10, 2010

How did you develop a more realistic perspective?

Kathryn Schulz has written a book called Being Wrong, adventures in the margin of error. The book covers many interesting views on wrongness but I'd like to focus here on one.

There is a difference between the scientific method and the approach to knowing we as individuals tend to have. Schulz: "The scientific method is essentially a monument to the utility or error. Most of us gravitate toward trying to verify our beliefs ... But scientists gravitate toward falsification.... Not only can any give theory be proven wrong, sooner or later, it probably will be. And when it is, the occasion will mark the success of science, not its failure."

August 9, 2010

Basic position of the solution-focused practitioner

Following up on this post, here is a list of items by the editors InterAction, the journal of SF in organisations describing the basic position of the solution-focused practitioner:
  1. Change is happening all the time - our role is to find useful change and amplify it
  2. Resource orientation rather than deficit orientation
  3. A "not knowing" stance (having as few assumptions about the client as possible and deeming clients to be the experts of their own lives and desires)
  4. A respectful, non blaming and co-operative stance
  5. An interactional view (inbetween not "ïnside" a person)
  6. Working towards their client's goals from within their client's frames of reference, while keeping their own (external) perspective
  7. Treating each case as different and developing the process according to what the client says rather than imposing a fit into a theoretical or conceptual framework - the process emerges differently each time based on what the clients say/do/want

August 8, 2010

Making Learning Whole

David Perkins' new book is called Making Learning Whole. It presents a theory of education which is based on the following seven principles:
  1. Play the whole game
  2. Make the game worth playing
  3. Work on the hard parts
  4. Play out of town
  5. Play the hidden game
  6. Learn from the team
  7. Learn the game of learning

August 7, 2010

How can one recognize the solution-focused approach?

There are many different ways to describe the solution-focused approach. Together, these various descriptions can help to get a clearer understanding of what solution-focused work is and how it works. InterAction, the journal of SF in organisations, has provided an interesting list of things by which you could distinguish a piece of solution-focused work. The editors add that not all of these items need to be observed to speak of a solution-focused piece of work. Here they are:
  1. Building conversations on the basis of the client's language, metaphors, stories and behavior.
  2. Using simple, concrete language, "staying at the surface", promoting interactional descriptions rather than mentalistic explanations

August 6, 2010

Solution-focused politics?

Matt Gibson asked me the following in a comment to a previous post: "So do you think that a solution focused approach to politics can work? I am looking at how this can be applied at the moment but this book seems to be saying it can't? Any thoughts?"

My reply was: "Matt, thank you for your comment. I do think the solution-focused approach can be useful in several ways. From the top of my head, here are some thoughts. 1. Solution-focused principles can be applied by political parties to help 'solve' internal conflicts and to improve internal communications. 2. Politicians can use the non-blaming, non-accusative language aspect, when debating with others (I think Obama does this rather well), 3. Politicians could formulate goals more in achievable terms (see here), 4. they could use the platform principle more (make explicite what is already working and has already been achieved, 5. they could use earlier success more explicitly, etc, etc. I mentioned Obama. I sometimes think he is already applying much which I would suggest from an SF perspective (see here and here). So yes, I agree. I would be against however the idea to start a solution focused political party. To a large extent every party could apply this kind of stuff while it does not prescripe on a content level what the politics should look like."

I am curous about your thoughts.

August 5, 2010

On positive psychology: my worries, views, suggestions and questions

The first purpose of my book review of The Spirit Level, of a few months ago, was, of course, to inform about Richard Wilkinson's and Kate Pickett's work on the importance of equality. Briefly, this research shows that people in more equal societies are better off in many ways. The second purpose of my article was to offer a commentary on positive psychology. Part of my commentary is in the review itself but, thanks to some comments and questions by readers, part of it is in the comment section. Occasionally, people ask me about my views on (the development of) positive psychology, so I thought it might be useful to summarize, in a separate post, what I said in the article.

In the article itself, I offer three worries:

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