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.

September 15, 2010

Suggestions to help build the bridge between the better past and the better future

The previous posts have argued that working solution-focused can be described as building a bridge between what you might call the better past and the better future. The previous two posts contain suggestions for how you, as a solution-focused coach, may help the client get a clear picture of both the better future and the better past. Once clear pictures have been developed of both the better future and the better past, solution-focused practitioners start to facilitate the process of building a bridge between the two. This means that the better past is used as a source of inspiration to choose small steps forward in the direction of the better future.

September 14, 2010

Better Past Talk

Following up on the previous two posts (Building a Bridge between the Better Past and a Better Future and Better Future Talk), this post focuses on how you may help your client develop a clear picture of the better past. The better past refers to situations in which things were already going better or were -at least- less bad. Identifying these types of situations generally strengthens one's hope and confidence that more change will be possible and usually provides some specific ideas about how to proceed.

September 13, 2010

Better Future Talk

The previous post explained that the solution-focused approach can be seen as facilitating the process of clarifying the better past and better future and to help build the bridge between the two. Although, in theory, this sounds pretty straightforward it can be hard to do in practice. That is why I'll provide some suggestions on how it can be done. This post focuses on how you may help your client develop a clear picture of a better future.

1. Getting it started: often clients of solution-focused practitioners initially mainly express their dissatisfaction with their current situation. Improvement is often realized by subtly redirecting their attention from their dissatisfaction about the status quo to how they want their situation to become and then to help them start taking steps in the direction of that better future. Sometimes it is hard for clients to make this shift from negative to positive and they get stuck in their dissatisfaction and complaints. When this happens the solution-focused practitioner may use three small steps to assist this shift of perspective:

September 12, 2010

Building a Bridge between the Better Past and a Better Future

Building on the work of Steve de Shazer, I have thought of some new terminology with which to described solution-focused approach. Working solution-focused can be described as building a bridge between what you might call the better past and the better future. Here is an explanation of those three terms.
  1. The better future: how do you want things to become?  Answering this question provides a sense of direction. It is also very motivating and hope-inspiring. When people start to see before them how they would like things to become, this picture will start to attract them and they will begin to believe it will be realizable. The better future in solution-focused change does not mean an ideal or perfect future. Instead it is, as the word suggests, better. It may be much better than the current situation of may be just acceptable, or good enough. The essence is: it is better. 

September 11, 2010

Solution-Focused Scaling Question Quick Reference Card

This week, somebody said to me she sometimes got confused when using the solution/focused scaling question. She said she started off okay but at some point did not know what else to ask. Here is a little tool to help when asking the scaling question (taken from my article Solution-Focused Scaling Questions:


September 9, 2010

The benefits of positive gossip

Research by Jennifer Cole and Hannah Scrivener of Staffordshire University shows positive effects of positive gossiping. 160 participants in one study completed questionnaires participants completed questionnaires relating to their tendency to gossip and measures of their self-esteem, social support and satisfaction with life. In this study, no correlation was found between gossiping and satisfaction and self esteem. But there was an association between gossiping and the social support they experienced.

In a follow up study 140 were asked to talk either positively or negatively about a fictional person. Participants who talked positively felt more self esteem than participants who talked negatively. Jennifer Cole says: "Gossiping is usually seen as a bad thing. Our findings suggest some forms of gossiping- particularly of the type where people praise others- could be linked with some desirable outcomes for the gossiper despite the fact that gossipers are not generally approved of.".

September 8, 2010

Interview with Alan Kay- Canadian solution-focused change management consultant



Alan Kay, owner of The Glasgow Group, is a Canadian solution-focused change management consultant specializing in areas such as strategic planning, brand and customer experience implementation, stakeholder consultation and client-supplier alignment. Alan’s work is widely influenced by the theory and application of the solution-focused approach to encourage attitudinal and behavioural change within an organization, and to help corporate and individual clients become more strategically focused. 

Hi Alan, When did the potential of the solution-focused approach first hit you?

Small steps are often the only way to start tackling problems that nearly overwhelm us

Solution-focused practitioners generally focus on one small step forward instead of a big leap. Intuitively you may think that taking small steps may only be useful for situations in which you have small problems but this is not the case. On the contrary, when problems are large, taking small steps may be even more powerful. In fact, we believe they are often the only way to start tackling problems that nearly overwhelm us. Why is this so? Here are four reasons:
  1. Low threshold: when the step forward is as small as possible, the requirement of energy, motivation, and trust is minimal. The threshold is so low that the willingness to take the step will be maximal. The low threshold stimulates a high probability of change.

September 7, 2010

Solution-focused interaction matrix

Here are some suggestions for questions for solution-focused coaches or therapists to help clients improve their interactions with others. I present the questions in the form of matrix. This matrix is based on 'the interaction matrix' which is described in the Walter and Peller, 1992. Only, I have changed both the structure and the content quite a bit. Along the top of the matrix are four essential ingredients of the solution-focused process: 1) reason for coming, 2) earlier success, 3) desired situation, and 4) next step forward. Along the left side of the matrix are the different reporting perspectives: 1) self perspective, 2) other perspective, 3) objective perspective.

The power of this matrix is that it generates an abundance of useful question from which to choose. The different solution-focused ingredients help to create a sense of purpose and direction, help identify some ideas for solutions, and help choose which next step to take. Focusing on these ingredients from the three different perspectives is particularly powerful because it helps to see the situation in a different light which often leads to more understanding for the other's perspective. Also, it often leads to more ideas for possible solutions.

September 3, 2010

Reflections on the effects of goal setting and communicating

Yesterday's post contained a TED video of Derek Sivers with the following message: telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen. Sivers summarizes psychological research which shows that when you announce goals to others, the mind can get tricked into believing the work required to achieve the goals has already been done. He describes an experiment in which all respondents were asked to write down a personal goal. Half of the people were asked to announce their goal, the other half did not announce their goal. Next, all of them were put to work for 45 minutes to do work that could lead to achievement of that goal. They could stop at any time they wanted. The non-announcers worked for the entire 45 minutes and, after that, said they still had a long way to go. The announcers stop, on average, after 33 minutes and afterwards said they felt much closer to achieving their goal. Sivers recommends three things: 1) resist announcing your personal goal, 2) delay the gratification that social acknowledgement gives, and 3) understand that the brain confuses saying with doing.

September 1, 2010

What are social science's accomplishments?

Jim Manzi writes in his article What social science does -and doesn’t- know that 'the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs'.

In the article he says that social sciences have been relatively late in embracing controlled experimentation which is an essential method to settle debates about what works and what not. According to Manzi, even now that the experimental method is becoming more and more popular we cannot expect fast breakthroughs in our scientific knowledge about 'the human condition because of the high 'causal density', the number and complexity of potential causes outcomes of interest, in this domain. He concludes: "At the moment, it is certain that we do not have anything remotely approaching a scientific understanding of human society. And the methods of experimental social science are not close to providing one within the foreseeable future. Science may someday allow us to predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably. Until then, we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can."

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