March 31, 2011

Usefulness and necessity

Solution-focused conversations revolve around usefulness for clients. One type of question which is used to help achieve this is the so-called usefulness question. The purpose of this question (of course) is to make conversations as useful as possible for clients. Solution-focused coaches use usefulness questions at the beginning of conversations, during conversations and at the end of conversations. By asking usefulness questions, it becomes easier for people to focus on what they want to come out of the sessions. It will help them remember their goals and link the conversation to these goals. The question has an activating effect. Speaking about usefulness, here are two slightly counter-intuitive thoughts about usefulness.

March 30, 2011

Mixing Lean Management with Positive Change Approaches

Guest post by Nicolas Stampf (nicolas.stampf@gmail.com. Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency.

I’m a computer scientist by training. I’ve been trained in fixing problems using computers (by developing applications or building a computer architecture and network for that purpose). And then I’ve been trained in Lean Six Sigma in the context of IT operations. When I was young, I loved to dismantle mechanical clocks and build them back afterwards. So, I’m originally attracted to all things related to problem solving or, what I’ve come to know, deficit-based approaches.

March 26, 2011

(How) has working solution-focused influenced your life?

Researchers LaFountain and Garner (1996) once did a study in which they tried to find out have using different treatment approach by student counselors affected the counselors themselves. They compared counselors who worked solution-focused with counselors who did not. They found that counselors using the solution-focused approach reported less exhaustion and depersonalization and felt they could help their clients better.

I am not aware of more research into the effects of working solution-focused on the professional (usually and understandably the focus is on effects on clients). But more research could be interesting. I suspect there may be all kinds of different ways in which working solution-focused might have influence both the way professionals think about and relate to their work and their outlook on life and the way they view themselves. I am curious what you, reader, think about this. Has the approach changed you? Were they good changes, bad changes, a combination?

My question is: (How) has working solution-focused influenced your life?

March 23, 2011

The word 'purpose'

Peter Damoc asked me what I thought about the importance having a purpose in life. Isn't a life without purpose empty?

I have been thinking about the word ‘purpose’ and I find it a bit confusing. I don't know about purpose. First, I often don’t know what is meant by it. One possible meaning may be a) an over-arching value or goal or project which gives meaning to your life. Another one is b) an inherent function or plan for you, provided by ‘God’. The second meaning is not credible to me because the whole idea of ‘God’ is actually not credible to me.

March 17, 2011

What habit do you want to build and how can you succeed?

A topic that keeps interesting me is how we can form healthy and productive habits. Doing healthy and productive things can sometimes require lots of discipline and self-control. But once these behaviors have become habits, once they have become automated, it is not hard anymore to perform them. They have become part of your daily or weekly routine. Quite a bit is known how we can form desirable habits.

Habits are behaviors that have become automatic, triggered by a cue in the environment rather than by conscious will. We are constantly forming habits by repeatedly doing things in certain circumstances. Much of this habit forming happens without conscious choice and planning. But consciously planned habit forming can be done and we know how. Research by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues shows that forming habits 1) on average takes at least 66 days, 2) takes substantially longer with some people, 3) takes longer when the behavior is complex, 4) allows for an occasional omission of doing the behavior when building up the habit.

March 13, 2011

Google's Project Oxygen: Eight Good Manager's Behaviors and Three Pitfalls


The New York Times reports on a project done at Google called Project Oxygen. The aim of the project was to find out what the best managers at Google do to have teams with individuals that perform better, are retained better, and are happier. The project team gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports. They then looked for some preliminary patterns in the data and formed hypotheses. Next, they gathered additional data by systematically interviewing managers to test these hypotheses. Finally, they analyzed these data and drew conclusions. The conclusions were summarized in 'Google's Rules' which consists of a set of eight good behaviors which are operationalized in behavioral terms and three pitfalls of managers.

March 12, 2011

The Longevity Project

Just bought this book: The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. The book is interesting to me because it describes a famous example of longitudinal social research study.

Here is the book description: In this illuminating addition to the burgeoning bookshelf on longevity, UC-Riverside health researchers Friedman and Martin draw on an eight-decade-long Stanford University study of 1,500 people to find surprising lessons about who lives a long, healthy life and why. The authors learned, for example, that people don't die simply from working long hours or from stress, that marriage is no golden ticket to old age, and the happy-all-the-time types may peter out before the serious plodders. If there's a secret to old age, the authors find, it's living conscientiously and bringing forethought, planning, and perseverance to one's professional and personal life. Individual life stories show how different people find the right balance in different ways, depending on their personalities and social situations. Lively despite the huge volume of material from 80 years of study, and packed with eye-opening self-assessment tests, this book says there's no magic pill, but does offer a generous dose of hope: even if life deals you a less than perfect hand, you're not doomed to an early demise if you live with purpose and make connections with the people around you

March 11, 2011

How can we help individuals to internalize and integrate external values and demands?

As much research has shown, people's autonomous functioning is deeply connected to their attainment of wellness. The more autonomous people feel the more likely they are to feel well and function well. Does this autonomous functioning mean that people do not feel they have to pay attention to and take into account external values, demands and expectations? Surely not. Autonomously functioning people have internalized and integrated essential socially endorsed values and regulations of their families, organizations and societies. The more integrated and internalized these values and regulations feel to the individual the more autonomous the individual will feel when enacting them. When fully integrated, the activity is not only perceived as personally meaningful but has become an integral part of the individual's system of values and convictions and is experienced as highly volitional.

March 8, 2011

Five principles for increasing cognitive ability

My view on intelligence and on talent in general has shifted a lot over the years. Maybe the first time I wrote about that was in my 2004 article The True Nature of Inteligence. It argued that while intelligence is generally viewed as intrapersonal, one-dimensional and unchangeable it could also be seen as interpersonal, multidimensional and developable. Many posts on this blog have referred to the developable aspect of intelligence. Have you seen my 2006 interview with Carol Dweck and my recent posts about talent (here and here)? While many people have started to think differently about intelligence I often still hear skeptical voices. For instance, many psychologists still (seem to) think that crystallized intelligence can be developed but fluid intelligence can't be (here is an explanation of those terms). But a study by Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, and Perrig (2008) shows this is not true. Fluid intelligence is trainable too for anyone and the more you train, the more you gain. A new article in Scientific American by Andrea Kuszewski describes this study in some detail and she offers five principles for increasing cognitive ability:
  1. Seek Novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things The Hard Way
  5. Network

    March 7, 2011

    Evidence of the motivational impact of progress

    On this blog, I have often written about the importance of progress. The solution-focused approach, in my view, is essentially about progress (I have defined solution-focused helping as approach to help clients to make progress in the direction of their own choice - see this video). I even view progress as crucial for finding meaning and gratification in life although I admit there may be some less attractive sides to progress). Also, I have written about the motivational impact of progress (see for instance this post and this post). Is there evidence of the motivational impact of progress? Now, there is.

    March 6, 2011

    Natural or learned talent

    Harvard researchers Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji presented more than 100 professionally trained musicians with two profiles of two professional musicians, and a sample musical clip to listen to from each musician. The participants were then asked questions about how talented and successful they perceived the performer to be, and how willing they might be to hire this person. In fact, both clips were the same musical excerpt, and the profiles differed only in their mention of whether the musician had natural or learned talent. The results ultimately showed two effects: “We found even in experts and ostensibly professionally trained musicians, most of them could not tell that the recordings were the same. And on average, people seemed to prefer the ‘naturally’ talented individual, even when they said they believed hard work was more important than natural talent.”
    Also read: The word 'talent'

    March 3, 2011

    Gently Socratic

    The solution-focused approach is sometimes compared to Socratic questioning. And while there indeed is some overlap between both approaches, I think there is also an important difference. While reading a new book by Elliot Aronson (his autobiography), Not by Change Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist, I read the following interesting fragment:
    .. I was developing a style that I would call "gently Socratic." Aron Gurwitsch had demonstrated the power of the Socratic method if questioning. But Gurwitsch's style was edgy; he knew the response he wanted and was impatient with students who didn't give it to him. I was learning not to reject answers I didn't like, but to follow the student's answer with a thought-provoking question that might lead the student to an interesting place.
    I find "gently Socratic" a nice term. It seems to come close to what the solution-focused professional does.

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