December 30, 2013

Advantages of interest-focused development

Soon, I will post an article in which I make a plea for interest-focused development. In that article I will explain what I mean with interest-focused development and what its advantages are for individuals and organizations. Here, I will give a preview of that article by mentioning the direct advantages of interest-focused development. When we are doing something which interests us, in other words, which we enjoy and find meaningful, we enter a psychological state of attentive engagement and we experience positive emotions. In this state we think more clearly, we comprehend things deeper and more easily and we remember better (Murphy Paul, 2013) due to which we learn more efficiently and better.

December 28, 2013

Anders Ericsson responds to criticisms

Why expert performance is special and cannot be extrapolated from studies of performance in the general population: A response to criticisms
K. Anders Ericsson

Abstract: Many misunderstandings about the expert-performance approach can be attributed to its unique methodology and theoretical concepts. This approach was established with case studies of the acquisition of expert memory with detailed experimental analysis of the mediating mechanisms. In contrast the traditional individual difference approach starts with the assumption of underlying general latent factors of cognitive ability and personality that correlate with performance across levels of acquired skill. My review rejects the assumption that data on large samples of beginners can be extrapolated to samples of elite and expert performers. Once we can agree on the criteria for reproducible objective expert performance and acceptable methodologies for collecting valid data, I believe that scientists will recognize the need for expert-performance approach to the study of expert performance, especially at the very highest levels of achievement.

Highlights: Current performance, “what is”, differs from performance after training, “what could be”. Among expert performers general cognitive ability does not correlate with performance. The heritability of expert performance is currently unknown.-Estimated hours of self-reported practice is a poor predictor of overall effects of training.

Full article

December 20, 2013

Gardiner, Bach, and the desire to detect weaknesses in high-achievers

Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the greatest classical composers of all time (for example, read this and this). Many people have pointed out that his oeuvre is both enormously large and enormously varied and that it hardly has any weak spots. Many people even rave about Bach that his work is indeed flawless and use hyperboles like that Bach's music was divinely inspired, that Bach was God's pupil or even, perhaps only half-jokingly, that Bach IS God.

John Eliot Gardiner, the famous conductor, has written a new book called Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven. In this video, he says that biographers of Bach make a logical error by thinking that because Bach made such great music he must have also been a great man. Then, Gardiner goes on to say that Bach certainly wasn't a paragon of virtue and that he actually was a deeply flawed character. He says this because in Bach's life, according to Gardiner, there is "almost a repetitive pattern of antagonistic behavior between him and authority -- the authorities for whom he worked". I agree with Gardiner's first assertion: great music does not imply that its maker was a great person. I find Gardiner's second assertion, that Bach's character was deeply flawed because he constantly seemed to be in conflict with people of authority, unconvincing.

December 19, 2013

Utilizing the principle of reciprocity seeking in progress-focused coaching and mediation

Human nature not only has a competitive side to it, which expresses itself through tendencies such as resource striving and status seeking; it also has an equally important, if not more important, cooperative side which expresses itself through tendencies such as fairness and reciprocity seeking and group identity seeking (for more about this read The dual human nature: competitive and cooperative forces).

Here, I want to focus on one of those cooperative tendencies, namely reciprocity seeking. The principle of reciprocity seeking, which has a strong impact how we behave in social interactions, implies that if someone else does us some kind of favor we want to give a favor in return to that person. Negative reciprocity, by the way, means that if we feel that someone treats us badly, we want to treat them badly in return. In other words, we tend to want to give back what we feel we get.

December 14, 2013

Balancing a progress-focus and a commitment-focus

There is much evidence that the world, on the whole, is getting better in many ways (see for instance work by Matt Ridley, Steven Pinker, and Hans Rosling). In accordance with this view is a new article by Zack Beauchamp on Thinkprogress called 5 Reasons why 2013 Was The Best Year In Human History. He presents the following 5 reasons:

December 12, 2013

Careful with that coping question

One type of question which progress-focused coaches ask is the coping question. This question is mainly used when coachees experience their circumstances as really hard and more or less hopeless. The basic for of this type of question is: How do (/did) you manage to go on under such difficult circumstances? But there are many different ways in which the question can be asked, such as:

November 28, 2013

The benefits of social cognition vs the benefits of task-focused processing

In Social: why our brains are wired to connect (also read this post), Matt Lieberman explains that, within our brains there are two quite distinct neural systems for respectively social and non-social thinking. These two systems appear to be antagonistic in the sense that when one of the two is very active, the other is largely inactive. In addition to this he explains that whenever a person is focused on a specific task the non-social system is turned on and as soon as the person stops focusing on the task, his or her social system will turn on. Because this neural system becomes active as soon as one finishes a specific task, it is called the default nework. It seems that when we are not focusing on a specific task we are not doing nothing. We are engaged in social cognition, in other words, thinking about other people and our relationships with them. Lieberman writes:

November 14, 2013

I am not entering a competition

To what extent do you compete with other people? More specifically, to what extent do you think that your work or life is more or less comparable to competing in track running? In track running runners race over a specified distance on an running track at the end of which is a finish line which all runners try to cross first. Is this more or less comparable to the kind of competition you experience in your work, or in your life at large?

November 6, 2013

The Science of Interest

On Annie Murphy Paul's predictably interesting The Brillant Blog, there are two new posts about interest; about what it is, how it develops and what its consequences are (here and here). I'll try to summarize -and paraphrase, here and there- some of the things she writes but do visit her blog to read more.

Annie writes about the emerging science of interest which shows that, when we are interested, we process information better and deeper, we work harder and persist longer. So, when do we find things interesting? It seems that, in order to be interesting, things must be novel, complex and comprehensible. Once we are interested in something, our interest may autonomously grow and develop further because when we know something about our topic of interest, new information we come across may not fit well with what we know. Because we want to resolve the conflict between what we know and the new information, our interest is sustained.

November 5, 2013

People view cooperation as an end in itself

Economic theory and practice has long been dominated by the view that people are driven by self-interest. Research in psychology and in the emerging field of behavioral economics has shown that this model of human motivation is wrong. This research showed that people are not only driven by self-interest. They also have strong tendencies to cooperate. It seems we view others' interests as an end in itself, too. This not only applies to relatives and friends but also to strangers. However, what we are taught about human nature affects what we belief and how we behave. For example, research by Robert H. Frank and his colleagues (1993) has shown that students of economics, as they were more and more exposed to this axiom of self-interest which formed the basis of dominant theories of economics, they became less and less social and cooperative.

October 21, 2013

On the importance of evaluating truth claims

Coert Visser, 2013

Cognitive scientists, such as Keith Stanovich, distinguish two basic forms of rationality: 1) epistemic rationality, making our beliefs correspond with the actual structure of the world, and 2) instrumental rationality, behaving in such a way that you achieve what you want. Instrumental rationality is about doing what works and epistemic rationality is about finding truth. My view is that it is dangerous to overlook any of these two types of rationality. Only focusing on what is true but forgetting to do what works may lead to neglecting to do things that help you to survive and remain connected to other people. In extreme cases this may lead to a situation in which your questioning dominant false beliefs may threaten governing institutions so much that they may want to isolate you or worse (for example Copernicus and Socrates). Only focusing on doing what works but neglecting the 'what is true' question may lead to you moving efficiently through a web of falsity distancing you more and more from reality. In extreme cases it may lead to such pragmatism that individuals may gradually go along with and adapt to situations which systematically undermine human thriving of themselves or others.

October 18, 2013

Dominant view of intelligence falsified

Scott Barry Kaufman writes in Scientific American that a dominant view by psychologists of intelligence has been seriously challenged by research by Kees-Jan Kan (photo) and his colleagues. According to this dominant view the heritability of crystallized intelligence (≈ acquired knowledge) is expected to be lower than the heritability of fluid intelligence (≈ 'raw' intellectual ability). Kan et al's research, however, has shown that this is not the case. First, they determined the cultural load of intelligence test which is the degree to which tests had to be adjusted for it to be used in different countries. They found that the cultural load of tests was correlated positively both with 1) general intelligence (the g-factor) and with 2) the heritability of the test.


October 17, 2013

Misinformation and Its Correction

Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing
By Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz, & John Cook

Summary: The widespread prevalence and persistence of misinformation in contemporary societies, such as the false belief that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism, is a matter of public concern. For example, the myths surrounding vaccinations, which prompted some parents to withhold immunization from their children, have led to a marked increase in vaccine-preventable disease, as well as unnecessary public expenditure on research and public-information campaigns aimed at rectifying the situation.

October 10, 2013

10 misconceptions about mindset

The work of Carol Dweck and her colleagues about mindsets is getting more well-known. Mindset is about the important effects of what people believe about the malleability of their characteristics and abilities (read more in my interview with Carol Dweck). As is the case with many things, what the concept of mindset means and implies can easily be misunderstood. Here are 10 misconceptions about mindset which I have encountered.

Click here to read more »

October 8, 2013

11 Effective learning strategies

We know that, for learning and growth, beliefs about our ability to learn and putting in effort both matter a lot. There is a third factor that also matters a lot which is using effective learning strategies. On Annie Murphy Paul’s website I learned about some interesting research on this topic. While students differ a lot in the degree to which they know about and apply effective learning strategies (low achieving students know and apply them much less than high achieving students) little attention is paid in schools to teaching students how to learn effectively. Here is a list of such effective learning strategies:

Read more

October 7, 2013

We must make mistakes! (?)

Recently, I have been hearing people say that making mistakes is a good thing and that we must make mistakes. For example, this week, I came across a Dutch booklet which argues that we must make mistakes.

The argument goes as follows: We have learned, and tend to try to avoid, making mistakes. By trying to avoid mistakes we try to avoid rejection, shame and negative consequences for our self esteem. But this focus on avoiding mistakes can lead to paralysis and keep us from learning and growing. Therefore, so goes the argument, we must embrace making mistakes. Mistakes are necessary and good! We must make mistakes!

October 5, 2013

Dogmatism in positive psychology and in the solution-focused approach?

New post on my other blog: Dogmatism in positive psychology and in the solution-focused approach?

After recent discoveries of mistakes in research by Barbara Fredrickson (see here and here) some people have criticized positive psychology. James Coyne, a professor and clinical psychologist working in Groningen and Pennsylvania, is one of its fiercest critics. He not only argues that positive psychology’s message is too simple (see here) but, as his tweets show, he also thinks 1) that positive psychology is dogmatic (and that the whole idea behind PP is based on a unjustified contrast with the rest of (negative?) psychology, 2) that positive psychology has a guru culture (in which, as he implies, Martin Seligman is the pope of positive psychology), and 3) that positive psychology is too much driven by commercial motives (many scientists within positive psychology would be more interested in selling books and training programs than in science). Coyne says: Positive psychology is applied ideology, not science (source).

Read full post

October 2, 2013

Why practice at age 90?

Some time ago, I asked this question: Can we keep on making progress into old age? So, perhaps, you can understand why I smiled when I came across this in my twitter timeline, today:
Thanks for tweeting it, @BartHeuvingh!

September 26, 2013

The key to creating new jobs: empowering innovations

My view is that prolonged growth of inequality in developed economies is likely to be detrimental for human well-being (here are some references: 1, 2, 3, 4). People on the political right often defend this inequality by claiming that the super rich must be allowed to stay super rich because they are the motors behind job growth.

In this video, Clayton Christensen explains that how investments are made determines how economies develop. Essentially, investments can be targeted at three types of innovations: 1) empowering innovations which transform products from complex and unaffordable for the mass to simple and affordable, thereby expanding markets and creating jobs, 2) sustaining innovations, which make good products better, and which do not create many new products because they do not make markets larger, 3) efficiency innovations, which is making the same products at lower prices and which destroy jobs and free capital.

September 24, 2013

Do you use the end-of session break in your conversations with clients?

In my LinkedIn group I asked the following question: as a solution-focused therapist, do you use the end-of session break in your conversations with clients?

The end-of-session break was a standard part of the solution-focused approach to solution-focused brief therapy as it was developed by the Brief Family Therapy Center (more about the origin of the solution-focused approach here, here, here, and here). During the break, the therapist would reflect on what had been said in the conversation and/or discuss this with colleagues who had watched the conversation from behind a one-way screen. After the break, the therapist would come back and first give a series of compliments about what clients had done that worked and then a few suggestions which were based on what clients had said.

September 17, 2013

What Works in Conversations With University Students? An Exploratory Study

What Works in Conversations With University Students? An Exploratory Study
Gwenda Schlundt Bodien, Coert Visser

Abstract:  This paper contrasts what happened on a microlevel in conversations between coaches and students when coaches used solution-focused interventions versus confrontational interventions. Four students self-reported regarding their motivations, self-determination, and expectations to succeed at their studies, before and directly after the conversation with the coach and at a 2-month follow-up. Recommendations are provided for the design of research on interventions aimed at increasing students’ self-regulated behaviors to achieve academic success. Based on this exploratory study it seems that solution-focused interventions differ from confrontational interventions and that conversations with a coach can affect students’ self-determination, motivations, expectations to succeed, and fulfillment of basic needs (e.g., feelings of relatedness, competence, and autonomy). The findings yielded a negative effect for students who had confrontational interactions and a positive effect for students who had solution-focused interactions 

Keywords solution-focused, coaching, student, microanalysis, confrontational interventions, self-determination

Download full text (pdf)

September 16, 2013

The Origin of the Solution-Focused Approach

The Origin of the Solution-Focused Approach
Coert F. Visser

Abstract:  The solution-focused approach to therapy and coaching has its roots in the work done by therapists in the second half of the twentieth century. This article discusses some important precursors, such as Milton Erickson and the Mental Research Institute. Further, it shows how the members of the Brief Family Therapy Center, led by Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer, developed the core of the solution-focused approach in the 1980s. Key concepts and publications are discussed and a description is given of how the team members worked together closely to find out what works in therapy.

Keywords solution-focused, BFTC, solution-focused history, de Shazer, Berg

Full article

September 15, 2013

Alfie Kohn’s critique on praise (which differs from Carol Dweck’s)

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, has written an article, Criticizing (common criticisms of) praise, in which he says that his critique on praise differs from Carol Dweck’s critique on praise. Kohn views praise as a way of doing something to people instead of working with them and he prefers the latter. Apart from this value judgement, he says, praise has the negative effect of undermining people’s intrinsic motivation for the task they are praised for. Furthermore, praise, according to Kohn, signals conditional acceptance (while children need unconditional care). Kohn points out what he is not arguing for: 1) to praise less frequently, 2) to praise more meaningful, 3) to praise for effort rather than ability, 4) to give kids only praise when they deserve it.

Read more here.

September 1, 2013

How can we apply growth mindset research findings in schools? (White paper)

I have written numerous times about the importance of growth mindsets. Here is a link to the summary of a white paper, which I have posted with permission of the authors, which was prepared for the White House meeting on Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.

>> Read more

August 30, 2013

Is there room for punishment in progress-focused work?

The progress-focused approach, which has its roots in the solution-focused approach, focuses on the desired situation, on previous successes, and on doing what works. Given this positive focus it may not be surprising that in solution-focused and progress-focused books and articles there is hardly any mention of punishment as a means to influence behavior.

Punishment and the progress-focused approach do not seem to fit well with one another. An example: the progress-focused approach assumes a growth mindset, the belief that people can change and grow by putting in effort. Research has shown that people with a growth mindset are less inclined to label, stereotype, and punish people.

August 22, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell's response - 10,000 hours, Deliberate Practice, and The Sports Gene

Malcolm Gladwell, who has lately been criticized about his book Outliers, in which he wrote about the 10,000 hours rule, has written as response in which he defends his position. In his piece, Complexity and the ten-thousand hour rule, he mentions the origin of the the 10,000 hour figure, which was a publication by Herbert Simon and William Chase, who estimated that the best chess players spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions.

Then, Gladwell mentions the work by John Hayes, who found out that the best classical composers in all but three cases did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. Gladwell goes on to explain that in Outliers he explicitly mentioned the essential role of several other factors besides practice to achieve elite performance. First, he explicitly acknowledged the role of talent; second, he mentioned that elite performers invariably had access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of required practice possible.

Gladwell goes on to discuss one of the more thoughtful critics of his book and thus on the work of Anders Ericsson which is an important pillar on which the book is based, David Epstein's new book The Sports Gene. Epstein acknowledges the important role of deliberate practice but says that there is considerable variation in the number of hours required to achieve elite performance. He mentions examples of individuals who have reached the top in their game in substantially fewer hours. Also, he argues that a slow runner will never become a fast runner. He argues that some people are naturally gifted for sports and therefore need fewer hours of practice.

Gladwell has two points of criticism to Epstein. First, he says that some examples in the book in which the performer needed fewer hours of practice do not really seem to be examples of elite performance. Second, he points out that Epstein may have built a straw man argument. That someone who is not a fast runner may not be able to become a fast runner does not undermine the essence of what Simon and Chase, Anders Ericsson, John Hayes, and Gladwell have been writing about. Running in a straight line is quite a different task than composing a symphony. The '10,000 hours writers' have particularly referred to cognitively demanding fields.

My take on this: I agree that critics of Gladwell and Anders Ericsson often use strawman arguments. They incorrectly represent the case of the author and then criticize this incorrectly represented case. I think this is especially so in the case of Anders Ericsson (see for example this post). 10,000 hours is not a magical number for several reasons:
  1. Performance domains differ enormously from one another. One domain is much more cognitively demanding than another. This is also the case in sports. Some sports may be cognitively lees demanding than others. For instance, running may be less cognitively demanding than soccer or martial arts. 
  2. Elite performance is a relative thing. Competition in different domains varies strongly. In a matured performance domain in which there is a strong competition it is much harder to become an 'elite performer' than in another. 
  3. Special circumstances may temporarily affect the number of hours required deliberate practice. For instance, I can imagine that a new generation of chess players have had a competitive advantage over previous generations in that practice has become much more computer assisted. To reach the top in the game may now require fewer hours of deliberate practice. 
I think Gladwell is right to say that cognitively demanding performance domains, especially require much deliberate practice in order to become an elite performer. In performance domains which rely a lot on body characteristics, such as running, basketball, etc), deliberate practice may never fully compensate for not having the required bodily characteristics. In performance domains that rely heavily on cognitive characteristics there is much more opportunity develop characteristics because of the great plasticity of the brain. You cannot do much to change the length of your legs but you can do a lot to change the complexity of your brain.  

August 12, 2013

We should become less neuron-centric

Mo Costandi, author of 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know, has written an interesting new article: A new way of thinking about how the brain works. In this article he says that a dominant way of thinking about the brain, namely that it is basically a network of cells. A bit more specifically, Costandi speaks of the Neuron Doctrine which states that: 1) the neuron is the fundamental structural and functional unit of the nervous system; 2) neurons are discrete cells which are not continuous with other cells; 3) the neuron is composed of 3 parts – the dendrites, axon and cell body; and 4) information flows along the neuron in one direction (from the dendrites to the axon, via the cell body).

While this is the dominant way of thinking about the brain, according to Costandi, it is largely wrong. In particular, the first point is wrong. He says that neurons are only half the picture. Non-neuronal cells, which are collectively known as glia, of which there are three types - astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes - which where thought to play a mere neuron- supporting role actually play a far more important role in proper brain function and information processing than was previously thought (I mentioned this before in this post). 

When thinking about the brain, we should become less neuron-centric.

August 11, 2013

Fredrickson & Losada's Positivity Ratio built on quicksand

The well-known research by Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada on the positivity ratio is now being seriously criticized. Their 2005 paper Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing claimed that the amount of positive affect one experienced divided by the amount of negative affect, affects the degree to which one flourishes.

When the amount of positive affect is three of more times as much as the amount of negative affect, the authors said, a tipping point is achieved above which flourishing begins.

The authors of a new paper, The Complex Dynamics of Wishful Thinking: The Critical Positivity Ratio,  claim that the research by Fredrickson and Losada is built on quicksand because it contains fundamental conceptual and mathematical errors. In this article your can read more: The Magic Ratio That Wasn’t.

June 27, 2013

Dealing with the paradox of confident ignorance

Charles Darwin once said: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." This sounds like a strange idea. Is it true that confidence sometimes signals ignorance? Is it true that people who are very confident about their opinions may actually be more ignorant than people who are less confident? If it is true, it might lead to a paradoxical prescription: if you feel very confident you are right about a topic you may not know enough about it. Is there evidence that confidence and ignorance may go hand in hand? Yes, a new study by Philip Fernbach et al. does provide some evidence:
Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of UnderstandingPhilip M. Fernbach, Todd Rogers, Craig R. Fox, & Steven A. Sloman 
Abstract: People often hold extreme political attitudes about complex policies. We hypothesized that people typically know less about such policies than they think they do (the illusion of explanatory depth) and that polarized attitudes are enabled by simplistic causal models. Asking people to explain policies in detail both undermined the illusion of explanatory depth and led to attitudes that were more moderate (Experiments 1 and 2). Although these effects occurred when people were asked to generate a mechanistic explanation, they did not occur when people were instead asked to enumerate reasons for their policy preferences (Experiment 2). Finally, generating mechanistic explanations reduced donations to relevant political advocacy groups (Experiment 3). The evidence suggests that people’s mistaken sense that they understand the causal processes underlying policies contributes to political polarization.
What might this mean? When disagreeing with someone who is very confident about his point of view, it may work counter-productively to argue directly against his views. After all, the person is very confident about being right. In other words, he is ignorant about his ignorance. By asking questions about why he beliefs what he beliefs you may help him discover that he is not so knowledgeable about the topic as he thought he was.

When you feel very confident about something yourself, perhaps it is wise to ask yourself the same question: on what do I base my confidence exactly? How could I explain in detail what I know about the topic?

June 23, 2013


Readers of this blog will probably know that believing that human abilities and traits cannot be developed (this type of belief is called a fixed mindset) has several disadvantages. One of those disadvantages is a fear of challenges and doing things that are hard. When you do something which is challenging you may make mistakes and fail and this could be interpreted as a lack of natural ability.

This fear of challenges which people with a fixed mindset have can even make them undermine their own performance by avoiding effort and by creating obstacles (Ommundsen, 2001). This phenomenon is called  self-handicapping (Jones & Berglas, 1978).

Why on earth would they do this, you may wonder. The answer is: out of fear for how others and they themselves may view them in case of failure. If, for example, we want to be seen as naturally intelligent, the idea of getting a bad result on a test can be threatening to us. When we'd have to do such as test we might self-handicap by preparing badly, by drinking on the night before or by going to bed very late. If we would then fail for the test we could blame it on our bad preparation, our drinking or our lack of sleep instead of on our lack of intelligence.

When we learn to understand that abilities and traits can be changed by effort, strategy and help, our fear of challenges and failure will becomes less as will our tendency to self-handicap.

May 18, 2013

"I'd like to be able to say to myself, and believe it, that I lived a good life"

"What am I living for? What is the purpose of living on? What do I want to do with the time I have left? That kind of stuff. I'd like to be able to... I don't know whether I'll have the opportunity or not... to say on my deathbed (this picture of one dying, surrounded by friends and family...who knows? It may never happen that way). I'd like to be able to say I had a good life. And what's the definition of a good life? I made some difference. That's it. If I could just say that. I've made some difference because I've been here in this world. Life is a little bit better and I contributed to that. I think that would be a good life. I'm getting tearful about that because I think it's really important. I'd like to be able to say that to myself, and believe it, that I lived a good life. I don't know if I'm going to do that or not. We'll see."


May 7, 2013

Intelligence is not one-dimensional - forget about IQ

Fractionating Human Intelligence
By Adam Hampshire, Roger Highfield, Beth Parkin, & Adrian Owen

Abstract: What makes one person more intellectually able than another? Can the entire distribution of human intelligence be accounted for by just one general factor? Is intelligence supported by a single neural system? Here, we provide a perspective on human intelligence that takes into account how general abilities or “factors” reflect the functional organization of the brain. By comparing factor models of individual differences in performance with factor models of brain functional organization, we demonstrate that different components of intelligence have their analogs in distinct brain networks. Using simulations based on neuroimaging data, we show that the higher-order factor “g” is accounted for by cognitive tasks corecruiting multiple networks. Finally, we confirm the independence of these components of intelligence by dissociating them using questionnaire variables. We propose that intelligence is an emergent property of anatomically distinct cognitive systems, each of which has its own capacity.

Highlights: ► We propose that human intelligence is composed of multiple independent components ► Each behavioral component is associated with a distinct functional brain network ► The higher-order “g” factor is an artifact of tasks recruiting multiple networks ► The components of intelligence dissociate when correlated with demographic variables

Read more: Scientists Debunk the IQ Myth: Notion of Measuring One's Intelligence Quotient by Singular, Standardized Test Is Highly Misleading

May 1, 2013

More choice is not necessarily better

Research into self-determination theory has shown there is a strong connection between the degree to which people feel they can make their own choices and follow their own preferences and their well-being en healthy functioning.  Researchers argue that supporting autonomy of individuals is therefore a good thing (see for example here, here, and here).

The solution-focused approach also emphasizes individuals' agency and freedom of choice. In the solution-focused approach therapists and coaches help clients define their own preferred future and help them choose steps forward. Also, as much as possible clients' preferences are followed in the way therapist/coaches and clients work together. When clients are not self-motivated for therapy or coaching the therapist of coach deliberately emphasizes client-choice (see this article for why that is and how it works).

While more choice is generally a good thing a closer look shows a more nuanced picture. Both within self-determination theory and in solution-focused therapy and coaching it is recognized that autonomy and freedom of choice is limited. For instance, this article describes how to combine structure with autonomy. Also it is recognized that not every type of choice is good for a person and that a rethoric of freedom does not by definition result in more freedom.

The video below shows an even more detailed picture of the effects of increasing choice. Barry Schwartz explains that increasing choice by adding options can make us worse off for two reasons. A first disavantage of offering more choice is paralysis: we can become stressful and feel unable to choose. A second disadvantage is that when we have chosen we can feel less satisfied because we have chosen from a large set of options. Even when we feel we have chosen the best option we tend to keep on thinking about all the other wonderful options we have said no to.

April 19, 2013

The Reciprocity Ring

In a new book, Give and Take, written by Adam Grant, I read about an exercise which was developed by Wayne and Cheryl Baker of Humax. The exercise is called The Reciprocity Ring and it can be used in any group such as a family, a class or a team in an organization. it works as follows. Each member of the group makes a request to the rest of the group and all the other group members use their knowledge, resources, and connections to help fulfill that request. The approach has several interesting strengths:
  1. As Grant explains research shows that at work, the vast majority of giving that occurs between people is in response to direct requests for help. Yet most people are rather reluctant to ask for help. The Reciprocity Ring, as a structured exercise makes it easier to ask for help. Since everybody asks for help there is no need for embarrassment. This alone makes it more likely that people in the group will start helping each other. 
  2. People who are already inclined to help and to share are helped by the exercise because the explicit requests give them a sense of direction and help them understand how they can help effectively. 
  3. Surprisingly, also people who are normally less inclined to help others, tend to be quite generous during the Reciprocity Ring Exercise. This happens because the process of helping is public. They usually realize that not helping and giving would make them look selfish and unfriendly which would be bad for their reputation. Therefore they tend help and give too. 
This exercise creates a context in a group in which helping and giving becomes easier and more desirable. 

March 31, 2013

What work engagement is

In this post I mentioned some questions about work engagement. Now, here are some answers about what work engagement is, what causes it, and what benefits is has.

1. What is work engagement?
Work engagement is a fulfilling state of mind of people at work which is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption (ref). Vigor refers to the energy, effort, persistence, and resilience; dedication refers to involvement, sense of significance ,  enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge; absorption refers to concentration, happy engrossment in one's work, feeling that time passes quickly and finding it hard to detach oneself from work.
2. What are work engagement's benefits?
Work engagement is associated with workers’ creativity, their inclination to help colleagues, their organizational citizenship behaviors (ref; ref) and their mental health (ref). Also, clients of engaged workers tend to be more satisfied (ref).
3. How stable is work engagement?
Rather than being only simply an enduring state of mind of workers, work engagement tends to fluctuate on a weekly or even daily basis (ref; ref; ref).
4. Which factors affect work engagement?
Work engagement is affected by both contextual factors, such as the social support, performance feedback, job control, task variety and learning opportunities (ref), daily fluctuations in autonomy, supervisory coaching, and team atmosphere (ref) and personal factors such as self-efficacy, organizational based self-esteem, resilience (ref), how well rested workers go to work (ref; ref) and how well they are able to recover from stress during the day by taking breaks (ref) and by experiencing positive off-job social, creative, or sportive leasure activities (ref).
To summarize:
Work engagement is a worker’s state of mind which is affected by contextual and personal factors and which has many benefits for individuals and the organization as a whole.
Question: what small step could you take to improve your own work engagement and that of the people you work with?

March 22, 2013

Beliefs are tied to actions and their consequences

Our beliefs can evolve and improve. Our beliefs are tied to our actions and their consequences. How we continue to develop them is quite important.

We often focus a lot on what we want to be able to do and on what results we want to achieve. And we have good reason to do so. A clear picture of what we want to be able to do and what we want to achieve can be very motivating. A clear idea about our desired situation gives us something to focus our energy on.

March 14, 2013

Questions and ideas about work engagement

Since I started to study the concept of work engagement and have started to discuss it with friends and colleagues I have come across some interesting questions about and views on work engagement (thanks Caroline Heijmans, Xander Cladder and Gyuri Vergouw). I find it interesting to learn about these questions and views because I plan to learn more about the concept in the coming period. Here are some questions and views that were mentioned:
  1. Who is responsible for work engagement? 
  2. If there is a responsibility for organizations, is it really possible to improve workers' work engagement? 
  3. Isn't work improving engagement just a matter of good boss who takes time for you, challenges you and supports you when things are tough? If that is true, what is new about that? Haven't we known that for ages?
  4. Work engagement is about work circumstances. How can you convince organizations to invest in better work environments (and high quality of work) so that work engagement will increase? 
  5. to what extent is work engagement related to new ways of working? 
  6. How does diversity at work influence work engagement?
  7. How does long distance cooperation in multinational organizations (through teleconferencing, group ware etc.) influence work engagement?  
  8. Work engagement has some negative aspects. Engaged workers can be focused too much on themselves and their own career. 
  9. The concept of work engagement is less unambiguous than a concept like commitment.  
Question: What do you think about work engagement? Do you have specific questions of views?

March 9, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Happy Worker

I am currently reading A Day in the Life of a Happy Worker.
Here is a description of the book: This edited collection brings together some of the leading researchers in the study of the daily experience of work and daily well-being. The book covers both theoretical and methodological issues involved in studying workers’ well-being as it evolves on a daily basis. Interest in the topic of daily fluctuations in worker well-being has grown rapidly over the past ten years. This is partly because of advances in research and statistical methods, but also because researchers have found that the psychological processes that influence well-being play out from moment to moment, and from day to day. Topics covered in this book include:
  • The theoretical basis of studying work as a series of daily episodes 
  • Assessment of different components of daily well-being 
  • Factors involved in the regulation of well-being at work 
  • Qualitative and quantitative diary experience sampling and event reconstruction methods 
  • Latent growth curve modelling of diary data 
The final chapter of the book includes a preview of how daily methods may evolve in the future. Intended as a guide for researchers with good knowledge of field research methods, the book will be particularly useful to researchers of work-related phenomena who seek to expand their knowledge of dynamic methods in field contexts, and those who want to start using these methods. It will also be of interest to students of work psychology and organisational behaviour, and related disciplines.

March 7, 2013

4 Pillars of progress-focused management

The progress-focused approach to management, as we define it, is is based on four pillars:

The solution-focused approach: progress-focused managers apply solution-focused principles and techniques both in helping employees and in directing and correcting employees when needed. They treat employees and colleagues constructively, also in challenging situations, and handle objections and resistance effectively. They take the perspective of the other person seriously and remain focused on achieving desired behaviors and results.

March 2, 2013

Does person-focused criticism work?

In response to my post When children have low self esteem should you then give them person praise?, David Winter asked: "Do you know of any research on the effects of person vs process criticism instead of praise? My assumption would be that person-focused criticism is more damaging than process-focused but it would be nice to have some evidence.".

There is indeed such research. Here it is:
Person versus process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth and coping (Kamins & Dweck, 1999). 
Abstract: Conventional wisdom suggests that praising a child as a whole or praising his or her traits is beneficial. Two studies tested the hypothesis that both criticism and praise that conveyed person or trait judgments could send a message of contingent worth and undermine subsequent coping. In Study 1, 67 children (ages 5–6 years) role-played tasks involving a setback and received 1 of 3 forms of criticism after each task: person, outcome, or process criticism. In Study 2, 64 children role-played successful tasks and received either person, outcome, or process praise. In both studies, self-assessments, affect, and persistence were measured on a subsequent task involving a setback. Results indicated that children displayed significantly more "helpless" responses (including self-blame) on all dependent measures after person criticism or praise than after process criticism or praise. Thus person feedback, even when positive, can create vulnerability and a sense of contingent self-worth. 
Read full article

March 1, 2013

When children have low self esteem should you then give them person praise?

In this post: PROCESS PRAISE more effective than TRAIT PRAISE from 2008, I explained the difference between person praise (or trait praise) and process praise. In that post you can read that giving person praise (about personal traits or qualities) may be well-intended but has some negative consequences. A particular disadvantage of person praise is that it induces a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that you have certain traits and talents which you can not really change. Process compliments, which are about what people have done, work better. They induce a growth mindset, which is the belief that people can change their traits and qualities by putting in effort.

Much research has shown that having a fixed mindset has many disadvantages compare to a growth mindset. For more details about this, read: Growth mindset associated with various positive outcomes (competence, relatedness, learning, vitality, adjustment).

After reading my posts, a solution-focused therapist sent me an e-mail saying: "My own reactions to the paper were initially a wholehearted interest in process rather than trait praise. But then I got to think about young people with very low self esteem, and thinking a bit of me still sees a potential value in commenting on traits they may not know they have." My response was that I thought it was a sensible hypothesis but that I'd predict that, even here, process feedback would work better. Back then, I had no evidence to support my prediction. But now I do.

Eddie Brummelman et al. (2013) studied the effects of person praise and process praise on children with low self esteem. Their conclusion is that person praise has negative impact on these children. For more details about this research read this post: Person Praise Backfires in Children With Low Self-Esteem.

February 27, 2013

Survey for professional helpers - please participate

Are you a professional helper, for example a therapist, coach, counselor or career counselor? Will you then please help me by taking a new survey? Through this survey I want to learn about the views and the work of professional helpers.

The survey will probably take you about 5 - 10 minutes. Your answers will be processed anonymously and confidentially. The results of this study will be published within a few weeks on this website.

February 22, 2013

Influencing Mindsets Through Questions

Influencing People’s Beliefs About the Malleability of Personal Characteristics Through a Sequence of Four Loaded Multiple-Choice Questions

Coert Visser, 2013

The degree to which people have a growth mindset can have important beneficial consequences for their behavior, performance, and development. A growth mindset can be induced by giving people effort compliments and by training them through brief workshops. This study addresses the question whether specific questions may also be used as a tool to induce a growth mindset. Research has shown that questions loaded with certain implicit presuppositions can cause people to think and act congruently with those presuppositions. A survey containing a sequence of four multiple choice questions did indeed affect people’s mindset. Version 1 of the survey started with four multiple choice questions which implicitly suggest a growth mindset. Version 2 started with four multiple choice questions which subtly implied a fixed mindset. Version 3 contained no loaded questions. Implications are discussed and suggestions for further research are given.

> Read ful article

February 11, 2013

Solution Focused dialogue via disagreement at the ‘Kitchen Table’

2013, Alan Kay

During a strategic planning project that I facilitated several years ago, the client agreed to conduct a number of roundtable dialogue sessions. The organization was very successful, but it needed to articulate a clear strategy to convince investors that it could improve profitability. It had successfully transformed from one business model to another over a period of about ten years, but elements of the old culture were making further change difficult.

‘Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people
who are doing something you don't believe is right.’ ~ Jane Goodall

We decided on three groups of roundtables: the customers, distributors and staff. As a result;

February 5, 2013

Review of the Effectiveness of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Effectiveness of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Systematic Qualitative Review of Controlled Outcome Studies

By Wallace J. Gingerich and Lance T. Peterson
Objective: We review all available controlled outcome studies of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) to evaluate evidence of its effectiveness.  
Method: Forty-three studies were located and key data abstracted on problem, setting, SFBT intervention, design characteristics, and outcomes.  
Results: Thirty-two (74%) of the studies reported significant positive benefit from SFBT; 10 (23%) reported positive trends. The strongest evidence of effectiveness came in the treatment of depression in adults where four separate studies found SFBT to be comparable to well-established alternative treatments. Three studies examined length of treatment and all found SFBT used fewer sessions than alternative therapies.
Conclusion: The studies reviewed provide strong evidence that SFBT is an effective treatment for a wide variety of behavioral and psychological outcomes and, in addition, it may be briefer and therefore less costly than alternative approaches.
Also read: Interview with Wally Gingerich

January 30, 2013

10 Quotes from Becoming solution-focused in brief-therapy

One of the books which was most helpful in getting me on track, many years ago, in solution-focused change was Becoming solution-focused in brief-therapy by John Walter and Jane Peller. Here are 10 quotes from the book:
  1. [W]e believe that all is becoming, and learning is never complete.
  2. Use of verbs like show, become, seem, and act as if promote a view that behaviors are temporary and changeable. 
  3. We do not believe that people have resources anymore than we believe that people have deficits. 

January 20, 2013

Beyond threatmindedness

Steve Flatt
2013, Steve Flatt

The evolution of the human brain is an amazing story full of surprises. Underlying that evolution is one drive - survival. Without survival evolution cannot continue. This seems obvious but surviving means avoiding threats such as being eaten or killed for territory or mates (and I don't mean your buddies down the pub, though that is part of it too). There are two aspects of survival that seem fundamental in all organisms - noticing threats and communication.

January 16, 2013

20 Inspiring quotes from True Professionalism

One book which has had an important influence on me, through the years, is David Maister's True professionalism. In the book David argues - apparently completely unafraid to be seen as naive or idealistic - for an ethical, ambitious, and principles-based approach to doing one's work. I have known this book ever since was published in 1997 and I still agree with the large majority of things in it and I'm still inspired by them. And perhaps more importantly, I think they work. Here are 20 quotes from the book.

January 10, 2013

You don’t know what a mountain is, do you?

Insoo Kim Berg
Around 2000, I was captured by the work of Insoo Kim Berg, Steve de Shazer and their colleagues of the Brief Family Therapy Center. The book Interviewing for Solutions, which Insoo and Peter De Jong wrote, described a very attractive way of working: solution-focused working. What attracted me in this approach was that in it I recognized certain elements which resembled how I, on occasions, already had been working as a consultant. I thought the dialogues in the book were fascinating, especially the dialogues which featured Insoo.

January 9, 2013

Website Doing What Works included on list of best career resources

This website listed no. 45 in a list of 100 Best Career Resources for Grads and PhDs. The sites on the list were said to offer the best advice available for smart people with lots of education looking to make their dent in academia or just find a challenging and rewarding job that uses their education to the fullest extent.

January 5, 2013

Free will is real

About a year ago I wrote the blog post On the question of whether we have free will in which I referred to the work of Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, John Bargh and Daniel Wegner who all state that we do not have free will and that our perception of a free will is just an illusion. John Bargh, for example, mentions the importance of automatic processes and says that nearly all human behavior should be seen as automatic responses to environmental triggers. Daniel Wegner has shown that respondents in studies have said that certain of their behaviors were intentional while, in reality, these behaviors were evoked by the experimenter In that case free will was indeed an illusion. I also wrote about Valery Chirkov and Daniel Dennett who do believe in free will. I ended my blog post in a certain confusion about free will does or does not exist. I wondered whether it wouldn’t be better to ask to which extent we have a free will than to ask whether or not we have a free will.

In his book "Vrije wil is geen illusie. Hoe de hersenen ons vrijheid verschaffen" (Free will is no illusion. How brains give us freedom) Dutch neuropsychologist Herman Kolk disagrees with these authors who see free will as an illusion.

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