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Showing posts from 2016

Four things unreliable helpers do

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Can we always trust professional helpers? Unfortunately we cannot. Suppliers of help can even harm us when they tell persuasive stories and supply us their treatments. They might do this with the best of intentions and they may actually believe in their treatments. But there may also be cynical and unreliable suppliers who knowingly sell us ineffective and even harmful treatments. Let's look at how people of the latter category, these unreliable helpers, might work. I think, in essence, they do four things.

The vital role of frustration in deliberate practice

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I received many responses to my article How we can keep on breaking through performance ceilings. Most were positive, some where constructively critical. Most were about the claim that stretching one's abilities comes with a certain discomfort and frustration. One person asked whether this frustration or discomfort is really necessary. Another person asked whether this frustration does not contradict the progress principle which says that experiencing meaningful progress is very motivational ("how can experiencing frustration ever be motivational?").

When is leadership legitimate?

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Below I'll try to answer two questions which I have thought about for some time. First, I'll say some things about the value of democracy. Are democracies better than non-democracies? I'll show why I think the answer is yes. Second, I'll share my thoughts on when leadership of countries should be considered legitimate. I think that two basic requirements need to be met for that. After having explained this, I'll share my thoughts on the legitimacy of the leadership of the next president of the USA.

How to motivate students for deliberate practice

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Top performers in all kinds of disciplines use the power of deliberate practice. They practice in a goal-focused way on challenging tasks, get immediate feedback and keep repeating until mistakes disappear from their performance. By doing this for many years, they keep breaking through performance limits and keep making progress. But deliberate practice does not only work for those who want to reach the top of their discipline. The approach works at witch ever level you happen to be. Unfortunately, many people fail to use and benefit from deliberate practice. In a new research project Eskreis-Winkler et al. (2016) have looked at how students can be motivated to use deliberate practice and how this impacted their performance.

How we can keep on breaking through performance ceilings

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Deliberate practice is a way of practicing which is very challenging yet very effective. Many studies have shown that prolonged deliberate practice plays an important role in the achievement of excellence in all kinds of disciplines. Deliberate practice has four basic characteristics: (1) goal-focus: individuals have clear goals of improving specific parts of their performance, (2) challenge: while practicing individuals constantly try something which is just above their current skill level, (3) feedback: while practicing, individuals get immediate expertise-based feedback, and (4) repetition: individuals repeat tasks until mistakes in their performance have been eliminated.

We should not fight science, democracy, and capitalism but the factors undermining them

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Science, democracy, and capitalism, some treasured institutions of the world's most advanced societies, in terms of health, wealth, freedom, and equality, are being criticized more and more. I acknowledge that there are some severe problems surrounding these institutions but I think we should not see these institutions as the problem.

How we keep on falling for untruths

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Recent years have shown many examples of how we can persist in believing things which are not true. A random selection of untruths which have remain popular with a surprisingly large group of people are: the idea that vaccines cause autism, that global warming is hoax (created by the Chinese), that homeopathy works, and that students each have a unique learning style which teaching should be adapted to. How is it possible that we so easily seem to fall for untruths?

Interruptions reduce the quality of your work

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Several authors have advocated blocking time during you workday for working uninterruptedly. Amabile & Kramer (2011) say, on the basis of their research, that this is a condition for making progress in what is meaningful to you. Newport (2016) claims that working long and focused without interruptions leads to a dramatic increase in productivity and work satisfaction. Research by Sophie Leroy has shown that when you pick up a task again after an interruption there will be what she calls an attention residue. This means that part of your mental energy is still focused on what you were doing during the interruption. The interruption harms your deep focus.

Discomfort as a sign that you are learning

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About eight years ago my colleague Gwenda Schlundt Bodien and I did a big evaluation of our training courses. We wanted to find out what worked and what didn't in our courses. We send an e-mail to all participants who had attended our courses in the past years. We asked them to complete a brief survey in which we asked them which parts of our courses they had found most useful. On the list were items like: PowerPoint presentations, group discussions, video observations, practicing with other participants, practicing with the trainers, practicing with live clients, analyzing written dialogues, plenary discussion and explanations, reflecting team exercises, etc.

The growth mindset goes hand in hand with an awareness of our own limitedness

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An unrealistic and harmful belief which I have written about a lot is the fixed mindset (Dweck, 2006). In a fixed mindset we believe that certain capabilities and traits cannot be developed. Due to this belief we do not put in effort and we do indeed not get better. A growth mindset is more realistic and works better. In a growth mindset we believe that abilities can grow and characteristics can change. This way of thinking inspires us to do our best and increases our chances of making progress. At the same time, a growth mindset goes hand in hand with a clear awareness of our own limitedness. How is that possible?

A learning attitude is essential for leadership development

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Effective leadership development requires a growth mindset and a focus on learning goals.

Recently I wrote a brief article about setting goals. In that article a comparison was made, among other things, between performance goals and learning goals. Performance goals are about results which have be achieved; learning goals are about knowledge and skills to be learned. In general, performance goals lead to the best results for task which are straightforward. In other words, when they are clear for the person who has to do them and when that person is competent for those tasks. Learning goals lead to the best results when tasks are complex and cannot be overseen completely and when they require further learning from the person. With this in mind it is not strange to assume that learning goals are more relevant for leadership development than performance goals. 

A Plea for Broad Rationality

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In The Rationality Quotient, which I have interviewed Keith Stanovich about recently, there is an interesting bit in which different conceptualizations of rationality are explained. Roughly there are two conceptualizations of rationality, a thin one and a broad one (a distinction which was first made by political scientist Jon Elster, 1983). The thin theory of rationality involves two factors of rationality: instrumental rationality and epistemic rationality.

Interview with Keith Stanovich (2016)

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The Rationality Quotient - Progress toward measuring rationality
By Coert Visser

I first interviewed Keith Stanovich, Professor Emeritus of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Toronto, in 2009. In that interview he explained the difference between intelligence and rationality and why rationality is very important. He also pointed out that IQ tests are incomplete measures of cognitive functioning because they do not measure rationality. Now, seven years later, I interview him about his new book, The Rationality Quotient, which he wrote together with his colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak, and which presents a prototype of a rational thinking test, the Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking (CART).

5 of the most dangerous beliefs

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I've written before about how irrational beliefs may be harmful and also about how beliefs may be hard to change due to some systematic and psychological obstacles. Yet, beliefs can change and  believing they can't may cause us to stop talking honestly about our beliefs thereby creating polarization and impeding progress. With that in mind, I'm sharing my thoughts about five beliefs which I think are among the most dangerous beliefs. Of course, I am not expecting everyone to agree with all of these. But hopefully, you will find some of them thought provoking.

Coaching as the filling of 7 buckets

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Many progress-focused coaches are enthusiastic about our 7 steps approach. This approach reflects a conversation structure which often works quite well in coaching conversations. Years ago, a student told me she used this approach in her coaching conversations. At the end of the conversation she always would always ask whether coachees had found the conversation useful. Nearly always, theses coaches confirmed that the conversation had been useful, she said. But, she asked, it's very well that they found it useful but I am also engaged in my own learning process. How can I get a sense of whether I have done well in the conversation?

Two components of positive communication

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Negativity in conversations can put a strain on relationships and can make cooperation harder. Negativity, such as criticism and blame, can make people defensive. While they are in a defensive state of mind, their ability for nuanced and creative thinking is temporarily reduced. Instead, they may try to justify their own behavior or launch a counterattack. Whenever people feel they are approached negatively their reflex is to respond negatively. Both the content of what they say and the way they are saying it is likely to become more negative.

The important difference between emotional well-being and satisfaction with life

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The happiness which you experience in a situation differs from how positive you think about the situation afterwards. In the same way, there is an important difference between experiencing emotional well-being and life satisfaction. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angis Deaton (photo) have formulated important insights about these topics which I will try to summarize below.

Should we make happiness the focus of our lives?

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How important should we consider being happy? Should it be a general goal in our life to be happy? Or should it perhaps even be the ultimate goal we should have as a person? Must we see happiness as the main goal in many or all domains of our life, such as work and education? While happiness as a goal sounds quite important, perhaps we should not conclude too quickly that our life resolves or should revolve around happiness only. What happiness precisely is, how we achieve it, and to what extent we should focus on it, may harder to answer that you might think.

3 Ways in which psychology is trying to make progress

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As you may have read, there is much ado in psychology about the correctness of previously found research findings. While some scientists have responded somewhat defensively to this, others are seriously trying to improve the quality of psychological research. Here are three ways in which they try to do that.

Which types of goals when?

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There are different types of goals. What are the differences and when does which type of goal work best? In a new article, Latham & Seijts (2016) summarize the findings of goals-setting theory (GST; Locke & Latham, 1990; 2013), a well supported theory about how goals work. GST-research has shown that setting specific, challenging goals lead to higher performance than easy and abstract goals. The general rule is that higher goals lead to higher performance providing four conditions have been met: the individual is competent for the goals, has sufficient situational resources, is committed and receives objective feedback on goal progress.

Good is Stronger than Bad for Older People: The Age-Related Positivity Effect

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Fifteen years ago, in a review article entitled Bad is stronger than good, Baumeister et al. (2001) documented research into the so-called negativity bias. The article cites research showing that negative events, emotions, and information impact us more strongly than positive ones do. They conclude their article by saying:
"In our review, we have found bad to be stronger than good in a disappointingly relentless pattern. We hope that this article may stimulate researchers to search for and identify exceptions; that is, spheres or circumstances in which good events outweigh bad ones. Given the large number of patterns in which bad outweighs good, however, any reversals are likely to remain as mere exceptions."

When is positive feedback more motivational and when negative feedback?

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Constructive feedback, both negative and positive, can play an important role in goal achievement. Previous research by Koo and Fishbach (2008) demonstrated that feedback can signal two kinds of messages. The first type of message is about commitment: it can say something about whether your goals are valuable and whether you have a good change of achieving them. Individuals which are not strongly committed to a certain goal can become more motivated after receiving positive feedback (and less after receiving negative feedback). The second message is about progress: feedback can say something about whether you have put in enough effort and whether you have achieved enough progress. Strongly committed individuals tend to get more motivated by negative feedback and less motivated by positive feedback (see the figure on the right). By the way, with negative feedback I do not mean personal criticism or blame but constructive information about what is not going well yet and what could be b…

Will the future be better?

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What would your answer be to the question: will the future be better? The answer to this question turns out to depend on whom you ask and on what it is specifically focused on. Mohammed Nagdy and Max Roser explain in their article Optimism & Pessimism that many people are individually optimistic but, specifically in developed countries, socially (or collectively) pessimistic. In other words, they expect that their personal future will be good but the future of their country not too good. This individual optimism is relatively stable. Collective pessimism is less stable. It is influence by recent events and recessions. Another remarkable finding is that many people are locally optimistic and nationally pessimistic. They expect that things will go generally well in their near environment but not in the country ar large.

Can most people be trusted?

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Trust in other people is important in any society. The degree to which people trust each other contributes to their well-being and to the economy of a country. In a new publication, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser show that the degree to which people trust others differs strongly in different countries. In countries like Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, and China there is much trust; in countries like The Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Ghana and Romania there is little.

Trump's words are a clear warning of what he intends to do: turn back civilization

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Of the many things that can be held against Donald Trump (that very many things he says aren't true, his ruthless behavior in business, his many business failures, his unawareness of his own ignorance regarding policy matters, the fact that he's taking bragging to whole new levels, that he promises amazing things without explaining how he will achieve them, etc.) there is one thing that worries me most and that is his philosophy that fire should be fought with fire.

Hate gays? Maybe You’re Gay

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Have you noticed the paradox that sometimes people who are vocal opponents of gay rights at some point turn out to be gay themselves? Did you hear that the person responsible for the mass shooting at a gay club earlier this week had been a regular visitor of that club and chatted with men via online dating services like Grindr? How to make sense of this paradox?

Meaning and motivation in work: what is the role of managers?

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In this video, Ed Deci, co-developer of the self-determination theory, explains that we, as parents, teachers, coaches and managers should not try to motivate people but instead can try to create the conditions within which people can motivate themselves. People are not like, so to speak, empty vessels in which we have to pour motivation.  People are naturally motivated to explore and try to understand their environment and to try to make useful contributions. If you still treat people like motivation-less creatures into which motivation has to be pumped you will inevitably create resistance because you disregard their already existing motivation and their ability to further motivate themselves.

How to break the power of collective delusions

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When is it sane to hold a specific belief? One way of thinking about this is that when a majority of people hold the same belief it is probably true and therefore it must be sane to hold the belief. But this approach is erroneous. It has be known for a long time that collective delusions exist. For example, Charles Mackay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds documents national delusions, peculiar follies and philosophical delusions. Collective delusions have always existed and they still do and they may cause serious harm. So how is it possible they exist at all? And how may we break their power over us?

Interview with Anders Ericsson

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K. Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who is a professor at Florida State University. In the beginning of his career he worked with among other Nobel laureate Herbert Simon. He is recognized as the most prominent researcher in the area of expertise development. Together with his colleagues, he has done research into how experts in different areas have managed to reach the top of their fields. Uptil now he has mostly scientific publications. But now he and Robert Pool have published a popular book about expertise development: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Here is an interview with Ericsson about this new book. 

Epistemological interviewing

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Irrational beliefs can be harmful to ourselves and others. Therefore, being prepared to update our beliefs (making them more realistic/rational) can be wise. However, this is usually not easy because there can be multiple obstacles to do it. But if if we see the usefulness of letting go of irrational beliefs a few practical tips can help us make progress. Helping other people to get rid of irrational beliefs is another matter. We usually recognize other people's irrationality easier that our own irrationality (if we'd clearly see that our beliefs were irrational we would not hold on them in the first place). Seeing other people's irrationality can make us want to confront them about their irrationality. However, such confrontations seldom work.

23 Cognitive biases, heuristics and effects

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One of the ways we can counter irrational beliefs is by informing ourselves about some well documented cognitive biases, heuristics and effects which all to some extent skew are perception of reality, usually without us being aware of it. I'll keep my explanations brief because it is quite easy to learn more about each of these biases, heuristics and effects by googling them.

Trump's escalating rhetoric resembles the methods dictators use

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In this post from 2012 I wrote that people may create fear in order to control other people. I explained that creating fear is an effective way of gaining people's attention, creating hyper-vigilance, suppressing their rationality, and legitimizing violence in order to fight the (supposed) threats and to enforce loyalty. People doing this set in motion a vicious cycle. In other words, a process of escalation seems to be inevitable. In order to keep their followers' fears sustained, and their rationality suppressed, they have to keep feeding them with new information about the (supposed) threat. By creating more fear they get more attention, suppress more people's rationality, legitimize greater violence and acquire greater control. These are the methods dictators use.

Saving capitalism (Robert Reich)

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Some time ago I wrote about economist Richard Wolff's book Democracy at work. A cure for capitalism in which he argued that capitalism is inherently threatening to democracy and that a fundamental change is needed in the direction of Worker Self-Directed Enterprises (WSDEs) which would be an alternative to capitalism (read my explanation of this argument here).

While I found the book interesting, I wasn't convinced that capitalism should be replaced. Now, there is a book by another economist, also one who is very critical about current day capitalism and concerned for the protection of the democracy, Robert Reich. The book is called Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and it argues not for the replacement of capitalism but for its rescue.