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Motivating novices through positive feedback and experts through negative feedback (a #SolutionFocus paper mentioned by Coert Visser @DoingWhatworks)

I would like to comment on the paper mentioned above (thanks Coert!). This is interesting, and I find that there’s commonality behind what’s appear as opposites (positive & negative feedback).

Indeed, my first shot was that there is a difference between someone who feels Competent with respect to some learning and someone who doesn’t. I’m using here Competent as in Self-Determination Theory that basically says that intrinsic motivation comes out of promoting Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness (thanks to @Coert for bring it to my radar, BTW).

So, if you’re pointing problems to a beginner, you’re just undermining both their sense of competence and autonomy.

It then seems to me that it all depends on whether someone thinks he’s competent (or autonomous) with respect to some knowledge or skill, or not. So, before feeling competent, you’d need to grow their intrinsic motivation (by praising their hard acquired competence and autonomy), and when they think they’ve come to some kind of expertise, then bringing that kind of positive feedback is just acknowledging the obvious to them and thus not working anymore.

And then for experts (or people who think they are), pointing to problems (gaps between perfection and where they stand) make the unobvious obvious. And if these people are willing to close the gap, then they might want to work on that gap.

I told in the beginning that there was a common principle. Here it is IMHO: it’s about what Gregory Bateson called Information. If you don’t bring information to someone, he won’t act (of course). But if you do, he might react to it.

And what did Bateson called Information? He called Information “a difference that makes a difference”.

So, to someone who thinks he’s a beginner, you point the difference with the beginner: that he’s better than that. To an expert that knows already he’s not a beginner anymore, talking of where he is doesn’t bring information. You’re not stating a difference in his mental model. But if you’re pointing to an unseen difference between his perceived expertise level and some kind of objective/better expertise level, then that is information to him, and he might work on it.

Now the problem is: how can we know where someone think he is on that scale of expertise? Well maybe that Solution Focus scale might come to help here. But then we would need another discussion about how to move up the scale: root cause analyse the gap (no way!) or find times where the gap’s sometimes smaller, and what is done at these times, and do more of it (yes).

Also, furthering the Solution Focus approach to help that expert improve, it might help to ask him about what does he wants more of. Because one can think that although he might be considered an expert when it comes to generalities about some field, he might himself doesn’t agree with that and/or think that inside the field there are some areas where he feels like a beginner.

So in the end, the difference that can make a difference mostly comes out right to someone when the person is giving hints as to where it might be.

Only when someone’s expertise claim to be encompassing might we bring to the table other mental models or situation that the so-called expert might have problems to solve. Indeed, who said one mind has the requisite variety (Wikipedia) to handle two (or more)? No one, for sure as 1 never equaled 1+1.


Reblog: A 3×2 model of solutions (@coertvisser #solutionfocus)

August 22nd, 2012 Posted in Solution Focus Tags: ,

Here’s a very short and nice article by Coert Visser providing a model of solutions.

I can’t help but be reminded of some well-known “equation” relative to change:

Efficacy_of_solution = Quality_of_solution x Acceptance

This equation is well-known in the Lean and Six Sigma circles. It is used to remind coaches that whatever the quality of a solution, if it’s not accepted by people, it’s of few, if any, use to improve.

Visser’s 3×2 model provides a visual representation of the preceding equation showing where that Efficacy of solution may reside, depending on the Acceptance of it. Obviously, acceptance is higher when 1) people have done it before and 2) they know why it works.

When it comes to Solution Focus though, some further point can be made. That a solution that has already been implemented by someone (even if partially) has the effect of preparing the mind of that person for replicating it later. Also, that solution is well adapted to the environment where it could be re-applied again. Indeed, the solution and the environment where it occurred in the past co-influenced each other. That’s not a small thing to consider when implementing a solution.

When trying to get exogenous solutions into place, it’s not just whether the solution is intellectually understood (most are), it’s also that the mind of the people who should be applying it need to be adapted to it (or that they digested it).

Endogenous solutions don’t have this adaptation barrier to overcome. That’s a huge benefit for them, IMO!


5 Suggestions for becoming a skilled #solutionfocus professional (guest post from Coert Visser @doingwhatworks)

February 1st, 2012 Posted in Solution Focus Tags: , , , ,

This is a guest post by Coert Visser,

The solution-focused approach, which was invented in psychotherapy in the 1980s, is now being discovered by many people in all kinds of professions such as coaches, social workers, managers, teachers, trainers, consultants, and project managers. Many people know the solution-focused approach from techniques such as scaling questions, the miracle question, past success questions, and coping questions. By using these and other types of solution-focused questions, the approach helps them to get a clearer picture of their desired situation and of what has already worked before. Many professionals who have started to apply solution-focused principles and techniques are pleased both by the response they get from their clients, employees, or students and by how fast it tends to lead to good results.

Professionals who have just begun to work solution-focused also notice that mastering it is not quite as easy as it might appear. They sometimes ask me for suggestions of how they might approach their learning process. Here are five suggestions based on my experience of what usually works well:

  1. Practice a lot: The basic assumptions and principles of the solution-focused approach can probably be understood within the span of a day, or so. But to master the skills may take many years. If you want to achieve excellence as a solution-focused coach your best chance of achieving it is to approach it as you would approach becoming an excellent musician. Set stretching learning goals focused on improving areas of performance which you are not satisfied about, practice a lot, get feedback and guidance, observe, discuss and learn from examples, keep practicing, reading, writing and immersing yourself in the subject matter. The more technically proficient you’ll become, the more this will free up your attention in conversations with clients to listen carefully to what they are saying and to respond adequately.
  2. Feel free to combine: Since no one can master all the solution-focused principles and techniques at once, it is a good thing that solution-focused principles can often be combined with models and tools from other approaches. To borrow a phrase from Canadian solution-focused consultant Alan Kay, solution-focused principles and techniques can often be ‘layered in’ into existing tools like a SWOT-analysis, or SMART goals.
  3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. When students of the solution-focused approach become more knowledgeable and skilled something paradoxical may happen. While they become better, they may feel they don’t make any progress or even become worse. There may be two reasons for this: 1) only when they are exposed to this new complexity, and when they become aware of how subtle the solution-focused approach works, they become aware of what they don’t know. In other words, their self-assessment is reduced because they also learn to judge their ability level more accurately. 2) While they are making progress they are often simultaneously becoming more demanding and raising the bar for themselves. When learning new complex skills please realize that it is not abnormal to feel as though you are not making progress. My suggestion is to be as affirmative and appreciative for yourself as you are for your clients. Also, ask yourself if your client found the conversation with you useful. Even when you found your performance disappointing your client may still have found the conversation very useful. That is what matters most.
  4. Keep an open mind: Every now and then, you may come across aspects of the approach which may not directly appeal to you. My suggestion is to not dismiss them too soon but instead to give these aspects a chance to prove themselves in practice. You might not understand and appreciate every aspect of the approach right away but you might do so later. 
  5. Remain skeptical: Don’t be convinced solely on the basis of anecdotes, case examples or what ‘authorities’ tell you. Keep trying things out, research them well, add your own inventions and build on what works. This way you may gradually develop your version of the solution-focused approach which is optimally suited for your purposes.  

If you are interested in the solution-focused approach I hope you find one or more of these suggestions useful and I’d love to hear about some of your experiences.


New Year Questions (#SolutionFocus #Change)

Coert Visser did a nice article about Solution Focus based questions for a new year. I’d like to build on them and propose my own, in the hope that it could positively improve any change initiative you’re a part of (or a leader).

From your customers’ point of view

  • What pleased your customers last year? What else?
  • How did you provided that to them? What else?
  • How could you make more of that?
  • What first step can you take right not to make more of that? What smaller step can you make? Even smaller?
  • Imagine your customers coming in and asked you straight what they really want. What would they ask? What else?
  • How are you going to provide it? What first step do you need to make, now, to provide it?

From your employees’ point of view

Manager to employees

  • What made your employees happy last year?
  • How could they achieve this?
  • How can you help them make more of it?
  • What are they thriving for?
  • What would make them soar?
  • What impact would them soaring could have on yourself? On your business?
  • What small step can you make right now to start building that preferred future of them?
  • What first thing will your employees notice that you changed in order to bring them more thriving opportunities in their work?
  • What strengths did you notice in each of your employees? How is s/he using them? What prevents them from using these strengths more thoroughly and more often? How could you help that? What first step do you see you doing now to help that strength liberation?

Employees to management

  • What made you happy last year?
  • How did you do it?
  • How could you make more of it?
  • What worked well in your relations with your management? How did you do it? What else? How could you do more of it?

From a process (system) point of view

  • What worked well last year? What else?
  • How did the organization make it happen?
  • How could you do more of it? What else?
  • What first step could you do right now to do more of it?

Ok, I guess you got the point. Feel free to propose more questions below!

Happy new year everyone!

Reblog: The change sparsity principle in #solutionfocus organizational change (also #Lean)

Here’s another excellent blog article from Coert Visser about Solution FocusDoing What Works: Forward in Solution-Focused Change: The change sparsity principle in solution-focused organizational change.

It reminds us that “continuous improvement” really must be “continuous”. Small steps, and not always big bang kaizen or kaikaku workshops!

Also, Lean already knows that: a work standard is the best way to do a job at a certain time. It’s deemed to be changed and improved as soon as someone finds a new better way (a solution!) to do it. When that’s been found, the standard is updated.

How could have we made Lean and Kaizen threatening for people (despite advocating a “respect for people”)?!

This question is deficit-based because I try to dig a problem. A better question would probably be “when had we experienced non-threatening change that was welcomed by people?

I think my experience of Lean until now may have been too fast with respect to these I was supposed to coach. Of course, I had to deal with management eager to see results. But isn’t it a situation where “to move slowly is to advance faster”?

I need to try this!

(I’m whining here, but I need to admit that I’ve already tried a coaching stance of not pushing forward, like the one in Motivational Interviewing (see my SFMI Lean series) and had quite some success).

I know from a long time that I’m the one that need to change with respect to Lean coaching. Boy is this difficult sometimes! 🙂


10 questions for the #solutionfocused (#lean?) #coach

September 5th, 2011 Posted in Change, Lean, Solution Focus Tags: , , , , ,

Today seems to be under Coert Visser’s auspices. Here’s another nice blog post of him about questions to help a coach prepare himself to really listen to the coachee or client:

Doing What Works: 10 questions for the solution-focused coach.

I feel it really hard not to fall in the rhetoric trap where I know what I would like them to do (Lean management for instance) but feel listening is the way to go and so I need to ask them questions.

A coach mainly works by asking questions, but not in a rhetoric way. He must deeply want to know what is it that his coachee wants, how does he see things or how he feels about the change.

Of course, there’s no other way to do Lean management than by doing Lean management. Yet, there’s more than one path to reach that goal and it’s important to use the easiest path for the learning manager (the coachee) and help him identify what worked before in the direction of that Lean management.

For instance, if the coach identifies that creating a flow is the path to follow for now, one can go for the following kind of question:

Lean teaches us that the most efficiency is achieved in a flowing process (provide details as necessary). Tell me about a time where you have experienced work flowing? What allowed it to happen?

Then, work could focus on the current process:

In the current process, what gives you hope for increasing the flow-ness of it?


#Lean idea: Treating clients as cooperative, no matter how resistant they may appear (#solutionfocus)

August 29th, 2011 Posted in Change, Lean, Solution Focus Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s is a very nice blog from Coert Visser: Doing What Works: Treating clients as cooperative, no matter how resistant they may appear, is the quickest and most promising way to encourage further cooperation.

I’m now deeply convinced that it could help a lot of Lean CEO trying to “do” Lean if their senseï or Lean coach would deal with them in a solution focused way.

The traditional Lean coaching approach has traditionally been to hit the CEO on the head until they do it and get it (maybe from a cultural approach to coaching in Japan). Surely enough, Lean has to be done by oneself to be fully understood: what a one-piece flow can bring in terms of problem detection and team work is a marvellous thing that needs to be experienced to be best understood.

Few consultants that I know can run down this path: the CEO is barely available and most often nominate someone to take care of the Lean job, or worse, let the consultants manage Lean projects on their own.

Instead, if Lean coaches would deal with the CEO first, foremost and only, it might be a slower start but a better, firmer start in the end.

As Solution Focus is about what works in terms of behavior, it may help to raise awareness in the CEO that what he sees in his company is how he thinks. And that by changing his thoughts and corresponding behaviors, he might get something else that works better for the company as a whole.

I’ll post something about Motivational Interviewing as a way to approach that first meetings with the CEO… soon.


Redirecting attention from negative to positive in 3 small steps (P->C->O) (a @doingwhatworks blogpost, useful for #Lean change?)

Another great article from Coert Visser about overcoming the so-called “resistance to change”:

Doing What Works in Solution-Focused Change: Redirecting attention from negative to positive in 3 small steps (P->C->O).

Often, a Lean program (or any change program for that matter) is being imposed on people by upper management. Hopefully, most of the time, management asks what need to be achieved, but not necessarily how it needs to be done.

That P>C>O method looks useful when people don’t want the change being imposed on them (Lean for that matter). It indeed means that they want something to change: the contraint being imposed on them!

So that a nice way to reframe their “resistance” and transform it into something they want more of.

As I’ve read elsewhere on contrained change: rather than work on the imposed change when the person needing to change does not want to, work on the contraint itself: “what can we do to get some relief from this imposed changed on you?”.

And then the talk can go into another direction.


Can #Lean be helped by Self-Determination Theory and #SolutionFocus? (a @doingwhatworks paper)

From that very interesting (as is most often the case from Coert Visser!) paper here, I derive the following insights:

Lean on the motivation continuum

Self -Determination Theory (SDT) has is that motivation can be expressed on a continuum from “amotivation” to “intrinsic motivation” with three basic human needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness (all things that are also found in Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs and the notion of Flow from Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi).

Lean appears to be well on these three pillars of motivation:

  • autonomy is high in an environment where management does not solve the problem of their collaborators, but instead coach them to resolution.
  • this coaching leads to increased competence on the work and on the process of continuous improvement itself, along with a better knowledge of how the organization works (through A3 problem solving for instance which fosters nemawashi – japanese term for: go see all stakeholders and work with them)
  • by doing nemawashi with all stakeholders, people get their relatedness level increased!

On motivating people to do Lean

Visser’s paper continues, on page 13, on the way Motivational Interviewing can help a professionnal helper (!) with their client, as would be the case of a Lean coach in any organization (please bear in mind that I talk of a coach, not a consultant whose approach is different). In this regard, MI is based on 4 general principles:

  • the expression of empathy
  • the development of discrepancy
  • rolling with resistance and
  • support for self-efficacy

Considering what I often saw in organizations with respect to Change and Lean more specifically, I’d say that:

  • Lean change approaches are often law on empathy: “all your problems are belong to us, we’ll you help solve them”,
  • with a development of discrepancy that more than often consist in management or co-called coaches finger pointing faults in those running the processes,
  • a rolling with resistance that consists of stomping it for it’s the proof of ignorance in Lean matters and that so-called Lean coaches and experts know better (which is indeed true as for Lean things, but blatantly false  with respect to people’s own Gemba),
  • and support of efficacy is most of the time seen as Lean consultants (whoops I should have said ‘coaches’ 😉 doing most of the job themselves (deciding on what the Future State Map for instance should look like) with only partial accounting for people’s ideas.

What I described above, though caricatural (or is it?) is still what’s even been given a name: L.A.M.E. (Lean As Misguidedly Executed).

The paper goes on starting from page 14 on some suggested questions to addresse the four principles above to move someone in the needed change direction, but with proper respect for their motivation and of them as people, by helping find how they could be engaged with the change initiative.

Reflection questions:

  • As a CEO, how engaged are your collaborators in the Lean initiative? What have you done to motivate them and engage them, as persons, in it?
  • As a Lean coach, how have you addressed management’s willing to do Lean? What questions did you asked them as for their own needed change with respect to Lean (that is, Lean should be done by management with collaborators, not to collaborators)?

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