The Participant who learned to evaluate his skill level

I had a wonderful time leading the last module of Solutionsurfers PURE Brief Coach Training in Sacramento, CA last week.

I was blessed to have such amazing participants.
And it was a joy to see how much progress they made in their coaching skills and in their coaching presence since we started in June!
As always, I learnt a lot seeing them coaching.
Their questions brought me to new insights about Solution-Focus.
Our conversations, always enlightening.

So I felt great about our training.
I checked in daily, and I was comforted to see it was not just an impression of mine :)
On the final day, I was happy to see that on a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 was meeting all their learning goals, beyond their wildest expectations, and 1 the opposite of that, they rated themselves to be 8.5 or more (some at 8.5, others at 10) on that scale.

I was particularly impressed by a distinction made by one of the participants.
He distinguished the “learning scale” from the “confidence scale“.
On a learning scale, he said he reached an 8.5, maybe even a 9.
But on a confidence scale about being a Solution-Focused  coach, he said he was worst off!
He started the module being at a 7 on this confidence scale, but now he was down to a 3 - he gained a new appreciation of the challenges involved in coaching in complex scenarios (mandated coachees, conflict situations, difficult decisions… the topic of the last module of Brief Coach Training).
He stated: “Between the past module and this one, I had 6 hours of practice; I now realize I need at least 60 before considering having clients!”

I was proud of him.
I already posted here about the Dunning-Kruger effect, i.e. about the fact that novices over-rate their abilities – while experts, knowing the complexities involved, tend to under-estimate their abilities.  So it was good to see this effect being taken care of, right there in front of my eyes, by this gifted participant, all on his own.

Here was a participant who not only had developed his Solution-Focused Coaching skills to an impressive level, but had also developed his meta-cognitive abilities regarding his own skills.


Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training starts on the 14th of June in Berkeley!

I am so excited to be leading Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training in Berkeley, next week, at the beautiful UC Clark Kerr Campus!

An Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) with the International Coach Federation (ICF), the training is one of the best way to learn how to lead Solution-Focused conversations – a method featured in books like Switch, and an established protocol in therapy.

Here < are some reasons of why learning Brief Coaching skills matters, if you are a Coach, a Consultant, a Manager, an Executive or anyone in a Leadership position. Whenever you need to facilitate change, Solution-Focus is the quickest evidence-based technology we have.

Here < is what is different, and of value, about Solutionsurfers training program.

And > here < are the details – when, where and how much. At 2,980 US$ for 8 days of training and follow-up Skype sessions, with flexible payment options, the price is hard to beat, considering the quality of the training format refined over the years and delivered in such small groups.

There are still two spots left… send me an email now at if you are interested in attending next week!!

See you in Berkeley soon!

Intrinsic Motivation vs. Rewards

In preparation for this event, today I was reviewing some literature about positive reinforcement and motivation. Anybody interested in psychology knows that there is a raging ongoing debate about it. Even though the battle lines are not so clearly drawn, for the sake of simplicity we can say that on the one hand we have many psychologists saying that giving rewards actually reduces intrinsic motivation – therefore it is an ill-advised attempt at increasing motivation (see Lepper et al.,1973, Curry et al., 1990, Deci et al., 1999). This position is based on a seminal study by psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan, masterfully told here. On the other hand we have economists saying that we are rational agents and therefore giving rewards is an effective way of increasing motivation.

The controversy is well alive within psychology, too – with some authors (Martin, G., Pear, G., Behavior Modification, 8th eds, p.38) saying that “Some individuals (e.g. Kohn, 1993) have gone so far as to suggest that tangible rewards should never be given  because, for example, if a parent gives a child money as a reinforcer for reading, then the child will be less likely to “read for reading’s sake”. However, a careful review of the literature on this topic and two recent experiments clearly indicate that such a view is a myth. Moreover, the notion that extrinsic reinforcers undermines intrinsic interest flies in the face of common sense”.

The good news is that soon we might have a definite answer to the question of whether rewards work in motivating people (or at least, students), thanks to programs that reward AP scores being carried out in schools in different cities, like Dallas and New York, and financed by private groups. As the Harvard University economist Ronald Freyer, who is designing and testing several reward programs, says: “we either get social science or social change, and we need both.”

The preliminary results of these school reward programs are pretty good: “about two thirds of the 59 high-poverty schools in the Sparks program – which pays seventh-graders up to $500 and fourth-graders as much as $250 for their performance on a total of 10 assessments – improved their scores since last year’s state tests by margins about the citywide average”, with gains in some school approaching 40 percentage points (source).

As the critics of these programs are quick to point out, it is too soon to draw conclusions: typically rewards work in the short term but backfire in the long term. We’ll see.

My take on the debate whether rewards are helpful or actually hurt intrinsic motivation is: it depends. I don’t think such a question is amenable to a simple yes or no answer. Contextual factors play a large part.

For example, in the original study by Lepper et al., where the question was whether giving rewards would increase children’s motivation to draw, the 51 pre-schoolers chosen were all interested in drawing. Of course this was a crucial requirement if we want to investigate intrinsic motivation – yet it is often lost in the heat of the debate about rewards. Rewards might backfire for motivating people already interested or proficient in one activity, but what about getting somebody to start doing something?

Also notice how the study has been interpreted in literature and passed on in psychological lore: rewards hurt intrinsic motivation! Actually, the study showed that an unexpected reward (surprise reward) works better than an expected reward AND no reward.

Morevoer: the reward in this instance was a tangible reward (a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon – this was the pre-ipod era!). What about social or other kinds of rewards? And in case of social rewards, we know (see a previous posting of mine on Carol Dweck’s work) that the way praise is formulated is of critical importance.

Let’s look at the reward programs being implemented in the schools. I think other important social dynamics are at work here, like competition and peer-pressure. And we know how peers are important in shaping who we become (see J.R. Harris work). For example, giving money for academic achievement can shift in dramatic ways youth’s attitudes and, all of a sudden, make studying “cool” – and this can be a big boost to motivate kids to learn, especially for minorities that tend to conform to negative stereotypes. Get rich or die tryin’ gets a whole new meaning!!

Update: Professor Steven Reiss on The Myths of Intrinsic-Extrinsic Motivation in Psychology Today, posted on the 20th of November 2009



“I am a loser”.

I always thought that comment was a very American reaction to a mistake; and as such, from my perspective as an Italian, very interesting and kind of cute.

Not so anymore.

According to Carol Dweck, that comment is a sign of a fixed mindset. And a fixed mindset can lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering.

In her book, Mindset – the New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck divides people in 2 groups: those who have a “fixed” mindset and those who have a “growth” mindset.
But what is a mindset?
A mindset is a belief people have about their abilities and their qualities.

Of course people have different traits and abilities and qualities that they are born with.
People with a fixed mindset consider those qualities to be carved in stone – and that means that every situation calls for a confirmation.
People with a growth mindset consider those qualities as a starting point – there is no telling what you can achieve if you apply yourself.

Having a mindset or the other has several consequences: even 4-year olds with a fixed mindset tend to stick to easy tasks to prove they are smart vs. stretching themselves by tackling more difficult tasks; people with a growth mindset can take feedback and use it to their advantage, while people with a fixed mindset transform the feedback about an action into a judgement about their identity (from “I failed” to “I am a failure”).

The belief that talents can be developed gives people with a growth mindset a motivation to work hard and to practice deliberately, which is the secret to excellence; by contrast, people with a fixed mindset see effort as a sign of not being good enough: it’s hard for them to become, they have to be, right away.
They forget the yet. Facing a mistake, a person with a fixed mindset might think: I am not good at this. A person with a growth mindset, facing the same mistake, might think: I am not good at this… yet!

The good news is that a growth mindset can be taught.
And I now believe that teaching clients a growth mindset is the most important task a coach or a trainer can carry out.

A coach can implicitly teach a growth mindset to clients by using a language of possibility (see Mark McKergow and Paul Jackson’s SIMPLE model), by praising clients’ efforts (vs. outcomes), by helping clients to see obstacles as challenges, by focusing clients on learning rather than judging, by bringing the attention of clients to actions and feedback rather than to labels.

Switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can open up a whole range of possibilities and opportunities  – and isn’t that our mission as coaches and as change facilitators?