To live in the question

Asking questions and being curious was mentioned quite often throughout the conference. Bo Seifert showed how the number of questions that people ask on a usual day, radically drops when age increases. At the age of 5, children ask 120 questions a day, at age 6 they ask only 60 questions a day. And at the age of 40, there are 4 questions a day to remain. What would that do for innovation? Research of Sanne Akkerman showed that asking questions about the questions, instead of answering them, is an important aspect of collaborative learning. Anne Kirah in her keynote added to this point that we have to learn to “live in the question”. We shouldn’t always directly jump to answers and solutions. The question itself is such a rich thing.


Brainsurfing! That means: first write down your own ideas individually. And only after that, do it together or with a group. This is what Bo Seifert (again someone I met at ECCI) recommends. I recognise this from my own work. When people get the time to think for themselves first, they use their own knowledge and they use what they think is important. This is in line with recent research on knowledge sharing that showed that knowledge sharing works better when people bring in the knowledge or ideas they have and that others might not have. This research also showed that people do not usually facilitate each other in bringing in this knowledge. Brainsurfing is an easy way to make a start with it.

Appreciative Inquiry Links




My last post before Marloes and I leave for Copenhagen (ECCI-conference on creativity and innovation) on sunday! My colleagues who went to the AI-conference in Florida collected some nice links... Here they are:


Bridging the gap between academic reserach and practical problems

Some months ago I wrote something on the 'knowledge paradox' (the phenomenon that knowledge created by scientific research does not lead to economic activity in practice). I then said that "transferral will not help us in overcoming the knowledge paradox. It is more productive for science to connect to the developments in practice and to make joint efforts (researchers and practitioners) to reach a state of innovation". A colleague from the University of Twente gave me this interesting article on the subject: Knowledge for theory and practice, written by Andrew van de Ven and Paul Johnson (2006). This well written article on the growing concerns that academic research has become less useful for solving practical problems, offers an appealing perspective on the issue. They state that there are three ways in which the gap between theory and practice has been framed. Traditionally the gap was seen as a knowledge transfer problem (originating in the assumption that practical knowledge derives (at least in part) from research knowledge). A second approach they describe views knowledge of theory and practice as distinct kinds of knowledge. After reviewing the problems and assumptions of these two approaches, they come up with a third: a method of engaged scholarship in which researchers and practitioners coproduce knowledge that can advance theory and practice in a given domain. Van de Ven and Johnson view engaged scholarship as a means of creating the kind of knowledge that is needed to bridge the gap. Past literature has focused on the relevance and use of academic research for practice. The authors of this article however believe that researchers and practitioners should leverage their different perspectives to develop knowledge about a complex problem. How does this kind of problem look like? According to the authors, a good indicator of a big question is "its self evident capability to motivate the attention and enthusiasm of scholars and practitioners alike". So it needs to be something both parties are curious for. Interesting aspect of their argument is that Van de Ven and Johnson do not believe engaged scholarship to cause scholars to conduct more applied than basic research. I was very happy reading this article, I recognise what my colleagues and me try to do in our work. And at the same time I realised that a lot of work needs to be done in order to make this kind of research accepted in academia.

* Van de Ven, A. H., & Johnson, P. E. (2006). Knowledge for theory and practice. Academy of management review, 31(4), 802-821.

Wish that I was there

Five of my colleagues are now joining the AI-conference in Orlando... Lucky them! Not only I miss them but also all the new insights and presentations at the conference. I am so curious how all these positive psychology and appreciative inquiry celebs are in real... Happily I found a kind-of-conference-diary at the positive psychology daily. It is probably nothing like being there, but still...

Blog on the appreciative approach

My colleagues started this superblog (in Dutch!) on the appreciative approach: learning by appreciating (leren door waarderen). The foundations for Appreciative inquiry can be found in positive psychology. Positive psychology set in in the 90s with Martin Seligman as one of its founders. Before then, psychology was pointed towards pathology, and curing mental illnesses. The focus of positive psychology, in contrast, lies on identifying and nurturing talent. The school of positive psychology becomes popular in various areas like organisation development (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003), evaluation research (Preskill & Coghlan, 2003) and in thinking about organisational change (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2003). Although this way of thinking became popular only recently, it is built on concepts that have been proven earlier to play an important role in the learning process such as self-efficacy. On their blog my colleagues collect examples of the appreciative approach, interesting articles, tools and instruments.

The Inovativeness of Chinese CEO’s

People sometimes ask to what extent my research results are applicable to organisations and countries other than the ones I’ve studied. In 'East meets West', a report that is just out, I found some relevant examples. This report offers the results of a study conducted by Hay Group over the course of eighteen months in thirty-seven Chinese organisations. The study was comprised of in-depth interviews and surveys of CEO’s and their direct reports.

They found that:

  • Chinese leaders have a great sense of social responsibility that helps them attain positive business results.
  • Chinese CEO’s are not only diligent in their goal of advancing society and their business relationships, but they are also eager to improve upon themselves. They have the ability and an appetite for continuous self-improvement. (Here I see a clear link with the eleventh design principle: developing competencies).
  • Chinese leaders strive to build win-win relationships. For this reason, Western competitors may find many opportunities to develop mutually beneficial relationships (this, in fact, might aid in innovation, according to the fifth design principle).

With respect to innovation, the study states that the Chinese can no longer rely on their highly developed skills as adaptors and employ a low cost, mass market 'read sea' model. This will not make them a strong player in international markets in the long term. Anticipating this, the Chinese already aspire to a new 'blue ocean strategy' based on quality, innovation or other differentiating characteristics.

The Chinese are not very focused on markets and consumer needs and therefore they are not likely to seek new data concerning consumers’ needs or new trends. However, the seeking of new information is crucial to the process of innovation so there clearly is a need for Chinese CEO’s to look for new ways attaining this innovation. Hay Group's researchers suggest that the Chinese CEO’s could use their sense of social responsibility as an impulse for innovation so as to produce market driven innovation.

Read more:

Making pictures in front of a mirror

'Reflection' (painting by Baldin)

'Making pictures in front of a mirror' is the title of Inge Damen's dissertation. It came to my notice via Wilfred Ruben's blog on technology-enhanced-learning. I believe this research that explores how reflection works to be highly valuable, especially as we tend to attribute much merit to the process of reflection without knowing exactly how the process works.

The research was inspired by the observation that self-managing teams are said to be successful because of reflection practices (see for instance M. Schippers who has done research work on reflexivity in teams). Damen wants to look beyond the merits usually attributed to reflection, and goes on to answer the question: what cognitive effort does reflection involve and how does it manifest itself in (group) learning settings? She used literature, observations, interviews and surveys to ascertain what processes underlie reflection in organisational contexts. Her findings comprise:

  • Reflection is questioning to disclose paradoxes, such as circular logic.
  • She found six congnitive aspects inherent to questioning: 1. it is based on the willingness to do effortful thinking, 2. it is provoked by a challenging event or task, 3. it touches upon the nature of knowledge and the act of knowing, 4. it examines the combination of premises that constitute argumentation (logic), 5. it addresses strategies for problem solving (heuristics), 6. it differentiates between types of cognitive processing on the basis of the effort needed.
  • Having found these factors, she defines reflection as a tendency to distinguish between subjective and objective realities and exceed one's own frame of reference by questioning the coherence of argumentation.
  • Individual reflection has a positive effect on cognitive complexity and on the self-conciousness of the individual. This kind of reflection is found to be highest among people with a high need for cognition and who are open to new experiences.
  • Reflection in social interaction positively influences group cognitive complexity and it indirectly influences satisfaction within the group. This kind of reflection is highest when the composition of argumentation is made explicit among group members.

Read more:

  • ScienceGuide writes about this dissertation
  • Wilfred Rubens writes about it on his blog
  • The dissertation itself: Damen, I. (2007). Making pictures in front of a mirror. A cognitive perspective on reflection in learning. Dissertation Tilburg University.
  • The painter Baldin whose painting 'reflection' (see picture above) is on the dissertation's cover

On pattern recognition

patternOne of my passions is making categories (that's why I think I’m always busy doing some sort of research). Recently I bought a great book on pattern recognition: 'Behaviour patterns of people and organisations' (Gedragspatronen van mensen en organisaties) by Rudy Vandamme. In his book he describes the origin of patterns in different disciplines (such as construction, IT, anthropology, etc…) and categorises different patterns (patterns based on repetition, patterns based on connection and patterns based on coherence) offering concrete tips on the process of recognising and changing patterns.
Some years ago, being busy with my Master-thesis, I was very much inspired by the guidelines Merriam (1988) set for qualitative research, especially those she gave for identifying patterns in data sets. Later on, when reading Glaser and Strauss's ideas (1976) on grounded theory, my passion developed further. The way these authors describe the process of categorisation, in plain terms, struck me. Merriam (1988: 134) writes about categorisation as if it were cooking:

  1. Select the first card from the pile, read it, and note its contents. This first card represents the first entry in the first yet-to-be-named category. Place it to one side.
  2. Select the second card, read it and note its contents. Make a determination on tacit or intuitive grounds whether this second card is a "look-alike" with Card 1, that is, whether its contents are "essentially" similar. If so, place the second card with the first and proceed to the third card; if not, the second card represents the first entry in the second yet-to-be-named category.
  3. Continue on with successive cards.
  4. After some cards have been processed the analyst may feel that a new card neither fits any of the provisionally established categories nor seems to form a new category. Other cards may now also be recognised as possibly irrelevant to the developing set. These cards should be placed into a miscellaneous pile and they should be retained for later review.

The book Rudy Vandamme has written is completely different from the abovementioned books but for me really contributes to my love of patterns. His text is not about tracing patterns in a pile of data, rather his book is about recognising patterns in real life, whether while talking to people or while visiting organisations. For him working with patterns is not something you would do alone. To him it occurs as something you would typically do during social interactions, as one speaks with people, and calling on all the five senses. Where Merriam describes the need to determine whether cards are "look-alike's" or "feel-alike's", Vandamme describes how exactly this works and what one could do within the interaction to become more sensitive and aware. He offers helpful questions and tips on how to confront people with a pattern you've seen and that you want to investigate.
Some tips Vandamme gives for summarising:

  • Be careful with anecdotal details. These can be very important or conversely, not important at all . You don't know that at the outset..
  • Bring in structure. When you repeat, do it in a structured way. Enumerate either the distinguishing marks of the example or sum up the sequence . The structure you add here will help in later stages in making a strong comparison.
  • Give every example a name. Use a name that connects to the example content-wise.
  • Make a mental image or film of the things the other person is telling you. This helps understand behaviour from the inside.
  • Be careful with conclusions based on one or two examples. Stay with the facts, even when you've made a hypothesis about the similarity of the examples.
  • Check with the other partner to verify that your summary has been well-done, letting him or her make corrections.

This book, with lots of concrete tips for recognising patterns, is not only instructive for researchers but for managers, coaches, therapists, teachers, consultants etc… as well.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1976). De ontwikkeling van gefundeerde theorie [the discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research, 1st printed 1967]. Alphen aan de Rijn: Samsom.
Merriam, S. B. (1988). Case study research in education. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.
Vandamme, R. (2007). Gedragspatronen van personen en organisaties. Amsterdam: Prentice Hall.

Innovation in construction

The conference held yesterday in Eindhoven was extremely active! In the morning all attendees participated in a simulation game designed together with Frans van Gassel. In groups, participants worked to garner the contract for restructuring a small village’s central square. It was fun, hard work and, from time to time, frustrating -"the municipality doesn't know what it wants, and so there are no clear demands". And, of course, when there are no clear demands, there are no clear solutions either. If there are no clear solutions, constructors need different approaches to support the municipality in realising their goals. The design principles for knowledge productivity implemented in this new approach were used in different ways. Some of the municipalities used them as a source of inspiration whereas others used them directly as criteria to select the contractor of their choice. On the contractors’ side, there were differences as well. Some concentrated on a plan focused on solutions (how the square would look) whereas others planned the process to be followed in order to produce a new design of which citizens, shop-owners and tourists alike would be proud.

Among the speakers in the afternoon was Paul Spierings. His contribution was lively and very much related to the issues my colleague Paul Keursten raised earlier that day. He argues that

  • Innovation is needed in the world of construction. However, an interesting fact he mentioned, people in the field of construction appear to have a typical score on the Big Five personality traits. They score above average on the factors Neuroticism and Conscientiousness, their score on the factor Openness to Experience however is below average. This makes them, according to Spierings, no good innovators. They are stable quiet people.
  • Spierings gave some amusing and (interesting!) examples of how innovation works. He referred to Frans de Waal who has observed the behaviour of apes and compares it to humans. Frans de Waal describes how innovative behaviour (such as washing the potatoes before eating them) works: a juvenile female named Imo began washing; "she would bring her potatoes to a small river and clean them off before eating them. Imo’s washing behavior spread first to her mother and then to her age peers, before affecting the rest of the group. Later Imo moved her operation to the shoreline, washing the potatoes in the ocean, and, again, the other monkeys followed. The only monkeys on the island that never learned potato washing were the adult males." (taken from this site).