Where does the ‘Genius’ in Genius within, come from?

I know many of our readers work in psychology, coaching and professional training, as well as being neuro-different thinkers.  I thought you might be interested to know the theories and models behind what we do at Genius Within.

1)      Theories of adult learning – Why do we work the way that we do?

2)      Theories of neuro-differences – What do we work on?

3)      Models for coaching and training – How do we work?

4)      Companies that we get our training from

I’ve included links and references for follow up – just click the links 🙂

1)      Theories of adult learning – Why do we work the way that we do?

a) Social Cognitive Learning Theory

Originally proposed by Albert Bandura in the late seventies, and then developed, researched and honed throughout the next forty years, Social Cognitive Learning Theory (SCLT) underpins most of what we do.  SCLT proposes that learning is a dynamic social process, and continues through adult life in much the same way as it starts in children, namely that we learn through observation, role models, vicarious experience and practice.  Within SCLT, we focus on a key concept, that of ‘self-efficacy’.  Self-efficacy means our belief in our own abilities, the extent to which we think we can do something if we try.  Self-efficacy is learned, through repeated experience of trying and can be formed early in our lives.  It is highly dependent on the social and educational contexts that we have experienced and can be positive or negative.  Many of our clients, faced with a society that places a privilege on the aspects of thinking that are not their strong points, have developed a low self-efficacy level and this comes across as low confidence and self-esteem.  We know that in order to work on this, we need to encourage clients to try new things, in safe and specific ways, that will be successful, so that they can start building up a new self-image.

b) Humanistic / Person Centred Psychology

A principle of SCLT and much of our work, is that the person creates their own reality.  In order to work with someone, we need to develop a better understanding of that reality, and in particular encourage them to!  Person Centred approaches, instigated by the work of psychologist Carl Rogers, teach us to trust our clients and appreciate their experience as wisdom, rather than to approach them as ‘novices’ when we are ‘expert’.

c) Baddeley’s Working Memory Model

In 1974, a researcher called Baddeley proposed a theory of ‘working memory,’ the mechanism that allows us to hold and manipulate information in our attention.  Working memory has since been tested and observed in many studies, and has fared well through examination from neuro-science, where we can identify the locations of the key components of the mechanism.  Working memory difficulties are implicated in many neurodiverse conditions and we assess, coach and train around the everyday impacts of this, for example organisational skills, time management and concentration.

d)      Motivational theories

When we approach learning and training we need to identify why we want to learn, and for what reason we might be seeking change.  At Genius Within, we rely on motivational theories such as Goal Setting Theory, Motivator/Hygiene Theory, Equity Theory, the Psychological Contract Theory and many more.  We share these ideas with our clients when we think it will help them gain more self-awareness and we build coaching exercises around different theories to inspire them.

2)      Theories of neuro-differences – What do we work on?

a)      Deficit theories

Most theories of neuro-differences follow a ‘deficit model’, i.e. they highlight the bit of the brain / thinking / intelligence that isn’t working.  This can be useful in describing the very disabling experience of many of our clients, but should not be the limit of our understanding.  Deficit models are as follows:

  • Dyslexia:  sound processing deficit leading to difficulties with literacy and memory for sounds, as well as processing verbal information.
  • Dyspraxia: visual/motor coordination deficit leading to difficulties with fine motor control and balance.
  • ADHD: attention deficit leading to difficulties in concentration, planning and organisation.
  • Autistic spectrum disorder: deficit in processing heightened sensory experiences leading to difficulties in becoming over stimulated and communicating with others.
  • Mild to moderate mental health needs: deficit in neuro-transmitters leading to low mood, energy and motivation.
  • Memory deficits are common to all these conditions but in different ways.  For example, dyslexia tends to affect memory of sounds whereas ADHD affects the brain’s ability to focus on the detail they need to remember.

However, because we are person centred, we do not teach people to overcome the presumed deficits related to each label.  We know that many conditions overlap and that all our clients have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.  Instead, we use these deficit models to explore the specific, adult-based issues that the different deficits imply, and research strategies that might help in general.  Then we have a full range for our clients to select their own.  See our instant genius cribsheets for more information on our top tips that have emerged from modelling our clients’ strategies.

b)      Evolutionary theory of neurodiversity

What none of the deficit based theories do, is question why neuro-differences occur.  Why are 10% of the population dyslexic?  This is a large number to have slipped through the evolutionary net!  It seems reasonable that there are useful purposes for having different strengths and weaknesses in our thinking.  You can read more about this in the following areas:

I made an overlapping  Venn diagram of the different benefits of neuro-differences.  When we are assessing individuals with dyslexia we try to encompass both theories of neurodiversity and ensure that people are aware of strengths and weaknesses.  We know that many come to us because of the weakness, but we like people to go away with the strengths!

3)      Models for coaching and training – How do we work?

a)      Learning Cycle Frameworks

Many approaches to training, coaching and learning use Kolb’s Learning Cycle, or similar.  In the cycle, people are expected to go through stages in which they:

  • develop new information and ideas;
  • formulate how this might affect their day to day work;
  • practise this in real life;
  • reflect on the process.

According to SCLT, this iterative and feedback-based process mimics the natural learning process that we undergo as children, as we learn by observing others around us and try to copy what they do.  Having the practice element separate to the learning and reflection time means that people are more likely to transfer their learning into the workplace.  This is the reason we never accept referrals for single coaching sessions.  We need to make sure that there is time for practise in-between and reflection afterwards.  Even in our training courses, we would rather do two half-days than one whole day.

b)      Symbolic and Systemic Modelling

Symbolic Modelling (Penny Tompkins and James Lawley) and Systemic Modelling (Caitlin Walker) are individual and group coaching processes that support the development of client-led ideas.  Rather than us ‘telling’ people what might work for them we ask questions (using Clean Language) that allow our clients to develop a greater self awareness of their own issues.  This follows a principle of modelling – letting what happens simply happen and, rather than trying to control it, allowing the client to become aware of the pattern and the process within their thinking and behaviour.

Symbolic Modelling explores the metaphors, analogies and symbols that we use to describe our experience.  We weave this into our coaching where appropriate, as we find that the use of symbols appeals to our visual thinking dyslexic and ADHD clients, and the storytelling appeals to our more dyspraxic clients.  This approach also includes the very useful  ‘framework for change’, which employs a process for engaging motivation as well as practical exploration of solution-focused outcomes.

Systemic Modelling explores the roles we are taking with the group and the relationships we are devising within the group system as examples of our thinking and behaviour.  Systemic modelling utilises these experiences and shared stories as vicarious learning and peer-based role modelling.  Caitlin Walker was part of the start of Genius Within and brought a lot of her experience with social exclusion, coaching and modelling learning processes to the fabric of the company.  You can see her influence in our approach to group coaching, which uses systemic modelling to develop strategy best practice for group members.  I worked with Caitlin for over a decade developing and incorporating Systemic Modelling techniques within peer-based interventions for NEETS, long term unemployed people, cultural change and conflict.

c)       Clean Language

Clean language is a questioning technique developed by the late David Grove.  David, who was a student of Person Centred Therapy, constructed a set of questions which make very few inferences about the answer – they are very open but don’t direct the client towards a bias that the coach might have.  This lets us practise our values about the client being at the centre of learning and avoiding taking a position of expertise.  Both Symbolic and Systemic Modelling make use of Clean Language.  Systemic Modelling has added a range of questions that work specifically in groups and when modelling desired behaviours.  We use these in coaching and training.

d)      Clean Feedback

Clean Feedback was developed primarily by Caitlin Walker but I was fortunate to be able to contribute to the development of the model.  We essentially wanted to find a way to ‘slow down’ our interpretations of what people were doing or saying, long enough to get to the root of the feedback.  Clean Feedback helps us work out what actually happened, rather than our reaction to it.  It’s a great coaching tool for misunderstandings and conflict.

e)      NLP, including Magical Spelling

NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming, has many offshoots and is based on multiple theories.  It is really a collection of techniques for understanding the way we make sense of the world.  We find the following most useful:

  • Logical Levels – similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but packaged in a sensible way for coaching!
  • Anchoring and state setting – the idea that you can control your state deliberately and give yourself cues, or ‘anchors’ using images, smells, sounds or thoughts.
  • Subjective experience of the world using the five senses – a framework for understanding sensory thinking styles.

Most important for us is Magical Spelling.  Magical Spelling is a visual approach to whole word recognition, an important skill in literacy acquisition that is overlooked by phonetics-only teaching programmes.  Magical Spelling, developed by Cricket Kemp, a special needs educator and life-long trainer, can be used as a comprehensive approach to removing anxiety anchors around spelling and re-training us to understand words through how they look, as well as how they sound.

f)       Transactional Analysis

I was introduced to Transactional Analysis by Michael Mallows, when working on a project in a struggling school during 2004 and 2005. In coaching, we look at the drama triangle, by Stephen Karpman, which provides insight into how we get stuck in relationship conflicts and how we can feel powerless to change them.  This is another really useful model for self awareness, especially when used in conjunction with Clean Language.

g)      And the rest!

Our coaching and training associates come from a wide and varied background, although all have primarily occupational experience, as opposed to educational.  A lot of our coaches, assessors and trainers have done the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) certificate in Professional Workplace Coaching, where a lot of coaching knowledge is transferred as well as opportunities provided to practise.  They might be using Appreciative Enquiry, the GROW model, FeedForward, Social Panoramas, Positive Psychology & Solution Focused Coaching… and many other coaching techniques.  What we all have in common is:

  • Faith in our clients’ abilities to cope, learn and devise their own amazing strategies.
  • Our attention to what is working well as well as what is difficult.
  • A workplace, adult focused approach to the development of practical strategies.

4) Companies we get our CPD training & coaching from


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