Ravi Mohan's Blog

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Stratal Effect

Dr de Bono defines a "stratal" thus.

"A stratal is a number of parallel statements or observations that are put together as a whole. The statements need not be connected in any way whatsoever. There is no attempt to be comprehensive. There is no attempt to cover all aspects or to be descriptive. There is no attempt to be analytical. Just as a random word is used because you want to use it, different statements are put together as a "stratal" simply because you want to put them together in this way. A stratal is a number of unconnected statements put together solely to form a stratal. "

The key is that the statements are loosely connected or not connected at all. De Bono suggests that a stratal be used for generating ideas or to convey a particular effect.Some of the best poems can be seen as stratals.

But one can also use stratals for different purposes. One of the most fascinating uses (at least for me) is to lay out two (or more) random statements or ideas in parallel, especially in conversation and then see which of the ideas gets picked up. Let us say you are talking to someone who feels has a problem with relationships and you think there might be an empathy skills deficit. How do you check? One way to do it is to lay out two statements in parallel, one which checks for empathy, one which checks for it's opposite(say self centred ness). and see which one gets picked up. Say something like "I feel very frustrated when I talk to you so perhaps you can change that behaviour in the future" There are two ideas here, one starting with "I" and one starting with "you". A person having problems with empathy will probably pick up the sentence beginning with "you" and answer something like "Oh I know I need to think about changing my behaviour". A more empathetic person will place the focus of consciousness outside himself and on the other person say something like "Oh you feel frustrated? Why do you say that?"

There are all kinds of variants of this technique in combination with all sorts of other psychological/counselling tools, but the essence is simple. Layout parallel thoughts.

I picked this up a variant of this technique from John Hundreiser (aka "H", once head of recruiting at Thoughtworks ) who frequently uses a similar technique in his interviews. He would ask you a chain of three or four questions and see which one you'd pick up . He was the head of HR and his interview would come after many rounds of interviews. he'd ask something like "How did the previous interviewers from TW treat you ? Did the explore technical questions in depth? Are you feeling comfortable?" There are three distinct questions here and many people would answer one of these questions, at most two and forget the third. It is the very rare (and very self aware) person who says something like "To answer your questions in order, first ...second , .. third .. "

Of course the big problem with these tools of applied psychology is that they are all very context dependent and to use them properly the user needs to be (relatively) free of complexes and biases himself and also have the ability to evaluate the results properly. But that is the subject for another blog entry.


Venkatesh Sellappa said...


Any suggestions on books that one can read to understand this in more depth.

Ravi said...


I am not aware of any books on *this* tool. Stratals (in the context of creative thinking) are explained in Edward de Bono's "Serious Creativity".

Similar approaches to counseling/interpersonal relationships can be found in almost all good books on Applied Psychology. Different schools of psychology have different models of how the mind works, the nature of consciousness etc. None is more or less true than any other (though it is sometimes hard to tell amidst the din created by the proponents of each school). Once you understand the underlying model of each approiach you can crate your own tools to it your situation.

That said my "approach" is a highly individual blend of Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis, Perlis's Gestalt Therapy, Carl Rogers's "Client Centred Approach" Approach and Skinner's Behaviouralism.

My friend Rajesh has built a toolkit from different set of people, notably Virginia Satir.

It is very important to consider each school as not having any intrinsic:"truth". The effectiveness of the use of these tools depends more on wisdom than intelligence. Unfortunately wisdom is a very very rare quality.

A good starting point to get acquainted with the various schools of psychology is this.

Venkatesh Sellappa said...

Many thanks Ravi.