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Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

It’s ten years to the day since the first edition of The Solutions Focus book was published.  I’ll always remember 8 February 2002 – because it was the first day of the SOL 2002 conference, the first of the astounding series of SOLWorld events over the past decade.  So, it’s a good moment to look back on what’s happened over the intervening period and also indulge in a little looking forwards.  So – what is there to be impressed with?

Firstly the book is still in print and selling! This is pretty rare in publishing circles – there’s a saying that some books are sprinters and some are stayers.  The Solutions Focus has proved to be a real stayer, as we had hoped.  As the first business book in English about the SF approach, it’s still a key reference and often a starting point for people beginning to explore SF.  Paul and I completely revised the second half of the book in 2006, and the second edition has helped it to keep current. 

Secondly, the book is available in many languages.  Many of them are available to buy online, including:

 

Japanese: 組織の成果に直結する問題解決法ソリューションフォーカス

Swedish: Lösningsfokuserat Ledarskap

Italian: Punta Alla Soluzione

Lithuanian: Susitelkimas á sprendimus

Dutch: Oplossingsgericht denken

Chinese:  跳過問題,直接做對

Korean: 성공한 CEO는 단순하게 해결한다

In many cases these translations were led and supervised by members of the SOLWorld community – I am particularly grateful to them, it’s an enormous job!  So Aoki-san, Kerstin Mahlberg Marco Matera, Dainius Baltrusaitis and other unknown fans– take a bow! 

Looking back, how has the book been received?  It took the ideas away from an explicit helper/helpee context (as in therapy etc) into a much broader context of managers, workers, team leaders, coaches, internal consultants, external consultants and so on.  Therefore, the book offered a re-conceptualisation of SF, taking it away from questions and towards a way of working and thinking. 

One element of this has been a good success – the framing of SF work as the application of conversational tools rather than questions.  I don’t think I really appreciated quite what a good move this was ten years ago, and I continue to be impressed with how quickly the tools framework helps people get to a level of good and relatively sophisticated practice.  I find it to be a real accelerator, it stops people worrying about what question to ask next and gives them an easy way of keeping track of where they are in an SF conversation.  It also draws attention to all the business that goes on which is not classic SF questioning – all the ‘what elses?’, the getting details, the pausing, the collection of different perspectives – which are all part of using a tool like Platform or Future Perfect.  Indeed, my latest  clients in the NHS are making excellent use of this way of viewing SF.

The other development in the book was our six SIMPLE principles.  The idea was to offer a conceptual framework, so that a broader definition of SF might be brought to bear in the development of new tools.  While this has had some success within my own team of experienced practitioners, it has become clear to me that people seem to be better off learning and using the tools first – then they know, in a way, the principles of the work and can see the SIMPLE aspects.  Trying to start with the principles has never, in my experience, really been successful.  Maybe you think differently – if so, please say so!  The question of SF as a paradigm, a way of thinking as well as a way of acting, is a continuing discussion and I’ve been adding to the discussion with papers such as ‘Inbetween’ with Harry Korman (which says much of what I was trying to say in Chapter 4 of the book, but didn’t have the language at the time), and the ‘Narrative Emergence’ book chapter with Gale Miller (still awaiting formal publication with Oxford University Press). 

Other things that I’ve been pleased to notice over the past ten years…

  • The amazingly generous and dedicated SOLWorld community – ten years, events all over the world, an innovative governance structure and no bank account! 
  • The appearance of other books and papers over the years – Peter Szabo, Peter Rohrig, Jenny Clarke, Daniel Meier, Gunter Lueger, Hans-Peter Korn, Louis Cauffman (who was there before us in Dutch!), Kirsten Dierolf, Yasuteru Aoki, Janine Waldman, Ben Furman, Fredrike Bannink… and many others.  Paul has done ‘Positively Speaking’ with Janine, I have done Solutions Focus Working with Jenny and contributors from around the world.
  • The appearance of SFCT and the InterAction journal as a more formal representation of SF organisational work, which is attracting attention from different circles

Looking forwards… best hopes for the next ten years?  SF appearing in more and more places and contexts, growing the community further, keeping the distinctive SF flavour AND working with people from other traditions and approaches.  If there were a miracle, I’d change the name of this approach – ‘Solution Focus’ doesn’t convey one tenth of the power, elegance and sophistication of what we do.  However, I think it’s probably too late for that…so we’ll have to get better at showing people what we do and where we are coming from.

One last thing – people occasionally ask about why the book was called The Solutions Focus, and not The Solution Focus or something.  The answer is that, in a meeting with the publishers, I (and I take the blame for this) thought that ‘The Solution Focus’ sounded clumsy, and the plural was better.  Looking back, I think I’d do it the other way now.  SolutionS implies a search for, well, solutions, whilst Solution could better indicate the focus of the work – on what’s wanted rather than what’s wrong.  However, as Kierkegaard wrote, life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. 

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