Solutions Focus Approach

by Paul Z Jackson

The Solutions Focus approach

Solutions Focus (SF) is an attractive way of making progress – especially in challenging situations. From roots in the social sciences, it has developed into a worldwide movement, transforming our ideas of change in organisations.

The basic idea of SF is to find what works and do more of it. It’s also important to stop doing what doesn’t work, so you can do something else instead. The approach assumes that people are capable of knowing what they want and finding the skills and resources between them to make progress towards that.

Principles

The approach can be summarised in six SIMPLE principles.

Solutions not problems

Problem talk is – as the term implies – talk about problems: it includes descriptions of what the problems are, analysis of where they came from, elaboration of the effects they are having and how people feel about them, and speculation about what they are leading to. It is any talk that puts the focus on the problem.

The solution doesn’t care where the problem came from.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

With an SF approach, you talk mostly about solutions – what’s wanted, what’s going well, successes, resources, skills, what’s impressed you about someone and what small actions you might take. You don’t talk much about problems, what’s wrong, what’s missing or who is to blame. Fun though problem talk may be, it tends to get us no closer to what’s wanted.

Inbetween

Look at interactions and work with the system. We build solutions between people, constructing them together through conversations that make differences and collaborative projects.

Make use of what’s there

Unearth resources, people’s skills and relevant examples of successes. Improvise and do the best you can with the available ingredients.

Possibilities

You can find possibilities in the past, by discovering what has worked before and mining the past for resilience. In the present, you can look for sources of hope, asking what makes anyone think that progress is possible. And for the future, you can identify what you and others will notice when it’s going well.

Language

Take care to keep language simple and descriptive.

Every case is different

Approach each challenge afresh, not burdened with theory. It’s often the exceptions to the rule that provide the clues to solutions.

Six solutions tools

The platform

Establishes who wants what, who is prepared to do something and the potential benefits of the project.

To solve the problems of today, we must focus on tomorrow.

Erik Nupponen

Future perfect

Suppose the solution happened, what would it look like, who would notice, and how would they know?

Scale

If 10 is the best it could be and 1 is the opposite, where are we now?

Counters

What’s worked so far and what can we find that counts toward the solution?

Affirm

State what has impressed us. Remind ourselves how we did that. What’s giving us hope that we can make further progress?

Small actions

These are easier than big actions, therefore more likely to get taken. They get us moving when stuck, lead to further changes in the system and allow us to test if we’re going in the right direction.

Note

You might also meet the SF coaching model, OSKAR, used by coaches worldwide and by managers who want to coach their people simply, concisely and effectively.

  • Outcome
  • Scale
  • Know-how
  • Affirm and action
  • Review

Practical applications and history

There is a growing worldwide community to research, support and develop the various applications of the SF approach in schools, prisons, hospitals, commercial businesses, communities and other organisations.

SF may be simple to understand, but it is not always easy to practise. It takes discipline and skill to stick to a search for solutions, avoid the temptations of problem talk, and retain confidence in people’s abilities to find their own resources and ways of making progress.