Solutions Focus Approach

by Paul Z Jackson


Solutions Focus (SF) is an attractive way of making progress – especially in challenging situations.

When you need something to change between people, within teams or across a wider organisation, SF offers a set of principles and tools to make that change in the most direct way possible.

The approach is applied worldwide in coaching, strategy, change management, peace building and many other fields.

The basic idea of SF is to find what works and do more of it. At the same time, you stop doing what doesn’t work. And what doesn’t work – if your goal is making progress – is focusing on problems and what’s wrong. If you want to have consistently constructive conversations, perhaps the most important distinction to grasp is the distinction between problem talk (what’s wrong) and solutions talk.

Solutions talk is about what is wanted: it includes descriptions of how matters will be when they are the way people want them to be, descriptions of resources, strengths and skills, successful examples and actions that will help get to desired states of affairs.

Solutions Focus has its roots in the therapeutic approach devised by husband-and-wife team, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA). Working with therapy patients from the late 1970s to early in the 21st century, their key insight was that the route to progress was talking about what was wanted, resources and action steps, rather than talking about problems.

The following six principles, forming the acronym SIMPLE, provide you with a comprehensive checklist to ensure that your work in any change setting will be as constructive as possible.

These principles were developed by Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow in their book, The Solutions Focus, Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE, published by Nicholas Brealey.

This topic draws on that work and on the CAPP Study Guide, Positively Speaking, by Paul Z Jackson and Janine Waldman.

My thanks to Mark and Janine for their respective collaborations and to the many practitioners of Solutions Focus who have pursued this simple – yet often elusive – notion of what works.