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What is Solution Focus?

What is Solution Focus?

Ask Better Questions. Accelerate Change.

Solution Focus (SF) is a smart model for change, unique only in its simplicity. Much of what is espoused and practiced in Solution Focus has been around in various ways for some time. What makes it different and possibly more effective is the framework in which it is practiced, namely:

  • What already works
  • What we want once the problem goes away
  • What small steps might get us moving in that direction

There are many change practices that are helpful to individuals and organizations. Positive Psychology, Appreciative Inquiry, etc., have helped build a base of powerful research and practice knowledge supporting the idea that, more often than not, we can make change work for us. The origins of Solution Focus lie in the world of therapy. Not the kind of therapy that requires lots of our time getting to understand what’s wrong and why with the purpose of yielding insights about getting better. Instead, SF looks at what we want to happen so that we can go forward. We reframe problems by looking among them for purposeful elements — solutions within — and we willfully ignore the cause of what troubles us.

Instead of problem solving, we focus on solution-building. Which sounds like a play on words, but it’s a profoundly different paradigm.
Insoo Kim Berg, Founder, Solution-Focused Therapy
Steve De Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg’s partner, subsequently came up with the notion that SF was like a set of skeleton keys that opened the
door to solutions. Based on what had worked in the past, participants were encouraged to do something different and pay attention to the effect it had on them and others.
Today, SF is transforming organizations. Few change models have so easily transferred from one discipline to another.
Most organizations tend to be problem-­‐focused. Witness the SWOT analysis that mysteriously weighs heavily on the weaknesses and threats with scant attention to the strengths and opportunities.

That said, having a problem-­‐focus is not entirely a problem — a great capability of humans is to understand problems and fix them. If scientists and engineers didn’t root around problems, many medical discoveries wouldn’t happen and bridges would collapse. Of course, creativity also has a hand in the journey of human progress, and so also do happy accidents — usually caused by diligent work — play a role in this journey too.

So, if a problem focus works for engineers, why is it less helpful for people inside organizations? The simple answer is that discussing  problems and their causes slows things down, obstructs productivity and underutilizes people resources. In SF we don’t obsess about the problem or its causes, so we can move more effectively and quickly to the things that do work.

“Ah yes,” you say, “but what if the solution is the wrong one?”

The answers to that often raised challenge are:

  1. It’s what people want. We can’t know what’s “right.” So, it’s better to make progress right away and to learn something
  2. If, indeed, we do manage to get a solution via the slower problem/cause mode, the solution is often highly constrained
  3. Things change all the time and the situation often resolves itself by osmosis, only more slowly and not the way we want. so why not use SF to speed up the process.


Be counterintuitive. Don’t complain, understand or fix. Instead…

The solution focus steps

The solution focus steps
















Adapted from Alan Kay

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Richard Toker