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Preface to the Third Edition

When it appeared, The Solutions Focus was the first book to introduce solutions-focused (SF) ideas to the worlds of coaching, management, and organizational change. During the past two decades change makers have applied SF around the world in settings from schools to city authorities, hotels to hospitals, personal development to industrial reorganization. The SOLWorld network, founded around the initial publication, has organised over 50 international events. Our OSKAR coaching framework, introduced in the second edition, has galvanized the coaching world.

We have radically updated this third edition to reflect international applications, new developments in the SF community, and the greater appreciation overall for engaging emergence (rather than fighting it), working with difficult and “wicked” problems and the growth of dialogic (as opposed to diagnostic) methods. It feels like the world has been catching up with SF since 2002, and we are happy to reaffirm the value and the values of this work. 

We’ve made changes on almost every page, added many new case studies, and tweaked the questions and tools to make them even more effective. For the first eight chapters, this is their first and long overdue revision.

The new subtitle, Transforming Change, works on different levels. You can use this book to transform your work as a change agent, coach, consultant, leader, manager, or facilitator. And we propose (again) a new view of change itself, working with complexity, invoking imagination, focusing on details, and using small steps to foster impactful and lasting change. This has been our view all along. We may have been guilty in the earlier editions of leaving it somewhat unsaid, expecting that readers would discover it for themselves. Many did. Others may have missed the overarching message in their enthusiasm for miracles and scales. And countless more, mistaking the title for positive thinking, appear to have bypassed it completely.

Of course, you can initiate useful change by simply using SF questions on their own. As our friend and SF colleague Elliott Connie says, you are just one question away from making a difference. And the more you use these questions and other methods with awareness of the bigger frame of SF, the more difference you will make. We are thrilled that The Solutions Focus has gained classic status. 

Read it, put the pieces together, and enjoy the energy and engagement you create. Learn as you go and keep going. Search out an SF event to meet like-minded practitioners. There are many online opportunities with SOLWorld, SF in Organisations (SFiO), SF24, and more. SF is more joyous and more effective when you’re learning and reflecting with others.

What is the Solutions Focus?

The Solutions Focus is a powerful, practical, and proven approach to positive change with people, teams, and organizations. With this approach of radical simplicity, you sidestep the often fruitless search for the causes of problems, take the direct route forward, and use small steps to build toward the better future— the “solution.” The focus on solutions (not problems), strengths (not weaknesses), and what’s going well (rather than what’s gone wrong) leads to a positive and pragmatic way of making progress. 

What is so radical about it? Focusing on solutions (that is, defining and acting on what is wanted and what is better) rejects conventional approaches that share the widespread assumption that focusing on problems (by analyzing, reacting to, and talking about them) is the best way to solve them. This reflects the difference between a complex problem (with many unknowns, fuzzy boundaries, and interconnections) and a complicated problem (where analysis and experience can be helpful).

William James, the father of modern psychology, said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” The art of the coach, manager, or consultant using a solutions-focused approach is as much about the disciplines of what you don’t do— delving into problems that are more productively overlooked, for example—as it is about the solutions that you do focus on. This book reveals how you—as a coach, leader, facilitator, or manager—can apply a set of fundamental principles and an elegant box of tools to transform how you approach and deliver change.

Whether you are dealing with difficult people at work, aiming to get the best from a team, or unraveling tricky strategic issues within your organization, the book will show you how to:

Redefine projects and problems so that you can make pragmatic progress.

Notice and harness valuable events and resources around you.

Avoid major pitfalls and obstacles along the route.

Define and take small steps with the maximum chance of success.

Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Change is happening all the time, our role is to identify useful change and amplify it. Drawing on the systems heritage and its development in complexity theory and social constructionist thinking, The Solutions Focus presents a new wave of change technology—truly transforming change.

Fundamentals of the Solutions Focus

Here are the fundamental assumptions and principles that underpin solutions-focused work:

Change is happening all the time: Our job is to identify and amplify useful change.

There is no one “right” way of looking at things: Different views may fit the facts just as well.

Detailed understanding of the “problem” is usually little help in arriving at the solution.

No “problem” happens all the time: Direct routes lie in identifying what happens when what you want happens (even a tiny bit) or when the problem does not happen.

Clues to solutions are right there in front of you: You need only recognize them, and this book will enhance your detective skills to do just that.

Small changes in the right direction can be amplified to great effect.

It is important to stay solutions focused, not solutions forced.

You may be surprised by aspects of these principles at first glance. The idea that detailed understanding of a problem is of little help in making progress goes against the grain of much modern thinking, for example.

Conventionally, in many fields a huge amount of time and effort is spent on analyzing problems and often this is rewarded with success. A software engineer improving an app may parse faulty code to sort out the bugs; a mechanic typically employs problem- solving skills, looking to replace a defective part to fix a machine. Much of the success of modern medicine is founded on the great problem-analysis method known as diagnosis. If you have a painful leg, you expect the doctor to search for the cause and apply the appropriate treatment: a cast for a break, bandages and rest for a sprain.

In fact, a problem focus has been so successful in so many arenas that it is the automatic response for many experts when faced with any difficult situation. You may think that detailed understanding of a problem is essential to work out what to do next. The more certain you are of this, the more you are likely to be locked into this traditional problem-focused mode of thought.

Yet while this problem focus has its place in many domains, it is less productive when the issue involves interactions between people. SF offers a more direct route to what works and what fits—for you and your clients.

Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow

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