J-SOL 3 conference report, Tokyo, 26-27 June 2010

Next stop from Bali for us was Japan, and a series of workshops and events culminating in the third J-SOL conference in Tokyo. Jenny and I arrived in Fukuoka, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, to do a one-day workshop about ‘Create your better future with SF’. We were very well hosted by Hiro Ikawa and his friend Megumi, had excellent Sushi with Dr Toh and sampled late-night tonkotsu-ramen – noodles in pork broth, absolutely delicious!

We wento on by bullet train to Kyoto for a one-day workshop on ‘Organisational Development the SF way’. We met lots of old friends and some new ones here, looked at how SF fits with the OD scene as it is at the moment (rather well!), saw how SF fits with a complex systems perspective and worked live with a challenging situation at a hospital. This case was a great example of ‘what’s wanted is NOT the opposite of what’s wrong’. The problem was about nurses and doctors leaving during their training period – too many did so. Signs of the Future Perfect, however, were all about the PATIENTS feeling cared for, well looked after, and telling the nurses and doctors about it – a real shift of focus.

A little sight-seeing in Kyoto and we were back on the buillet train, this time to Tokyo. I led an evening introductory workshop which seemed to go very well – Aoki-san asked me to introduce the idea of emergence during this session, not something I would usually do in a 2 hour intro, but it seemed to go down well and picqued the curiosity of the participants. Lots of people wanted me to sign their (Japanese) copies of The Solutions Focus afterwards – always a good sign.

Next day was a live consulting day. These are always great fun and very interesting, we really don’t know what will happen which adds spice and interest. It’s also a great way for experienced SF practitioners to extend their learning. We tackled one person’s issue of how to get more international work and profile (which he really seemed to seize some small actions about!), and also a consultant with a long term relationship with a business going through very tough times and about to go bankrupt. This was an excellent study in platform building by Jenny – the problem was about saving the business, but we had to create a platform involving the consultant in this – which took some time, but really unlocked a lot of possibilities.

We’re now at the night before the conference, and all the foreign guests and lots of the conference team went out on a boat into Tokyo harbour for a night of traditional Japanese eating (on the floor!), drinking, and sightseeing. I even played the clarinet on the roof of the boat during our time moored on the river – very memorable for me (and I hope for everyone else).

The J-SOL 3 conference started on Saturday 26 June at the Ryogoku Daichi Hotel in Tokyo. Our MCs Ponta and Toko kicked things off energetically, and Aoki-san led a short introduction about the history of SOLWorld and the conferences, all the way back to the initial conversation at the Hatchet Inn, Bristol in late 2000. Michael Hjerth gave the keynote address, ‘SF: The Natural Way of Simplicity’, in which he drew particular attention to Asian connections and links – the beginner’s mind, the esthetics of no-clutter minimalism, the awareness of context and connectedness, and the traditions of disciplined cultivation of skill. Michael expressed a hope that the next steps for SF might come out of Asia, and Japan specifically.

After lunch we went into ‘small success sharing’ sessions. I found myself in one about ‘using SF on yourself’ – something I have struggled with in the past. Kenji Hayaken and his colleague led us through some very nice exercises, including one about careers and one about achievements. Then it was time for the first round of workshops, and I was delighted to hear from Ito-san about his experience in working with an onsen (spa hotel).  This traditional hotel was family owned and had a rather hierarchical structure, with the old owners separated from the younder staff who were not listened to.  Working with a project team and using a series of discussions and interventions (including a newsletter), Kiyokji Ito drew people together and helped them to start to move forwards in ways which drew on all the talents available – very impressive.  Even more impressive was that some of the staff were there too, to add their own views on the process.

After some plenary sharing, we all rushed down to the Akihabara district for the legendary cabaret. There was lots of good and drink and much entertainment, including Ito-san and Aoki-san singing, me accompanying Nagata-san in a rendition of Little Richard’s ‘Jenny Jenny’ (with Jenny on backing vocals!), and Michael Hjerth singing My Way to karaoke – there is a video of this at http://www.solworld.org/video/michael-hjerth-sings-my-way. We went on into the night at a local izakaya (pub).

Back for day 2 of the conference, with two more workshops sessions. I was delighted to see Koto Cho again – she works as a consultant with Toyota and Panasonic amongst others, and gave a good account of her use of SF. She said “We use SF when we are stuck and can’t find any way to go. Also when there are conflicts. It’s amazing, we can always find a next step. And when you have one next step, you can find another.” Her colleague Onishi-san presented on his experience working at Honda, and how much commonality there was between the Honda Way and SF – I must investigate this further. Both these speakers talked about the importance of the philisophy of the founders of an organisation, and how this lives on.

The final workshop I attended was by a large group from the ZACROS company, who make packaging for medicines. Of course, this needs very high quality. Based on a short initial training by Aoki-san, the Zacros team have taken SF ideas and used them in all kinds of ways, which help them to build on and move on from TQM and Kaizen methods (which always as ‘why’ and are very strict). Ten Zacros people helped to tell the story, including some young managers. One nice example was using a scale to help work out ways to clean the dust out of a particular machine – where 10 is perfect, and we are now at 2… what would be ‘good enough’ (8) and what would a 3 look like (something do-able) – so we can move on.

Back to the plenary for my special session on ‘Possible Futures for SF’. I said that in a complex system not only is the future un-knowable – the past is too! I talked about the history going back to the MRI and the Interactional View, and looking at some recent new developments (microanalysis research, recent writings and the appearance of SFCT) which gave me some cause for optimism. The challenges we face, as I see them, are lack of influence in academic and political circles, and that it’s not always clear what we do to outsiders, who then confuse SF with positive psychology or even positive thinking. I ended with Joe Strummer’s ‘the future is unwritten’, and we finished by setting out to write the next chapter of SF.

One nice innovation this time was a closing ‘future cafe’ process (rather like a World Cafe) where over about 90 minutes we talking about the conference, the impact on us, and the future for ourselves and the field. All too soon it was time for the closing ceremony, and I collected the SOLWorld candlestick (in it’s smart Japanese flight case) to take on to the organisers of the Summer Retreat in Switzerland. The conference carried on the next day with post-conference workshops by Michael Hjerth, Simon Lee, Kirsten Dierolf and Fredrike Bannink.

The whole event had an excellent feel to it, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all our Japanese friends again and making new ones. Well done the J-SOL boys and girls!

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One response

  1. Mark, thank you so much for the detailed report on J-SOL3. You are making a great bridge between our people and English speaking people.
    I really appreciate your contribution.

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