Showing and telling – how we teach SF?

I remember being with a slightly grumpy Steve de Shazer in Malmo in the early 2000s. The conversation had turned to training, and Steve grumbled “The only way to learn SF therapy is to watch thousands of SF therapy sessions. That’s how I learned it!”

I disagree with Steve on this. There are surely many more ways to learn SF than this, even if we had thousands of hours to spare. And these days, most people want to get somewhere rather quicker than that. The recent SFCT Trainers Conference in Bad Soden, Germany started with a plenary session on ‘showing and telling’. See the photo on the rights – on the panel Kirsten Dierolf, Peter Szabo, Peter Rohrig (chair), me and Yasuteru Aoki.

I guess all SF trainers use practical exercises and activities, and use live demonstration coaching sessions and/or tapes of past work. This is what I call ‘showing’ – addressing the practice as an activity in itself. But what is the role (if any) of ‘telling’ – using theory, models, cognitive frameworks, heuristics, metaphors etc to support the learning process. We might think of these aspects as scaffolding; structures which support the learning while it takes place, but can be removed afterwards, like a ladder which can be cast aside once it ha1s been used.

Sometimes I envy the Appreciative Inquiry people. Their approach, derived explicitly in an academic context, has some ‘official’ models like the 4-D cycle (Discover, Dream, Design, Destiny/Deliver) and five principles (see for example SF is a much more slippery creature than this. There are no official ways to describe it, much less teach it. Everyone finds their own version, and appreciates other versions. All of this makes an incredibly rich school of practice – and a nightmare when someone wants the low-down on one Powerpoint slide!

Perhaps because there are no official models, some SF trainers use little or no ‘telling’. Some of those (like Solutionsurfers) do this from a position of clear choice. Others seem to be unaware even of the possibility that anything else is feasible. Personally, I think there is a good role for the judicious application of models and frameworks to support learning. In The Solutions Focus book, now published nearly 10 years ago and still selling well, Paul Z Jackson and I introduced two such frameworks. One of these has proved much more useful that the other, in my view.

Our six SIMPLE principles – a conceptual framework – was intended to act as a high level guide to what is, and is not, solutions focused. It is accurate, yet hardly anyone finds this a good place to start and support learning. I have found it a good place to finish a training – people can relate to it once they know about SF, in terms of a summary. And it carries the important message of staying simple and SIMPLE.

Our six Solutions Tools, on the other hand, have proved a real boon in helping people get to grips with SF practice quickly and confidently. By bringing different phases of SF into view – Platform, Future Perfect, Scale, Counters (finding what’s working), Affirm and Small Actions – we find that learners can quickly distinguish between USING a tool – working with a particular element – and MOVING to another tool. The whole tools metaphor is helpful – tools each do a certain job, we have a choice of different tools, each one requires skill, and we need to know when to pick each up and also when to put it down and move on.

As our learners become more experienced, they also become more skilled and more fluid with the tools, and more creative in fitting their work with the context. It seems to me as if frameworks like this can really help people short-cut ‘watching thousands of hours’.

So as time has gone on, I and the sfwork team have been developing different tool-sets and frameworks to help in this manner. OSKAR coaching (also with Paul Z Jackson), MAGIC negotiation and iFLOW personal effectiveness (with Shakya Kumara), PARTNER conflict management (with Antoinette Oglethorpe)… All of these offer support to people wanting to find ways to engage the power of the SF approach in particular contexts without spending years grappling with the overall approach. I find no conflict in using these frameworks in teaching, learning and using SF ideas – as long as we also keep in mind that the SF approach is NOT reducible to a framework.


2 responses

  1. A useful post Mark, I find the SIMPLE model a very useful reminder for clues to SF thus enhancing the tools.
    The beauty of SF is that it moulds to many frameworks rather than just one. Personally I found the latter stages of AI rather unsatisfactory as a model and never really took to it.

  2. “As our learners become more experienced, they also become more skilled and more fluid with the tools, and more creative in fitting their work with the context.”

    As a practitioner of SF in organizational transformation programs, I can say with confidence that SF tools allow me to increase momentum quickly with minimal resources (i.e. financial and/or time commitment). The tools help everybody involved to notice the successes they are having along the way.

    I very much like your point about becoming ‘more fluid’ with the tools. Being able to accept and work more and more skillfully with the natural fluidity of human interactions is at the heart of the most joyful SF work.

    Do musicians actually play music better with an audience who notice their small successes as opposed to an audience who notice their mistakes?
    Hard to say with scientific certainty, but I feel confident in saying that musicians with the former audience will experience more joy in their playing and are therefore more likely to keep experimenting to improve their skills whilst pleasing their audience.

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