rutenso – the great power of tiny signs

As I discussed in the previous posting in this series (, rutenso is a philosophy for thriving in times of constant change.  It’s the power the makes the Solution-Focused (SF) approach so interesting and different.  One interesting aspect of working in environments where change is happening all the time is the big power of tiny signs.

What is a ‘sign’?  In the dictionary, sign (noun) is given as:

“An object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.” 

In SF work, a sign is an indicator that useful change has happened… either in the past, the present or the future.  Note that this is not at all the same as ‘what will bring change about’.  That’s an action.  A sign is something that tells us that things are moving in the right direction.  It might turn out to be actionable or it may not.  So, what’s the advantage of talking about tiny signs?

Suppose we want to describe a better future – something we want to have happen.  It’s interesting what happens when we do this in terms of ‘first tiny signs’.

  • The description becomes very concrete.  We start thinking about small observable and detailed elements.
  • The description becomes very generative.  These are first tiny signs – but the precursors of all kinds of bigger things to come.
  • A rich description can be generated by thinking about many tiny signs – each possibly insignificant on its own, but in unison amounting to an exciting new possibility.
  • The description can become action-oriented – the tiny signs themselves lead to ideas for actions.
  • And finally, the tiny signs can be used in the future as reference points to spot change starting to happen.  Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s much easier to spot it.

I notice this sometimes when I work with people from other traditions.  It seems like they are happy to discuss better futures at a general abstract level, but when get a little nervous when I suggest we ask about ‘first tiny signs’.  Maybe talking in these terms raises the stakes a bit – the future starts to seem nearer, and we may actually have to deal with it starting to arrive!  But surely that’s a good thing?

2 responses

  1. Yes, it’s a world of constant change, some of which happens slowly (social change) and some really fast (technology). In either case we make progress by slowing down to to see ourselves making small changes right away. I have seen clients go off to make a host of small changes across a team and later heard back then that the team made significant progress towards the bigger change they wanted.

  2. martin fletcher | Reply

    Hi Mark,

    I was struck by a recent report I heard/read about research which suggested that discussing one’s goals (re: weight loss / fitness etc.) with others results in a reduced likelihood of them being achieved – it’s made me stop telling my deadlift coach what I aim to lift when we do my single max rep test! Unfortunately I haven’t found a reference for the research as yet.

    Since I became aware of this I have thought a lot about SF client descriptions – if this research is correct then I wonder whether we see/hear about success because they are effectively describing their goals to themselves and we just happen to be there. I have always been careful when delivering SF training to explain to trainees that client descriptions are for them to hear, not for our information…except when we are using SF language sets and ideas in other ways e.g. social work…wen we need to be explicit about our information gathering and retaining role.

    In the context of that suggested, if elusive, research finding though, your final paragraph is fascinating!


    Martin F.

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