10 years of The Solutions Focus book

It’s ten years to the day since the first edition of The Solutions Focus book was published.  I’ll always remember 8 February 2002 – because it was the first day of the SOL 2002 conference, the first of the astounding series of SOLWorld events over the past decade.  So, it’s a good moment to look back on what’s happened over the intervening period and also indulge in a little looking forwards.  So – what is there to be impressed with?

Firstly the book is still in print and selling! This is pretty rare in publishing circles – there’s a saying that some books are sprinters and some are stayers.  The Solutions Focus has proved to be a real stayer, as we had hoped.  As the first business book in English about the SF approach, it’s still a key reference and often a starting point for people beginning to explore SF.  Paul and I completely revised the second half of the book in 2006, and the second edition has helped it to keep current.

Secondly, the book is available in many languages.  Many of them are available to buy online, including:

Japanese: 組織の成果に直結する問題解決法ソリューションフォーカス

Swedish: Lösningsfokuserat Ledarskap

Italian: Punta Alla Soluzione

Lithuanian: Susitelkimas á sprendimus

Dutch: Oplossingsgericht denken

Chinese:  跳過問題,直接做對

Korean: 성공한 CEO는 단순하게 해결한다

English… you can get it via http://www.sfwork.com/jsp11/index.jsp?nnk=424

In many cases these translations were led and supervised by members of the SOLWorld community – I am particularly grateful to them, it’s an enormous job!  So Aoki-san, Kerstin Mahlberg Marco Matera, Dainius Baltrusaitis and other unknown fans– take a bow!  I know there is a Czech version in preparation. (thank you Kamila)… anyone else? 🙂

Looking back, how has the book been received?  It took the ideas away from an explicit helper/helpee context (as in therapy etc) into a much broader context of managers, workers, team leaders, coaches, internal consultants, external consultants and so on.  Therefore, the book offered a re-conceptualisation of SF, taking it away from questions and towards a way of working and thinking.

One element of this has been a good success – the framing of SF work as the application of conversational tools rather than questions.  I don’t think I really appreciated quite what a good move this was ten years ago, and I continue to be impressed with how quickly the tools framework helps people get to a level of good and relatively sophisticated practice.  I find it to be a real accelerator, it stops people worrying about what question to ask next and gives them an easy way of keeping track of where they are in an SF conversation.  It also draws attention to all the business that goes on which is not classic SF questioning – all the ‘what elses?’, the getting details, the pausing, the collection of different perspectives – which are all part of using a tool like Platform or Future Perfect.  Indeed, my latest  clients in the NHS are making excellent use of this way of viewing SF.

The other development in the book was our six SIMPLE principles.  The idea was to offer a conceptual framework, so that a broader definition of SF might be brought to bear in the development of new tools.  While this has had some success within my own team of experienced practitioners, it has become clear to me that people seem to be better off learning and using the tools first – then they know, in a way, the principles of the work and can see the SIMPLE aspects.  Trying to start with the principles has never, in my experience, really been successful.  Maybe you think differently – if so, please say so!  The question of SF as a paradigm, a way of thinking as well as a way of acting, is a continuing discussion and I’ve been adding to the discussion with papers such as ‘Inbetween’ with Harry Korman (which says much of what I was trying to say in Chapter 4 of the book, but didn’t have the language at the time), and the ‘Narrative Emergence’ book chapter with Gale Miller (still awaiting formal publication with Oxford University Press).

Other things that I’ve been pleased to notice over the past ten years…

  •  The amazingly generous and dedicated SOLWorld community – ten years, events all over the world, an innovative governance structure and no bank account!
  • The appearance of other books and papers over the years – Peter Szabo, Peter Rohrig, Jenny Clarke, Daniel Meier, Gunter Lueger, Hans-Peter Korn, Louis Cauffman (who was there before us in Dutch!), Kirsten Dierolf, Yasuteru Aoki, Janine Waldman, Ben Furman, Fredrike Bannink… and many others.  Paul has done ‘Positively Speaking’ with Janine, I have done Solutions Focus Working with Jenny and contributors from around the world.
  • The appearance of SFCT and the InterAction journal as a more formal representation of SF organisational work, which is attracting attention from different circles

Looking forwards… best hopes for the next ten years?  SF appearing in more and more places and contexts, growing the community further, keeping the distinctive SF flavour AND working with people from other traditions and approaches.  If there were a miracle, I’d change the name of this approach – ‘Solution Focus’ doesn’t convey one tenth of the power, elegance and sophistication of what we do.  However, I think it’s probably too late for that…so we’ll have to get better at showing people what we do and where we are coming from.

One last thing – people occasionally ask about why the book was called The Solutions Focus, and not The Solution Focus or something.  The answer is that, in a meeting with the publishers, I (and I take the blame for this) thought that ‘The Solution Focus’ sounded clumsy, and the plural was better.  Looking back, I think I’d do it the other way now.  SolutionS implies a search for, well, solutions, whilst Solution could better indicate the focus of the work – on what’s wanted rather than what’s wrong.  However, as Kierkegaard wrote, life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.


7 responses

  1. I am honored to be the first one to comment on this auspicious article celebrating all the successful activities of SF practitioners around the globe in the past decade. And I would like to duely bow to Dr. Mark Mckergow for continuously inspiring us into learning and discovering the new ways of cultivating our human resources with SF tools. Experiencing SOL conferences really amazes me that without formal rigid structure type of organizing we can resonate and amplify each other’s great quality across the cultural and international borders. Thank you really so much, Mark and the original people who created this Ba(place where we meet).

    I smiled when I read what Mark said about singular and plural about “solution” because in Japanese grammer we don’t distinguish this difference.with nouns. I am sure there will be a lot more discoveries through being aware of our differences between each culture and individual. By learning and practicing SF I found the ways of respecting those differences and even further utilizing them, and sometimes consciously overlook them.

    “SF inside” is the phrase some of us here started to use. It can mean something like stealth weapon. We can openly say it’s SF and use it and we can also use other names and still use SF with “SF inside”. When Michael Hjerth came to Tokyo to give a Key note for J-SOL3 he said “SF is not something you learn from a book but is to be cultivated from inside out.” And we found deeper meaning of “SF inside”. It’s already there! I totally resonate with this and started finding more and more people and organizations already solution focused in many ways. And I found my work to have become easier. So I think there will be a time when the names for what we do don’t really matter because SF can be found at the baseline no matter what brand it wears on the surface. Sorry, I got carried away and sound like a blind SF believer.:-)

    Well, what I wanted to express was the joy I share with you all to be a member of this great community of solutionists.

    Thank you, Mark. Thank you everybody!

    With the deepest and longest bow

  2. Graham Thomsen | Reply

    Gosh, 10 years already. Congratulations! I’m so glad it’s still in print. Personally, I prefer “Solutions Focus” to “Solution Focus”; as someone on the forum once put it: “There are always more solutions than problems.” I can understand the desire to have a name that also manages to convey the sophistication of your work, but I think that that wouldn’t be satisfactory either. Isn’t it the nature of the beast simplicity that it is beautifully elegant, but not obvious and requires skill to find it?
    I shall look forward to the publication of “Narrative Emergence” and to more developments over the next 10 years.

  3. No french translation ?!!!
    Do you know of any french speaking Solution Focus practitioners ?

    When i read this book some years ago, I was struck by the similarities with other ‘Value’ approaches : Value analysis, GROW coaching, Lean processes …
    SF adding to this the positive psychology background.

    I believe all these methods share a new ‘paradigm’ in thinking in that they are not based on cartesian reasoning, but system thinking. Would SF specialists be ready to discuss this with other Value practitioners?

    Olaf de Hemmer
    President of AFAV – Value Management in France

    1. Hi Olaf,

      si, il y a une “french speaking Solution Focus practitioners” – et elle sera heureuse d’échanger! (info@rima-nouri.com,

      Rima Nouri

      1. Perhaps the two of you can find a way towards a French translation? 🙂 cheers, Mark

  4. Very good article. Nice and reflective. I agree with using the tools first. That’s how i started and now i’m very interested in the other stuff.I’m forever having to think about solution and solutions too!
    Congratulations on the anniversary!
    John Brooker

  5. Oh, and still the best business book I ever read!

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