The United Nations Climate Change Summit is going on in New York as I write. World leaders, activists and experts are gathered to make another push towards tackling the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg has made an impassioned speech. Donald Trump decided to go to another event on religious freedom. The struggle goes on.
What are we to make of it, the vast majority of us not in New York but following the developments with more or less sense of frustration? Much of the discussion seems to focus on goals; when are we aiming for a carbon-neutral? The UK Government under Theresa May was shifting to a goal of carbon-neutral by 2050. The Scottish Government (where I live) is ahead of that – aiming for 2045. Others fret about the fact that China is still building coal-fired power stations (which will presumably operate for decades). Yes others point to the millions employed around the world in carbon extraction and refining, and wonder how they can be helped to transition into other fruitful work, in the energy sector and elsewhere.
Let’s look at this situation from a Solution Focused (SF) perspective. Agreement on the direction of travel – decarbonisation – seems to be becoming increasingly clear. That’s our platform, the general thing we’re hoping for. The precise goal – 2050, 2045, whatever – is much less important. Things will happen between now and then – events, developments, breakthroughs, crises – which will buffet things one way and another. In SF we don’t really work with goals – they may be there or not, but the key thing is useful change – movement in broadly the right direction today.
So the key success measure for the UN Climate Change Summit should not be the goals (welcome though movement in that direction might be), but the immediate next steps. What is happening by the end of the week that would not have happened otherwise? Who is doing what? Who is connecting with whom? What new impetus is there? The risk of agreeing goals is that politicians could mistake the agreement for the action. The current generation of world leaders will be long gone by 2050 – who will be taking accountability?
And it’s not just next steps that we must be looking for – it’s steps in a newly coherent direction. I wrote a while ago about the difference between SF and ‘Kaizen’, the ancient Japanese art of making gradual improvements. That’s a valuable thing to be doing – but simply taking small steps along a well-trodden path is not particularly brave or innovative. SF work promotes the crystallisation of small next steps in a new direction, with a new awareness, with new purpose.
So by all means let’s support the Climate Change Summit and those participating. And look for new awareness, new directions and small next steps. Here’s one area where the goal is not the point.
Top of the news today in the UK is the story of Isabelle Holdaway, the 17 year-old who has recovered from a serious infection untreatable with antibiotics using ‘phage therapy’. Phages are viruses that eat bacteria. They have been known for a century or more, but have not been seen as a potential mainstream treatment in most circles until now.
As you are probably aware, antibiotic-resistant bacteria or ‘superbugs’ are a growing problem. Bacteria evolve, just like all life forms – and so it’s only natural that as time goes on, then evolutionary processes will result in bacteria which are adapted to survive antibiotics (which don’t evolve). Phages, being viruses, also evolve, which is what makes them so interesting and useful; as superbugs evolve, then so do the phages which attack them. What makes the Isabelle Holdaway case so interesting is that this is the first time that phages have been genetically modified (deliberately) to make them even more effective in a particular case.
Way back in 2002, Paul Jackson and I featured phage treatment in our book The Solutions Focus. It was very little known at the time. I was pleased that we could both spread the word about this interesting and different form of treatment, and also show it as a great metaphor for Solution Focused (SF) work. Here is what we wrote back in 2002:
There is a close parallel between the antibiotic and phage approaches, and conventional and Solutions Focused methods in organizations. Just as the antibiotic attacks many strains of virus, the popular business and organizational theories work quite well in many cases. In both the phage and solutions approaches, the solution that fits the situation is uniquely and efficiently selected from the whole swirling complexity of the starting point – be it the organization wanting change, or the bucket of sewage.
I was very excited to be invited to Bulgaria as the keynote speaker for Reinventing Organizations 2017. This fascinating and participative one-day event was hosted in Sofia and featured many great speakers from within Bulgaria and further afield. I set the stage by giving a 20 minute talk on ‘Working WITH change’ – ways to move away from linear approaches which assume that organisations are like machines and can be re-engineered, towards methods like Solutions Focus which assume that change is happening all the time and embrace it. I talk about ‘five myths of change’ and debunk them to leave instead five ways to work WITH change.
The video is now online – you can watch below. My talk starts at 12.00 minutes in, and is in English. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
This is a great short (six minutes) TED talk about how change is happening all the time; my favourite way of summing up solution focused work. Enjoy and comment please.
Last year I was lucky enough to be lead facilitator at the TED Fellows Collaboratorium event in New Orleans. The event was to bring together the brilliant young TED Fellows group with coaches and mentors, working on real issues in quite large groups – something of a facilitational challenge. As part of my role I wrote a facilitators’ guide, stressing (as I usually do) the importance of small steps in building a bridge between a challenging situation and a workable way forwards.
The main organiser of the event made a few changes to the guide, adding the word Kaizen (in brackets) after ‘small steps’, so it read ‘small steps (Kaizen)’. This got me wondering… how are these two philosophies related? Continue reading →
As I discussed in the previous posting in this series (https://sfworkblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/rutenso-the-art-of-thriving-in-times-of-constant-change/), 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. Continue reading →
Everyone knows that working in a Solutions Focus way involved focusing on solutions, right? That’s the part that everyone gets. Focus on the solution, not on the problem. Well, that’s right, of course. And… there is so much more to SF than this. I have been thinking about how to convey all the other wonderful elements of what makes SF so different, and so effective in situations where other approaches don’t seem to gain traction. So, here is my latest thinking on this – rutenso. Continue reading →