Category Archives: SF updates

‘Safety II’ – a fascinating development in safety management (and Solution Focus?)

safety iiI was recently contacted by Andy Shone of Southpac, who provide training to the airline and other safety-critical industries from their base on Australia’s Gold Coast.  Andy was initially interested to discuss our work on host leadership, but in a context I hadn’t previously known – ‘Safety II’.  Some of you will know that my pre-consulting background was in the nuclear power business here in the UK, and even after moving on from there I devised and ran safety leadership courses for senior managers in the industry in the 1990s and early 2000s.  What’s more, there seem to me to be some very interesting connections between Safety II and the work we’ve been doing in Solutions Focus over the past 25 years.  What an exciting connection!

One way to start to explore Safety II is to read the White Paper published in 2015 by Erik Hollnagel, Robert Weirs and Jeffrey Braithwaite.  Safety II is described as ‘ensuring that as many things as possible go right’, as opposed to the conventional Safety I view that safety is about ensuring that as few things as possible go wrong.  Whereas Safety I is about preventing accidents, promoting Safety II means knowing more about what makes and keeps things safe, running smoothly and without incident.  This latter is, of course, what happens the vast majority of the time but goes under the radar of most safety professionals.  Here is a key table introducing the differences between these two views taken from the White Paper:


Safety I Safety II
Definition of safety


That as few things as possible go wrong.


That as many things as possible go right.


Safety management principle


Reactive, respond when something happens or is categorised as an unacceptable risk.


Proactive, continuously trying to anticipate developments and events.


View of the human factor in safety management Humans are predominantly seen as a liability or hazard. They are a problem to be fixed.


Humans are seen as a resource necessary for system flexibility and resilience. They provide flexible solutions to many potential problems.


Accident investigation


Accidents are caused by failures and malfunctions. The purpose of an investigation is to identify the causes.


Things basically happen in the same way, regardless of the outcome. The purpose of an investigation is to understand how things usually go right as a basis for explaining how things occasionally go wrong.


Risk assessment


Accidents are caused by failures and malfunctions. The purpose of an investigation is to identify causes and contributory factors. To understand the conditions where performance variability can become difficult or impossible to monitor and control.


This is a really fascinating development – in the same way as our shift from problem to solution focus, or the shift in software development from ‘waterfall’ to ‘agile’ methodologies.  For starters, here are just three of the things that strike me about this shift in viewpoint.

  1. There is a very strong analogy between the shift to Safety II and Solution Focus. In SF we don’t think that’s what’s wanted is simply the opposite of what’s wrong.  Building solutions is about finding what’s wanted (not what’s not wanted) and then finding ways to notice and build on what’s already working that connects with it (usually by taking small steps).  The various practical tools and approaches developed by SF practitioners over the past 25 years could therefore be useful in building the practice of Safety II (Future Perfect, scaling, appreciation, small steps, noticing vs doing, etc).


  1. In Safety II the difference between safe operation and an accident is seen as small. Most things work most of the time, and even in serious accidents many things happen correctly.  There is an important philosophical point about causality wound up with this – Safety I is based on a causal links view whereas Safety II looks from an emergence perspective where the idea of one thing simply and inevitably causing another is seen as misleading and naïve.  Trying to isolate and prevent ‘errors’ and ‘unsafe acts’ is therefore a somewhat fruitless endeavour, since often these are safe acts which are occurring in unusual circumstances and contexts.


  1. In the table above, I am struck by the difference in the perceived role of people. In conventional safety, much can be attributed to ‘human error’ and therefore the goal can be to remove people (and the variability they inevitably bring) from the process as far as possible.  Automatic safety systems are therefore seen as the answer.  ‘Making the people follow the procedure’ is the aim. Within Safety II, people are an important source of resilience – they can respond to unforeseen events and bring flexibility and creativity to dangerous situations.  The computerised swimming pool lifeguard is not on the agenda!

No-one is suggesting abandoning Safety I.  However, the advocates of Safety II think that the next level of improvement will come not from more rigorous applications of those ideas, but rather with the arrival and integration of Safety II ideas.  There have been several books on this published over the past five years, and interest is starting to grow around the world.  I wonder how Solutions Focus practitioners might be able to add and strengthen this movement?

The conversation with Andy Shone is progressing and he’s invited me to go to Gold Coast to lead a three-day deep dive into Safety II, host leadership and SF.  Join us on 14-16 November 2018!

Mark IEC (49)Dr Mark McKergow is director of the Centre for Solutions Focus at Work (sfwork), based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the co-author of four books on SF in organisational change including the best-selling The Solutions Focus (now in 11 languages).  His latest book is Host: Six New Roles of Engagement (Solutions Books, 2014) about leading as a host, not a hero or servant. 



Philsophy meets social work meets SF – Orienting Solutions 2013 conference report

Orienting Solutions 2013 19-20 September 2013, University of Herfordshire
Solution-focused, enactive and narrative research conference, organised by SFCT in association with the University of Hertfordshire

72 international researchers, academics and practitioners from the growing fields of solution-focused (SF) aTrishChiltonnd narrative practice met at the University of Hertfordshire last week for a world first. Even though solution-focused practice has been around in the worlds of therapy, nursing, social work and organisational change for two decades, this was the very first academic research conference on this topic. Even more interestingly, the schools of philosophy and nursing/social work combined with SFCT (, the SF consulting/training professional body) to host the event and provide input. The University of Hertfordshire has a world leading reputation from both sides – the philosophy department hosts the British Wittgenstein Society and is a leader in the latest work into the enactive paradigm, while the nursing school was the first British university to run an SF module in 1995.

With participants from the USA, Canada, Australia Japan, South AMarkfrica, Argentina and all over Europe as well as the UK, some had travelled thousands of miles to join in. From closer to home, we also welcomed members of both the UK Association for SF Practice ( and the European Brief Therapy Association ( Michael Durrant, editor of the new Journal of Solution Focused Brief Therapy, was a special guest.  The event was opened by SFCT President Kirsten Dierolf (Germany) and Jackie Kelly, Head of School, Nursing and Social Work. Mark McKergow (UH visiting research fellow in Philosophy, left) set the scene for UH’s Prof Dan Hutto (below, being observed by Alan Turing) connected the practices with the latest work in enactive cognition and theory of mind. The programme wasJanet a rich mixture. Communications legend Prof Janet Bavelas (University of Victoria, Canada, right) showed the latest work on microanalysis of therapeutic conversations, while Alasdair Macdonald’s compilation of the scale of research evidence as well as the increasing rate of publications in this field (he estimated some 1600 papers this year, many not in English) showed a clear need for a hub to collect and distribute this research.

DanParticipants came from a variety of backgrounds – child protection, psychology, medicine, management, leadership, social work, even sports psychology and adventure play had a look in! Louise Doel, lecturer at the school of nursing and social work, joined with Marva Furlongue-Laver and Evelyn Millward to share the journey of social workers learning this approach. The combination of front-line practice with cutting edge theory was welcomed by all, and many new connections and possibilities were appearing by the end of the event. There were many comments afterwards about how useful it had all been, and discussions are underway about how UH can take a leading role. Next time, we’ll make sure to plan for a bigger crowd in a much bigger room.

A slideshow of photos from the event can be seen at

The full list of papers and posters can be seen below.

Dan Hutto University of Hertfordshire Enactive and Narrative Practices: Why and How They Matter to Clinical Practice
Mark McKergow University of Hertfordshire (UK)/sfwork Solution-focused, enactive and narrative – the action is in the interaction
Janet Bavelas University of Victoria (Canada) SFBT and Microanalysis: Looking Closely at HOW Therapy Works
Alasdair Macdonald Dorset Healthcare (UK) Solution focused therapy: the research and the literature. Where do we go from here?
Steve Flatt Psychological Therapies Unit (UK) Psychological therapy: The problem – IAPT and the medical model. The solution – non pathologising public health approaches.
Chris Iveson BRIEF (UK) Micro-Description, Mega Impact: outcome-informed evolution.
Gale Miller Marquette University (USA) Kenneth Burke as a Window on Solution-Focused Thought and Practice
Ian Smith Lancaster University (UK) The Psychology of Solution Focused Practice
David Weber University of North Carolina Wilmington (USA) Taking Communication Seriously: Uniting SF and CMM (Coordinated Management of Meaning)
Steve Smith Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (UK) Solution Focused Interactions as a Hermeneutic Endeavour.
Dominic Bray Southport & Ormskirk NHS Trust (UK) ‘Does Pain have to be Pain-ful?’ : are problem-based measures unsound, and is there a solution-focused alternative?
Kirsten Dierolf Solutions Academy (Germany) Organisational Psychology Revisited with a Wittgensteinian Perspective
Zuzanna Rucinska and Ellen Reijmers University of Hertfordshire (UK) , Interactie Academie (Belgium) Between Philosophy and Therapy: The Mutual Affect of Systemic/Dialogical Therapy and Embodied Enactive Cognition
Jen Unwin Southport & Ormskirk NHS Trust (UK) SF: The Hope Therapy
Rayya Ghul Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) Quanta and qualia – what are we researching and why?
Damian Griffiths With Box Limited (UK) ‘Signs of Safety – What are the signs that it works?’
Joel Parthemore Centre for Cognitive Science, Lund University (Sweden) Enactive Philosophy in Action: Re-conceptualizing Mind and Body in Mental Health Practice
Louise Doel, Marva Furlongue-Laver and Evelyn Millyard University of Hertfordshire/Essex County Council: Theory and Practice: bringing in the voice of the practitioner
Vicky Bliss SF and formulation
Stephan Natynczuk My Big Adventure CIC Solution focused practice as a useful addition to the concept of Adventure Therapy.
Dominik Godat Godat Coaching (Switzerland) Solution Focused Leadership – From working practice towards a descriptive model
Michael Hjerth Solutionwork (Sweden) Solution-focus, ADHD and executive function – a translational view
Hellmuth Weich De Montfort University Using antenarratives to evidence and understand changes in family narratives.

Sharon Dyke Milestones Trust Solutions not problems: improving outcomes in RECOVERY using a Solution-Focused Brief Support approach
Jenny Clarke sfwork SF – A Copernican Revolution
Klaus Schenck “ ’I am an other’ – Metaphor in SF: on the verge of identity and difference“
Janet Bavelas University of Victoria (Canada) What is “Microanalysis of Face-to-face Dialogue?”

J-SOL 6 report: Aoki, managers and workers from corporations lead the way with SF in Japan

2013-06-24smlIt hardly seems like five years since the first J-Sol conference – but it is!  Jenny and I are back from a great week in Japan with Aoki-san and his team.  This year the event was back in Tokyo (from Kyoto last year) and also back in the Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku, venue for J-SOL 3, next to the striking Edo-museum building (looking straight out of Thunderbirds) and the national Sumo stadium.

This year’s foreign guests were Ben Furman, and famous ‘£1 consultant ‘ Marco Ronzani and his partner Franziska von Blarer.   Once again Ruiko Aoki had organised the most wonderful cultural introduction to Japan, so we were straight off the plane and into a tea ceremony hosted by lovely ladies (and one man) learning this tradition.   It’s all about harmony and togetherness, and the precision and care of the hosts (not to mention their beautiful traditional costumes) were a great way to get the dust of the journey out of our hair.  We then met for a meal of Japanese Wagyu beef – which really was the finest I’ve ever tasted, cooked in front of us on a teppenyaki grill.  The chef even used the fat from the outside of the sirloin cuts to make fried rice for us to take home as a snack!

P1060601Thursday started early with a ‘Japanese music experience’.  Aoki’s administrator helper Satsuki Fujisawa is a keen player of the koto, a Japanese 13-stringed harp, and she had fixed up for us to attend a performance of modern tunes on the koto and shamisen, a three-stringed instrument played by professional musician Miho Todoroki.  Not just that, but then more instruments appeared and we were coached to play an arrangement of the famous Japanese tune Sakura.  It was a real treat to get up close with such beautiful instruments, and the performance was… well, you can see it on Facebook.  Following a sushi lunch and pause for shopping, the musical theme continued with a session ofP1060617 Taiko drumming – altogether a more physically demanding sport.  Phew…  But we were just starting, as after a delicious pub meal it was time for the karaoke-box, a private singing session with beer and fun.

Friday was the pre-conference workshop day, with Ben doing his Kids Skills and Reteaming work and Marco presenting about ‘Ask don’t tell: how to initate SF organisational development’ and “Reaching the Tipping Point: How to spread solution focused organizational development in an organization”.  Jenny and I chipped in with an evening on the MAGIC model of SF negotiation developed by our sfwork colleague Shakya Kumara, which drew a good crowd.

The conference itself ran over the weekend.  A little like SOLWorld 2013, it was a little smaller than the previous year, but with excellent content.  The theme of the event was ‘Roots and Diversity’ which allowed for an excellent selection of material.  One thing I always notice about the Japanese events is that many of the participants, and indeed presenters, are managers and workers from organisations sharing their work, rather than the consultant and coaches who are more common at the international meetings.  This year was no exception.  The room was lined with poster in a “Wall Facebook”
an invitation for giving compliments and relation building messages, and we started with a “Gogen – Five Strength” activity used at the beginning to help people meet each other in their strengths. To get us off on the right foot IMG_9604Ben led a keynote about ‘diverse uses of fantasy and imagination in SF work’.  This is, of course, a great topic – SF combines almost forensic use of language to get details with creativity around Future Perfects and better days in the future.  Ben used a nice move of having us answer some questions about successful pasts and strengths, privately, before moving into a pairs exercise, which seemed to me to work very well in setting the whole session up.

We then moved into workshops.  The foreign contingent went to hear Saeko Katsukawa talk about her use of focused compliment sessions – ‘Compu-ru’ as they are known in Japanese – in the budget Italian restaurant chain Saizeriya (with over 1000 locations!).  This had the effect of reinforcing good practice and learning, with excellent results.  Just this one SF tool is used here in a creative way, which fits the context – exactly what good SF is about.   Other workshops included the Zacros team showing how SF would support them for the next 100 years (yes, really… well, this is Japan).  A full list of the workshops and presenters is at the bottom of this report.

The second session of workshops saw the Westerners taking centre stage. Ben did some live coaching, Jenny led on her ‘SF as a Copernican revolution’ article from EBTA 2012, Marco showed how conflicts could be a resource, and I engaged five brave souls without a translator for ‘let’s talk to Mark’ – which turned out to be about the roots of SF, how to use it to enhance the power of younger women in corporations, reflecting teams and much else, including contributions from Masahiko Yokota from Canon Inc.  It’s very good indeed to see these leading companies getting into SF!   And then, of course, the party and P1060682cabaret, including a rendition and dance from a crazy ‘Watermelon Man’ (Aoki-san with headgear, of course).

Day 2 dawned with reflections and reviews, followed by another round of workshops.  IMG_9926I particularly enjoyed the story of Tetsutaro Tachika and his colleague Rie Asanuma from Texas Instruments Japan Ltd, about their growing use of SF.  Tachika-san had been struggling with introducing SF for several years, and it was the arrival of Ms Asanuma which proved a catalyst in making some real progress.  They both talked about how good it is to have a partner or collaborator to work with – again showing that ‘the action is in the interaction’.

The conference moved into Open Space mode led by Ruiko and J-SOL girl and stalwart Teruko Watanabe,  This is a familiar process to anyone who’s been to an international SOLWorld meeting, with around 16 contributions from participants.  This was really buzzing as ever!  Finally the event closed with reflections, the passing over of the SOLWorld candle stick (to me, for transfer to the Summer retreat organisers), plans to meet next year for J-SOL 7 and then off to a final staff party to celebrate a successful event with the organising team.  Aoki-san and his collaborators are still working away at SF in Japan, and the quality of the work emerging is eIMG_9900xcellent and novel – a remarkable feat.  Kampai!  (Cheers!…)

J-SOL 6 workshops and presenters:

1-A  To develop and evolve a workplace community to enhance cooperation

Yumiko Morita (Consultant) / Yoshifumi Furukawa(SMBC Real Estate)

1-B  SF Approaches for the NEXT 100  ~Significance of continuing our “SF inside” activities ~

ZACROS Dream Team (Fujimori Kogyo Company Inc.)

1-C  Power of “Compu-Ru” to vitalize people and organizations ~Transition from “ to do Compu-Ru” to “to be Compu-Ru~

Saeko Katsukawa (Saizeriya Co.Ltd.)

1-D  “Kata”(format) for experiencing an effective SF communication ~Let us simply experience what SF communication can offer~

Teruko Watanabe :Learning facilitator of SF Academia, ICF accredited Professional Coach

3-A  “Hey, I just happened to get this one person on my side who resonates with SF, and just see so much is happening!”   ~How I got a supporter and what became possible for me~

Tetsutaro Tachika / Rie Asanuma , Texas Instruments Japan Ltd.

3-B     Organizational innovation driven by “Good & More” – A company that went almost bankruptcy became revitalized with SF way

Seiichi Imano,  Human resource consultant, Manglobe Co., Ltd.

3-C  “ Re-Teaming : Application in Japan and the Positive Results”  ~Application of Re-Teaming to various cases including a sport team, factory employees, R& D team members, etc.~

Yumiko Kawanishi / Kaoru Yamakoshi EAP Souken, Randstad Japan, Inc.

3-D  Solution Focus in a Japan Quality Award Winning Organisation  ~Aiming to a Virtuous Spiral of management that satisfies people~

Taku Ogawa,  General Affairs Manager, Kawagoe Gastroenterical Hospital

Interview with Janet Bavelas – microanalysis of communication and the ‘theory of SF’

Paolo Terni has published an interview with Janet Beavin Bavelas at  Janet has been a key figure in the development of Brief Therapy approaches since her co-authoring of the classic ‘Pragmatics of Human Communication’ with Paul Watzlawick in 1967 (when she was a very young woman!).  She is very actively involved in working on microanalysis of sf conversations with Harry Korman and others, and this is a great chance to read about her, her work and her hopes for the future of the field.   Well worth a read!

TED Fellows coaching event in New Orleans – SF facilitation in action

Many of you will know of the wonderful TED organisation ( with their high-octane conferences and free web-talks all focusing on ‘ideas worth spreading’.   A lesser known feature of TED is the TED Fellows programme – support for brilliant young scientists, artists, activists and thinkers, often from the developing world.  Each year some 1200 people apply for just 20 places on the Fellows programme, and you can see details of them at reading →

rutenso – The art of thriving in times of constant change

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 →

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. Continue reading →

Report on 3rd Asia Pacific SF conference, Bali, 10-13 June 2010

One of the very nice things about travelling around the world speaking and working with the SF approach is that we have lots of friends and colleagues all over the place. Jenny and I have been working with Debbie Hogan and her colleagues at the SF Academy in Singapore ( for ages, and so when she mentioned that they were having a conference in Bali, at a time we could be there, well… we jumped at the chance.

The venue was the Melia Bali resort hotel in Nusa Dua, one of Bali’s top places to stay. A long long flight from the UK via Singapore got us there late on the 9th June, and the following morning I gatecrashed Harry Korman’s pre-conference workshop on ‘The Common Project’. Harry was sharing some excellent material about the start of SF sessions – the construction of a common project between client(s) and therapist. (Jenny and I call this platform building.) Harry made some excellent distinctions – one I took away was the difference between asking ‘what has to happen in the session for it to be worthwhile’ (a question about the process of the session, one which many clients struggle with) and ‘what would a small sign in the next few days that this session has been worthwhile’ (a question about the results of the session, much more relevant to clients). Continue reading →

Malmo ‘SF summit’ gathering 24-26 May 2010

I am just back from a very interesting three-day meeting in Malmo, Sweden. Bjorn Johansson and Eva Person of Clues decided some time ago to invite anyone interested in creating a better future for SF to gather and examine the issues, particularly connecting to academic connections and how we might continue to research and learn from what we do. Harry Korman, Gale Miller and I were invited to prepare some thoughts on key issues to get the discussions going. We were reminded that ‘summit’ is the top of a hill, and what we were doing was gathering to survey the view of the landscape from this particular hill.

22 people gathered at Harry and Jocelyne Korman’s offices in Malmo. Quite a few others had hoped to come, but were prevented from attending by family commitments, emergencies etc. Those present were drawn from many corners of the SF community – from therapy (including Harry K, Alasdair Macdonald, Peter Sundman), education (inc Michael Durrant, Kerstin Mahlberg, Sue Young), organisational work (inc Jenny and me, Kirsten Dierolf, Kati Hankovszky, Carey Glass), academia (inc Gale Miller and David Weber), managers and users of SF in Sweden and around the world (inc Jonas Wells, Stanus Kloete, Svea van der Hoorn) and others. Continue reading →

Affirms as emotional reframes – latest thoughts

I am just back from the Transformational Leadership Council meeting in Puerto Rico (  This is a great group of top people in the personal and organisational change fields, who meet to learn together, share their latest and greatest and generally hang out in a relaxed and informal environment.  Membership is strictly by invitation only, and I was staggered at being elected to membership in 2006.  It’s been really fascinating to join with people like Jack Canfield, Stephen MR Covey, John Gray (Mars/Venus), Lynne Twist (Pachamama Alliance), Howard Martin (HeartMath) and many others, as a colleague and friend.  Continue reading →

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