Many readers of this blog will know my good friend and colleague Bjorn Johansson, who runs the Clues centre in Karlstad, Sweden with his partner Eva Persson. I visited Björn and Eva in Karlstad yesterday. Some of you may know that Björn has not been well in recent months. What was originally thought to be disc pain in the back has turned out after many weeks of agony to be cancerous tumours of the type adeno carcinoma. For the last 80 days Björn has been in hospital, and Eva has been living there too during the past weeks to help and care for him.
Now at last Björn is showing signs of responding to new medication. We are hoping that he may get strong enough to return home for the summer. This could also mean the possibility of chemotherapy treatment, which his immune system is currently too weak to take. There is no guarantee that even this will help. Bjorn cannot even walk at the moment – months in bed means that his leg muscles have wasted away, though he is starting physiotherapy to regain strength and is being very well cared for.
There is no recovery prognosis. Björn has somewhere between two and six months to live, at best. He is 48 years old. He is lucky to have a wonderful family who have found ways to put their lives on hold to be with him. Their joint goal is now to make the coming months ‘the best summer of all’ for Björn.
How could you contribute to this? Send an email or even an old fashioned card to Björn with some words of appreciation, support and fellowship. What stands out for you – his contributions to SOLWorld from the very start (and even before), his hundreds of workshops, his work across Sweden and around the world, the exciting Karlstad group meetings, the SF summit, the Swedish SFCT chapter, the mop-scaling process set out in the Solutions Focus Working case book, even the classic ‘Björn’ exercise in threes (“Out of all the things you’re doing at work at the moment…”)… he and Eva have of course stepped back from organising the SOLWorld 2014 conference. If he gets home there may be possibilities to visit if you can.
You may want to reply here, and I urge you to send something personal too. Please do not expect an instant reply – Björn has not been strong enough to even read email, but Eva will help to pass on your messages. Send things by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to
Update 7 June 2014: I received this update yesterday from Eva at the hospital
Dear Mark / Jenny
We are still at the hospital and it has been both up and downs since last time. New infections, more than 2 liter in on of the lung again, and the tumor on the left kidney grows so the kidney is not working at all. BUT he has been out of the bed, tried to take some small steps around the bed : ) AND they plan to start chemotherapy next week, if no more complications will come., in order to try to reduce pain and tumors. So that is very very good news! We still dont now when he can come home, but i hope and think it will bee in two weeks time ( I have said that a couple of times now so this time I think it will happened). It still comes a lot of nice e-mails and post cards!!! we are so grateful and thanks Mark for pass on our greetings. We have put all the e-mails and cards on the wall so it reminds us that we have a lot of friends out there waiting for Bjorn. He have a plan to respond to everyone when he have the strength! We would like you to say something about that: how much we appreciate the response and it keep us buzzy to read all those good stories how to make the best summer ever that so many have shared! So even if we now are not able to answer we are following whats is going on and it makes a different for us!
Update 30 June 2014: Message sent to SOLUTIONS-L and SFT-L lists
I am very sorry to have to let you know that Björn Johansson died at 5.30am yesterday, Sunday 29 June 2014. He was 48 years old. Eva was with him at his bedside.
Eva has asked me to let you know that the both appreciated all the cards, emails and love which came in so many ways. A humanist funeral is being arranged for Thursday 17 July in Karlstad, followed by a gathering at the Clues centre. For those would would like to send something to Eva and the family, the address is Långmyrsgatan 8, 65469 Karlstad, Sweden
I started drafting this email to say that ‘Björn is no longer with us’. Except, of course, that he is – in his work, his writing, his ideas, his developments, his family and in all his interactions. Ken Gergen wrote (in his paper in InterAction Vol 5 No 1) that we carry everyone we have every met as a sort of potential – ‘relational residuals’. Some we use more than others. I am proud to carry Björn with me.
I am just about to start the fifth Solutions Focus Business Professional online course with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. UWM was the place where Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg ran online courses, and I was very honoured indeed to be invited to join the team there to present at 16 week online course aimed at managers, coaches and consultant.
One of the participants on the last course was one Lucy McKergow… (full disclosure, yes, she is related!), who works in New Zealand helping farmers with water policy and other issues. As part of the course we looked at Solution Focused evaluation and performance reviews. Lucy posted this summary of the differences between a normal review and an SF one:
|After the event – focused on the past||Can be used before (future), during (present) or after (past) an event|
|Typically asks about content or the trainer’s competency||Focus is participant evaluating their own progress|
|Asks for general comments – often left blank||Focused on ‘what’s better’|
|Might ask what participants didn’t like about the training||Always solution focused|
|Might not include time or space for reflection||Grounded in reflection and elements of conversation – comments, stories, metaphors|
|Seen as a drag or an after-thought||Motivational, energising – it’s about the participant’s individual progress|
|Learning finishes with course||Learning loop entered during course and continues after the course through noticing progress|
|Criteria set by trainer||Criteria set by participants during conversation (or questionnaire with participants setting criteria)|
|Typically uses a Likert-type scale to assess feelings about criteria (as set out by trainer)||Uses ‘what’s better’ or scaling to measure progress|
That’s an outstanding summary of what makes SF reviews both effective – in terms of building better future performance – and engaging for the participants. Great work, Lucy!
For more details of the online course including topics, how it works and quotes from past participants, click here.
I have just finished running the fourth online Solution Focused Business Professional course with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. The course attracts a group of 10-20 people each time, and as part of the agenda of readings, online discussions, activities, coaching practice and project work we also have fortnightly telecalls to discuss the learning and share questions.
During a recent telecall David Downing from Long Beach CA was relating a story about acting solution-focused in a negative meeting. He said, “Be the ripple in the room!”. What a marvellous phrase. For me, it connected back to discussions I had some years ago with people from the SOLWorld community (www.solworld.org) about ‘guerrilla SF’ – how to act solution focused when you weren’t in the position of a facilitator, manager or meeting chair who could set the agenda, but nonetheless wanted to steer the conversation in a productive, positive and resourceful direction.
I remembered some work done by Mike Goran and Karen Wishart from Toronto, as part of a session at one of the SOLWorld Summer Universities. Mike and Karen did some excellent thinking about what exactly one might do in this situation. I discovered that I still had their handout, and noticed that it hadn’t seen the light of day for some time. It’s very good and well worth a read – which you can now do here at Guerilla SF. By the way, the next SF Business Professional course starts 13 April 2014.
SF tip #6: How to add some positivity in difficult times
by Steve Onyett
These are undeniably difficult times for people working in health and social care. In our coaching work we hear stories of being asked to do more with less in a context of increasing demand and busy-ness. This is a context where working with a Solutions Focus has most to offer.
A previous tip gave guidance on how to avoid sounding “Pollyanna-ish” and a bit naïve. In addition to this we would add the following.
Work with what you have, not with what you haven’t.
This key SF principle has most power in a context of austerity where people are talking mainly of deficit and abundance. We are always where we are at any given point and to make the best of what you have it is crucial to bring your best assets into consciousness.
I was working with a senior manager on one occasion and after getting a vivid description of his “Future Perfect” as an the most effective and confident leader her could imagine I asked him to scale where he felt he was now on the journey towards that future from zero (not a glimmer in anyone’s eye) to 10 (the full realization of his vision).
Looking somewhat downcast he said “Maybe about one?” with complete conviction.
We then explored the “Know how” aspect of the OSKAR model by exploring why he was not at zero. How had he managed to get to one?
We spent a full hour exploring in detail the very many things that he was already doing that was a bit like his vision and the many and various contexts in which this was happening. The conversation ended with him confidently asserting the small steps he planned to take making the best use of those talents that he most trusted to take him into the future.
Recognise the power of appreciation and give it voice
It is one thing to recognize assets and what works in the context of a coaching session. When done in your everyday work it transforms cultures. As Tony Suchman said, “We are creating the organisation anew in each moment by what we are saying about it and how we are relating to each other as we carry out its work” . Many research studies has highlighted how the most powerful influence on people’s morale at work is their relationship with their immediate line manager . What an opportunity this presents to transform experience at work by showing appreciation for others in your daily work as a manager. Among peers, the ratio of positive to negative comments in teams has been shown to be an enormously powerful predictor of team effectiveness, four times more than any other factor .
Recognise the cynicism trap
In difficult times the seductive power of cynicism is enormous. It is so tempting to bolster our esteem by denigrating those people over there with easy stereotypes. Cynicism can be comforting, bonding, creates a sense of being credible and aware, and is also sometimes just plan hilarious. At the same time when it becomes the dominant way of being it can drain the spirit out of organizational life in a way that stifles the energy and creativity needed to serve our clients and help ourselves to retain a sense of meaning in our work. Ben Zander observed that “A cynic, after all is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again” . SF recognises that the things we talk about get bigger. So we seek to talk to the passion rather than the disappointment.
Don’t try too hard
Finally, echoing Mark’s earlier tip, if it feels too difficult to be positive in difficult times- then don’t! Your affirmations and sense of the positive need to come from the heart and the lived experience of what you see. If it doesn’t it will just sound like “blah blah blah”. So don’t force it. SF is not about being “problem phobic” or “solutions forced”. Effective host leadership [www.hostleadership.com] is about giving people space to be everything they need to be in order to shine authentically from the best that they can be in the moment.
Steve Onyett is a facilitator, consultant, coach and researcher. He currently heads Onyett Entero, is a member of the sfwork team, Associate Professor at Exeter University and Visiting Professor at the University of the West of England and University of Central Lancashire.
Coming up with SFWork:
Solution Focused Business Professional: 16 week online course for coaches, consultants and managers with Mark himself starts 13 April 2014. Early bird discount – save $300 before 15 March.
Accelerated Learning for Trainers: 14-16 May 2014, Missenden Abbey, the only chance this year to catch Mark’s outstanding course for trainers & facilitators of all kinds. Rework a whole course for engagement, learning and energy during the training.
There are times when we are burning to offer advice to a coachee but reluctant to do so because of the notion that giving advice is just not done. And yet ….. how crazy is it to have a good idea and NOT pass it on? The question is how to maximise the chances of fair consideration and minimise the chances of rejection – when and how to offer advice? This is a particularly important question for managers adopting a coaching style: the manager does have an agenda and does sometimes have cause to make his or her views known.
Let’s think first about timing: when is it a good time to offer advice? The obvious answer is “when it’s asked for” but actually it’s not quite as simple as this! Even in this case, it’s better to explore the coachee’s own thoughts, experience and know-how first. If you don’t do this, in the context of what he or she wants, your ideas may well be greeted with a response like “I’ve tried that. It didn’t work” or “That wouldn’t work” or “I haven’t got time for that” …. However, if your exploration hasn’t yielded useful any ideas, this is probably the right time to provide some ideas of your own.
So now, the question is how to go about offering advice and here it’s worth first asking permission to do so: “would you like a suggestion?” Having received a definite yes, think about how to package your ideas. Here are a few possibilities:
- Be direct: this has the advantage of being quick and unambiguous
- Tell a story from your own experience. Putting the advice in story form makes it personal and vivid and so more compelling
- Offer the ideas as if from a third party – “I knew someone who always tackled this kind of thing like this ….” This has the advantage that the ideas can be rejected more easily if the third party isn’t in the room
- Offer the ideas as from an even more remote source – “x has written many articles on this kind of thing and his suggestion would probably be …” This gives the idea expert credibility and yet can still be easily rejected if it doesn’t fit.
The SF trainer, supervisor and consultant John Wheeler makes a useful distinction between the different tasks a manager may have, calling the roles gatekeeper, guru and guide. When the manager is being a gatekeeper – ie has standards or duties which have to be fulfilled in a particular way – than it is legitimate to be direct and specific in telling someone what to do. This isn’t giving advice, it’s giving instructions! But even in the role of guru – ie when the manager is an acknowledged expert in the topic – it may be less useful to be as direct as this in giving advice, and some of the other suggestions above may offer more acceptable ways of being helpful. Of course the role of guide – or coach – is one where one is indeed cautious about offering advice in any form.
SF tip 4: The 3R model of review
by Antoinette Oglethorpe
I have developed a simple tool to use with my clients to help them review between sessions. The tool is the 3 Rs and it stands for:
1. Reflect on progress
2. Recognise achievements
3. Reward successes
Here are the instructions:
1. Reflect on progress. You can do this in your head; you can talk it out loud or you can write the answers down. Equally, feel free to share the answers with me or keep them until we talk next. The key thing is to answer these 3 questions:
a. What’s better since we spoke last? (anything and everything)
b. What helped make things better? (any deliberate action by yourself or others or any “happy accident” that might have contributed)
c. What’s next? (how can you do more of what’s worked and build on the progress that’s been made so far)
2. Recognise achievements. Out of all of the above, what are you most proud of? What do you now know about what you are good at/capable of?
3. Reward success. How can you reward yourself for the progress you have made so far? (it doesn’t have to cost money e.g. could just be with an hour to yourself and a long hot bath).
I have deliberately kept the process simple so that it doesn’t have to take long (about 15 mins max) and you can do it anywhere (while driving, walking the dog, showering etc).
I used it with a client who I spoke to yesterday and she said she found it so helpful that she’s going to start doing it on a daily basis and maybe use it as the basis of a reflective journal (something I suggested she may want to consider). In her particular case, she is an ex-sales director who is used to focusing on the big prize and the concept of “its not won until its won”. She is now self-employed and beating herself up for lack of pipeline in spite of some very positive meetings and conversations so we’re working on “mini-rewards for mini-hits” rather than just “big reward for big hits”. In other words it’s all about the small steps. But of course we all know that…
Hope this is interesting/useful. More than happy to discuss/answer any questions you may have.
Antoinette Oglethorpe is a Leadership Development & Career Management Consultant who provides solution-focused coaching, training & facilitation services to help leaders in organisations develop their careers, drive change and achieve business growth. She is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD with over 20 years experience in a professional, commercial environment, and has been a member of the sfwork team since 2007.
by Jenny Clarke
Do you come across “yes-butters” – people who greet a happy remark like “What a lovely day!” with the response “Yes – but the forecast is bad”, or who reply “yes – but it didn’t make any difference” when reminded about their contribution to a successful project. We all meet people like this from time to time. Sometimes, it’s hard to persevere when it seems that every constructive comment you make is batted straight back like this.
In a coaching situation, the most likely reason for this kind of response is that the “project” you’re working on hasn’t yet got a sound platform and it may be worth revisiting this. Is your coachee a customer for change – ie does he/she want something different and is he/she willing to do something about it? Are you sufficiently clear about what is wanted – and what the benefits of getting it might be – to the coachee and other people involved? Is there enough enthusiasm for the “project” to overcome the “yes-but” doubts?
Of course, some “yes-butters” seem to be contrarians for the fun of it. One of our veteran SF colleagues, Brian Cade, has a great way of dealing with people like this which he calls “colonising the negative”. So you start with “The forecast is bad” which means that they have to say “Yes -but it’s lovely now!” Or your comment “I’m not sure that that had much of an effect” provokes the response “Oh I think xx took notice and will pick up some of the ideas.”
Others respond badly to compliments and just haven’t learned how to accept them graciously (a typically British characteristic perhaps). Here, we have to curb our own enthusiasm and be sparing, specific and detailed in giving praise – but don’t give up altogether! People can get used to receiving well-targeted praise.
Jenny Clarke is a coach, facilitator, consultant and a co-director of SFWork She has wide functional experience in industry, including operational research, strategic and business planning, dealing with Government and regulatory issues, public inquiry management and administration. For more on Jenny and how SFWork can help you build progress rapidly in tough situations, visit our website.
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) and 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 (http://www.asfct.org, 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 Africa, 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 (http://www.ukasfp.co.uk) and the European Brief Therapy Association (http://www.ebta.eu). 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 was 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.
Participants 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 http://www.briefmindfulness.com/sfct-research-conference/.
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
Antonio Medina and Mark Beyebach La Laguna University (Spain) THE IMPACT OF SOLUTION-FOCUSED APPROACH ON THE BELIEFS, PRACTICES AND BURNOUT OF CHILD PROTECTION WORKERS FROM TENERIFE ISLAND
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?”
Interesting news today of the UK government moving to a much more active and agile-like way to run IT projects. Quote from the article:
“But if this project succeeds it could have a wider benefit than modernising government transactions – it could show the way forward for any kind of major public sector IT project.
Or at least that is what Mike Bracken thinks. The boss of the Government Digital Service was previously the digital director at the Guardian and has had a long career in the technology sector. He contrasts the approach his team is taking with the standard government IT procurement process, where a massive contract is handed to an outside supplier, inevitably a huge company.
“You then end up three years later with something that might be fit for what you were doing five years ago.” Compare this with the GDS approach: “Do it quick, fail fast, learn your lessons and continue to change – that’s why you need the skills inside the organisation.” And with a philosophy of open standards, there is much more flexibility to work with other, smaller suppliers as the project moves on.
Full piece at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23354062.
Niklas had a tough situation (writes Shakya Kumara of sfwork). As CEO of an IT consultancy Hi5 (www.hi5.se), he knows how crucial security is to his customers and his business. Yet there was one potential issue in this area he and his team had been grappling with for over 2 years. Despite 20 or 30 attempts, they hadn’t even been able to define the problem.
Then he tried Solutions Focused methods he’d learnt. Within 5 minutes they generated a breakthrough, and within 2 weeks they’d halved the risk and designed a long term solution.
How did he produce the breakthrough?
They had been asking the question, “What’s the real problem here?” – and after 2 years they still didn’t have an answer. Niklas produced the breakthrough by switching to Solutions Focus and asking a different question:
“What would the situation would look like if we started out with a blank piece of paper, and designed something new that was ‘the best of the best’.”
What can we learn from this story?
The first lesson is clear – looking for the “real problem” can take a very long time! Switching the focus to “what’s wanted?” can be an incredible time saver.
If you’re already familiar with Solutions Focus, you’ll also recognize the “Future Perfect.” The “Future Perfect” is a Solution Tool which steps beyond the immediate issues, into a future world in which the problem has vanished. So: if you’re faced with a stuck situation, and people can’t agree about the problem, you could try the same approach. The simplest way is to ask, “In an ideal world, what would we like instead?”
But Niklas is a very skilled Solutions Focus practitioner, and we can draw another lesson from the way he used the Future Perfect tool: “Fit the Future Perfect to the People.” There are many ways to introduce the Future Perfect, and the image of the “blank piece of paper” and the idea of “the best of the best” were a brilliant fit for his team of highly talented and intelligent IT consultants.
With such an appealing Future Perfect, the team could easily agree what was wanted – and that made it easy to agree further steps forward. Deadlock broken!
p.s. If you try this yourself, or you’ve got a question, do email me at email@example.com.
Shakya Kumara is a Trainer, Coach and Developer with SFWork. He specialises in working with managers, coaching them through their toughest challenges, and helping them bring out the very best from the people they manage. http://www.sfwork.com
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