Fetishists and Solution Focus

Fetishists, according to one dictionary definition, ‘pay excessive attention or attachment to something’.


Recently, psychiatrist Ben Furman questioned if we fans of Solution Focus might have become a bit like the overzealous evangelist. Good question!


To be provocative, are some Solution Focus fans fetishists? If we espouse a core competence, (I’ve been practicing the SF approach for almost 18 years and SF Brief Therapy has been around for 30+ years), it should be questioned regularly in order to keep it relevant and not become expert driven.

So, I pulled out the list of contents in my book, Fry the Monkeys, and asked ‘who is Solution Focus about?’ Is it me, the expert, or the client as the expert? I’ll let you consider for yourself if this is a fetishist’s approach, or an approach that works entirely for the client and therefore avoids dogma, etc.

The Fry Monkeys book agenda: ‘Recipes for the “Solution Focus” Organization – the ingredients you’ll need’

  • Who’s in charge of the thinking?
  • It’s about their resources for their change
  • Every case is different
  • Every solution is unique
  • They are the experts, not you
  • It’s about making progress, not a revolution
  • The skeleton keys
  • What’s a better question?
  • What to expect when you ask a question
  • Solution Focus language for setting a team up to succeed
  • Showing them you are listening instead of thinking of answers to their issues
  • Finding the resources already in place
  • The future perfect / the miracle question
  • Yes, but is the difference sustainable?
  • Affirming and acknowledging
  • The WOW! factor
  • Lots of revelation through clarification
  • Helping them figure out where they are through scaling
  • Clarifying, affirming, and moving forward with scaling
  • There’s no such thing as a bad question
  • Take them seriously, not literally
  • Phrases and words to stop using
  • Slowing things down to speed things up
  • Change as little as possible
  • Learn a new language
  • Gently clench your teeth and listen
  • Helping them decide
  • When we work harder than the team
  • Yes, they do want your advice
  • The more I insist, the more you resist
  • When the team can’t stop complaining
  • When you, never mind they, are stuck
  • Tell, mentor, coach
  • When to go out on a limb
  • A beginning, a middle, and an end
  • Situations where you might apply the Solution Focus tools and recipes

Yes, the client is the expert!

Ben Furman does assert that we have to sell Solution Focus. I agree. This forces us to work on what the client wants, not our own goals as experts in Solution Focus.


Just in case you don’t have a copy my book ‘Fry the Monkeys, Create a Solution’ you can sample a free download of the first chapter.

Purposeful vs. Positive Thinking: It’s Not All Buttercups and Butterflies

Your team has acknowledged their positive thinking during the session. Still, among some of the team – the realists – grudging acceptance of positive thinking comes with, ‘but…’, or politely, ‘I need time to think about this.’Purposeful vs. Positive Thinking, Solution Focus_2

There’s growing acceptance in organizations that positive thinking is useful. The move towards it seems to driven by the other growing realization that focusing on problems is at least unpleasant, frustrating, and mostly unproductive.

Unfortunately, positive thinking is often embraced superficially.  And, as Jim Duval used to say in his SFBT training, ‘Solution Focus isn’t all buttercups and butterflies.’

Positive thinking is also under attack on the non-organizational side of things, e.g., What’s Wrong With Positive Thinking?* This, despite the growing body of research that shows positive thinking is useful and helps.

Hence, the realist’s brief non-sustainable engagement with the notion of being positive.

So, how do we move forward with positive thinking? Change the language.  

Try ‘purposeful thinking.’

In Solution Focus we help people reframe things in ways that are useful to them. We also use language that is understood and accepted by them.

So far, in hundreds of interactions with clients, I’ve never heard anyone say one word against ‘purposeful.’ If anything, it seems to take the pressure off of doing something so counterintuitive to organizations and people – being positive.

Corporations are social organizations, the theater in which men and women realize or fail to realize purposeful and productive lives. – Lester Bangs

Steps to help teams or clients embrace purposeful thinking:

As always, be patient – help them sort out the mess of problems they’ve created in their minds.

Ask the usual questions: When is it not a problem? On a scale of 1-10 where are we now and what would it take to move up the scale? Suppose we are successful, what would we see ourselves doing?

Build ‘purposeful’ into your questions. Suppose the purpose of our project became clear to us and we moved forward, what would success look like in x months from now? Suppose the customers became used to us being purposefully helpful to them, what would they see us doing? Suppose the outcome of the team’s work was purposefully helpful to the other teams, how would that be useful to them?  

The idea that everything is purposeful really changes the way you live. To think that everything that you do has a ripple effect, that every word that you speak, every action that you make affects other people and the planet. – Victoria Moran

In the bigger picture, this might allow your colleagues or client to ask themselves, what’s our purpose as an organization? But that’s another topic, for another post.

*Tamar Chansky. What’s Wrong With Positive Thinking?

Solution Focus applications. Beyond theory and coaching

Solution Focus applications. Beyond theory and coaching

At a recent conference in Athens some Solution Focused enthusiasts from the world of HR said: ‘I love it, but how do I get the people around me using it?’

My response: ‘Try applying it in your projects, not on the people’.  

Solution focus (SF) has been around for about 30 years. First, in the world of family therapy and more recently, in organizations. Deeply researched, it is an approach to help people find ways to move beyond the things they believe are preventing them from making progress, i.e., when they are stuck. One of the unique aspects of SF is that the client is in charge of the change – the changes they want to make.

Resisting the temptation to know better than your client. The toughest challenge in Solution Focus – Brief Solutions

There is a great body of knowledge about how SF works, both in theory and in practice. The SF therapists are especially strong in the research they do, constantly finding new ways to make their understanding of why SF works and, particularly how to make its applications work even better.

Focusing on clients’ failings invites denial and co-constructs resistance. Build preferred future instead – Brief Solutions

Something of a contrast lies in the example of an increasingly popular psychotherapy model, Positive Psychology (PS). It enjoys a vast body of research on how it works, but less so in the applications sense. Interestingly, Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com fame used the PS body of research to rationalize and operationalize the emotional intelligence he developed called ‘Delivering Happiness.’

Today, a growing body of organizational consultants, trainers and coaches apply the SF model in a wide variety of situations.

Solution focused therapy comes from a different starting point. If any therapy works it leads to the client ‘doing something different’ – Brief Solutions

People who use SF in organizational work are now developing more definitive applications. Some clients and individuals find the idea of SF interesting, at least intriguing. Yet they still have trouble conceptualizing how to use it. Back to that question; ‘I love it, but how do I get the people around me using it?’

There is an emerging body of SF applications. Here are some of the SF applications I have been using for some time with great success among a wide range of client organization types, namely:

and so on…

When presented in this fashion to organizations, the clients (or your colleagues) will see something they can buy into that relates to the issues they face and are therefore willing to try something new and different. Let them see SF working in this form and draw them into it on an individual basis, e.g., coaching.

What are some of the SF applications you use, or would be willing to buy into?


Betternxt is the Canadian centre learning for Solution Focus in organizations.
Betternxt Academy, solution focus, Toronto




The Silo is Dead. Long Live the Silo!


First: organizational silos are not a bad thing.

They are created by pools of expertise, required in matrix organizations and in compliance-driven businesses.

Second: silos are bad – very bad – for the customer when the silos hide behind their expertise, hoard power and lack expertise in collaboration.

They also encourage passivity among those silos that perceive they lack power or influence.

Silo management, solution focus, employee engagement

Some organizations are very good at avoiding silo issues – my favorite example is Zappos (no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy!) – but it will be a while before that approach takes root.

Silos struggle for power and/or act aimlessly when the leader and executive team are not aligned around vision/mission, values and, in particular, the customer strategy (never mind the operational and organizational strategy). Bottom line, silos reduce collective impact.

1. The hidden cost is lost productivity and ineffective alignment with the customer.

2. A visible cost is the inability to deal effectively with change or competitive threat.

3. Lack of alignment also prevents the utilization of people and financial resources to become even more effective for the customer, e.g., your CRM system needs upgrading, but internal conflict constrains both thinking about the strategy for the system and the allocation of funds.

4. The people making progress on strategy and focusing on the customer are constrained in their customer engagement by the people working with a silo mindset.

But, this is not news. Having clarified the issue how do we use some Solution Focus tools to turn it into an opportunity?

Or, while we await executive alignment, what can we do to help the teams begin to collaborate? How can Solution Focus make a contribution?

Click to download
Click to download

Here’s an example from a recent meeting where several groups had been finding it difficult to align around a customer experience project. Note how the language of the agenda is both solutions and outcome focused.

How do we know this works?

As one manager said after several customer co-creation kitchen tables, ‘We now never start a meeting, especially with cross-functional teams, without asking, ‘How will this discussion be useful to the customer?’   


How to Create Collective Impact with Solution Focus Mentoring

I recently heard ‘We’re restructuring so mentoring can’t possibly work until we’ve decided on the new structure, the organizational culture, etc.’  This from an organization that already had a successful mentoring programme in place! Part of the argument was that there needed to be better definitions of mentoring and coaching!

Mentoring, collective impact, solution focus

Mentoring has been around for a long time, the ancient Greeks created the word. Today, mentoring comes in a variety of forms – from informal to highly structured. Few object to it, but many underutilize it.


Why Solution Focus Mentoring?

‘In Solution Focus we always make the most of what’s there’ – Olympia Mitsopoulou

It’s that simple. Waiting for the right plan to emerge may be necessary during a crisis. However, will there ever be a ‘right time’?

A good mentoring programme is based on delivering corporate outcomes, not just individual mentoring outcomes, for example:

  • Increased organizational effectiveness
  • Learning how to function in a matrix organization
  • Dealing with constant change
  • Enhanced decision making capabilities
  • How things work in the organization
  • Where to go for resources
  • Career development
  • Etc., etc.

The obvious outcome is personal/career development for the mentee. But what about personal development for mentor?

‘Reverse mentoring is one of the biggest benefits cited by participating mentors. They get to know what’s going on in the organization’ – Olympia Mitsopoulou

Yes, it’s best to formally design and structure the whole process, but don’t forget to use mentoring in a situational way, i.e., making the most of what’s there.

Mentoring is one of the most effective uses of Solution Focus:

  • It’s a tool to help people change their attitude and behaviour by building on existing resources
  • It’s compatible with Millennial attitudes (they prefer not to be told what to do)
  • The mentors learn new tools that they can utilize in other people’s situations
  • Both mentors and mentees learn to look at people in their resources, not their problems

Collective Impact, Solution Focus, Mentoring, Atom-WaveWhere do we begin the process of creating collective impact through Solution Focus Mentoring?

Three Solution Focus questions to ask about establishing or growing a mentoring effort that achieves collective impact in your organization.

  • What is already working that you would like to see more of in your organization?
  • What have you noticed that already works in your current informal or formal mentoring work?
  • Suppose you had a successful mentoring programme what would be different or better?Olympia Mitsopoulou, Atom-Wave, solution focus, mentoring

The thank you for the thinking in this post goes to Olympia Mitsopoulou who is a Solution Focused practitioner who has designed mentoring programmes and trained the mentors and mentees to accelerate organizational diffusion of knowledge capital (sometimes called internal wisdom) and best practices.


Ten Views on Leadership. What’s Your’s?

My colleague, Mark McKergow (and his colleague, Helen Bailey) will be publishing a book on Host Leadership* which got me thinking about the vast number of views on leadership.

Which leadership model / appraoch?
Which leadership model / appraoch?

Here’s just ten of them (stated under the banner of leadership), followed by a few questions:

The host – dancing between hero and servant: A host is someone who entertains guests – friends, enemies or strangers. Traditions of hospitality have been a key part of all cultures worldwide. The metaphor of the leader as host builds on the idea of leader as servant, and offers a new, rooted yet innovative framework. Mark McKergow

Leadership is not a position, it is an activity. Daniel Newman, The Millennial CEO

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. Nelson Mandella

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. Peter Drucker

Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Henry Ford

 Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. Steve Jobs

Before I went to jail, I was active in politics as a member of South Africa’s leading organization – and I was generally busy from 7 A.M. until midnight. I never had time to sit and think. Nelson Mandela

I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading. Amy Poehler

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In our experience, however, only about 15 percent of the companies that voice a need for change are truly in crisis. A far more common situation – involving as many as 60 percent of those companies – is a state of inconsistency. Booze & Co, Strategy+Business

And so on…

What’s your favorite leadership quote or perspective?

Or, conversely is there one that you can’t stand?

So much for the guys! What about quotes from the many women leaders?

Do you have a Solution Focus quote about leadership?

*Host Leadership

How to get a notoriously siloed industry to speak bluntly

It takes a lot of trust to have an open dialogue among fiercely competitive leaders. Here’s how: York University, Toronto - ON, Canada

Interview with Jim Danahy: Application of Solution Focus in a Kitchen Table Roundtable

Jim, you recently organized a roundtable for the RAC as part of your Centre for Retail Leadership (CRL) featuring three senior marketing leaders from large retailers like Home Depot, Loblaws and Canadian Tire. Can we have your views on the session facilitation using a Solution Focused version of Rick Wolfe’s Kitchen Table model.

Thinking of the dynamic dialogue (among a great panel including yourself) that took place at the table, what pleased you most about the conversation?

Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

In a notoriously siloed, secretive and competitive industry, three of its most influential leaders avoided the temptation to spew platitudes and chose instead to speak bluntly on some very thorny industry topics and identify a few specific ways they can elevate their profession together. It was the real deal.

Can you point to one or two aspects of the Solution Focus facilitation approach that added value to what the audience experienced?

They spoke about current relevant issues and gave examples of ways each will immediately make things better both within their organizations and in better future industry collaborations.

At the Kitchen Table we come to share news, ideas, have a laugh and to disagree. We want the panel to engage in rambunctious interaction with each other. How does that set it apart from the traditional panel moderation approach?

It prevents scripted messages and brings out candour.

If I were a prospective participant at the Centre for Retail Leadership, what would I have enjoyed most when the main themes of the panel were offered to the audience for discussion?

No one was stuck ‘on message.’ You heard uncommonly candid opinions from senior executives. You should take comfort that the people ‘on the bridge of the ship of retail’ appreciate their own leadership responsibilities, and that recruiting, training and rewards systems must change dramatically to get retail results – starting today.

If I were a panel member how would I have benefitted from the dialogue?

We’re not alone and there is much we can do, and have committed to do, as an industry to advance our profession. Some panelists made specific new plans for staff interactions later the same day. Not bad for 90 minutes over eggs and coffee.

What three things please you most about your work in making the Centre for Retail Leadership happen?

All three things revolve around a real hunger to build professionalism in our industry. 1) As a 3rd generation member of “the accidental profession,” I was especially encouraged to see some of the country’s biggest retailers were first to bring their senior and high potential executives in to the Centre for Retail Leadership to help them tackle specific objectives 2) Mid-sized retailers and major consumer products vendors are now reaching out to us to help them build retail best practices 3) Individual retail professionals have begun to ask for open enrolment programs to build their careers with retail-specific skills and leadership courses.

the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

About Jim: A third generation retailer, Jim Danahy is director of the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He is also CEO of CustomerLAB, a retail productivity firm serving retailers across North America since 1994.



How to Help 300 People Find Something in Common

Bring together nearly 300 very diverse perspectives and you might expect some fireworks – especially when one of the discussion topics is helping politicians do a better job

Here are a few tips and examples on using the Solution Focus toolbox to help your audience uncover what they want to have happen in the future, but also think creatively about what some have said can’t change, (unless it’s done their way!). Here’s how it happened at TVR2014.

Developing the session:

Have a clear goal for the session. Decide on the questions you might want answered at the session to stimulate better dialogue, but not direct it. Make sure your approach fits with other speakers on the agenda.

The session agenda:

Have a well-structured agenda  and anticipate modifying it as the session begins. You can’t predict what kind of audience you’ll have e.g. their mood, their level of enthusiasm, etc.

Use slides to support the group in having a better conversation:

Be prescriptive in the process (not the content) and expect that you’ll make changes based on what the audience wants.

Have materials that the participants can work with:

Put some structure into the idea-generating process, but ensure that the structure is easy to work with.

Have some Solution Focus advocates to help you co-moderate:

Engage some great co-facilitators who are familiar with your approach. Brief them, but allow them to adapt to the structure throughout the session to achieve the desired outcomes.

Some of the outcomes:

Mountains of thoughtful creative ideas, tweets and enthusiasm for lots of small actions that lead to making progress.

A big thank you to the TRV2014 leaders for clearing a path that allowed this to happen. John Tory ~ Mayor of Toronto (formerly, Civic Action) • Sarah Thomson ~ Transit Alliance • Geoff Cape ~ Evergreen


How to Co-Create with the Customer

It wasn’t so long ago that I heard a C-suite executive say that working with staff and the customer to develop strategy was equal to communism.

Ah! The good old days of single-minded hierarchy!

Happily, as we seek to flatten the organization it’s even become desirable, among some circles, to talk about co-creation of strategy – particularly products and services – with customers, not just staff and partners. It’s a valuable tool to clarify what the customer wants and align the organization’s various functions around that.

After deciding to open up dialogue with the customer, there are some interesting opportunities to use a Solution Focus mindset, particularly if we use the roundtable / kitchen table approach. This approach works equally well with the traditional consumer, or the B2B buyer.

Having talked about 4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits, here’s a few thoughts on what to do when you engage with the customer and your staff together in the room.

So, be brave and bring a group of customers together with your staff to have a dialogue beyond the data you already know. It’s not a focus group with 10 questions that must be answered. We are co-creating around the customer’s needs; not the Marketing, Sales or Operational team’s performance measures. We are looking for both the functional and the emotional aspects of their needs relative to our products and services.

We ask questions in the context of where the customer group is, not where we want to direct them. We also encourage them to disagree among themselves.

The customer’s needs are often far more complex than their supplier (us) can know.

We want to know where the customer has both opportunities to become more satisfied/efficient in their own realm, but also where any pain points in their own process/usage cause them difficulty (so that we don’t inadvertently add to the pain).

The client’s main priority with suppliers is often to be listened to, then sold a service. We show how we can listen.    

We also co-create with the client to find out where we fit in their value chain. We are mostly interested in what works. When something doesn’t work we ask, ‘What could be better?’ ‘Suppose that’s no longer an issue, what will be happening?’ ‘How do you see that being useful to you?’

Make sure your customers also engage in a dialogue with staff.

Once the clients depart, the staff team can discuss and share insights, decide which of the client’s priorities stood out for them, consider what small actions they may be taking to move forward, plus discuss what they plan to share with their colleagues back at the office.

How to Adapt to ‘Surprises’ and Build Trust….

‘That won’t work!’

Your meeting has been going well. Suddenly a colleague from another team, (it could also be your client), drops a mini-bombshell question or comment.

It sounds a bit like an accusation. It’s certainly seems designed to undermine you. If you let it…

Our job is to help the group find solutions, not dig into the perceived problem.  


S  l  o  w    d  o  w  n … and listen; you’ll gather useful information that they couldn’t, or chose not to tell you before.

You’re trying to help keep the rest of the group on side and not let the disruptive person take over. So, take them seriously, not literally.

Instead of trying to figure out how you can answer the challenge or changes that they demand (and somehow stay on track), ask questions to get more context for the request (especially if they show they don’t know what they are talking about). You’ll help them remain calm. Just don’t assume they actually know what they are looking for!!


When they push with what looks like an unreasonable demand, repeat exactly what they say … ‘What I hear you saying is X, Y and Z.’ That will give them time to reflect on whether it’s actually what they want, and give you time to think. Then say, ‘Tell me more…‘ You’ll get more context for their request.

Then, ‘When you’ve faced this issue in the past what worked to resolve it?’ Then, ‘What would success look like if we resolved your issue? How would you see yourself implementing your part of the project?’ By now, they will likely have reframed their direction in more practical terms … You can then look for things between the proposal they approved and what they now say they want. ‘You said you liked the proposal for reasons x, y and z. I now hear you want to focus mostly on z and modify it to become z2.‘

When they give you fuzzy direction ask, ‘What would success look like if we did that?’ Then say, ‘I heard three things A, B and C. Which of these is most important to you?’ You’ll help them clarify their needs.

As you proceed, ask simple check-in questions like, ‘How do you see this being useful to you so far?’

Avoid, ‘Do you have any questions?’ as this encourages some to find an unhelpful one.

Always answer questions that do come up.

If the question will be answered later in the meeting, say so and suggest that they wait.

If the question isn’t clear, ask them to clarify with, ‘Tell me a bit more about your question.’ While they answer, listen, understand and use the time to develop your response. Ask, ‘When you did (requested idea) before, what worked?’ and ‘What would you do differently next time?’

When they ask a not-so-good question, calm down and think of it as an opportunity to:

  • Check in to see where they are
  • Hear some new information
  • Gauge their level of understanding
  • Be helpful by better understanding what they are saying

You may, or may not have won them over, but you will have made progress, stayed on track and continued to build trust with the main audience.

More Monkey-free Meeting tips