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The following text is taken from 'The Solutions Focus – Making Coaching & Change Simple'.

Preface to the Second Edition

Since we wrote the first edition of The Solutions Focus there has been a great growth in the application of these ideas within organisations.  In this new edition we report on the most significant and interesting cases that we have encountered in our own work and those of other solution-focused practitioners around the world.

What Is the Solutions Focus?

The Solutions Focus is a powerful, practical and proven approach to positive change with people, teams and organisations.     

With this approach of radical simplicity, you will sidestep the often fruitless search for the causes of problems, take the direct route forwards and simply head straight for the solution.  The focus on solutions (not problems), strengths (not weaknesses), and on what’s going well (rather than what’s gone wrong) leads to a positive and pragmatic way of making progress.

What is so radical about it?  Focusing on solutions (that is, defining and acting on what is wanted and what’s better) rejects conventional approaches that share the widespread assumption that focusing on problems (by analysing, reacting to, and talking about them) is the best way to solve them. 

William James, the father of modern psychology, said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook,” and the art of the coach, manager or consultant using this approach is as much about the disciplines of what you don’t do – delving into problems that are more usefully overlooked, for example – as it is about the solutions that you do focus on.

This book is the first to bring these revolutionary tenets, already proven across a range of people professions, to bear explicitly on management and organizational work.  It reveals how you – as a coach, leader, facilitator or manager – can apply a set of fundamental principles and an elegant box of tools, to transform how you approach and deliver change.

Whether you are dealing with difficult people at work, aiming to get the best from a team, or unravelling tricky strategic issues within your company, the book will show you how to:

  • Define solutions in ways to help you move directly towards them.
  • Spot and use helpful events and resources around you.
  • Avoid major pitfalls and obstacles along the route.
  • Define and take small steps with the maximum chance of success.
  • Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler.

As Gregory Bateson, anthropologist and a founder of systems thinking, put it, “Change is happening all the time;  our role is to identify useful change and amplify it.”  Drawing on the systems heritage, its development in complexity theory, and on social constructionist thinking, Solutions Focus can be thought of as the new wave of change technology.

Along with Appreciative Inquiry, narrative and other strands of positive psychological approaches to organisations and people, Solutions Focus is about the application of sophisticated ideas about how the world works to the ordinary and extraordinary challenges and problems that face modern organisations. 

Solutions that fit

This book offers you a bespoke method of finding ways forward with people and organisations.  Whether you are already tackling a major problem, or just vaguely aware that things could be better, you can start to make progress.  And just like a Savile Row tailor, you’ll be relying on careful observation and adjustment to ensure the right fit for your particular situation. 

Making positive changes with a Solutions Focus is simple:

  • Don’t fix what isn’t broken
  • Find what works, and do more of it.
  • Stop doing what doesn’t work, and do something else.

This may be simple, but it is not always easy.  Organizations and people are complex and dynamic, and identifying what works is a subtle business requiring careful action and observation.  As you will see from the many examples drawn from around the world, involving organisations from a great variety of sectors and sizes, this means taking a systemic view and recognising the multiple and interlinked ways people interact. 

Fundamentals of the Solutions Focus

There are a few fundamental assumptions and principles that underpin solution-focused work:

  • Change is happening all the time:  our job is to identify and amplify useful change.
  • There is no one “right” way of looking at things: different views may fit the facts just as well.
  • Detailed understanding of the “problem” is usually little help in arriving at the solution.
  • No “problem” happens all the time.  The direct route lies in identifying what happens when it does not happen.
  • Clues to the solution are right there in front of you: you just need to recognise them. 
  • Small changes in the right direction can be amplified to great effect.
  • It is important to stay solution focused, not solution forced.

Some of these principles may appear surprising at first.  The idea that detailed understanding of a problem is of little help in making progress goes against the grain of much modern thinking, for example. 

Conventionally, in many fields a huge amount of time and effort is spent on analysing problems and often this is rewarded with success.  A software engineer improving a word-processing program may analyze problems to sort out the bugs; a mechanic typically employs problem-solving skills to fix a machine. 

Much of the success of modern medicine is founded on the great problem-analysis method known as diagnosis.  If you have a painful leg, you expect the doctor to search for the cause and apply the appropriate treatment: a cast for a break, bandages and rest for a sprain.

In fact, a problem focus has been so successful in so many arenas that it is the automatic response for many experts when faced with any difficult situation.  You may think that detailed understanding of a problem is essential to work out what to do next.  The more certain you are of this, the more you are likely to be locked into a problem-focused mode of thought. 

Yet while this problem focus has its place in many domains, it is less useful when the issue involves interactions between people.   The solutions focus offers a more direct route to what works.

The new material for this edition

Most of the new material is in chapters 10-13, revealing the myriad ways consultants, coaches, managers and facilitators are making use of SF tools and techniques.  The case studies reveal how coaching can dramatically raise performance, with success stories from different organisational sectors.

In Chapter 10 you’ll meet OSKAR, our original coaching model, developed for an organisation that chose to drive performance by encouraging all their managers to be better coaches.  There’s a full-length transcript of an executive coaching session, complete with commentary, illuminating the twists and turns of applying the OSKAR model in practice with a real case.  We consider the role of the coach as optimist and cheerleader.

The manager-as-coach is the topic for Chapter 11, illustrating cases of managers getting improved performance from their direct reports in industrial, educational and service settings.

Chapter 12 explores how to apply the SIMPLE principles when you want to work as coach to a team.  The case studies range from applying the techniques to a British team desperately needing remotivation, via a German industry example, to developing a brighter future for a group of Australian physiotherapists.

Chapter 13 shows how a solutions focus approach compares to other methodologies with a positive psychological background, such as Appreciative Inquiry (Ai).  We see how immense change is possible when a consultant acts as a coach to an entire organisation (or, in the case of the Australian fruit growers, the flying foxes and the environmentalists, to a multi-stakeholder set of organisations).  This chapter also contains examples from Japan and Canada. 

We discovered some of these new cases at the annual SOL conference (Solutions In Organisations Link-up,, which convened twice in Bristol, then moved on to Stockholm, Interlaken and Vienna.  Others we found at gatherings of the EDGe (Executive Development Groups), currently established in the UK, Canada, Singapore and New Zealand, where solutions focused practitioners meet to network, develop their skills and share current issues.  We are excited at the many ways in which the Solutions Focus ideas are proving useful around the world.

All these chapters have been written afresh, reflecting not only the most recent information but also the growing emphasis on coaching as a transformational tool within organisations.

The earlier chapters, by contrast, are virtually unchanged.  These deal with the principles underpinning a solutions focused practice and the tools with which you can immediately start to apply those principles.  Principles are not supposed to change (or not by much), and we are happy to stand by what we have written.

Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow
January 2006






front cover

 © The Solutions Focus, 2007.