Noticing what works is a powerful technology for change.

Noticing what works is a powerful technology for change.

Velkommen til dagens gæsteblogger, britiske Rayya Ghul, – forfatter til den løsningsfokuserede selvhjælpsbog samt Keyspeaker på Dansk Løsningsfokuseret Konference til april 2017, hvor hun også har en workshop


Human beings are primed to solve problems. It’s our greatest strength. Without our incredible ability to solve problems we could not mend machines, diagnose and treat illness or send a probe to land on a moving comet! All of these require logic; an ability to analyse and predict outcomes for actions we decide to take. These activities also require a certain level of consistency or constancy in the systems we are working with. The higher the consistency, the higher the potential for success.

Mending a washing machine and sending probes into space rely on differing levels of complexity in physics and engineering, for sure, but the scientific principles behind them work, because metals, gravity and centrifugal forces are largely predictable. Medicine is a little less successful because the human body has a reasonable degree of consistency; we generally all have similar skeletons, muscles, circulatory systems and so on, but not to the same degree as inorganic objects.

When we get to human behaviour, however, despite the best efforts of psychologists and social scientists, we do not seem to be as successful at applying the problem-solving approach. We humans have an irritating tendency to be unique individuals, often unpredictable and annoyingly irrational much of the time. Our relationships are complex and our lives, increasingly so too. Here our greatest strength seems inadequate. It’s easy to become disheartened.

But how did we develop this wonderful body of science which has underpinned our incredible success as a species? Noticing. Scientist at heart are observers. They are constantly looking at the world and interpreting what they see, looking for clues as to the nature of things and the principles behind them. Sometimes they notice the effects of experiments they carry out. Sometimes they notice happy accidents, like the inventor of Post-it notes who was actually trying to invent a super-strong adhesive. Sometimes scientists just observe patterns in nature like tossing a pebble into a pool and looking at ripples.

What has this to do with solution focus? In England there is a saying. ‘if all you have is a hammer; every problem looks like a nail’. The trouble is that not every difficult situation we find ourselves in is a problem with an easy and logical solution. Of course if it did, then you would probably do that!

A solution focused conversation takes us back to being natural scientists with a new perspective, one which is focused on noticing what works. A future-focused conversation elicits the kind of life that works for you, reminds you of what you know about yourself when you are working at your best. Looking at the past for strengths and qualities and thinking about what is going well now, makes you notice what is working now. Hypothesising about the next small step you could take sets up a pattern of noticing; looking out for what works, what is worth continuing to do.

Problem-solving relies on predictability. The difficulty with humans is unpredictability. We cannot use rational, logical thinking to predict the future. We therefore need an alternative way of approaching life, which works with uncertainty (which is our reality). It’s paradoxical because this suggests the best way to work with reality is through engaging honestly with fantasy and imagination.  Instead of pretending that we can tell the future, in solution focus, we allow ourselves to dream, to want something better, something different, even something apparently unrealistic.

We have no idea how we are going to get there, but we do have a really good picture of what and how we would like it to be. And we take some small exploratory steps, open to whatever might happen.  Unlike a goal, a small step is not something to achieve or fail to achieve, it is something one takes or not and it will produce a change of some kind – either towards our preferred outcome or not.  We notice what happens and successful or not, we have learned something new, sometimes something unexpected and occasionally something marvellous.  It all starts with noticing.

Looking forward meeting you at the danish conference in April 🙂

Rayya