Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations
UPDATE January 2010 - Alistair has posted his comments on SF and how to use punchier language at http://alistair.cockburn.us/Solutions+Focus+aka+Delta+Method. Go and check it out, and see my comments there.
As you will probably know, I enjoy meeting people who have led developments in other field which seem to have some resonance or connection with SF practice. (See the Karlstad Group section of the site for more details.) You also have have heard me talk about Agile methodologies, fact, flexible and emergence ways of developing software (and also running projects) which embrace and use continuing change and interaction rather than try to prevent it. So I was looking forward to meeting Alistair Cockburn (pronounced Coe - burn in the English style) in London. More about Alistair at http://alistair.cockburn.us/. Alistair is a US citizen with extensive British roots, hence the name thing.
We met at a Turkish restaurant in Pimlico, thanks to one of the British Agile guys, Andy Pols. Once Alistair had found his way there via an interesting morning of healing and the Tate Britain, we got talking about Agile and the way this movement has developed (more about Agile at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development). The Agile Manifesto (http://agilemanifesto.org/, written around 2001, was a key point for the movement to gel around, in a somewhat that the SOLWorld community emerged at around the same time. I really like this - it's punchy and crunchy, and gets to the point. The main section is:
Manifesto for Agile Software Development
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
Alistair confirmed that this had indeed been a great success - some 10,000 people had signed up to this over the years. Indeed, Agile was now being accepted as 'part of the way that things should be done' rather than the radical departure it was at the time. He commented that this left them better able to get on with the really important business - developing code well etc - rather than preaching the agile gospel all the time.
We moved to talking about SF and how it might be connected with agile. Alistair said he learned well by stories, so I went through some tales of SF coaching in action including some very recent ones (like asking someone wanting to be more credible as a consultant to scale their credibility and then do 'how come it's that high?' 27 times - the first 8 things had come quickly, then there was a struggle, and then number 9, number 10, 11 12 13 .... faster and faster). Alistair liked the idea, shown the classic 'Albert model' diagram, had some very interesting comments.
The first was about the 'gradient' - he saw the idea of the direction (towards what's wanted) as a gradient, which acted as a focus for action around 'where we are now' both in the past and in the near future. It took me a moment to figure out what he meant - in all the years of drawing this model (which I always do at an angle, so it does indeed look like a hill being climbed), I hadn't thought of this as a gradient. Very interesting. How can we use this idea?
His next thought was around the power of the 'ant country' gap - the empty space between the next small steps and the better future. He said that there must be some better language around the power of this gap - putting all the energy into the direction (of the better future) and the next steps - and not worrying about the unanalysable bit in between. He liked the ideas of SF very much, but said the language we had at the moment (as seen in The Solutions Focus book at any rate) was 'la-la' - not compelling and punchy. Very interesting reaction! He rated the language at about a 4 on a 1-10 scale and challenged me to come up with something better. I, of course, accepted the challenge, and he's happy to respond to some new ideas when we come up with them. What's the metaphor? Alistair commented that businesses often had wat metaphors in their language - what can we come up with that's not war, and also gets our big ideas across in a compelling way? I mused about the challenge of developing something in $5 words that sounds powerful and expensive (as compare to Appreciative Inquiry and other latinate academic sounding titles). Alistair said that, in his agile manifesto experience, small words were indeed very powerful, and challenged me to use this aspect of SF to come up with something.
So, comments and ideas below please!
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