How to solve problems without discussing them
SF approach for managers
May 16, 2021
Reviewed by John Teager
Victoria Spashchenko is on a mission to realise a dream – that, one day, the whole of her home country of Ukraine will be Solution Focused. And, after Ukraine? The world! In this easy to read and highly practical book, Spashchenko’s passion for her cause and determination to succeed shines through strongly.
This endearing little pocket guide, published in Ukrainian and English and deliberately designed to fit in a small bag or the pocket of jeans, conveniently doubles as a personal, ‘on hand’ ready reference as it invites the reader to record Solution Focus thoughts and comments and to respond to the questions posed within each section, either at the time of reading or later. This is not a new concept, but it suits this little book and enhances its purpose – and it works well. Spashchenko’s very first question invites you to imagine the future – a key tenet of the Solution Focused approach.
The essence of this book is in its title. Spashchenko believes that too often, especially in regard to people and organisations, time is wasted on unnecessary problem analysis when it might be better and more productive to focus minds and efforts on identifying ‘small steps’ towards a solution, on reaching out to ‘what is wanted’ instead of just talking about the problem that exists. In the opening sections of this book, Spashchenko leads us gently and convincingly along this line of thought. The conversational writing style is highly effective. The narrative draws you in and, whilst many of the questions are rhetorical, it is easy to find oneself mouthing answers.
The book is not asking you to discard techniques that you may already use for problem solving. It’s simply suggesting that SF could have a useful place in your ‘arsenal of knowledge’ and, for completeness, it should be there.
In Spashchenko’s view, the SF approach is in everybody’s genes; it just needs to be liberated. Through an easy to understand explanation of the differences between ‘problem talk’ and ‘solution talk’, the book successfully introduces one of the core principles of Solution Focus – ‘Solutions not Problems’.
What follows thereafter is a logical walk through the preferred language of Solution Focus and the tools that it puts at one’s disposal. Each is described in practical terms using realistic examples before one is invited to note down thoughts on the advantages that Solution Focus might bring. At this point in the book, I would challenge anyone to resist the temptation to immediately re-read the few preceding pages. Such is the practical nature of this guide that the reader can’t help but to absorb progressively many of the aspects of the Solution Focus approach, be it consciously or sub-consciously.
After exploring the advantages of the Solution Focus approach, Spashchenko invites the reader to consider its application and effectiveness in a contemporary management setting where ‘modern managers and their employees interact in an increasingly egalitarian way’. In Spashchenko’s view, the SF approach supports this type of dialogue arguing that its regular use will likely be much appreciated by work colleagues.
A short exercise that allows the reader to ‘try an SF approach on yourself’ is followed by well-constructed worked examples of the application of Solutions Focus, firstly in a team project scenario, then in a conflict environment, with each stage of the process carefully and clearly explained.
The next section is possibly the most helpful of all, and most supportive of Spashchenko’s cause, because it very effectively explains where to start if one wishes to put Solutions Focus into action and what to expect.
This small book does not purport to be an authority on Solution Focus. It serves to arouse curiosity, stimulate interest, encourage ‘giving SF a go’ and generate a desire to share SF learning – and this book does all of that rather well.
The beauty is in its construction and practicality – one can open the book at almost any page, read that page in isolation and still take away ‘food for thought’ and meaningful advice.
Don’t expect to be an ‘expert’ on SF after reading this book. Expertise comes from persistent ‘doing’, ‘experimenting’ and ‘sharing your SF experiences with others to increase mutual learning’ – and that, in simple terms, is what this little book is inviting you to do. If you’ve never dabbled with Solution Focus, or even if you have, then jump into this book – it might just be a rewarding experience.
Spashchenko set out to write a practical pocket guide on the SF Approach that might encourage many people to turn SF thinking into a habit. In this, she has succeeded.
The book is well presented, uses clear and unambiguous language, has a logical flow and is highly thought provoking. And for me, it’s strongest attribute is its style – the momentum it creates and its ultimate call to action: “You have read the book. What action can you take tomorrow”. And take action, I’m sure you will, even if it’s just to keep this book to hand and talk about it to others.
If, by reading this book, you are encouraged not only to share your SF experience with colleagues and friends but to dig deeper into the thinking (suggest reading The Solutions Focus – Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE by Mark McKergow & Paul Z. Jackson), then Spashchenko will be a step further up the scale towards realising her own ‘future perfect’.