Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

Following my meeting in May with Paul Cilliers, he introduced me to Professor Peter Allen, head of the Complex Systems Research Centre in the School of Management at Cranfield University in England. I met him yesterday - notes attached.

One interesting thing to emerge from the discussion was Peter's idea that SF forms an interesting contrast to the 'sensemaking' view of Karl Weick and others. I am not too well up on sensemaking (, but I think it's the idea that we have to make sense of a situation to make progress, whereas SF has a focus not on understanding but on observing progress and then using that later (perhaps) to make sense. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Is this an interesting line to follow?

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Interesting meeting, Mark! Thank you for sharing the key insights!

In your attachement I read:

Peter observed that he saw SF, based on my description, as the opposite of sense-making (Karl Weick). (...) Weick (I understand) would say that we have to make sense of something to move forwards. An SF process looks for evidence of moving forwards and then uses that to make sense to carry on. He thought that an article contrasting these two positions would be interesting.

In the today's "scrum breakfast" in Zürich I got some inputs about Snowden's "Cynefin framework" which is a sense-making framework to describe complex / knowable (=complicated) / chaotic / simple (=known) systems. Snowden argues, that this cynefin gives decisionmakers powerful new constructs that they can use to make sense of a wide range of unspecified problems.

Attached is an articel written by Kurtz and Snowdon about this with the title:
"The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world"
I found it here:
...and here: is a figure of "Snowdon's Four Ontologies" which seems to be a bit more common and with a very brief explanation. Scroll down in that blog.... it is the part after appreciative inquiry.
Thanks for finding this Hans-Peter! Very useful blog post and much the most coherent summary of Snowden I have seen yet. It seems to me that SF is very much like 'The Approach' that Pollard is talking about.

And once again we see that nowhere in the discussion does SF appear! Still lots of work to do.
One thought to this:
"we see that nowhere in the discussion does SF appear! Still lots of work to do."
What is the additional benefit for whom to see, that "SF" is mentioned? Isn't it good enough that SF is "implicitly" done?

I think that it is much easier to connect with neighbours by accepting, that they stay on using their phrases instead of asking them to use our SF-wordings for that what they are doing....
just now I found it (even better) in wikipedia ==> HERE
I wonder how he got it onto Wikipedia? I bet it;s because this looks very complicated and learned whereas the simplicity of SF looks like naivety, even though many of the points are similar and SF is a great way to work in Snowden's 'complex' arena... and indeed in the other ones too.

I think the Cynefin framework is excellent. I have yet to see where the boundaries are drawn. I wonder what kind of situations they would put into each category? The big issue with SF vs traditional therapy is the difference between treating something as complex (SF) vs complicated (diagnosis).
Hm.... well, there are already some articles about SF in wikipedia;
(interesting to read in the discussion to this article: "This article
has been rated as Start-Class on the quality scale. And: This article
has been rated as Low-importance on the importance scale.")

(Which is a simple presentation of a book - without any discussion...)
(And this is the - undiscussed - bio of Gutermann, the author of the
book "Mastering_the_Art_of_Solution-Focused_Counseling")
(The bio of de Shazer .... much shorter than the bio-article of
(Interesing to read - also without any discussions - this:
"Post-partisanship is a solution-focused variant
of the term bipartisan, indicating a movement towards collaboration for
the common good after partisan rancor. ")

"Self Organization" not always guarantees quality....
Hi Mark, you ask: "I wonder what kind of situations they would put into each category?"

Well, the interesting "thing" about Cynefin is, that Snowden doesn't offer it as a categorization but as a sense-making framework. Here, on page 468, he writes:
"We consider Cynefin a sense-making framework,
which means that its value is not so much in logical
arguments or empirical verifications as in its effect
on the sense-making and decision-making capabilities
of those who use it. We have found that it gives
decision makers powerful new constructs that they
can use to make sense of a wide range of unspecified
problems. It also helps people to break out of
old ways of thinking and to consider intractable problems
in new ways. The framework is particularly useful
in collective sense-making, in that it is designed
to allow shared understandings to emerge through
the multiple discourses of the decision-making group.
We make a strong distinction here between sensemaking
frameworks and categorization frameworks.
In a categorization framework, four quadrants are
often presented in a two-by-two matrix (for examples,
pick up any management textbook or analyst
report). Typically, it is clear (though often unstated)
that the most desirable situation is to be found in
the upper right-hand quadrant, so the real value of
such a framework is to figure out how to get to the
upper right. In contrast, none of the domains we will
describe here is more desirable than any other; there
are no implied value axes. Instead, the framework
is used primarily to consider the dynamics of situations,
decisions, perspectives, conflicts, and changes
in order to come to a consensus for decision-making
under uncertainty."

And on page 471 ff Snowden describes, how this framework can be used for "sensemaking" which he calls "Contextualization":

"Several complementary
exercises and programs help people to
internalize and make use of the framework. Some
groups consider only the five domains and what sorts
of situations or problems can be found there; some
consider distinctions between extreme and equivocal
conditions within domains; some consider multiple
perspectives and how they can be resolved or
used to advantage; some talk about boundary transitions,
boundary sensing, and boundary management;
some talk about dynamics ranging over the
whole space of the framework."

It is fascinating for me to read, that Snowden focuses so much on interaction and communication within a group of persons using his framework as an enabling mean, not as a static structure for categorisations.
Yes indeed. It still seems to me that Snowden is copping out here - whereas we are involved with what to do in the 'emergent' area, where normal methods do not fit.
Hm... I want to understand better what you mean with "Snowden is copping out" and "whereas we are involved with what to do in the 'emergent' area"

Reading Snowden's "exercises" for contextualization on page 471 and 472 of for me this are "unusual" (= not normal) methods do sustain emergency. He writes:
"We assure diversity by giving different groups of people
different directions, by giving directions that are deliberately
ambiguous and so can be taken in diverse
ways, and by changing group compositions frequently
so that people do not fall into entrained thinking.
To keep items concrete, we rely heavily on narrative
methods. These provide a rich context that allows
patterns of experience rather than opinion or belief
to emerge.
We use an array of different methods to help people
prepare a contextually meaningful field of items for
sense-making, including:
Narrative database. .....
Convergence methods. ....
Alternative history. ....
Next, as shown in Figure 3A, the group comes together
with their assembled sense-making items, perhaps
derived from multiple processes, and discusses
the extremes (not the domains) of the Cynefin space.
They consider the corner where everyone knows the
right answer, the corner where an expert could be
expected to know the right answer, the corner where
the situation only becomes clear retrospectively, and
the corner in which there is no right answer. If possible,
items are selected from the set that exemplify
that dynamical extreme in the context of the issue
or events being considered. This is an important step,
because it begins to build the framework. We say
“build the framework” because the Cynefin framework
is created anew each time it is used, with distinctions
meaningful to the current context. To some
extent, it does not even exist in the way we describe
it here, devoid of context, but is always used to enable
sense-making in a particular setting.
After the extreme situations are considered, all of
the sense-making items are placed within the overall
Cynefin space—without boundaries—where the
items seem to fall, using dynamic placement.
It is important to mention at this point that discussion
is encouraged during the placement of items.
This is unlike the methods of affinity diagrams, in
which people are asked to refrain from speaking."
Yes indeed - this sounds very much like the Art of Hosting which I jsut described in my blog, Open Space, World Cafe and other conversational models...

What I mean by 'copping out' (colloquial English for not really doing what he claims) is that to encourage a conversation between people about this is one thing (possible very useful)..and what then? Whereas an SF conversation starts broadly with the idea that the emergent description is broadly applicable and works with that.
Well, in that paper I referenced several times in my earlier postings I read on page 473:
"The value of the completed contextualized framework
lies in two main benefits. First, nearly every contextualization
exercise we have seen has ended with
expressions of surprise from those participating.
They often see, for the first time, patterns that overturn
their entrained beliefs about the issue they are
considering and about their purpose, goals, and identity.
This increased awareness (reflected in many other
such stories) is the highest achievement of the completion
of the contextualization exercise: that the
group should accomplish Descriptive Self-Awareness,
or a greater understanding of their own biases
and potentials.
The second benefit of the contextualized Cynefin
framework is that it provides a new shared language
with which the members of the decision-making
group can discuss situations, perspectives and possible
actions. This new language is unique to the concerns
of the group and abstract enough to cover many
particulars, but resonant with meaning so that it tends
to be brought up spontaneously when issues are discussed.
It can be used to talk about interpretations
of current conditions based on gathered data, to evaluate
strategic interventions, and to constructively
manage conflict and bring about consensus, without
removing conflict."

My personal experience in working with groups (and not with single persons) is, that jumping into the discussion about specific (positive) exceptions and exploring the future perfect may work quite good ... but shows very different interpretations of current situations then, when ideas about the next small steps are created. So, I experienced that it is - especially for working with groups - very helpful to create a new shared language first, before talking about specific next steps.

For that the Cynefin framework might be very useful. And of course, it is not enough to have a shared understanding only. It is a platform to go on in a SF way to agree upon the very practical next steps.





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