Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

Living and working in Africa I'm deeply influenced by the philosophy and practices of ubuntu - "I am because we are". This way of being in the world  was both deeply troubling and
reassuring while I lived through the civil disruption and violence of
South Africa in the 1980s.

During my studies, I'd found the individualistic and intrapsychic views I encountered in psychology difficult to resonate with. When I was exposed to family systems therapy a light began to glimmer, and when I came across solution-focused brief's interactional perspective, I felt at home.

I'm interested to know how this interactional way of thinking, doing and being shows up elsehwere. Below a few bits drawn from wikipedia about "ubuntu"

Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a definition in a 1999 book:

    A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:
 One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

Stanlake J. W. T. Samkange (1980) highlights the three maxims of Hunhuism or Ubuntuism which shape this philosophy : The first maxim asserts that 'To be human is to affirm one's humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them.' And 'the second maxim means that if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life'. The third 'maxim' as a 'principle deeply embedded in traditional African political philosophy' says 'that the king owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him'.


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Hi Svea, Thank you for this contribution. The philosophy of Ubuntu to be very stimulating. I see links with the notions of interaction and interconnectivity which are shared in SF as in the work of Gregory Bateson and Milton H. Erickson.
I think the interactional sensitivity of Bateson's work and of SFBT is what attracted me and keeps me attracted. I've been thinking again some more about the power of strange attractors as opposed to boundaries as a way to describe collections....thoughts?
Hi Svea, I had a stimulating opportunity last month of joining a small colloquium with Betty-Alice Erickson and Nora Bateson, the daughters of their illustrious fathers. They talked at length about what they learnt from them and how they taught them. The topic of interconnectedness was omnipresent. Nora presented the film she is making on her father. More on this project can be found here:
I'm curious to know more about 'the power of strange attractors' you refer to, Svea?
I think ubuntu has indeed resulted in positive and negative influences in the South African history. As ubuntu refers to a world view / value system (way of being), and SFB work keeps it focused very much on interactional definitions, which to me refers more to a 'way of doing', it is interesting for me to consider whether holding an ubuntu value system aligns with (or results in?) an SF way of doing (for an SF practitioner)? I'm also wondering how an SFB way of working can maximise the potential benefits of collectives that choose or wants to choose to operate in a way that lives the 'ubuntu' values. This seems to pop up quite often in South African organisational and community contexts.
Hi Lizette. Good remark, thank you for stimulating my thoughts on this topic! Indeed: SFB is a way of doing things and should not be linked to easily with value systems, philosophies or theories. When I talk about Ubuntu in workshops on SF, I use to show what interdependency and interactionality means in real life. It gives life to these concepts. I let them discover that what they have become (and will become) is very much linked to the interactions they had (positive and negative) with other people. (Liselotte and I have developed an exercise on this which is published in "57 SF Activities").
So, although I really like the philosophy of Ubuntu, I am not preaching it, nor do I present it as a solution for disrupted communities. However, the practice of Ubuntu: the acts of forgiving, the truth and reconciliation commission, the exemplary life of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, etc. these interactions can inspire our practice.
hi Anton
Thanks for thoughts I'll be reflecting on some more.
I like the nuancing and delicacy which is showing up in this discussion.... makes me think that words really are still magic. And that paying attention to what we say and how we say it is a worthwhile creative activity as it can open possibilities as much as close things down.
Are you attending ODWS in Budapest 22-26 Aug 2010? I'll be there and would be good to talk some more.
Hi Svea, I'll be at the SOLWorld Summer Retreat in Switzerland during that ODWS conference. Are you perhaps attending EBTA in Malmö this year?
No, decided I needed to head home as the timing was just too stretched to be away. very sorry as i would have liked to experience the Sunday programme in particular.
Are you attending EBTA? If yes, are you willing to correspond afterwards about some of your experiences?
I'm very keen to continue thinking about how space and time shows up in relation to SFB thought and practice. EBTA promises to offer some insight into what has stayed the same and what is changing over time. Also, how culture and context shapes our understandings and how we do our work.
Enjoy the SOLWorld retreat. Svea
Hi Anton,
I have just went through your exercise in '57 SF Activities' (which I'm very glad to have on my bookshelf!). I really like it and it aligns very much with what we (my business - Coaching Cafe) try to do in many business context that we work in. I would love to use it and can give you some feedback around how it works out if you are interested. Not sure when the opportunity will present itself, so let's see. I can actually also see some one-on-one coaching applications for the exercise - if the client has a strong learning/development agenda and wants to try something different and creative.
I agree that we have seen some truly inspiring embodiment of Ubuntu in South Africa, which seemed nothing short than miraculous at the time! I am somewhat of a believer in aligning your actions with your proclaimed value system to live with integrity and a sense of authenticity (and of course people make all kinds of deductions about what you value most from observing your behaviour - or non-behaviour, which gets into the interactional space again). People like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu has consistenly lived the ideals that they proclaimed and this in itself is something to live up to.
I am reminded again why I am doing the work that I am, and why I chose to practice mainly in a solution focused way, as the huge respect (and diginity) you need to treat your clients with seems to deeply acknowledge and affirm people's humanness and the uniqueness that comes with each person.
Seems TED talks is reflecting on this concept too - Chris Abani - "Chris Abani tells stories of people: People standing up to soldiers. People being compassionate. People being human and reclaiming their humanity. It's "ubuntu," he says: the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me."

Comments welcome
Thanks for the link, Svea.
Did you know that there was a first TEDx event in South Africa (in Stellenbosch) this past Friday? Apparently attended by 500 people. This included my husband and he was hugely inspired by all the presenters' stories. Check out: They seem to be planning on publishing videos of this event soon as well. Relating to Ubuntu, it may be worthwhile looking out for the presentation of Vibha Pinglé of 'Ubuntu at Work'.
Hi Lizette - thanks for the alerts. Now I am getting seriously pleased and excited about the potential for this form of sharing resources and ideas.





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