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Inbetween, not inside or outside - the radical simplicity of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Harry Korman (who runs the SFT-L SF therapy listserv) and I have been working on a paper for a while. We think it's now ready for an initial discussion in the SF community, prior to a second version for external publication. We'd be very interested in your comments.

You can read the paper at www.sfwork.com/jsp/index.jsp?lnk=6d8 or download a pdf from Harry's website by clicking here.

The article has already been discussed at some length on SFT-L (I was away on holiday when Harry announced its availablility). There was a lively discussion. What do you think?

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Comment by Mark McKergow on August 12, 2008 at 10:50
By the way, Harry K and I are submitting the revised paper to a journal. I'll let you know how it goes and put the finished version here too.
Comment by Mark McKergow on August 12, 2008 at 10:49
Marco and Riccardo, being the thoughtful folk that they are, have provided an detailed response to these comments too. I feel a trip to Italy to discuss it with them coming on... these things are surely well dealt with over a bowl of pasta and a glass of chianti! ;-)
Comment by Mark McKergow on August 12, 2008 at 10:47
Many thanks to everyone for these comments - very valuable for us the authors. I have written to Marco and Riccardo about their very careful response, as follows:

Hi Marco and Riccardo

Firstly, many thanks for your responses to the paper - I can see you have thought long and hard about it, and your ideas are very clearly expressed in a language which is not your first. If only more people made such efforts to understand and contribute!! So, thank you very much.

I think we are talking about things in two slightly different ways. These are subtle, so my apologies is this is not clear at first - please think and come back to me.

You say you work as 'systemic consultants'. So, of course you see systemic principles in operation, and these are helpful in terms of seeing movements as a kind of systemic dance (one move balancing another, equilibrium being conserved, etc). This seems helpful (to you at least, and maybe to your clients too!). I think this is different from fhe idea that there is a system which needs to be found, discovered and changed in order for there to be meaningful change (which is the point Harry and I are trying to make).

Also you say that you observe SFW as changing in 'inside controller' like beliefs etc. I agree that it could be observed in that way (if that is how you talk about beliefs)... And yet this seems to be an observation after the fact, not something that is helpful during the work itself.

You talk about 'positive stable effects' - of course we want lasting change, but I see SFW as being more connected to continual change than stability. In complex systems terms, a system is stable if it is dead! ;-) So I am wary of talking too much about stability, more about lasting change which sustains over time, even though change is continuing.

You go on to discuss Inbetween in terms of the attitude/position of the coach, in terms of suspending judgement and (gentle) intention in the way of Essen and Tolle. I agree that this is an important element. What we want to stress is the Inbetween that happens between the coach and the coachee - which is where (in our view) change happens, between the noses and not between the ears. I like your story about SdeS and his 'non-rapport-building' very much! I observed similar things myself with him, and yet it seems to be effective and clear and clean, just as you say.

You then write about the importance of NOW. Again, this is very important in SF practice in my view. And maybe it is connected to the emergent view of continual change happening Inbetweem that we are trying to describe. In some ways it is mysterious, and in other ways it is not mysterious at all.

Thank you again for taking the trouble to write all your remarks so carefully. I will add these comments to the ning site where you posted your article, once we have had a chance to interact and I am more certain I have not misunderstood something about what you wrote. Thanks again,

Cheers
Mark
Comment by Marco Matera on July 19, 2008 at 16:57
Hi All,
in Italy we say "better late than never"
Reading the article by McKergow & Korman Riccardo Benardon and I were very
engaged in our discussion of methodology and meaning. In this paper
we seek to share our point of view and our reflections upon it, and we
also hope to contribute to the SOL-Dialogue and generate a dialogue on
methodology.
InBetween_way_to staying_in_touch.pdf

bye for now
Marco
Comment by Mark McKergow on June 19, 2008 at 14:34
Thanks to everyone for your comments! Very interesting and useful. Harry Korman and I are now working on a revised version for external publication, which I will also post somewhere when it is ready.
Comment by Michael Goran on June 13, 2008 at 14:34
Mark and Harry: a very USEFUL paper to be sure. It will help me immensely to stumble my way towards clarity when trying to 'explain' (ie: proselytize!) the simple benefits of SF over the deeply entrenched psychology-based approaches that take too long, get widely abused by under-skilled practitioners who make more money than I do by doing more, not less.

I look forward to the evolution of your thoughts with excitement! Sometimes, it is necessary to describe the hole in some detail before we say what we'll fill it with, if that's what makes the client comfortable.
Comment by Shakya on June 12, 2008 at 16:17
I liked your paper, Mark and Harry, helped me to consciously understand more clearly what I'm doing with sf. This deserves more reflection than I have time for now, but a couple of quick thoughts.

I like your setting up of "controlled from the inside" and "controlled from the outside". It seems to me that what we don't do in sf is to introduce the ideas of being controlled by these things. e.g. an example that came up today, a retail area manager saying "I don't know what the cause is of falling sales in Ipswich, I think its just the recession." Introducing the "controlled from the outside" has resulted in no progress. An sf approach of "what level of sales would you like?" and "what could you do which might help achieve that?" might result in progress, through not introducing the concept of being "controlled from...."

There's a Buddhist connection here. Buddhism advocates a "middle way" between the two extremes of "eternalism" and "nihilism". "Eternalism" or "Eternalistic views" include such views as "I have an eternal soul" and the belief that I will live on after I die (lose my body). Nihilistic views include "consciousness ceases at death." The "middle way" is a "higher third" - ultimately inexpressible in words, only to be experienced. More practically, the middle way says such things as "there are thoughts but no thinker" (Occam's razor again).

In brief: Eternalism holds to absolute existence of things. Nihilism holds to absolute non-existence of things. The middle way is about process.

There seems to be a parallel here. "Controlled from the inside" by "personality", "motivation" etc gives these "things" an existence which they don't really have. "Controlled from the outside" seems to deny the influence the individual has, in a way analagous to their non-existence. The interactional view seems to be the middle way between these extremes.

Not sure if that helps - got a dentist appointment so no time to refine!
Comment by Arthur P. Battram on June 6, 2008 at 14:15
ning just lost the above comments when I went to edit out a typo so I posted them again. this may result in my comments appearing twice. ning is not error free.
Comment by Arthur P. Battram on June 6, 2008 at 14:14
Hmm. Interesting. I think Mycroft and Dr Korman have produced a superb paper.

You can amost feel the 'but' coming, can't you? Well it's actually an 'and'. Although it does butt a fair bit.

1. I haven’t read it properly, yet
2. I will and may then have more to say
3. I wish I had had this paper with me when I first read Mark's book and started talking to him about the ideas.

Mark and I first met during the writing of my book (shameless and currently pointless-it's out-of-print at the moment- book plug: 'Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management') after I had discovered his paper on complexity theory/theories in Long Range Planning. This paper, will, I suspect, be most useful to SF practitioners. (rather than their opposite 'SF theorists'. Do SF theorists actually exist? Might that not be a bit like the 'speed of dark'? Surely we are all practitioners now)

This paper will be valued most, IMHO, for its clarity and breadth of perspective: I would have seized on it (and will) to brandish in discussions especially with consultants who tend to be, understandably, not keen to throw out their hard-learned pet theories and models.

I also work in another field known as 'playwork' - like SF, playwork is as much about what 'playworkers' don't do as it is about what we do. Playworkers do not direct or lead the play of children, for example. The other 'professions' that work with children/young people (in the main they are actually merely occupations with airs and graces) like to denigrate playwork in a number of ways, and seek to hegemonically include it within their knowledge domains in a subordinate role. Another parallel might be the way that some psychiatrists might denigrate 'mere' psychiatric nurses.

Aall this hegemonising and denigrational activity is, it seems to me, closely related to two phenomena or syndromes or patterns, chose your label to taste:

a. prevailing pervasive mindsets
b. What I call 'professional brittleness'

(again using the term 'professional' loosely).

Both concepts trace back to Chris Argyris' paper 'Teaching Smart People How To Learn' which was published by Harvard business review in 1991 and is also collected in their 'On Knowledge Management' book of 1998.

(incidentally whatever happened to Knowledge Management ? Perhaps it turned into Customer Relations Management. So, thanks to KM and CRM, those annoying cold calls and unwanted emails are more closely related to something you bought recently. Yes I just bought a dishwasher; no that doesn't mean I want to buy a cooker)


Argyris describes two 'master mental models' (in a fit of over-zealous political correctness in the mid 90s, I renamed these 'Prime Mental Models'. pah). From memory these are:

- firstly the 'traditional way we interact in business' all about winning and control and defence, and
- secondly, the 'advocacy/inquiry plus dialogue approach' which is all about personal committment and openness and such.


My guess is much of the debate about the paper will be comment coming from the first perspective.

And will be driven by professional brittleness - an unwillingness to engage with the 'what-if?' of the paper because it potentially challenges an existing mindset.

It might be useful to consider these notions as you refine the paper.
Best wishes
Arthur
Comment by Arthur P. Battram on June 6, 2008 at 14:11
Hmm. Interesting. I think Mycroft and Dr Korman have produced a superb paper.

You can amost feel the 'but' coming, can't you? Well it's actually an 'and'. Although it does butt a fair bit.

1. I haven’t read it properly, yet
2. I will and may then have more to say
3. I wish I had had this paper with me when I first read Mark's book and started talking to him about the ideas.

Mark and I first met during the writing of my book (shameless and currently pointless-it's out-of-print at the moment- book plug: 'Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management') after I had discovered his paper on complexity theory/theories in Long Range Planning. This paper, will, I suspect, be most useful to SF practitioners. (rather than their opposite 'SF theorists'. Do SF theorists actually exist? Might that not be a bit like the 'speed of dark'? Surely we are all practitioners now)

This paper will be valued most, IMHO, for its clarity and breadth of perspective: I would have seized on it (and will) to brandish in discussions especially with consultants who tend to be, understandably, not keen to throw out their hard-learned pet theories and models.

I also work in another field known as 'playwork' - like SF, playwork is as much about what 'playworkers' don't do as it is about what we do. Playworkers do not direct or lead the play of children, for example. The other 'professions' that work with children/young people (in the main they are actually merely occupations with airs and graces) like to denigrate playwork in a number of ways, and seek to hegemonically include it within their knowledge domains in a subordinate role. Another parallel might be the way that some psychiatrists might denigrate 'mere' psychiatric nurses.

Aall this hegemonising and denigrational activity is, it seems to me, closely related to two phenomena or syndromes or patterns, chose your label to taste:

a. prevailing pervasive mindsets
b. What I call 'professional brittleness'

(again using the term 'professional' loosely).

Both concepts trace back to Chris Argyris' paper 'Teaching Smart People How To Learn' which was published by Harvard business review in 1991 and is also collected in their 'On Knowledge Management' book of 1998.

(incidentally whatever happened to Knowledge Management ? Perhaps it turned into Customer Relations Management. So, thanks to KM and CRM, those annoying cold calls and unwanted emails are more closely related to something you bought recently. Yes I just bought a dishwasher; no that doesn't mean I want to buy a cooker)


Argyris describes two 'master mental models' (in a fit of over-zealous political correctness in the mid 90s, I renamed these 'Prime Mental Models'. pah). From memory these are:

- firstly the 'traditional way we interact in business' all about winning and control and defence, and
- secondly, the 'advocacy/inquiry plus dialogue approach' which is all about personal committment and openness and such.


My guess is much of the debate about the paper will negative commentonbe coming from the first perspective.

And will be driven by professional brittleness - an unwillingness to engage with the 'what-if?' of the paper because it potentially challenges an existing mindset.

It might be useful to consider these notions as you refine the paper.
Best wishes
Arthur

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