Solution Focus is part of the new wave of thinking about effective change that includes Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology and NLP. Unlike previous ‘big ideas’ of the 1990s like business process re-engineering and downsizing (with all the disruption they entailed), Solution Focus is a big idea that focuses on small steps and keeping it simple. This means that you can start using it to improve your business and your life straight away.

Why Solution Focus is worth knowing about

  • It’s simple – so that anyone can pick it up quickly and use it
  • It emphasises what’s already working so it offers a practical route away from a blame culture
  • It’s effective and it gets results quickly


The Solution Focused approach was developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Brief Family Therapy Center, Milwaukee. They built on the ideas of Milton Erickson and the systems-based approach of Gregory Bateson and his team at the Mental Research Institute to produce a model of change based on focusing on desired changes, finding what is already working in a person’s life, and doing more of it.

Although it originated as a therapy model, the Solution Focused approach is now being applied to coaching and team and organisational change with great success.


  • Focus on solutions not problems
    You get what you focus on! Understanding the problem won’t necessarily help you reach the solution – and any time spent talking about the problem is time you’re not moving towards the solution.
  • People already have the resources they need to change
    As do teams and organisations. In any situation some things are already working – find them and do more of them.
  • Change happens in small steps
    And a small change can have big consequences
  • Work at the surface level
    You don’t need to ‘understand’ someone else’s problem to help them find solutions.


  •  The ‘Miracle Question’

This question helps you focus on the solution, without worrying about how ‘realistic’ it is or how to get there.

“Imagine that while you’re asleep tonight a miracle happens and the problem is completely solved. You don’t realise this, of course, because you’re still asleep – so when you wake up what will be the first thing that tells you that this miracle has happened? What else will tell you?” (get as much detail as you can?)

Supplementary questions:

1. “Who else would notice that this miracle has happened? What would tell them?”

This question encourages you to step outside of yourself and think about what would be different in your observable behaviour if the problem were solved. Once you’re aware of this, it’s a very short step to beginning to act differently.

2. “Does anyone else have to change in order for this miracle to happen?”

  •  Appreciative Discovery – the “When Question”

“When does the solution happen already – even just a bit?”

or “When is the problem not so bad?”

or “What have you been doing that’s stopped the situation getting worse?”

  •  Scaling

Scaling is another way to find the seeds of the solution in the current situation, and also to help bridge the apparent gap between the present and the future solution.

  •  On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is the worst it’s ever been, and 10 is how you’re going to be when you’ve sorted the problem out completely, what number are you at now?
  •  How did you get from n-1 to n?
  •  What will be different when you are at n+1?


Questions to ask at follow-up meetings, subsequent coaching sessions etc.

“What’s been better?”

“How did you make that happen?”



Therapy: Words Were Originally Magic by Steve de Shazer
Buy it from Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon Canada
Coaching and organisational change: The Solutions Focus by Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow
Buy it from Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon Canada
Personal development: Achieve Your Goals: Strategies To Transform Your Life by Andy Smith
Buy it from Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon Canada
Also various articles in the Coaching Leaders blog

Download this briefing paper as a PDF:

What is Solution Focus? briefing paper

2 thoughts on “What is Solution Focus?

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