Problem talk vs. solution talk

problem talk vs solution talk handoutHere is my key learning of 2015: the differences between “problem talk vs. solution talk” and “how we learn not only from our past, but also from our future”.

Problem talk vs. solution talk comes from the Solution-focused (SF) approach initaited by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg. Learning from the emerging future is a principle of Theory U, developed by McKinsey and Co. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Otto Scharmer.

SF and Theory U have different backgrounds. SF has emerged from psychotherapy and Theory U is based on research on leadership and management. However, they have a common ground: how we make a difference toward a preferred future, through cultivating mindfulness.

In “solution talk vs. problem talk”, I learned that removing our problems doesn’t always take us where we want. In other words, focusing on what we don’t want won’t necessarily lead to what we want. Though closely related, they are separate things.

For example, our new neighbor has over a dozen dogs and sometimes they all howl at night. It’s annoying and a problem. If I focus on the problem, my reaction would be to nock their door and complain whenever they howl.

But, coincidentally, when this started, I was taking the SF workshop on problem talk vs. solution talk. The solution, or what I wanted, was that my son gets enough sleep and my wife worries less about it.

Knowing that this is what I want, I tried to fix my son’s room to shut sounds out as much as possible, and put AC and fan on, so that he can sleep well.

I also went to my neighbor when dogs were NOT howling to tell them, “this morning was good. No howling. Is anything different from other days? And if it is, please keep doing it!”

The result – dogs still howl and we get annoyed from time to time, but my son gets his sleep, and I managed to keep a healthy relationship with my neighbor.

Identifying “what I want” and “what works” is generally more challenging than “what I don’t want” and “what doesn’t work”. For me as well. It requires a reframing of the problem and a shift of attention. But, I have learned that it’s possible. Especially when I slow down and practice mindfulness.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t talk about problems at all. It is important to acknowledge problems, challenges, obstacles and frustration. Theory U’s mantra is “observe, observe, observe” until we shift our mind toward solutions. However, we often spend way much time on problems, and they take over and control us. How about spending more time on focusing on solutions?

After taking several SF workshops this year, I passed the exam as Certified Solution Focused Practitioner, accredited by the International Alliance of Solution Focused Teaching Institutes (IASTI) and Canadian Council of Professional Certification (CCPC). This week, I am completing the MIT course U.lab, where I experienced the power of Theory U and learning from the emerging future. The new knowledge and network will be helpful for my life and work.

I hope 2016 will be a year of solution-focus, open to learn from the highest future possibility. I feel that our world needs this, more than ever.