My presentation in Texel: Solution-Focus Protocols as Darwinian Algorithms

I am back from Texel, where the 2009 SOL conference was held. That was fun!

I was honored to meet many of the people I frequently interact with online and with whom I have very stimulating conversations about coaching and solution-focus. I was also happy to make new connections and new friends!

Anyway, many workshops were going on simultaneously – I know I wanted to be in 7 different places at once, and I know other people felt the same way: having to choose one workshop out of seven, that means saying no to some very good presentations and activity, and that is hard!

Hoping to do something useful, both for the people who attended my workshop and for those who could not, I am posting here the slides of my presentation with a recording.

A few notes here:

– I discovered that the presence of an audience does make a difference. It is easy to come alive in front of other people, who can encourage you with their presence, their approval or simply by interacting with you, verbally or nonverbally. It is much harder to sound engaging when you are talking to a computer screen, with slides playing in front of you. What I am trying to say is: forgive my droning on, that is the price to pay to have not just the slides but the whole presentation.

– I had to break up the presentation in 5 parts, to make it more manageable for youtube. Be patient.

– During the actual workshop in Texel there were interactions with the participants, there were questions, there was some brainstorming, there was sharing of experiences and a live demo; that is what we cannot reproduce using this medium.

– The topic would require further elaboration, and a brief talk can only outline the basic idea. However, fear not! I wrote a paper to fully articulate this idea; I am now in the editing stage, and the paper will be hopefully published in November. I will keep you posted.

– Last but not least: credits! My live demo, kind of summarized in video number 3, originally comes from this great video about evolution. The flashing pictures in the last segment come from the Department of Psychology of the University of British Columbia, Canada. You can find them here. The quote of Darwin’s critic comes from this TED talk by Daniel Dennet.

And… what else… ah! enjoy!! :)
And fire off an email if you have any comments, suggestions or questions!


I wrote a paper based on this presentation, addressing the issue in more detail.
I submitted the paper to the InterAction Journal, hopefully it will be published in the November issue.

Solution-Focused & Complexity in organizational change

r is the control parameter; the system, as r increases, goes from a table state to different equilibria, to states of chaos with islands of stability

My friend and colleague Coert Visser made me aware of the work of Marcial Losada in the field on nonlinear dynamics applied to human functioning.

My fascination with nonlinear dynamics goes back to my University years: my 1994 dissertation was about applying nonlinear dynamics concepts to team dynamics.

In the mid 90s I had the privilege to work with Stephen Guastello, and Jeffery Goldstein; we did some work for IBM here in Europe – complexity was hot back then. 

Since then, I have been interested in how to apply the insights from complexity science to practical interventions.
In my consulting with organizations, awareness of nonlinear dynamics proved vital to the success of the projects I was involved in. I was deeply aware that an organization was like an organism – any external intervention would cause a reaction, mostly unpredictable.

Many colleagues of mine would approach the Organizational Change intervention with an “engineering” frame of mind: analyzing, explaining, promoting specific solutions that worked somewhere else. That is very reassuring to the client. And iff managers would not adopt the consultant’s solution, then the consultant would just push harder. And blame the “resistance to change”.
I had a different approach, inspired by complexity, more specifically by the work of Jeffrey Goldstein.
The model was that of a bifurcation state transition (how natural systems move from a steady state, fixed-point attractor, to more complex states, strange attractors).
I would set a “container” – a safe environment, say a workshop where the managers where to reflect on the change initiative.
I would then increase what I found to be a useful “control parameter“: “the information about how the system works generated by the system itself”. Which meant that I used specific tools (discussion formats, games…) to encourage participants to inquire about how they worked, about what the issues where, and so on.
By generating that information, the team dynamics had to change to take into account the new information: once something that was implicit (e.g. X is not fair in assessing Y) became explicit, the group had to adapt to accomodate (or to assimilate) that information.
My job was then to simply monitor the different responses and to reinforce the ones that were going in the right direction, in a co-creating process with the team.
This approach implies accepting that we cannot dictate change to a living system.
However, we can stimulate a living system to change; we can also shape, to a certain degree, that change.
The pro of this approach: the system finds its own adaptations, that are more stable and self-sustaining than anything introduced from the outside.
The con of this approach: be ready for some rough going! Sometimes conflicts that were underneath the surface would explode with full force once brought out in the open. Though that was part of the adaptation process, it is something that needs to be carefully handled.

I since found that a Solution-Focused approach is much more useful.
It is a way to establish a safe and strong emotional “container” AND a way to respectfully generate information about how the team (or organization) works according to the team (or organization) member themselves AND a way to get to the new complex “attractor” (i.e. solution) without having to go through the conflict phase.