Solution Focus Coaching Goes To The Movies
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Hashi photo, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
“I find that if I just sit down and think… the solution presents itself.”
Henry Jones (Sean Connery) - Indiana Jones and the last crusade
One of the things I particularly appreciate about a Solution Focus Coaching approach is the ease with which it can be tailored to suit different people, making the conversation more useful and engaging. One frame I’ve found particularly effective is to link the Solution Focus tools together with a movie theme, using familiar tropes to make the tools more intuitive. This post describes how to go about it, the ideas are compatible with other coaching approaches like GROW. I like to work with movies although any story format and genre likely to pique the thinker/player/performer/coachee/client’s interest should work, for an avid reader use the language of novels, for a theatre goer choose plays and so on.
Your Mission, should you choose to accept
The first step is to establish the mission, this is what is wanted, the reason for the hero’s journey. In a movie the reason for the quest is clear to the audience and protagonist. It’s seldom “I sort of want to get better at stuff” or “I want to lead my team and think strategically and carry on being technical and stay in the detail and I like the sound of a role in finance”. Of course sometimes finding clarity is the mission.
I ask questions to help shape the mission until it is concise and the thinker is happy with it, and this tag line provides a centre for the rest of the conversation. A natural way to broaden or narrow topics is talking about series, episodes, books or chapters. The act of shaping is valuable in itself, a process of discovery often involves testing a few options and encouragement to explore what is wanted, the direction in which they want to go.
In solution focus terms this creates the platform, the foundation for the rest of the conversation. It’s important to note that unlike a movie we are not looking for something compelling to an external audience, it should be what matters to that person in their situation.
“The only way to achieve the impossible, is to believe it's possible.”
Charles Kingsleigh (Alice’s Father in Alice in Wonderland)
Time for a Miracle
So now we have a mission, how do we know it’s worth it? What would it be like to achieve it? Stories contain a wealth of techniques to transport characters into a desired future and in so doing motivate them to take action. We are looking for a situation where the thinker has attained their aspiration but isn't aware of it, a setting to encourage them to articulate what they and others would notice, and describe it in detailed, vivid 4k resolution. In Solution Focus terms this is the miracle question. In story terms it could also be described as a superhero situation, like Spiderman suddenly finding he sticks to things and has fast reflexes, evoking those classic scenes where powers are discovered for the first time. Other useful tropes include flashforward and waking up after a change or memory loss.
Sometimes this leads to humorous exploration with the thinker playing out their day like a sit-com in which everyone else knows what’s happened, but they don’t. Asking “You still haven’t noticed, so what else?” pushes for more noticing and more details.
In any good movie the character always checks their resources before setting out on their journey. They look for anything that will be useful along the way, objects, words of wisdom or comforting company.
There’s a strong parallel here with the concept of counters in Solution Focus, counters are the huge variety of things that count towards making change and getting something done. There are normally far more than the thinker expects and we can rummage around to find useful resources in all sorts of dimensions. The movie frame helps with the invitation to think creatively to acknowledge all the things that could help. For example, The Karate Kid spent hours washing cars before understanding it counted towards karate practice. We can ask what would be useful, who’s advice or company is valued, what is in the person’s back story or currently happening that will help.
Another angle is to ask about plot armour, in a story this is the occurrences and gadgets (and questionable physics) which protect the main character and advance the plot. In our context these are the secret things that will help keep focus and stay on track, like sources of energy, resilience and inspiration.
We need a montage
Every good action movie has a training montage, showing the hard work, practice and dedication necessary to get there. Helpfully they often demonstrate repetition, experimentation and incremental progress, a perfect way to start thinking about next steps and small actions. We just need to ask what’s playing in that montage. What kind of things do you need to do? How often? Who is there? What helps when the going gets tough?
The montage provides scope for more curiosity and exploration, asking what is the director shouting? What do we need more of? Inquiring about the soundtrack is interesting too, bringing in other senses into play and with any luck setting up a motivating reminder.
One small risk here is that the montage metaphor is overplayed and small steps become solely about hard graft. The small steps are important but ideally thinkers remain open to everything that helps, and continue to experiment, rather than fixating on a single goal or set of actions to the exclusion of everything else.
“The problem is not the problem the problem is your attitude in the face of the problem”
Captain Jack Sparrow
Introducing a film or story theme to a coaching session can be an effective way to liven up a coaching conversation, encourage creativity, and bring a sense of possibility and purpose.
There are plenty of ways to build on this notion and it scales well. In workshops and group coaching I’ve invited participants to create movie posters for their films, providing a playful opportunity to raise pertinent topics across the room.
It is important to keep the intent of the coaching tools in mind, and not over reach the metaphor. We are looking for what could work in the thinker's situation, as opposed to creating briefly comforting alter-egos with unattainable goals. I sometimes use movies to illustrate by example and to bring a narrative through a session but ultimately it’s good coaching skills that make the process valuable for the thinker.