Doing what works is one of the core principles of solution-focused practice. One thing this implies is that when you want to achieve something you look at what has helped before to achieve something comparable. Another thing it implies is that, when you trying to accomplish something, you pay careful attention to what is working and do more of that. This reflects the very pragmatic orientation of the solution-focused approach. It is one of the things I like about it. This pragmatic nature is also expressed in the principle of 'If it ain't broken, don't fix it'. This could be rephrased as: 'If something is working, there is no need to change it.' Doing what works seems to be very straightforward. But it isn't always. Look at these examples:
- Sometimes, at first, something seems to be working well but after some time it turns out it doesn't. You do something and at first the consequences of your behavior seem to be positive but only after some time you discover that there are negative consequences too. This is not merely a theoretical example. Carol Dweck has show that giving trait praise to children ("well done, you're very smart) at first seems to work well (proud smile) but after some time turns out to have negative consequences (avoiding challenges, giving up easily, not believing in the value of effort, ignoring useful negative feedback, feeling threatened by the success of others, read all about that here, and here).
- Maintenance: if 'If it ain't broken, don't fix it' is your favorite interpretation of Doing what works, be careful. It might lead you to neglect maintenance activities. If you never check the tires of your car and wait until they explode you may be a going too far in your pragmatism.
- Investment: If you rely very strongly on pragmatism, you may also forget to invest in your future which at some point you may begin to regret. If you never do any exercise because your body still seems to be working, you may build up some serious health problems. Investing in you future (for instance by exercising, by studying, building up a financial buffer for hard times, etc.) may not give you an immediate sense that it works. There is no instant effect. Rather, it may take a very long time before you suddenly feel like it has all been worth it.
I know the above does not prove that 'Doing what works' is invalid. After all you could say that 'if you have noticed over the years that maintenance, investment etc. work, applying them is still a matter of Doing what works. What these examples do show is that you must be careful with your interpretation of Doing what works. If you interpret Doing what works as 'only doing things that show immediate positive effects' you may be in for some negative surprises.
Also read: Truth is what works