Solutions-Focused Thinking with Kenneth Kwan

by | Nov 8, 2021 | 0 comments

What is your next small step? | Image Source: Kenneth Kwan at the 46th PSTD National Convention.

In the recent PSTD National Conference, Kenneth Kwan was one of the concurrent speakers with the topic “How to Rapidly Move Others from Problem-Focused to Solutions-Focused Thinking” (October 22, 2021).

Kwan is the CEO and founder of Deep Impact Private Ltd. and has served over 140 clients such as AIA, SingHealth, Singapore Airlines, Baxter Inc., Hilton Worldwide, the Singapore government, and many more. He is the immediate past president of Asia Professional Speakers Singapore with over 14 years of experience speaking to audiences from over 40 countries worldwide. He is also a published author, with his book “Small Steps to Big Changes” (available in Amazon).

The topic is relevant to leaders who stay awake at night thinking about how to increase revenue, profits, productivity, market share, and client satisfaction. Or conversely, how to decrease costs, risk, lead time, loss of talent, and go-to-market.

From his work with over 3,000 leaders, Kwan has summarized three things that leaders want from their people:

  • Develop possibility thinking
  • Focus on what is working and what can work
  • Ability to take action steps independently



Source: Kenneth Kwan at the 46th PSTD National Convention

Kwan shared his consulting experience where his client, a project director, was frustrated by the lack of communication and trust among his team members. Most consultants would ask diagnostic questions (what happened, who did this, and why did he do it) and the client would affix blame or keep quiet.

Kwan, however, posed a powerful question that quickly changed the conversation. He looked at the client straight in the eye and said, “I can see how frustrated you are. Tell me, at the end of the day, what do you want? A high-performance team that delivers results quickly and safely?” The project director replied, “Yes, that is exactly what I want!”

This shows the principle of “listening to the wish behind the complaint”. In this leader’s case, the language changed from what is not happening to what he wanted, from past orientation to future momentum. Soon the client was excitedly exploring how things can be different.

Kwan’s talk took a light moment when he cited Spice Girls to be the experts in possibility thinking. He sang the chorus from their hit song Wannabe:

So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna,
I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ah



Source: Kenneth Kwan at the 46th PSTD National Convention

Kwan next gives the story of a company that sold ladies’ shoes. Sales had peaked and the Head of Sales admitted that he ran out of ideas on how to sell more shoes. At first, he thought the solution was to give his salespeople more training. The rationale was that with more training, there would be more competencies and thus more sales. His other idea was to hire motivational speakers to lead a “mindset change” among his people.

While these two approaches are important, what is usually forgotten is to identify a process that is already working and amplify it throughout the organization. The Head asked his staff who was the top-selling employee and the answer led him to a lady who was consistently outselling everyone else. For the next two days, he stood at a corner of the store and watched her sell.

He discovered that when a customer came into the store and asked the sales lady for a pair of shoes, the lady would go to the stockroom and return with not one, but four pairs: same size but different designs. After the customer had chosen one pair to buy, the sales lady asked if she would be interested to buy a second pair. In so doing, the sales lady had doubled her output by 100%.

The Head quickly summoned all his salespeople and told them to do the same thing. Soon, sales picked up, simply because he identified and amplified what was working instead of focusing on what was not working. The secret, Kwan explained, is to see what people do well and systematize it to create success.



Many leaders aim to implement big and sudden changes. Kwan advocates the opposite: people change best by taking small steps. Small is easy and fast. Confidence is developed when a person succeeds, even if it is a small one. A small win motivates that person to do more and more steps.

In this sense, winning is highly motivational. The strategy is to let your people win easily. Developing solution talk has to be intentional. Optimism is developed when the organization shares success stories, rather than examining failure and how to mitigate them. Kwan suggested scaling as a guide, “On a scale from 1 to 10, where are you now and what needs to happen to be on the next level? What changes do you want to see in the team members?”

During the Q&A, the moderator intuited that L&D designers can explore creating programs that bring about small wins, rather than big changes in KSAs which are usually expected by clients. The apparent trade-off would be the length of time: a string of small wins would take longer than standard workshops. However, as leaders sit down with their team members and envision what it would look like if everyone performed at his or her highest level, and think of the small steps to get there, long-lasting success would follow.

About the Writer



Nelson T. Dy was the moderator of this concurrent session. He is the Assistant Vice-President for Packageworld, Inc., a manufacturer of packaging goods. He is also an author, speaker, and trainer for career, relationships, and spirituality issues. He creates weekly content for his LinkedIn profile and WordPress website Contact him through


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