Not solving the problem

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Mark at Anecote has a good post on not solving the problem.

We generally find with complex issues that once you go into ‘problem solving mode’ you start heading down the wrong path – trying to prove your decision is ‘right’. Much better to encourage debate about the issue and help people to understand it and why a particular path was chosen.

He points to his colleague Shawn’s thoughts on the same point:

What is frustrating is hearing professionals talk about issues like culture using metaphors that suggest it’s a mechanical problem. I’m referring here to a presentation I attended two weeks ago by someone using the Human Synergistics diagnostic. The talk was sprinkled with terms like ‘levers’ and ‘drivers’ and asking questions like ‘what is causing your culture?’

Language is vital. When I help clients design interventions I tell them to stop trying to solve the problem. Until people understand the importance of a new language for complex problems we are going to slip back into our old ways. And these old ways are not going to help.

My most powerful experience of this wisdom is when I catch myself worrying about my life or some aspect of it. It’s easy to make myself miserable by trying to figure out all the angles – when these angles are hard to know anyway. I pull myself up by avowing that my life is not a problem to be solved but an unfolding mystery to be experienced.

I wanted to censor that word mystery as it may sound too kooky. Too bad maybe it does. I’m not suggesting we spend our days in a kind of naive, wide-eyed wonder. But I find more sanity in accepting that there are lots of things about the future I just don’t know, as well as some very simple truths about my own state that I do know.

Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy, enjoined people to “lose your minds and come to your senses”. His style was provocative that way. I think discussions about complex problems very easily slide into brittle certainties about things that are actually fuzzy and a kind of denial about things that are actually fairly clear but we don’t want to own up to.

For instance, it’s easy to say that a colleague is a “difficult person”, which is a crude simplification. It may be harder to for instance, that you feel anxious or angry with them. Likewise, I think there is higher status in making predictions about the future than in – more honestly – expressing our feelings of uncertainty about it, or our personal hopes or fears about what may happen. The temptation is to cover up our vulnerability and bolster our status – but this risks cutting ourselves off from our own intelligence and also deterring others from sharing theirs.

Mark’s post argues for what could be seen as a lower status, but more honest, approach to tackling complexity. And often the lower status route is the one that actually enlists more engagement and support.

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