Solving Tough Problems
Solving Tough Problems
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“When I was in college – I thought that the world’s toughest problems would be solved by the world’s smartest people and I wanted to be one of them. Our textbooks contained questions at the end of each chapter and before the exam I worked through every exercise so I could get a perfect grade for there would only be ONE right answer.”
“But the world doesn’t work the way my ONE right answer textbooks said it did. Something else goes on that drives this world and I must find it……”
This is inner voice of a professional (could be you, me anybody) personified by Adam Kahane – the author of a seminal book ‘Solving Tough Problems’ that offers a new approach to addressing peacefully our most complex challenges. Our most common way of solving problems—at home, at work, in our communities, in national and international affairs—is to use our expertise and authority to apply piece-by-piece, tried-and-true "best practices." This works for simple, familiar problems. But it doesn't work for the complex, unfamiliar, conflictual problems that we increasingly face. When we try to solve these problems using traditional approaches, the problems end up either getting stuck.
In this inspiring and thought provoking book Adam Kahane reflects that we can learn to create environments that enable new ideas and creative solutions to emerge - even in the most stuck, polarized contexts. Through an unexpected experience in South Africa during the transition away from apartheid, he became involved in facilitating a series of extraordinary high-conflict, high-stakes problem-solving efforts in Colombia during the civil war; in Argentina during the collapse; in Guatemala after the genocide; and in Israel and Cyprus. Kahane tells his stories and distils from them a "simple, but not easy" approach all of us can use to solve our own toughest problems.
So here’s what he suggests as the mantra (I have tried to keep it as terse as possible) :
- Breathing In – Many of us get struck by holding on tightly to our opinions and plans, identities and truths. The pattern of not talking and not listening to others is a symptom of being struck. In order to observe the world on a broader perspective we should start listening actively. The more open we are – the more open can we be to things happening around us and inside us.
- Talking Politely – Politeness is not a way of talking. When we are being polite (“How are you?” “I’m fine”) – we just try to fit in and keeping the social network as a whole unchanged. Talking only about concepts is one way of being polite. When somebody speaks personally, passionately and from the heart – the conversation deepens. When a team develops a habit of speaking openly, then the problem they are working on begins to shift. Thus, politeness maintains a status quo and everyone sees him or herself as a key team player as well.
- Speaking Up – To change the status quo we must speak up. Often this is extremely difficult. People hesitate to say what they are thinking for many reasons, not only extraordinary but ordinary ones as well: fear of being disliked or considered impolite etc. Unless we openly speak about the problem at hand – we can not concentrate on it holistically.
- Being Reflective – To create new realities – we have to listen reflectively. It is just not enough to hear the chorus of other voices – we MUST hear the contribution of our own voice. We have to recognize ourselves as actors who influence the outcome of the solution to a problem under investigation.
- Empathy does wonders – We can not develop creative solutions to complex problems unless we see, hear, open up to and include the humane aspect of all stakeholders and ourselves. We have to learn to listen to people in a way that encourages them to realize their own potential and the potential in their situation. This is what empathy is all about – listening from within others’ hearts.
Finally, Adam accentuates upon the fact that a problem that is generatively complex can not be solved with a pre-packaged solution from the past. A solution has to be worked out as the situation unfolds through a creative, emergent and generative process as described above. Engaging and inspiring, personal and practical, this book offers a down-to-earth, hopeful way forward: a way of "open-minded, open-hearted, open-willed talking and listening" vital for creating a lasting change.
Having said everything - now the question arises – how we can change ourselves to allow us to contribute in creative and quick problem solving? The answer as you might have guess by now – is PRACTICE. Like to practice meditating, we simply take notice of where our mind is and continue over & over to bring our attention back to our breath – likewise, we simply have to take notice of how we are and continue to bring our attention back to being present, relaxing & opening up. Fortunately, we have plethora of opportunities to do this practice – including in every conversation, in every context, every day.
Lets start participating in creating another, better world. I am in…are you? Do post in your comments folks :)