Thursday, May 21, 2015

Solve the Problem or Manage It

What do you do about problems that can't be solved/

It's not that you can't solve them or that you haven't found the person who can solve them, some problems simply can't be solved. They must be managed instead.

The best source of help and information I've found on unsolvable problems is the book Polarity Management - Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Johnson.

The book includes valuable insights about spotting and managing unsolvable problems. He calls these polarities: "sets of opposites which can't function well independently." Within each pole, or opposite force, are upsides and downsides - things we would want to keep and things that we could live without. So often we do not get to choose one or the other - in order to keep the good aspects of a force we must live with the bad. To live with the bad, we must manage the forces in action.

We do not do that by eliminating either side. We manage both sides.  We make peace with the reality that faces us while still not giving in to dysfunction. Instead, we seek high performance results by skillfully using what's available in optimal ways.

A simple example from the book is breathing: In one phase we inhale to intake oxygen. In the other phase we must exhale to clean out the carbon dioxide and prepare us for the next inhale. The two are opposites and yet interdependent. You can't really have one without the other.

I like breathing as an example because it is such a crucial part of operating as a centered leader. When we face troubling situations, when we work on unresolved problems, when we deal with strong personalities we must remain to breathe skillfully, mindfully. Taking the time to manage that breathing (even for a few seconds) allows our natural systems to operate more effectively. We'll breathe no matter what (when we are alive!) and yet we can influence the quality of that breathing through intentional, practiced actions.

Similarly we will have unsolvable problems no matter what - yet we can manage them and achieve our best possible results when we skillfully, mindfully apply high performance management techniques and practices.

A problem that can't be solved can be managed. The future is always open to re-design.

I'm all about solving problems and achieving goals. But, when the problem is really a polarity to be managed, that's the path to take.

What unsolvable problems are you wrestling with today? Could it be that they include polarities (opposites) that could be regulated or managed? What's your next step?

-- Doug Smith

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