What type of thinking solves dilemmas

  • What if there are conflicting requirements that ensure that you will be wrong?
  • What if you have to pay an extortionist or suffer the loss of someone?
  • What if you have to make a choice between resources, fairness, payment?
  • What if your choice becomes take it or leave it?
  • What if your choice only has bad results?
  • What if your choice is giving money to your child or withholding it to make them become responsible?
  • What is more important a short term gain or a long term benefit?

You are just between a rock and a hard place, technically called a dilemma. It is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is acceptable. The simple fact; we face more dilemmas than we care to admit. And most of the time they go unsolved.

One of the best tools that I have run across in handling dilemmas is Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Evaporating Cloud, which is also referred to as The Conflict Resolution Diagram. It was developed to find a solution between two opposing points of view trying to reach the same point of view. You can get dig a little deeper by going into  the other Thinking Processes of the Theory of Constraints. (Check out the Business901 podcast with Bill Dettmer).

Another method for handling dilemmas is The Cynefin Framework. It allows executives to see things from new viewpoints, assimilate complex concepts, and address real-world problems and opportunities. Using the Cynefin framework can help executives sense which context they are in so that they can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred management style causes them to make mistakes. You may also want to view, Using Cynefin for a Lean Transformation.

Does Lean thinking prevail; can I go through the seven step problem solving process of an A3 and find root cause? Can I effectively create counter measures for a dilemma? Is everything black and white? I struggled with a few of these thoughts and always justified my thinking by saying that I was achieving the best possible solution and applying a countermeasure to it. If it did not work, we would go through another  learning cycle, PDCA.

Design Thinking practices seem to embrace dilemmas. They might even try to create them. I use the term EDCA learned from Graham Hill  to designate the Explore aspect of Lean.  I view it as more of Design Type thinking concept that allows for more creative or productive type thinking (When Lean Thinking is not enough!). When you are dealing with a high degree of uncertainty, I believe there still needs to be a process in place. If not, you may end up fighting the process versus working on the problem.

One of my favorite authors is Alex Lowy. He has authored The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix and No Problem (which is the basis for my outline below). Alex outlines a method for managing dilemmas.

  1. Map Symptoms: What are the effects of the dilemma? Dilemmas tend to be messy and difficult to define. It often helps to begin at the end by looking at the consequences or symptoms of the dilemma. Identify symptomatic patterns to define the underlying dilemma.
  2. Identify the Core Dilemma: What is the core dilemma? This is very challenging and he recommends two steps: Generation of trial dilemmas applying symptoms, metaphors and brainstorming to identify aspects of the dilemma and synthesis by making sense of material by naming, testing and constructing scenarios.
  3. Analyze, Model and Redefine using the Archetypal Dilemmas: What else is going on here? He cautions that when we get to the core dilemma that it is harder to think creatively and see new options. He defines eight recurring archetypal patterns of dilemmas and by applying the archetypes to the core dilemma; you gain new insights that advance understanding and progress.
  4. Resolve Gaps: What need to change so that we can successfully handle the core dilemma? He discusses the change and development gaps that need to be managed; social and technical.
  5. Plan and Implement: How do I ensure successful follow-through? Implementation is easier if you have a plan that everyone supports. He forewarns that most change in dilemmas do not happen immediately.

I found Alex’s approach very understandable and comfortable to use. He turns the process into solving through his specialty, a 2 x 2 matrix but that is OK, I like a matrix.  Next time you are stuck between a rock and hard place, No Problem may be your answer.

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