Chapter 1: Introduction – Understanding Solving A Problem

Opening

What is the bottom-line to solving a problem?

When we say we solve a problem, then, having solved it, the problem should not come back.  If it does, and comes back in another time or another form, then we have not solved it.  We have just applied a band-aid, to stop the bleeding, for now.  It is like “solving a mathematical problem”, and getting it wrong and needs ‘re-solving’.

If so, how often, in organizations, do we do “re-working”?  That is like never learning, how to get Grade A.

So, what is the bottom-line to solving problems?  It should not come back!  If it does, we are just kidding ourselves and hoping nobody is watching us in our watch.  If it does not, then you deserve that Grade A.

So, how do we make that happen?

Well, we can’t solve a problem, till we understand what is causing IT!

In systems thinking, we add that we can’t solve a problem, particularly if it is systemic, unless we first figure out what is causing it to become systemic (widespread over time and space) and therefore has become resistant (or stubborn) to our efforts to change it.

What does it mean by systemic or stubborn issues?

These are issues that have system-wide implications and affects people regardless of space and time and have a tendency to ‘happen all at once’ and most importantly it recurs (it keeps coming back – like a bad nightmare) regardless of where or when it happens, defying our efforts to change their course.

They may manifest as rise in crimes, or illnesses or national financial debts or reduced agricultural production or rainfall levels or the productive size of the economy and when they are taken too far, they take the form of famine, droughts, floods (or global warming) and wars.

For some of these issues, we have become numb to the phenomena and have come to accept that they are ‘a part of life’ and setup whole establishments to “continue the fight”.  For example, we chase and find the criminal and work to put him behind bars, to only find ourselves chasing after the next one in line.  And we ready ourselves for the next one.  Whole and huge establishments have been setup (police stations, churches, hospital, medical departments, justice and prison departments, rehabilitation and incarceration centres and so on) by governments and yet they continue to grow and demand further resources to ‘fight the growing malices of society’, we classify.  It happens the same way, criminal after criminal, generation after generation.  Where would this end?

They are often referred to as “complexity” as in they are too difficult to solve.  We say to ourselves, these have become too difficult to discuss and resolve.  In some countries, just solving these problems could consume our entire annual budget leaving little for its development!  So let’s set ourselves up to ‘fight it’, we say, for as long as it takes us or we give it up entirely (and retire, knowing very well, we have taught our children well to continue the fight)!

They are often referred to as “complexity” as in they are too difficult to solve.  We say to ourselves, these have become too difficult to discuss and resolve.  In some countries, just solving these problems could consume our entire annual budget leaving little for its development!  So let’s set ourselves up to ‘fight it’, we say, for as long as it takes us or we give it up entirely (and retire, knowing very well, we have taught our children to continue the fight)!

At this point, it really does not matter who or what they did.  But rather why does it continue to grow?

It does not matter what it is.  As long as they have been resistant to change, they are a subject of study within the discipline of systemic thinking with a view to solve them.

In this work we say when a problem has become recurrent in nature, whatever is causing it has also become recurrent and therefore circular or vicious in its nature (and not linear which is why the ‘5 Whys’ or “root” cause do not help us here anymore).

Just like cyclones.

This circular nature makes it harder “to find and see it”.  However, unlike cyclones, the source of the veraciousness is easy to see, the circular causalities are hidden from our perceptions of realities.  Particularly more so, as our minds are ‘trained to see and think in straight lines aimed to reach the finishing line’.  And being ‘in it’ (the vicious circles) makes it doubly harder to see.

The tools of systems thinking is intended to aid in this investigative process.

So why refer to stubborn problems as cyclones?

The reference to cyclones (or tornadoes and hurricanes) is used to present a metaphor for the vicious natures of these circles of causality.  What it looks like, what causes it and what could its consequences look like.  Metaphorically it highlights, two aspects of systemic causalities:

  • That cause and its effect are distant in time and space.
  • That the longer the circles spin, the stronger they become.

Therefore as “these cycles” spin, they take us through the journeys of our realities from far and wide.  We are living the circles of causality without us realizing it.  We may even think we are leading on our realities. However, these circles will eventually prove to us that we are not the ones doing so.  As a matter of fact, these cycles lead us on from a time distant in the past to generations in the future.

Another meaning of these cycles is it gains intensity with time.  The longer they spin in one direction, the stronger that direction becomes.  Like the cyclones, they assume an intensity that grows with space and time, gathering increasing affect and effect on a wider number of persons and entities over time.  Pictorially, they appear as the rises towards a peak on a graph that maps the behavior of the problem over time (refer to the graphs shown above)

Some of us pass on in our lives without even realizing these are happening.  In reality, these circles of causality only appears on the surface which we refer to as the “tip of the iceberg” and manifest themselves as problems and conflicts that may span from personal (personal relations and health) to global (global relations and health) issues.

So how do we treat them?

However, in order for us to treat it, we should first become vigil to “understanding and seeing these causalities”.  Should we not see them, then like our ‘fore-leaders’ (who also dealt blows and then got worn out and left it to us), we too should be ready to leave these problems at our own wakes as legacies for our children.

And the interesting thing about these circles of causality, until we get it (we see and understand them), these cycles continue to persist, coming back harder and faster each time for us and our future generations.  This means increasing depletion of resources, rising costs, and increased losses and failures.  Like the effects cyclones leave in their wake!

So what happens next?

We are living today, regardless of our current leaders, the legacies of the vicious circles that our forefathers did not “see” or solve.

These series of blogs are really my way of putting out there the hope that we would learn to see and understand these vicious structures that erode our relationships (with each other), our health (with nature), our verve to grow our nations (relations with ourselves and the economies / infrastructure / technology we create to aid our existence on this earth) and our systemic connectedness to the world (seeing systemic growth eventually).

And might I say beyond (smile)!

Turning around these vicious circles is our hope to turning around our realities.

Love to hear your reactions and comments to what I see and write here.

Hope this reaches all of you well.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Introduction – Understanding Solving A Problem

  1. Joanne

    Hi Sheila, as I am reading your blog, I am reminded of a stubborn problem in hospitals – patient falls! Despite all out efforts to solve them, they just stick around! Patients, especially the elderly ones, tend to want to move on their own and in the process sometimes, they their gait snd fall. With each soln we try, we resolve some bits of it but it never totally goes away! I look forward to gaining insights on how we can use the concept of cyclone to view the problem and get another crack at solving the problem! Shalom!

    Reply
    1. sheilasingapore Post author

      Dear Joanne,

      My it has been a while to hear from each other and it is so lovely to see you here. How are you?

      I am going to become a little investigative – kind of poking my nose around. Will that be ok for you?

      What kinds of solutions, did you say, have we tried?

      Did they fall on their own or did something cause the fall? What did the elderly persons say were their reasons? Were they not to have been moving on their own?

      Reply

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