The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Complicated and yet simple

An approach I see regularly: If there is a problem, we need to solve it.

It leads to a shortcut: I have a problem, give me the solution.

Basically, it’s what we left school with. The teacher gave us a problem and we had to solve it. Conveniently we also had just learned all the ingredients we needed to solve the problem. And upon solving the problem the teacher would then again help out by telling us if that was the right answer.

It’s interesting to observe how this behavior has become natural. I can see it appear regularly. In training or workshops, it might be expected. When discussing communication problems it isn’t very useful.

There are fewer solutions around than we might expect.

Maybe we need to start understanding what a solution is or can be.

There are solutions which provide an explanation for a problem or an answer to that problem. This is typically the case with a tool which is broken where the explanation tells why or how. And it’s also the case with mathematical problems which have an answer when it is solved.

The other way to look at solutions is to see them as the action or process needed to solve the problem.

Some situations in which the work consist of executing a process are almost automatic. If it’s about refueling your car it’s usually easily solved. If it’s to have the car repaired you can ask someone to do it an can usually expect to have it repaired.

In a lot of knowledge work we do today it doesn’t happen as easily.

Taking communication problems as an example.

The process helping us to handle the problem requires a few steps. We often take for granted that solving them can be done spontaneously. But let’s look at the process in more details:

Identifying the problem means to gather as much information as possible about it. A common issue at this step is that the collected information is immediately evaluated leaving us with distorted information. The evaluation is an effort to solve the problem based on individual information.

The next step is to make sense of the collected information. One reason this step often fails is that the collected information is interpreted in an effort to get rid of the problem. While this is the ultimate goal, at this step we are better of seeking to understand how others have been operating and what they have tried to achieve. People have a reason to behave in the way they do, determining that reason is less evident than it seems.

Once this information has been gathered it needs to be integrated into our context as defined it. It requires that we know what we want to achieve. And to be aware of the consequences we will accept as well as the governance we’ve defined for ourselves. The challenge in this step usually is to know the answers for ourselves. While we might have a general idea, we often will find it hard to express it when needed.

It’s only once we’ve built this wealth of information that we can usefully deduce an approach to the given communication problem.

The challenge with communication is, that we will only have an idea of how well we prepared our process when we apply it.


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