Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

To solve or not to solve? Is that the question?

In Personal Reflections, Theories of Change on May 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Sometimes in exploring the ethical dimensions of changemaking, I get to the point of wondering whether not solving the problem is actually ethically better than solving it. But then I wonder whether that is the right question to ask at all. Perhaps there is a third option to whether to solve or not solve a problem.

A few years back I was heading up a business development team at a mid-sized nonprofit, as we were going through a significant turnaround of the operation. The stakes were high, and the existing business model was by-and-large ineffective. It was not hitting mission spectacularly, and was draining cash. The staff were investing enormous love and energy to make this work.

It was a creative time that required the team to be highly entrepreneurial. We were needing to be quick and agile in identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions. We were up for the challenge, enjoying it and most of the time doing pretty well.

I started to observe though that as soon as we solved a problem, a new one often emerged. We seemed to be on this endless cycle of problem-solution-problem-solution. We got in this rhythm of being ‘fix-it’ people, always on the ready to fix what was not working. We were champions for what the social consciousness was telling the world about the need to be ‘solutions-focused’.

Yet as we started to create more solutions, or more significantly, more PROBLEMS, I wondered whether there was another way. When the next problem came up, I decided to stop and slow down. Rather than be quick to act (or react), I slowed down and contemplated on the problem.

In contemplating on it (more on contemplation here), I looked at the problem from every angle, turning it over and looking at it from all kinds of directions. What I found was that after a few weeks, the problem was simply not there; the problem dissolved.

This idea of an alternative way of solving problems struck me as so powerful. Rather than deliberately seeking to solve a problem, by bringing consciousness to it, we can move beyond the state of it being a problem in the first place.

This approach can work from the smallest of problems like whether to respond to a difficult email, through to dealing with a conflict in the workplace or facing a dilemma with a client. There is little that time and consciousness can’t fix.

So the question may not be whether to solve or not to solve; rather, whether to solve or dissolve.

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  1. […] my post “to solve or not to solve” I referred to a process of contemplation that I have used. In his wonderful book […]

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