Solving Tough Problems

Adam Kahane has written a book on Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities. Tough problems are complex across three dimensions: dynamic, generative, and social complexity. Dynamic complexity is when cause and effect are far apart in time and space. Generative complexity is high when the future is unpredictable and unfamiliar. Social complexity is high when those involved do not share the same assumptions, values, and objectives.

Kahane writes that ”Simple problems, with low complexity, can be solved perfectly well—efficiently and effectively—using processes that are piecemeal, backward looking, and authoritarian. By contrast, highly complex problems can only be solved using processes that are systemic, emergent, and participatory.” This means a solution has to be worked out through an emergent process as the situation unfolds.

To solve tough problems it is necessary to shift from downloading and debating to reflective and generative dialogue. To facilitate generative dialogue it is necessary to be relaxed and present, to hear and help others to hear what is happening. You will miss what is actually happening if you are preoccupied with what you want to make happen. The generative dialogue is an open way of talking, listening, and creating.


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