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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When Facing Difficulty

Most of us tend to see difficulties as problems that need to be solved and many times we’re right in doing so. We often perceive difficulties to be problems that have good and bad solutions, that have right and wrong answers, that are either-or situations. We have learned to perceive and think this way during much of our education and upbringing. In quite a few cases this serves us well and we solve real problems. And in other cases it serves us very poorly since what we perceive to be a problem is really a polarity. Barry Johnson explains the difference between problems and polarities: “Polarities are ongoing, chronic issues that are unavoidable and unsolvable. Attempting to address them with traditional problem solving skills only makes things worse. There is significant competitive advantage for those leaders, teams, or organizations that can distinguish between a problem to solve and a polarity to manage and are effective with both”.

So we tend to see difficulties that are really polarities as problems that can and must be solved. This is a limited and counter-productive perspective and approach, knowing that quite a few difficult and challenging situations in life and business aren’t problems to be solved with an either-or solution, but polarities to be managed with the help of integrative thinking, through creating third alternatives, with ‘and also’ or ‘at the same time’ thinking. Some examples that you might find appealing:

-       Effectively manage your many work commitments while at the same time dedicating yourself to prioritizing home commitments.
-       Continuously seek to reduce costs while at the same time focus on improving the quality your products and services.
-       Embrace and initiate change and new opportunities while at the same time respect the value of stability, predictability, and tradition.

I therefore urge you, when faced with difficulty at work and at home, with colleagues and with family and friends, to ask yourself some fundamental questions:

1.    Am I dealing with a problem to be solved or a polarity to be managed?
2.    Do all involved agree on this assessment?
3.    How have I possibly contributed to this situation?
4.    To what extent do beliefs, perception, and awareness influence my assessment of this situation?
5.    What could be two totally different perspectives in addition to mine?
6.    Is this difficulty a problem that I can solve or an ongoing polarity that I'll have to manage?
7.    What role do my values and my fears and those of others play?
8.    What am I avoiding while dealing with this difficulty?
9.    How can the complexity of the situation be simplified without being simplistic?
10  How can we convert resistance to change and improvements into a resource for ongoing willingness and ability to growth and change?
11  What can I initiate to move from 'either-or' thinking to integrative 'both-and' thinking?

Wishing you insightful reflections and creative and integrative approaches when facing difficulty. 

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