A consultant for our team led a workshop titled, Imagining Solutions.

She wanted to empower us with the ability to solve problems as she does and has helped us in the past. She said we’re all so great at what we do that we don’t even realize how many problems we’re solving each day, and she wants us to feel comfortable tackling the complex stuff with which she has helped us in the past. She also said this knowledge applies not just in the workplace but in all aspects of your life, including relationships.

I now share this knowledge as a testament to what I have learned.

To get started, first you must understand that there are three kinds of problems:

  • Simple
  • Complicated
  • Complex

And of course problems are best explained when cats are involved.

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Exhibit A: Coffee and Cats (auf Deutsch: Kaffeekatze)

Simple problem: Used coffee grounds are in the portafilter.
Solution: Empty the portafilter. Do not let God kill a kitten.

Complicated problem: Schrödinger’s kitten is stuck in a pipe.
Solution: Seek out specialized knowledge of an expert (in this case, a plumber) to free the kitten. Specialized experts may bring tools, in addition to their knowledge, to solve the problem. The kitten is thus saved to meow another day.

Complex problemSchrödinger’s kitten, now stuck in a box, is not moving.
Solution (?): The thing with complex problems is they change as you investigate. You can detect something is wrong, but the nature of the problem may change as you ask questions or take actions, making it unclear what is happening and what exactly happened.

You might seek out experts with specialized knowledge (physics, vet), but the problem may still remain unclear.

If you open the box, did you just kill the kitten? Or was it already dead? Or was it sleeping, and now it’s dead because you opened the box and that triggered something that caused its death? Or did someone leave the goddamn espresso grinds in the portafilter again, causing God to kill Schrödinger’s kitten?

You can never really confirm what the problem is; you know there is one, and you can detect symptoms or signs of a problem, but there’s no real confirmation of what happened. If you take an action, the problem could then become something else and lead to other questions. Complex problems are really trips down the rabbit-hole from which you’re never certain where it leads or if you’ll ever resurface back to where you started–and if you do, things will certainly have changed the landscape.

I’ve been thinking about this workshop and how it applies to my life these days. It feels like most of my relationships are somewhere in that complex problem territory.

I feel like soon I may need the strategy I had at the end of The Virgin Queen: just play an event card and see what happens because right now I’m full of questions but not finding many answers.

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