problem solving in program: solution underway from museum of mathematics
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Recently I was in a conversation about our energy consumption and the damage done in the process of securing sufficient fossil fuels to satisfy our voracious appetite.
The light went on and there it was, an observation worth writing about: It's one of main reasons we have so much trouble solving problems.
What seems to be missing is an approach to problem solving called systems thinking. We tend to look at our problems as isolates that have nothing to do with each other. Oh, we suspect they're connected but it seems more politically expedient to consider them isolated and blame them on each other.
When I was an organizational development consultant, I found this to be one of the most persistent reasons for organizational inefficiencies. One department could blame another department and never be concerned about how each contributed to the other's difficulties, never mind the ultimate inefficiency of the overall organization.
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it, "Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific parts, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences."
Our favorite problem solving method is linear objective reduction, i.e., the process of drilling down vertically to identify the elements that make up the whole.
This is the kind of isolated thinking it produces: Drive a gas guzzling vehicle as though it has no impact on the need for more oil production. Produce the oil as though it has no impact on the ecology. Protest the oil industry's damage to the ecology by producing the fuel you want as though you have nothing to do with it.
In each of these instances, we fail to examine the horizontal interactions and linkages that are all part of a complex system. It's seems as though one issue has nothing to do with the others.
Now for some bad news. Each of these issues is itself a complex system made up of other complex systems all the way down to -- somewhere. (I won't go as far as Carl Sagan did when he said, "if you want to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.")
Another excellent example is how we deal with social issues. We are plagued with a drug abuse problem. We declare war on it as though it's an isolate and then attempt to drill down to the causes, when it's horizontally linked to other failures in our society too. As an example, we imprison the drug abusers while defunding our educational system, not recognizing a failing educational system is linked to drug abuse, crime and society's failures.
Another contributing factor in our society is we don't need to fix problems. It's sufficient to fix blame. Look no further than our politicians to see it in full color, 3D. They are society's avatars for isolated, linear thinking.
In fact, they don't even link up their own actions in one instance with the problems they produce in another. A most recent example was the Republican led reduction in security funding for American Embassies and how it was linked to the failure of security in Benghazi, for which some now want to put all the blame on the administration. Oh and they'd all like to ignore the two unnecessary wars and current drone attacks that intensify the hate and terrorism directed at us.
So are these politicians dumb? No! We are. They depend on our short memories and linear thinking. They rest assured knowing that we don't connect up the dots. Usually because we don't know where all the dots are. And sometimes we just don't have the time and patience to dig through all the flotsam and jetsam to find all the dots.
From Wikipedia again, "In systems science, it is argued that the only way to fully understand why a problem or element occurs and persists is to understand the parts in relation to the whole."
You see, our problems persist because of our political system. We and our politicians are parts of the whole system. Our whole system is one that not only doesn't succeed in permanently solving problems but actually produces more by ignoring the links between and among our most pressing issues.