Heart of the Matter LO20452

Fred Nickols (nickols@worldnet.att.net)
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 05:17:28 -0500

Replying to AM de Lange in LO20424 --

I've opted to change the subject line because my post (LO20373) and At's
response move away from the initial "Our Founding Discipline thread.

My basic assertion in LO20373 is reprinted below...

>>One of the things I've learned over the years is that apparently
>>complex problems aren't really as complex as they seem.
>>There is, in common parlance, the notion of "the heart of the
>>matter." If you can get to the heart of the matter, without being
>>sidetracked by all the surrounding complexity, many problems
>>can be resolved without the aid of a tool like system dynamics.

At de Lange commented on my observation and closed his post by posing the
following questions:

>What makes something a problem?
>What distinguishes the solution from the problem?
>What is "the heart of the matter" when solving any problem?

In quick order...

What makes something a problem is not knowing what to do about it.

Distinguishing the solution from the problem is a bit trickier because the
word solution can refer to the action taken to solve the problem and to
the situation itself once the problem has been solved. In the first case,
the distinction between problem and solution is the distinction between an
analysis or appraisal of a situation and action aimed at changing that
situation. In the second case, the distinction is that between the
situation when it presents a problem and that situation once the problem
has been solved.

The "heart of the matter" when solving any problem is a grasp of the
structure of the situation. You see, to solve a problem in a business or
organizational setting, you must change something. Moreover, you must
change it with a purpose or outcome in mind. In short, you must
intervene. Change, in organizations, is almost always indirect; that is,
you change something over here in order to realize some effect over there.
Responsible intervention suggests that, for a given change, we can state
its effects and, for a given effect, we can state the change that will
produce it. There are, then, two points of major interest with respect to
making change or solving problems in organizational setting: One is the
point of evaluation, that is, what are the effects you seek and where,
when and how will you assess their accomplishment? The other point of
interest is the point of intervention, that is, where, when and how will
you change things so as to realize the effects you seek? Being able to do
this with some degree of consistency and reliability amounts to being able
to engineer solutions to business problems, hence my notion of problem
solving as "solution engineering."

To recap, a problem is problem because you don't know what to do (read
that as "uncertainty regarding action"). A solution is a course of action
intended to bring about certain effects or consequences. The heart of the
matter is a good grasp of the structure of the situation in which you're
going to intervene for the purpose of altering some aspect of it.


Fred Nickols
Distance Consulting
(609) 490-0095


Fred Nickols <nickols@worldnet.att.net>

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