Heart of the Matter LO20662

Fred Nickols (nickols@worldnet.att.net)
Sun, 14 Feb 1999 12:44:07 -0500

Replying to AM de Lange in LO20647 --

AM De Lange asked:
>>>What makes something a problem?
>>>What distinguishes the solution from the problem?
>>>What is "the heart of the matter" when solving any problem?

To the first, I answered...
>>What makes something a problem is not knowing what to do about it.

AM De Lange responded...
>I will articulate it slightly different:
>A problem is when a person knows something incompletely.

We might be saying essentially the same thing. Not knowing what to do
about a situation that requires action certainly qualifies in my thinking
as incomplete knowledge of that situation.

In response to the second question I answered...
>>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.

AM De Lange responds...
>See if the following is not the essence of what you have said above.
>A solution is when a person knows something more completely than in
>the problem itself. It menas that s solution is additional knowledge
>to the knowledge on the problem.

Certainly once you have determined the solution to a problem you probably
think you know more about the situation than you did before, however, as
some wag once said, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," which is
to say that you won't really know if you know more about the situation
until you implement your solution and see if it works.

To the third question I answered...
>>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.

AM de Lange responds...
>Yes. The following is the essence.
>The heart of the matter is to let the solution evolve consistently and
>coherently in terms of the problem and nothing else.

Well, I think I know what you're driving at but I also take issue with the
way you've phrased it. Clarity regarding a problem rarely springs for
full blown. Said a little differently, clarity in our goals and
objectives emerges over time (similar to the way strategy is said to
emerge). Thus, the solution to a problem must evolve because the
definition of the problem is itself evolving over time. But, once the
definition is set, the solution must then be worked out in the context of
that definition. I guess what I'm saying here is that I tend to agree
with what At wrote immediately above provided an evolving definition of
the problem is taken into account.

I summarized my answers as follows...
>>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.

AM de Lange replies...
>Fred, your recap and my essential answers to each question says about
>the same thing.
>Problem solving is going from a less complete knowledge of something
>to a more complete knowledge of it such that the integrity of the
>something is conserved.

I'm not sure I understand or agree with the last statement. It's the use
of "something" that blocks my understanding. If by "something" is the
meant the situation at hand, then I agree that problem solving is going
from a less complete knowledge of that situation to a more complete
knowledge of it. However, I don't know what that has to do with
conserving the integrity of it. So, I'll try again and then it will be
At's turn.

A problem is a situation that requires action and the action to take is
not known. Hence, incomplete knowledge and uncertainty regarding action.
Problem solving is an information-based activity that aims at reducing
uncertainty regarding action. About the only way this can happen is to
expand one's knowledge of the situation (especially its structure). But,
once clarity and certainty emerge, action is imminent (even if its
effectiveness remains to be seen).

Now, I'll ask: What do you mean by "such that the integrity of the
something is conserved"?


Fred Nickols
Distance Consulting
(609) 490-0095


Fred Nickols <nickols@worldnet.att.net>

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