“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
– Albert Einstein
As I look at what all is making the news in the world today, I am struck by an interesting trend.
- No sooner did nations heave a sigh of relief that the war against Global terrorism viz.Al Qaeeda in Afghanisatan had been won, one is witness to the rise of other terror groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Boko Haram in Iraq and Nigeria.
- Initially hailed as a path breaking positive development in terms of spread of people’s power and democracy in the Middle East, the Arab Spring now faces criticism for the collapse of Governance and societal structures in a large swathe of countries like Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria,Yemen and so on.
- As the US and Iran engage in serious talks around international controls on the latter’s nuclear plants and technology, Israel claims this is leading to a heightened risk of war in the region.
- As oil prices collapse and the oil consuming nations of the world rejoice, the funding of green technologies and their implementation for climate change initiatives takes a back seat.
What is it that, in spite of the best intentions and efforts of nations and leaders, the world seems to perennially lurch from one negative occurrence to another? Occurrences that seem to encompass every aspect of our existence- Terrorism, Threat of War, Governance, Climate change and what have you.
Strangely, I am witness to a similar trend as I shift gears and go down to my organisational and personal level.
- I implement an incremental volume based pricing strategy to gain a new business account. However information about this gets known to an existing customer who then threatens to shift business away if the same low pricing is not offered. The result: lower profitability even with higher sales.
- I recommend deviation from the company’s HR policy to help a staff faced with the settlement of high medical bills. Though I succeed with my recommendation, this opens up a Pandora’s Box of complaints about discrimination and how other similar cases got rejected in the past.
- Based on my directive, the sales team resort to focussed selling of identified products to maximize revenues. While this gets achieved, the sales of other products suffer leading to some Principals and suppliers getting upset.
Do you notice how, inspite of the best intentions and competence, solution to an existing problem somehow becomes the harbinger of a new problem? It is as if we are in the midst of situations akin to that of a worn pipe prone to leaks. As a leak is patched at one place and pressure is put back, the pipe cracks at another place and the leakage starts again.
So, what is it really that leads to well thought out problem solving strategies heralding a fresh bout of new problems?
Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, in their bestseller ‘The Three Laws of Performance’ (TLOP), have not only provided an answer but also a sustainable way forward approach.
As part of our survival instinct, we are conditioned to take aspects of our life experiences, of what worked and what did not, fears of what might go wrong and so on…and store them in a place so that we could refer to them, when needed, in the future. As we go through life, we keep on storing more and more such stuff in that place of ours. What do you think happens? Without us even realizing, our actions and performance get restricted to what is allowed by all that stuff we have stored from the past. We end up being on ‘safe rails’ and doing more of what we have always done. In effect we become blindsided to everything else which somehow was not in our past. Authors Steve and Dave refer to this human tendency as they argue that our thoughts, strategies and actions arise from the future as “given by our past”. They call that place where we store our past our default future.
Steve and Dave go on to explain why solutions implemented lead to new problems. They show us the trap we are liable to get into as soon as we envisage a solution. We remain blinded to the fact that the only solutions to a problem that occur for us in fact arise out of our default future where all our past is stored. This only allows us to do what we did in the past which in fact created the problem in the first place. We thus get sucked into the never ending cycle of problems, solutions based on the past…. leading to more problems
The TLOP holds the promise of getting us out of the above problem- solution trap. So how could we do that?
First, we uncover the default futures- all that past stuff that we hold onto, consciously and sub-consciously, that exist for us as well as other stakeholders and how that clutters our thoughts in the present. In effect we start understanding how this past driven default future actually impacts how situations occur- for us and others, and how that correlates to actions and performance. So as a situation occurs negatively for us, the actions and performance correspondingly suffer.
The TLOP further state that the way to dramatically upscale our actions and performance is to alter how situations occur for us. This can be achieved through use of certain kind of language. As we gain mastery over use of this kind of language, we are able to do two things. First, we are able to close past issues and upsets, remove these out of the default future where we had carried them into and put them back where they belong, the past. Second we begin opening up space for a new Created future, a blank canvas in which we can envision something radically new, something no longer constrained and dictated by our past.
A future that addresses the concerns of all.
A future in which everyone joyfully comes to live into.
A future that now no longer needs to follow the never-ending cycle of problems and solutions.
In learning…………. Shakti Ghosal
Acknowledgement: The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the future of your organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan, 2011
27 thoughts on “That never-ending cycle of our problems and solutions…….”
better late then never in my arrival to this post..
There is not a lot I can add to these excellent comments and replies my friend..
As I see the world from my own perspective, I was allowing myself recently to get embroiled within other people’s stories As I took upon myself their problems.. Finding myself frustrated in the stories of them and not seeing a solution to them..
Maybe when we stop looking outward at all that others have or have not and judging within our own minds of what is right or wrong… And when we then start to look within at our selves and put Right our own faults. Maybe then as we right our own inner problems the solutions of our outer world will rectify themselves.. For is not our outer world a mirror of our inner creative thoughts!.. 🙂 Once we end our never-ending-cycle of Fear of what another has, over us, be it medical insurance, the price of oil or that promotional offer.. When we learn this life is not ALL about Competition.. but when we learn to Co-operate with each other.. We then can find our way forward in living Compatibly with each other.. Maybe we have to learn about the 3 C’s 😀 … I would love to see a flip chart on those ideas :-D..
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Day Shakti..
Blessings your way my friend.. and again apologies for only just getting around to visit your post ..
The fact that you have taken the time to come in and comment made my day! Thank you so much.
I loved these lines of yours, and I quote, “…Maybe then as we right our own inner problems the solutions of our outer world will rectify themselves.. For is not our outer world a mirror of our inner creative thoughts!…..” As I have said in my post, I may add that the way to escape and go beyond our past dictated default future is to rise above our own world-view and frames of references and the constricting influence they exert on us in terms of our network of unexamined ideas, beliefs,biases, prejudices, social and cultural embedded-ness, and taken-for-granted assumptions. As we rise above all this, we gain the power
to go beyond our ‘own inner problems’ to use your phrase.
Also as you have further stated, when we learn to stop judging and interpreting the Right and the Wrong out of circumstances and situations, we gain the power to clear out a space from our past induced clutter and write a future which was not going to happen anyway.
Thank you once gain for the very thoughtprovoking comment and God bless !
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I was happy to contribute Shakti.. and you made my day with your appreciative response my friend.. I thank you 🙂
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” – Albert Einstein – a perfect quotation to open the door to new knowledge!
Indeed, it is a great quotation.
So what was your take-away from the post itself? How could you use it to bring in some practices in your life?
Thank you for commenting.
This is a practical approach to problems and also a thought-provoking post.. I think every solution leads to a new problem from some perspectives….and the severity of a problem depends on how we are looking at it. …. 🙂
What you say is true. The severity of a problem does depend on how it occurs to us. Which in turn effects how we act and behave in that situation. If our occurring is positive, our actions would be more empowered and effective.
My post was really to highlight the need for us to recognise how our past based default future leads to only certain solutions show up for us and it is important for us to hold the awareness that there are other possibilities which are superior. Holding this awareness in itself can lead to an appreciable improvement in our handling of the situation.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate.
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I liked this deep and thoughtful post, Shakti. We do tend to never fully solve the world’s problems, do we?
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Thank you Robin.
The fact that we have really not got around to solve most of the big problems, and continue to be enmeshed in ‘fire-fighting’ does seem to indicate that the methodology might be wrong, is it not?
In the post, I have tried to indicate an alternative pathway.
Hello Shakti and thank you for acknowledging my “part time’ blog, “Reclamation of Soul”. I’ve yet to discover how to correct the mis-spelling in my title! I am an e-bonehead, please bear with me.
My blog is “part time” due to the fact that my being is somewhat part time. I am a recovering alcoholic and addict, as well as experiencing challenges with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I am a classic case of self medicating to the point of addiction (at a very early age)
This post, your words make perfect sense to me, as despite my great attempts to resist change, I had to weed out those messy things in my repertoire!
Please know that I am not, at all complaining about my maladies, in fact, after the many decades of learning to manage symptoms, facing head on the many horrors I’ve experienced and learning to make peace with my past problems, both the self imposed, and those thrown at me, being a bit off turns out to be a good thing!!!
Having a strong, tough façade to survive through childhood and adolescence, it took years of self discovery with the help of many wonderful people who were sent into my life, to realize I avoided failure by giving up the pursuit. I love music, and while I am certainly no Mozart, I can become an accomplished player. As I began to excel at clarinet, I switched to guitar, then piano, sax, flute etc.. I’ve just come back to my clarinet and piano. The old fear is impossible to ignore, but I am practicing and plan to join others in group play and perform. 12 step groups have a saying “face the fear and do it anyway.”
I thank you for this added inspiration. I will no longer allow my fears (including those that have had me repeating the same patterns you speak of) rob me of joy. If people do not like my playing they do not have to listen, if they do, I welcome them to share the pure joy of speaking through the music that flows along with my spirit!! I do, of course have to brush up my skill first, I jest, but I am rusty.
Happy to have found you. I’ll be following.
Sarah the 7th
Thank you for your comment.In fact you have written so elaborately, it is a lovely post in itself!
The pathway to Authenticity is by being authentic about one’s inauthenticities. Through your speaking about and acknowledging your past,you have done that beautifully.
Do you realise that the “tough façade to survive through childhood and adolescence” as you have written, is really who have ‘wound up being’ and not who you intrinsically are? So, have you tried to gain access to that ‘real you’?
I am delighted that my post could support you in some manner. I would be happy to do so again in any way I can.
God bless and be happy!
P.S. I am left wondering about the significance of the 7th in your name.
What a lovely compliment, thank you.
Dear Sarah, You are welcome.
I am coming back to the courageous self, I’ve just come to know that what you’ve said is true, and I like this me, with an equal balance of compassion and self respect. It is late ,I’m tired, the 7th story is a great one . I’ll share asap
I am delighted that I could provide you some support to recognise that courageous self, the real YOU! I keenly await to hear your 7th story 🙂
A lot of our problems have been very repetitive. If Hitler massacred Jews, ISIS are after Christians and the latest reports suggest even Shia Muslims. Earlier blacks were the targets of discriminations, today Rohingyas and Sri Lankan Tamils deal with it. The same pattern of problems seem to be cropping up because we claim to moving forward where as in reality we are barely crawling! Power, fame, money have instilled greed so deep-rooted that simply cutting the branches or even the trunk doesn’t seem to help.
Sometimes I think life was set up to have one solution cause another problem. Because if we didn’t have any problems we wouldn’t have any growth. That sure is a pain in the ass when they keep coming up!
Well , I suppose that’s a perspective to hold.
Indeed, our growth, development and even mastery over something occurs only when we are engaged with that particular issue. But to avoid getting stuck on the rails and being driven by our past based default future, we need to consider our past based experience as one of several options or possibilities, NOT the only one. Though that might seem to be the comfortable or logical thing to do at that point in time.
That is the essence of the post.
Thank you taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate.
I think of the phrase: “Those who do not remember the past (history) are condemned to repeat it.” So are our actions hemmed in by what happened in the past? I know I base some decisions on how I will respond to a situation in teaching – or elsewhere – based on what the result was before.
That might be unfair, but should I ignore the lesson I should have learned from the previous incident?
Also, if I look at the lessons I teach, I should be asking: what worked? what didn’t? what needs to be re-tooled? and what needs to be discarded?
I do think we have to learn from the past. But it should not let our minds be set in stone. There should be room for redefining our experiences.
No, we should never ignore the lesson we learned in the past. That is intrinsic to our learning and surviving. What we however need to do is not to get into an amygdala response, based on our past based learnings, but to view that as one of several possibilities that we might hold. The problem really occurs when we get conditioned to see our past based reactions as the only option of acting that we have.
In your last line, you also have come to a similar conclusion when you say, “I do think we have to learn from the past. But it should not let our minds be set in stone. There should be room for redefining our experiences.”
Thank you for bringing this great perspective here. I appreciate.
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Almost all of our thinking is based somehow or other in the past, in what is already known; in other words, it is the result of conditioned cognitive reflexes. Business gurus may aim to project the impression that their methods allow us to escape this phenomenon, though I remain sceptical of that myself Shakti. From what you say here, Steve and Dave appear to acknowledge as much, yet remaining open to the possibility of original, intuited thinking is hard indeed, and has been the subject of much analysis over the years. One very good account of the matter comes in a book by Jacques Hadamard: The Mathematician’s Mind – The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. The author interviews and analyses the accounts of great scientific and artistic thinkers of his time – Poincare, Einstein et al – and finds a common thread amongst each of their discoveries.
Many thanks for this eloquent and informative article Shakti.
That is a greatly perceptive comment and thank you for bringing it up here.
You have rightly brought up the aspect of our conditioned cognitive reflexes. Let me try and articulate this in a slightly different way.
Our freedom pertaining to our ‘Way of being’ and ‘Acting’ is limited and distorted by certain ontological constraints that have become a part of “the way we wound up being” along with certain patterns of action.As a result of these constraints on our freedom, each of us gets stuck with idiosyncratic personal ways of being and acting that allow us to succeed in some situations, but which leave us at best getting by in others, and unfortunately failing in yet others.
In our formative years virtually all of us begin to develop a certain strategy for avoiding failure that we continue to rely on as life unfolds.The first half of the strategy is to attempt to avoid failing by simply staying away from situations that don’t fit with the way we wound up being (don’t fit our set repertoire for being and acting).The other half of the strategy is to attempt to succeed by polishing that set repertoire for being and acting, and seeking out opportunities in which we can succeed by utilizing our set repertoire.
The future that exerts the most force on the present is future as “given by the past”. That is, a future that is extrapolated or projected from the past – a future that is based on an extension of the trajectory established by the way the past has unfolded up to the present. In order for such images of an extension of the present to be considered as a possible future rather than simply what’s next, language needs to be involved. There is no good or bad “out there”; good or bad only exist in language.Images require a substrate of language to have meaning beyond being a pretty picture.
In TLOP, what the authors are proposing is this. If you leave the past in the past, that is to say, if you do what you need to do to complete the past for yourself, while being informed by the past, you can create a future to live into. Remember, the way you see life in the present, what you think and feel, and the way you act, are given by the future into which you are living.
All this is great in theory but needs self -discipline and focus at every opportunity to gain a mastery of. As someone said, ” If things were easy, word would have got around!”
P.S. I am intrigued by the Jacques Hadamard book quoted by you and look forward to reading it at the first opportunity.
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Thank you for this further detail Shakti; I greatly appreciate the care you have taken in responding.
“The other half of the strategy is to attempt to succeed by polishing that set repertoire for being and acting, and seeking out opportunities in which we can succeed by utilizing our set repertoire.” – This is territory covered in exemplary manner by Erving Goffman in his renowned work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and which unpacks what you are calling our ‘set repertoire’, analysing it in terms of it being a nurtured dramaturgical performance, one that very often serves a purpose beyond what is strictly necessary for the task at hand, such as cultivating confidence and belief in the performer’s ability, status manipulation, and so forth.
The issue of whether or not language is an entirely necessary substrate for (the genesis of) conceptual thought is, as far as I know, somewhat undecided. Some, such as Daniel Dennett, say that it is, whilst others are less convinced. If you read Hadamard’s analysis of psychological invention, detailing accounts as given by the great minds of the inventors, then one can see that the subconscious, which does not overtly utilise language of course, is where the work gets done, so to speak. Obviously, by its very nature we do not know what the mind is doing in formulating conceptual frameworks beneath the level of consciousness, and it may be that the same neural networks are used as are for language manipulation.
Many thanks once again Shakti,
Hi Shakti….A very timely piece indeed…I have been weighted down by frustration lately as I watch the world continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Right now over here in the U.S. we are dealing with racism run amok, violent protesting, cities burning and police brutality on fire. Everyone has their ideas as to how to fix this mess and yet if one has the ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ one can see that the problems will continue because we are not killing the weed at the root, just the upper leaves. I see it a bit differently than your authors, but then again maybe it is the same thing just being expressed by different words. No money, new schools, new housing,new policing laws, nothing will solve this problem because it is an issue of societies consciousness remaining stuck in the past and not raising up and moving forward into the new paradigm. We are looking at these problems through the same eyes we viewed them eons ago. We are using the same language as your authors pointed out, nothing has changed in our performance what so ever. We are still thinking the same way we did when the problems first erupted. I see the problem now as being a great many more people wanting to make things different now, a great many caring more for all of humanity as one, but not knowing how to get beyond where they are stuck. We need your authors to join together with other like minds and create a simplified book that everybody can understand and follow to find their way free of the trap they are stuck in. I think humanity is on the brink of this break through, they just need help in finding that way out. Thanks for sharing this timely post!!! Blessings…V.K.
As always, great to see your lovely comment here.
What I get from your comment are two important points. First, we as a society, are conditioned to go after the symptoms rather than tackle the underlying fundamental issues. Secondly, we continue to view and engage with the emerging problems with the eyes and mindset of the past.
Taking your second point first, what you have said is fundamentally aligned to what the authors have said in their book. Getting to your first point, I suppose the societal conditioning is really due to the need to ‘show that we have been fast on the draw and are doing something’ rather than holding accountability to comprehensively resolve the issue.
As a leader ( I use this word because the issues in the US you have spoken about are really in the realm of Socio-political leadership),you and the people you are leading can only create a new future to live into if you first do what you need to do to complete the past for yourselves.
Before you can ‘Take the Past out Of the Future’, the listening you provide must “get up on the mat” the almost certain future, that is, the future actually being lived into.This is really where, I believe most leaderships we see around us failing, whatever the compulsions.
In my view ( and what the authors also say) that’s the one that has to be taken out of the future for there to be room for a “created future”. However, in order to do that you will probably first have to get up on the mat some or all of what the people you are leading have to say about:
a) the way things are,
b) why they are that way,
c) what’s wrong with all that, the solutions that they have had,
d) and the hoped-for or dreamt-of future,
e) the resigned-to or worried-about or feared future,
f) the future that they’ve been given by authority,
g) and the we-will-work-hard-for-it future.
and anything else that they are stuck with that could get in the way of being able to realistically confront the future that they are actually living into, the almost certain future – the future that gets in the way of creating a “created future”.
Cheers and blessings.
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It sure will not be happening overnight Shakti…The people have much work to do to get there. I’d like to think we will see it in our life time but maybe not….All we can do is keep trying and fix ourselves first…….Be well friend and have a great week ahead…VK 🙂
Indeed the place to start is, as you say, “… fix ourselves first.” It is only when we ourselves live in a space can we authentically and powerfully invites others to do so.
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