Episteme

Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

The Problem With Solutions

In a recent entry, I wrote about The Problem with Problems and my discomfort with both "problem solving" and "solution finding".

I recently took some classes toward a certification in Solution-Focused Therapy. While talking to Linda about it, she pointed out that the act of searching for a solution presupposes the existence of a problem that needs to be solved - focusing on the solution is simply looking at the other side of the same coin, rather than asking yourself whether this is the coin that you want to be looking at.

And, again, Kegan and Lahey came to the rescue at exactly the right moment with the perfect explanation:

"If some of our problems are actually lessons, are actually stories to learn from, in solving problems... we risk losing the lesson or making the moral of the story disappear. We would be better off, it turns out, not solving some problems, but sticking with them in hopes that they can "solve us""

This is similar to the concept I discussed earlier around following the evidence that a problem provides towards deeper, underlying systemic issues. But, even beyond that, the realization that the "solutions" that we see are designed mostly to keep us within the same system is an important one.

We have all heard the oft-quoted statement that Einstein made around solutions:
"No problem can be solved by the same mind that created it".

But that's not the end of the story - I believe that Albert (who was a master of discussing frames of reference) would have agreed with the following statement:

"All solutions are created within the same frame of reference as the problem that they solve"

While it's trite to say that we solve problems by "thinking outside the box", I don't believe that it's possible to create an "outside the box" solution to a problem. Sometimes, you can make the problem disappear by changing the frame (or box), but you can't solve the problem outside the frame in which it was created.

Some may say that this is an issue of semantics, but there's a more profound meaning here: when solving a problem, we are implicitly accepting the systems and frames in which the problem exists. By changing those systems and frames, it is sometimes possible to make a "problem" go away without solving it - or, more often, to realize that the "problem" isn't what you really think it is. And that the solution you would have arrived at would simply have reinforced an ineffective or inappropriate frame.

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray