If I’m stressed and run into a really difficult situation I behave rather irrationally (read panic) and my first response is usually very ineffective. Escaping problems or not solving them at all is a rather ineffective but commonly used. More often we want to use another approach in order to reach a more sustainable solution.

Absolving

This absolving strategy, which is more popularly referred to as sticking your head in the sand is amazingly widespread. Probably because it’s cheap to use and quite efficient and sometimes problems do disappear and solve themselves. More often it is a very ineffective way as ignored problems tend to reappear. In my professional life I am generally not interested in absolving at all, so I opt for something slightly more sophisticated.

Resolving

Under moderate levels of stress I usually default to applying previously used and known solutions. Sometimes that works but sometimes it doesn’t. This applying of a previously known solutions with proven effects is also known as resolving. In my case it might be rebooting a computer to mitigate a memory leak or maybe yelling at people that aren’t listening in order to get their immediate attention.

Solving

As we move away from efficient and towards more effective problem solving we come across solving. We analyze, experiment and we try to foresee where our actions lead us. This approach is often viewed as the ultimate technique to solve problems and unsurprisingly this is what is taught in most schools. In my opinion solving is not the ultimate strategy and it gets a lot more attention than it deserves. It’s reactive nature does not only leads us to lengthy discussions but more importantly the solved problem rarely stays solved and solutions tend to produce new problems, even harder to solve.

Dissolving

There is however a fourth technique, which I advocate. Dissolving, or — the technique of making sure a problem can never exist.

- How do you avoid spending time sorting socks?
- You buy one colored, one sized socks of the same brand.

This technique eliminates a problem or the conditions that created it. It is redisign over re-use, it is about changing the structures, context and conditions where people act. It is about creating a place where we can do better tomorrow instead of getting the best out of our current situation.

Which technique do you currently use the most, and more importantly — Why do you use that technique?

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About Ola Ellnestam

Agile Coach, Systems developer, Agile Practitioner and father of three.

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