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Taking Advantage of Resistance to Change (and the TOC Thinking Processes) to Improve Improvements (Part 2)

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Addressing Layer 1 – Lack of agreement on the problem

— The Core Conflict Cloud (CCC) and the Current Reality Tree (CRT)

The lack of agreement on a problem can have several sources. As a result, there are several steps involved in overcoming this layer. Some of those sources include the distraction of local symptoms and the resultant inability to see a common actionable cause, and a problem definition that fails to clarify that disconnect and therefore triggers the “What’s in it for me?” question.

Every member of the team has ideas and opinions about what is wrong with the organization and what is needed to set it on the right road. Those ideas and opinions come from the very real experience they have encountered. The organization is, to some degree, sick (or in some cases, just not quite as fit as it could be). The members of such an organization suffer from symptoms of that infirmity. With historical local focus, it’s probably the symptoms that have gotten the most attention, leaving little time or energy to diagnose and deal with the deeper cause. If the deeper cause isn’t dealt with, the symptoms keep coming back in the form of chronic day-to-day issues and problems. We get to know a lot about the symptoms.

In order to agree on the real problem facing the organization — in order to fully support a particular diagnosis — it must be clear to all members of the team that their most troubling local symptoms are rooted in that problem. If not, then “what’s in it for me” to support and work for its solution will not be clear. That lack of clarity will lead to a lack of buy-in and a lack of whole-hearted support for the resulting solution.

And that makes sense. After all, if it is not a solution for them — if it does not address their symptoms — how can it be a solution for the organization of which they are a part? So their bad experiences, their chronic symptoms, and their regular and repeated fire-fighting exercises associated with the subject at hand must be a piece of the diagnosis if they are expected to support the cure. And for a cure to take, they must support it.

For logical analysis, problems are most productively thought of as dilemmas. Any problem can be stated in terms of a conflict or conflicts between what are perceived to be necessary conditions of the system that's involved. A problem can be described in terms of the sense of being forced to choose between two seemingly necessary but conflicting actions. Along the same lines, one may feel forced to oscillate between or unsatisfactorily compromise between those actions. A problem is most often the result of feeling caught “between a rock and a hard place,” on the “horns of a dilemma,” or even “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” (Such a variety of colorful clichés must have some basis in reality.)

The Thinking Process tool that can help one define a problem is the Evaporating Cloud (the name of which relates to the cloud or fog one can find oneself in when stuck in a dilemma or conflict). For this purpose, the cloud takes on the following necessity logic form:

Evaporating Cloud

and is read:

In order to have objective A, we must have necessary condition B.

In order to have necessary condition B, we must take undesirable action D.

In order to have objective A, we must have necessary condition C.

In order to have necessary condition C, we must take action D'.

But actions D and D' are in conflict.

Also known as a conflict cloud, a dilemma cloud, or a conflict resolution diagram, the Evaporating Cloud provides a solvable verbalization of a conflicted situation. Solvable is defined as “win-win” in terms of satisfying the necessary conditions B and C without succumbing to the D-D' conflict.

Experience in the use of this tool has shown that if a group can verbalize the various individual local dilemmas that they face in dealing with both their day-to-day and long-term efforts, the results can go a long way to delivering considerable understanding of their “global, systemic” situation. A group's behavior (its culture as well as its practices) is defined by the accumulation of these dilemmas and how they tend to resolve them.

It may sound strange, but when you look at these dilemmas together, no matter from how dissimilar the original problem statements seem, they tend to exhibit a “fractal” nature in their self-similarity. There is very often (actually almost always) some generic conflict/dilemma of the larger system that they can be translated to — the Core Conflict Cloud (CCC). When this root cause conflict is identified and addressed appropriately, it can lead quickly to a coherent and consistent set of actions (including appropriate training, measures, and policies) that will result in the mitigation, if not elimination, of the various individual issues being faced throughout the organization.

It’s one thing to identify a Core Conflict Cloud, but it’s another to translate that into “agreement on the problem.” Very often, the Core Conflict Cloud is built from a subset of individual problem clouds. While its mere verbalization can sometimes be enough to get to agreement of the problem, in order to absolutely assure buy-in of those suffering from other symptoms not included in the Core Conflict Cloud process, a clear connection needs to be made from the core conflict to their problems. The “sufficiency logic” – the “if…, then…” cause and effect relationships linking the conflict to the individual problems needs to be built. This is where the second tool – the Current Reality Tree (CRT) comes in.

The CRT is a sufficiency-based logic (if…then…) tool that is used to fully describe an existing situation – the current problematic reality. Its purpose is to understand (to the level of detail necessary for the group to achieve consensus) how the various issues and problems they face are related to each other, to their policies, measurements, and practices and to the generic/root/core conflict identified through the process described above. This understanding is not only invaluable in assuring agreement on the problem, but also provides the guidance for developing a solution, as understanding why situation X leads to an undesirable Y provides guidance for inserting new actions to either replace or modify X or to cause it to result in a favorable Z instead.

The structure of a CRT consists of connected clusters of statements associated with the situation. The connections are “if…then…” or “if…and if…and if…then…” cause and effect relationships. Graphically, they are statements connected by arrows. These clusters are strung together as effects become causes of other effects until the undesirable effects – the original collection of problems – are shown to be effects of the causal core conflict. The CRT has at it's base a variant of a core conflict cloud, and higher up in the tree, most if not all of the subject matter's stake holders' symptoms/problems/issues linked in as effects stemming from stuff the root.

A well-built CRT will confirm that your suspect core conflict (or a modification of it) is indeed at the root of the originally identified problems and it will serve as guidance for developing a new view of future reality (vision) to replace the current. It will do so because along the way from core conflict cause to the individual problems, it should contain various policies, measurements, and resulting behaviors that are in response to some aspect of the reality, but are also at the root of the original problems. At least partially, the solution will involve dealing with these dysfunctional practices.

The combination of the core/root/generic conflict (expressed as an Evaporating Cloud) and the confirmation of the CRT linking it to the particular range of issues facing the group will provide “agreement on the (real) problem” and answer the first question that needs to be addressed – What to change?


This article was originally presented at and included in the proceedings of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) Solutions Conference (Dallas, May, 2001) by Francis S. "Frank" Patrick of Focused Performance. It is broken down here into sections for ease of reading on-line. For off-line reading and sharing, it can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format at resistancetext.pdf. The associated presentation handout can also be downloaded at resistanceslides.pdf.

Part 1 -- Abstract, Introduction, and Underlying Concepts of the TOC Thinking Processes

Part 2 -- Layer 1 -- Lack of agreement on the problem
-- The Core Conflict Cloud (CCC) and the Current Reality Tree (CRT)

Part 3 -- Layer 2 -- Lack of direction for a solution
-- Evaporating the Core Conflict Cloud

Part 4 -- Layer 3 -- Lack of agreement that the solution will truly address the problem
-- The Future Reality Tree (FRT)

Part 5 -- Layer 4 -- Concern that the solution will lead to new undesirable side effects
-- The Negative Branch Reservation (NBR)

Part 6 -- Layer 5 -- Lack of a clear path around obstacles to the solution
-- The Prerequisite Tree (PRT) and Transition Tree (TT)

Part 7 -- Layer 6 -- Lack of follow-through even after agreement to proceed with the solution
-- Unverbalized fear or concerns

Part 8 --Summary -- Layers of Resistance and Thinking Process tools to deal with them
-- What to change?
-- To what to change to?
-- How to make the change happen?


Find the essence of each situation, like a logger clearing a log jam. The pro climbs a tall tree and locates the key log, and blows it, and lets the stream do the rest. An amateur would start at the edge of the jam and move all the logs, eventually moving the key log. Both approaches work, but the essence concept saves time and effort. Almost all problems have a key log if we learn to find it. - Fred Smith, Founder of Federal Express

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