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Unconstrained Thinking
-- Make Mountains of Molehills

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece, col-umnist Tom Friedman wrote about one of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's rules for Washington -- something along the lines of "If you’re having difficulty dealing with small problems, make them bigger."

If you think about it, solving small problems by turning them into large ones makes sense for a number of reasons. First, you can get a lot more sense of urgency (from those who need to be involved in the solution) for a big problem than for a small one. Taking the bigger picture allows you to transform your small problem into a symptom of a bigger, deeper issue -- one that also involves symptoms felt by others. If solving the big global problem solves some local problem for others, then there’s something in it for them as well.

Second, the assumptions or paradigms that you are stuck in related to your small problem may not be as evident until you step back and determine why your little problem is a problem. It's probably a problem because it’s preventing you from doing something bigger and better, or it’s forcing you to do something that you would rather not do, blocking that bigger and better stuff. Looking at the situation in terms of the bigger objective may provide paths maybe not through the smaller problem, but around it.

Third, imbedded in both of the previous reasons is the implication that erroneous assumptions are preventing the discovery of the smaller solution. Make it bigger, and you expand the number of blocking assumptions, and therefore, the number of possible solutions. In the world of TOC, the analytical thinking tool known as the Current Reality Tree is one path to understanding individual, smaller symptoms or problems in context with others. Through it, root cause assumptions responsible for many problems can be surprisingly easily identified.

Finally, if the first three reasons for making mountains out of molehills don’t persuade you, keep in mind that solving big problems is usually a lot more valuable than solving small ones.

Think about it . . .

©2002, Frank Patrick

A system...is anything that takes its integrity and form from the ongoing interactions of its parts...Systems are defined by the fact that their elements have a common purpose and behave in a common way, precisely because they are interrelated toward that purpose. - Peter Senge

This is one of a series of columns on improvement, TOC, constraint management, change management, systems thinking, uncommon sense, and whatever else comes into my mind. Suggestions for topics are welcome. - FP, 908-874-8664 or via the contact page of this site.

If you are interested in using these 1/2-page columns for your APICS, ASQ, PMI, or IIE newsletter, let me know through the same channels, and I'll send you the more easily usable MS Word versions.

-- Frank Patrick


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Unconstrained Thinking Index

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