Absurd!: Most Problems are Not Problems

by Ron Potter

95cdfeefI’m continuing my series on an in-depth look at a wonderful little book that’s twenty years old this year.  The title is Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson.  You may want to consider dropping back and reading the previous posts about ABSURD!  I think it will put each new one in great context.

Chapter 6 is titled: Most Problems That People Have are Not Problems

Farson calls this problems vs predicaments.  Problems can be solved; predicaments can only be coped with.  He goes on to say “Most of the affairs of life, particularly the most intimate and important ones are complicated, inescapable dilemmas – predicaments where no options look very good or better than any others.”

Horns of a dilemma

To me the key word is right in the middle of that statement: dilemmas!  You’ve heard the old adage “on the horns of a dilemma.”  It literally meant for you to think about your predicament as the horns of a bull.  The reality is that you’re going to get gored either way!  All you can do is to pick which horn will do the goring.

Right vs Right

In his book Primes Chris McGoff describes these issues as “right vs right.”  They are not right vs wrong, that’s a problem to be fixed.  They are right vs right.  Either way is equally right (or wrong) but you have no other options, you must choose one direction and commit to it.

Solving a Predicament makes it worse

Farson continues to say, “A problem is created by something going wrong, by a mistake, defect, disease, or a bad experience.  When we find the cause, we can correct it.  A predicament, however, paradoxical as it may seem, is more likely to be created by conditions that we highly value.  That is why we can only cope with it.  Thus, a predicament is often made worse when we treat it as a problem.”

Frame the Issue Properly

In the corporate world most predicaments and dilemmas are framed as right vs wrong problems.  People end up on one side or the other and will argue in favor of their point of view and the demise of the opposing point of view.  But as Farson states that makes the issue all that much worse.

Be very careful to frame your issue correctly.  Is it a problem that can actually be fixed?  Or should we understand it as a predicament or dilemma that requires choosing between two rights or two wrongs?  If we can only frame it properly we’ll be much more successful at coping with difficult situations.

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