Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 52;   December 28, 2016: Problem Displacement by Intention

Problem Displacement by Intention

by

When solving problems creates new problems, or creates problems elsewhere, we say that problem displacement has occurred. Sometimes it's intentional.
The city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

The city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea. According to WebCite, the walls, which surround the town, are about two kilometers long, and up to four to six meters thick on the landward side. In places, they are 25 meters high. Defensive structures of this kind also served as symbols of the power and invulnerability of the protected towns.

The modern analog of the walled town is the gated community. Although the perimeter defenses of a gated community do serve to reduce crime within the perimeter, they do nothing to reduce the crime rate in the larger environment. They therefore serve to displace the crime problem from within the perimeter to the environs.

As we saw last time, solving problems sometimes creates new problems. This phenomenon is called problem displacement (PD), though as I mentioned, the newly created problem or problems can be very different from the original problem. When that happens, problem replacement (PR) is probably a more accurate term. Although both PD and PR are often unintentional, they can also be most intentional indeed.

Below are some examples of intentional PD or PR in the organizational setting. In these fictitious examples, the Iris project needs (but doesn't have) a team member with knowledge of the (fictitious) HSL programming environment. The Hibiscus project does have HSL experts and often works with HSL. The Carnation project generally competes with Iris for staff and other resources. The Daffodil project depends on Carnation. Summary: Carnation Competes with Iris, Hibiscus has HSL experts, Daffodil Depends on Carnation, and Iris is Independent, but lacks HSL expertise.

PD for damage control
Suppose that Carnation's team member, Houdini, has truly magical HSL skills. If Iris is higher priority than Carnation, the sponsors and project managers of Carnation and Iris might agree to temporarily assign Houdini to Iris instead of Carnation. Overall it isn't a good solution, but it is the least bad.
Iris no longer has an HSL skill shortage; now Carnation does. Staff reassignments like this are examples of intentional problem displacement.
PR as a problem-solving approach
In some cases of staff reassignment, the "donor" project can accommodate the temporary reassignment, with minimal sacrifice, because both the donor and receptor project managers can cleverly rearrange their schedules.
Instead of solving the receptor's problem alone, donor and receptor solve their shared staff problem together. Replacing the original problem with a new problem makes a painless solution possible.
PD as a problem-solving approach
In an example of problem displacement, Iris transfers the HSL work to the Hibiscus project, which is heavily involved with HSL. Hibiscus is willing to take on the work (and budget) because it fits so well with what they're already doing. This eliminates the need to reassign Houdini.
Some problems are actually in the wrong "place" when we first notice them. We can solve them using problem displacement.
PD or PR as a political weapon
Suppose that Iris's Problem displacement that threatens
the health and success of the
enterprise is not uncommon
sponsor, Irv, regards Carnation's sponsor, Cheryl, as a rival. In what many would consider a breach of ethics, Irv tries to get Houdini reassigned from Carnation to Iris, not only because he needs Houdini's HSL expertise, but also because the reassignment will threaten his rival Cheryl's success.
This would be intentional, nefarious problem displacement. It threatens the health and success of the enterprise, and it is not uncommon. In a more sophisticated version, Irv's real target is Dan, who leads Daffodil, which depends on Carnation. By disrupting Carnation, Irv disrupts Daffodil.

By now I hope it's clear that so-called "unintended consequences" are not always unintended. When next you hear of unintended consequences, think carefully. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: More Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrensBgYyKHTasRnYVXgner@ChacKnnWVBAyhpMoWkRaoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

A cup of coffeeHelp for Asking for Help
When we ask for help, from peers or from those with organizational power, we have some choices. How we go about it can determine whether we get the help we need, in time for the help to help.
A team raises a wall of a new home sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentOrganizing a Barn Raising
Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning. Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnnoyance to Asset
Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the groundNew Ideas: Generation
When groups work together to solve problems, they employ three processes repeatedly: they generate ideas, they judge those ideas, and they experiment with those ideas. We first examine idea generation.
A collaboration session in a modern workplaceRationalizing Creativity at Work: I
Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An informal meeting geometryComing November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
A beefsteak, with some amount of fatAnd on November 28: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenFyQhRcDYVFvSxkQpner@ChacMNHhKkczLxlQSpfyoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.