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 uncommonsponsor, 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
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- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before
the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
- Project Improvisation and Risk Management
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and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
- Workplace Politics and Type III Errors
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lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
- Tackling Hard Problems: I
- Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project.
Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps.
See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
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- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
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