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

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

Ice cream barMake Space for Serendipity
Serendipity in project management is rare, in part, because we're under too much pressure to see it. If we can reduce the pressure, wonderful things happen.
Captain Robert F. Scott and most of his team returning from the South PoleProject Improvisation and Risk Management
When reality trips up our project plans, we improvise or we replan. When we do, we create new risks and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaDecisions: How Looping Back Helps
Group decision-making often proceeds through a series of steps including forming a list of options, researching them, ranking them, reducing them, and finally selecting one. Often, this linear approach yields disappointing results. Why?
Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind hereStrategic Waiting
Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option.
Egyptian forces cross a bridge over the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973, during the Arab-Israeli WarGuidelines for Curmudgeon Teams
The curmudgeon team is a subgroup of a larger team. Their job is to strengthen the team's conclusions and results by raising thorny issues that cause the team to reconsider the path it's about to take. In this way they help the team avoid dead ends and disasters.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Delicate Arch, a 60-foot tall (18 m) freestanding natural archComing November 20: Paid-Time-Off Risks
Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important. Available here and by RSS on November 20.
What an implicit interrogation can look likeAnd on November 27: Implicit Interrogations
Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers

On 14The Race
to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program.

Here's a date for this program:

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 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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.