Have you ever noticed that certain problems have elusive, unidentifiable elements confounding your efforts?
I first encountered this when I was in my first year as a school teacher. No matter what I tried I couldn’t convince a certain student to come to school regularly. I tried bribes (gift cards the student couldn’t use due to lack of transportation to the store). I tried threats (detention which the student also did not attend). I tried calling home (no parents around and phone was often disconnected).
I realize now there were other factors impacting the problem; home relationships, peer relationships, nutrition, poverty, sleep/stress, mental health, transportation, literacy, and learning challenges. I was using simple solutions for a complex problem.
It’s easy to get caught in the clutter and bramble of the problem and forget to step back and assess whether it is simple, complicated or complex. I find the lists below useful as a first step.
- requires expertise, experience and relationships.
- begins with an uncertain outcome.
- attempts to understand how the components of the problem and solution inter-relate and intersect.
- cannot be identically replicated in another context.
- challenges established rules and protocols.
- is emergent and dynamic.
- ‘raise a child’
- requires expertise and experience.
- begins with a predictable outcome.
- specifies the separate parts of the solution and how they fit together.
- can be replicated by following the lessons learned in previous attempts.
- relies on established rules and protocols.
- ‘build a rocket’
- does not require expertise, experience or relationships.
- begins with a definite assured outcome.
- has a prescriptive set of steps or process.
- can be replicated if the same steps are followed each time.
- ‘bake a cake’