Jack Martin Leith hosting a Knowledge Café at European Sharing on Systems Thinking, Prague, Czech Republic

A tough problem is a strategic or operational challenge you don’t yet know how to tackle. You probably have one on your plate at this very moment.

This is how you know you’re looking at a tough problem:

  • High levels of complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty are present.
  • There are multiple stakeholders, each with their own unique perspective and agenda.
  • There is no agreement about the fundamental nature of the problem, and there is no common language for discussing it.
  • The desired outcome is disputed, unclear or unknown.
  • There is no consensus about what type of intervention (change management, design thinking, internal communication, coaching, learning and development, organization design, conflict resolution, business model innovation etc.) is likely to be effective.
  • New ways of thinking, working and relating are prerequisites for success.
  • You know you need external assistance, but none of your usual service providers is right for the job.
  • Immediate action is called for.
+ Problem examples
Here are three fictional examples from the world of advertising:
“In order to satisfy the rapidly changing needs of our clients, I want to merge our six operating units — creative, media, digital, data & analytics, PR, and branding — into a single business, with one identity, one CEO, one P&L and one office. However, I know that if I implement this plan our divisional CEOs will head straight for the exit. But if I don’t pursue this course of action our clients will head in the same direction and we’ll be out of business.
How can we escape from this Catch-22 situation?”
Note: I devised this example before the restructuring of Ogilvy’s UK business was announced. Any similarity is coincidental.
“We’re under pressure to reinvent our business model, but alternative forms of remuneration still bring us nose-to-nose with the client’s procurement people. They’ve no idea how great ideas come into being, they scrutinize every aspect of the project, and they screw us on price. Margins are shrinking and we’re finding it increasingly hard to do our best work.
How can we change the game?”

“Tentative plans to move our office to an unfashionable part of the city have leaked onto the grapevine. Discontent is running high and the partisan faction is growing. There are rumours that some of our most talented creatives are being courted by Accenture and Deloitte (who are already eating away at our client base), while a couple of senior people are said to be thinking about starting their own agency. But the move is essential if we’re to improve our ailing P&L.
What’s the best way of responding to this situation?”

Note: I had no knowledge of what follows when I devised this example and any similarity is coincidental: “Omnicom is believed to have looked at offices in Croydon, way out of central London, before settling on its new Southwark Street HQ (with no river view alas) but senior management revolted.” Source: More About Advertising.
My colleagues and I provide the generalist outlook and specialist know-how needed to transform your tough problems into ambitious outcomes, thereby generating maximum value for clients or customers, other stakeholders, wider society, and — as a natural consequence — your enterprise.

We employ a generative, multidisciplinary, methodology-neutral approach called problem transformation. This is a way of perceiving and responding to problems such that ambitious outcomes are achieved, widespread value is generated, and the value creation capability of the enterprise is increased.

Problem transformation is altogether different from problem solving, which does nothing more than eradicate a troublesome state of affairs and restore the status quo.

Problem transformation exponents reject the status quo and create a new reality in which the problematic situation no longer exists. Creating this new reality requires a shift in perception — to seeing possibility where others see limitation.

Read more about problem transformation

Modus operandi

Leith SP undertakes ‘special ops’ projects that require unorthodox thinking and radical action in order to accomplish ambitious results within a limited timeframe.

Usually I work alone or with one or more of my inner circle of independent consultants, each of whom is a generalist with particular specialisms. Our combined knowledge, expertise and experience covers most of the bases, including whole systems change, innovation, leadership development, business strategy, and integrated marketing.

We are not wedded to any conceptual framework or set of techniques, and each of us moves fluidly between the roles of advisor, coach, intervention designer, event producer, facilitator, idea originator, interviewer, project manager, provocateur, researcher, strategist, teacher, thinking partner, and torchbearer.

When required, I form a larger team with members handpicked from the inner circle and a wider network of specialist service providers.

Leith SP talent pool

The network encompasses Ph.Ds, academics, alumni of big consulting firms, former clients, and several well-known management authors.

They are among the best in their respective fields, which include internal communication, lean startup, service design, intellectual property law, digital workplace, and organization design.

These are some of the ways in which we might help you respond to your tough problem:

  • Discuss the problem over a cup of tea (a seemingly trivial remark can alter the course of events).
  • Interrogate and enhance the brief.
  • Convene a critical meeting.
  • Design and facilitate a ‘whole system in the room’ intervention.
  • Orchestrate an extended programme of multi-stakeholder collaborative action.

A major collaborative project of this kind begins with a joint exploration that provides each team member with a deep understanding of the problem-in-context, and gives the team a shared language for discussing it.

We are then ready to challenge assumptions, expose phantom constraints, identify genuine constraints, and devise effective ways of transcending them. Bold and persistent collaborative action follows.

With your ambitious outcomes accomplished, widespread value generated and the problem consigned to history, your enterprise is now better equipped to survive and prosper in a turbulent and unpredictable operating environment — one that demands constant innovation, reinvention and renewal.

Leith SP conducts special projects that turn tough problems into ambitious outcomes and widespread value
Enrich the world
Keep it real
Do or die
Deep reconnaissance
Unconstrained thinking
Bold action

I want to pass along a piece of advice that Bill Clinton offered me a little over a decade ago.
Well, actually, when he said it, it felt less like advice and more like a direct order.
What he said was: “Turn toward the problems you see.”
It seemed kind of simple at the time, but the older I get, the more wisdom I see in this.
And that’s what I want to urge you to do today: turn toward the problems you see.
And don’t just turn toward them. Engage with them. Walk right up to them, look them in the eye … then look yourself in the eye and decide what you’re going to do about them.
Matt Damon
Matt Damon | view source
All action is premature until it’s too late.
David Bernstein
David Bernstein, co-founder of The Creative Business

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