From red to green

Originated by Jack Martin Leith, problem transformation is the practice of transforming tough problems into ambitious outcomes and widespread value.

A tough problem is a high stakes issue you don’t know how to tackle. You probably have one on your plate at this very moment.

How you know you’re looking at a tough problem

Traditional approaches to problem solving often do little more than eliminate a troublesome state of affairs and restore the status quo.

Problem transformation is a completely different approach, inspired by the conflict transformation philosophy and practice pioneered by John Paul Lederach and Johan Galtung.

Conflict transformation pursues the development of change processes which explicitly focus on creating positives from the difficult or negative. It encourages greater understanding of underlying relational and structural patterns while building creative solutions that improve relationships.

View the article by John Paul Lederach containing this excerpt

Wikipedia: Conflict transformation

Problem transformation practitioners shun the status quo and create a new reality, one in which the problematic situation ceases to exist. Creating this new reality requires a shift in perception, to seeing possibility where others see limitation.

Problem transformation is a multidisciplinary practice employing a wide range of theories, models and methods. It is not a hammer looking for nails to whack.

The project usually starts with a meeting in which stakeholders reach a shared understanding of the problem and the fullest context in which it is situated.

The problem is then reframed as an opportunity to generate substantial stakeholder value. Constraints are identified and ways of eliminating them are devised.

The intervention might be a one-to-one conversation (a seemingly trivial remark can alter the course of events), our participation in a critical meeting, the design, production and facilitation of a ‘whole system in the room’ gathering, a programme of sustained collaborative action, a Sabre (small action, big result) intervention, or something altogether different.

Read more about how a problem transformation project starts and proceeds
Jack and one of his inner circle colleagues facilitate a project startup meeting in which the problem owner and relevant stakeholders:

Share their various perceptions of the problematic situation.

Depict a new reality where the problematic situation has been eliminated and significant value is being generated across the stakeholder spectrum.

Identify the constraints that are preventing the manifestation of the new reality.

A project team is then established. Its composition may need to be modified as the project proceeds.

Jack and selected members of the talent pool work alongside the project team in order to:

Eliminate the constraints, eradicate the problem and manifest the new reality.

Generate the greatest amount of value for the greatest number of beneficiaries.

Expand the problem transformation capability of the team or the entire organisation.

This short presentation about problem transformation also appears on the home page. Swipe left or use the arrows to view all 16 slides:
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Read more about the practice of problem transformation

View selected quotes about problems and problem solving
Insights from Robert Fritz, Humberto Maturana, Russell Ackoff, and James Wilk