Beyond A One-Trick Pony – Problem Solving That Works


In our highly complex world it is quite natural for us to crave simple quick-fix solutions. But as a result we may oversimplify the remedy for human problems with slogans like,

“Just say no” – which supposedly was the solution to drug addiction.

“Give us our country back” – the purported political answer to a complex immigration challenge. This is at times a veiled way of saying, “make America white again” (As if it was always white.)

The problem with such seemingly clear solutions is that they don’t usually work.

 For instance, a person addicted to drugs cannot “just say no”. They take the drug that eventually takes them. You cannot “will” your way out of an addiction.

Even if we stopped immigration to the USA today there are still more brown babies being born that white babies. We cannot legislate ourselves out of the need to balance identity with diversity.

In all instances the proponents of such views are like a pony with one trick or practitioner with one solution. Granted each may have part of the solution to the problem for some people some of the time. But not to all people all of the time.

Ultimately a single solution approach can reduce us to simplistic thinking, lead to an aversion for objective facts, and leave a huge block of the population in the lurch.

So beware of those who proclaim “all you need is!”

 Living Beyond the Simplistic

Learning a more comprehensive approach to our problems implies that we,

  • Recognize the depth of our addiction to quick answers

This has been named the “bumper sticker” syndrome. Just examine any of the social media outlets that are filled with such slogans.

  • Realize that there are evidence-based solutions

Consider some of life’s thorniest problems like the reasons for personal happiness. Scientific evidence indicates that those that making a meaningful contribution to the common good and who have healthy social networks are the people most likely to be happy.

  • Acknowledge the complexity of most of the challenges we face.

For example, healthy living comes from more than just jogging and eating well. Nor is health just based on case studies from the longevity of a few outliers like Jack Lalanne.

  • Learn to tolerate ambiguity

Here we need to live the questions rather than just having the answers. A sign of maturity is the capacity to live gracefully in the face of ambiguity. Let’s face it, most of life falls into the gray zone.

  • Pay the price of bucking the “one solution” system.

One does not win popularity contests or enhance one’s marketing campaign by subscribing to points 1-4. Imagine telling your boss that the quick answer she wants is not immediately available but you need time for a deeper root cause analysis.

  • Balance our rapid analytic thinking with slower more deliberate thought

At times we need to slow down before we move ahead. This includes unconscious processes as sometimes revealed in dreams. Note also how many problems find solutions when you are not working on them or while you are jogging.

  • Adopt a multi-modal diverse approach to dealing with challenges

Broadening your horizons in your search for knowledge must include the examination of philosophy, theology, literature, the arts, the quiet of nature, exposure to other cultures, and other disciplines/positions outside of your own. Be willing to change your position in the light of new and more compelling data.

Instead of having a pony that only manages to pull off one trick, expand the range of capabilities that go outside of your as well as the pony’s comfort zone.





About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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