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Solving Tough Problems

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Solving Tough Problems

An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

High-stakes, complex problems can be solved many ways, such as scenario analysis, but it helps if people will listen.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Well Structured
  • Overview


This is a very unusual business strategy book on an esoteric topic: solving complex problems with scenario planning and analysis. Author Adam Kahane also discusses how change occurs in complicated social systems. Kahane, a conflict resolution consultant, shares a pivotal skill he learned at his former jobs with Royal Dutch/Shell and Pacific Gas & Electric. He learned how to address tangled problems with scenario analysis. He tried and, as his case histories testify, did not often succeed - to solve daunting problems in intractably troubled places, such as Paraguay, Colombia, South Africa and the Middle East. He admits his approach does not always work, though he has rare successes and frequent insights. Some of his strategy’s separate steps, such as scenario planning and story telling, seem to function well on their own, but he has a tendency to de-link theory and practice. getAbstract recommends this unusual, instructive book to conflict managers, strategic planning executives and citizens who want to learn why profound national change must start at the individual level.


Tough Problems, Tough Solutions

How can people solve high-stakes, tough, complicated problems peacefully? That is a pressing question in today’s complex, violent world. Many straightforward problems get solved by leaders who use their authority and expertise. When the problems become more complex, involving more feuding parties with more at stake - land, prestige, money, faith, loss of face - perhaps only force can solve them. Experts discuss the complexity of problems in terms of three distinct categories:

1. High or Low Dynamic Complexity

Dynamic complexity describes the link between time and space or between cause and effect, which may leave very little negotiating room. Detecting the cause of a problem with high dynamic complexity may be hard, because it stems from a remote distance and a former time. For example, consider how deeply China’s standard of living was affected by devaluation of Japan’s yen.

2. High or Low Generative Complexity

Problems with low generative complexity can be solved quickly because their future paths are predictable. This happens in cultures where problems are dealt with through readily recognized, capable formal...

About the Author

Adam Kahane is a founding partner of Generon Consulting and the Global Leadership Initiative. During the early-1990s, he headed Social, Political, Economic and Technological Scenarios for a major multinational oil company and held strategy and research positions with several international organizations. He holds degrees in physics, applied behavior science, energy and resource economics. He also studied negotiation at the Harvard Law School.

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