A couple blogs I read mentioned the same Russell Ackoff way of looking at problems and how they are typically solved. This apocryphal story from James Lather gets us going: 4 Ways to Solve a Problem
A man you know is hungry. There are 4 ways you could solve his problem:
- Slap him about a bit. This will take his mind of it. Hunger gone, problem solved.
- Give him a fish to eat. Hunger gone, problem solved.
- Give him a fishing rod and show them how to fish. Hunger gone, problem solved.
- Develop a first world infrastructure with trawlers, freezers, distribution centres, corner stores and fish fingers. Hunger gone, problem solved.
Ackoff's four ways of looking at problems parallel these "solutions":
- You can absolve the problem: ignore it and hope it goes away.
- You can resolve the problem: fix it for the time being, possibly by doing the same things that have worked in the past.
- You can solve the problem: possibly going deeper and do something that creates a more optimal solution to the problem.
- Or you can dissolve the problem: change the system so that the problem no longer arises.
A slightly more entertaining version of this comes from Squire to the Giants in his post So, you think you've got a problem! where he uses these concepts to comment on some of the current discussions in the political spheres. He also includes some direct quotes from a collection of Ackoff's writings on the topic.