Solving Impossible Problems

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Say goodbye to organisational dilemmas, tensions, conflicts and stress with Solving Impossible Problems.

Impossible problems are those that will not easily be solved. They twist and turn and defy resolution. When you think you have them nailed down, they loop, split and flip, taking you round in circles until you find yourself back at square one.

The ability to manage tensions, paradox and uncertainty in business is becoming a much sought after leadership skill.

‘Paradox Management’ is a new but increasingly essential field in the area of business management and will be highly influential in the ongoing sanity and success of all organisations and of the people who work for them.

Solving Impossible Problems will give you a greater understanding of organisational tensions and paradox. You will learn how to recognise these ‘twisty turny’ problems and then use practical tools to resolve them or use them for innovation.

This book is a unique guide to greater innovation, heightened wellbeing and enhanced thinking power through the revolutionary process of Paradox Management.


Feedback for the Book

“Solving Impossible Problems is very rich with models, patterns, and ways of thinking through ‘problems’ to solutions.  And for anyone new to this field, this book would be one that a person could read again and again and again and keep mining rich nuggets from!”

L. Michael Hall, Author.

“…a very worthwhile book which will be very helpful to anyone grappling with the ambiguities and paradoxes of today’s challenges, whether as organisational leaders or as individuals going about their daily lives.”

Linda Holbeche,  Author & Research & Practice Director, CIPD.

“Your book is addictive!”

Jacqueline Dowsing,  Senior Learning & Development Officer.

“Broadens perspectives and options, linking into proven business models… a very ‘user friendly’ book.”

Henrietta Laitt,  Trainer, Coach, Supervisor, Psychotherapist.

“For those interested in how, when, why (etc!) paradox and tensions arise, manifest and impact in business environments, Joe’s book is a must… there are few in the current marketplace who understand the dynamics of paradox management as well as Joe. Joe’s work is typically well referenced, robustly argued, measured, masterfully written and compelling.”

Ed Luttrell,  Director & Principal Coach.

“I’ve been searching for ways to operationalize paradoxes and your four component typology has been the most concrete and useful framework I’ve come across.”

Apivat (Paul) Hanvongse,  PhD Student.

“I wish I had read this book sooner. This book takes you on a journey through Joe’s experience of working with paradox within an organisational setting.
The short stories of people getting into knots over dilemma’s and challenges in the work place resonates with past experiences. As you read on, the number of times you think “that happened to me” or “I knew someone who had that problem” and then those “ah ha” moments when it starts to make sense. Then comes the important bit. How to change your thinking to transcend the problem.
The book doesn’t leave you there. it then gives practical tools to help work with paradox within a group setting.
A great read if stuck between difficult choices at work, you may just want to ponder the wonders of paradox. Worth having on the shelf to refer back to over the coming years of paradox management.”

Danny Udall.

“When I come across a problem that seems to have no resolution for all concerned I often wonder first what someone else in my position might do. Occasionally that can be helpful but usually the only person who really understands the dilemma from my angle is me. This book delves deeper into paradox and provides some tools to help practically work out a solution but without the heaviness that I would prefer not to add to the problem, instead the gentle humour adds lightness. It is a book that I can see myself returning to now and then to help guide me around, through and out the other side of the conundrums of life. ”

Kate Webber.

“The author discusses complex situations in a simple and clear way and supports with great models and illustrations. Integrates many areas of expertise eg NLP, Transactional Analysis which enhances learning and understanding in a holistic way. Easy to read and dip into! Learnt loads! Thank you!”

Nicky M.

“Reality is more complex than it seems. Buy this book! Excellent.”

Ronald Cella.


Book Contents



* What are impossible problems?
* Researching impossible problems: The ‘Paradox Study’
* Exploring impossible problems

Organisational Paradox

* What is paradox?
* Three forms of paradox
* Is paradox always negative?
* Why understand and manage paradox?

The Dynamics and Types of Organisational Paradox

* From polarity to tensions
* Dynamics of paradox
* Types of paradox
* Perspectives of paradox: System and individual
* Mapping and diagnosing paradox

Recognising Impossible Problems: Symptoms and Language

* Symptoms of impossible problems
* Learned helplessness
* Group behaviours and organisational mood
* The language of paradox and tensions

Layers of a Problem

* How layers are built
* Organisational defences
* Defensive layers
* Recognising organisational defences
* Addressing organisational defences

Organisational Models for Scoping & Exploring Impossible Problems

* Where do impossible problems occur within organisations?
* Models for exploration

Deeper Understanding: The Thinking and Language of Paradox

* Duality thinking, beliefs and the self-fulfilling prophecy
* Subject and object
* The embodiment of thinking and the dualistic brain
* Either/or thinking
* Positioning – right and wrong
* Negation
* Nominalisations
* Cultural thinking

Thinking Patterns that Transcend Problems

* Thinking beyond the problems ‘going meta’
* Layers of meta
* Logical levels
* The organisation as a hierarchy
* Sorting out levels and hierarchies

Four Thinking Logics

* Methods of thinking: Logic
* Formal logic
* Fuzzy logic
* Dialectic logic
* Trialectic logic

Maintaining Polarity: The Formal Logic Approach

* Dilemma or decision?
* Holding the paradox open and keeping the tension going
* Polarity management

Somewhere in the Middle: The Fuzzy Logic Approach

* Fuzzy logic – seeing the continuum
* Fuzzy logic in ethical dilemmas

Synthesis: The Dialectic Approach

* What is dialectic logic?
* Dialectic Techniques
* Using the dialectic approach for model making

Changing Perspective: The Trialectic Approach

* What is trialectic logic?
* Reframing
* Denominalising: ‘Unsticking’ the paradox
* The reframing/denominalising relationship

The Ethics and Ecology of Addressing Organisational Paradox
* The ethics and ecology of innovation
* The risks of uncovering organisational paradox

Managing Uncertainty and Ambiguity

* Handling uncertainty and ambiguity
* The positive side of uncertainty?
* Types of uncertainty
* Preventing uncertainty

Managing Conflict and Disagreement

* Conflict and disagreement
* Approaches to managing conflicting positions
* Is win/win really possible?
* Directions of thinking: ‘Chunking up’ and ‘chunking down’
* Negotiating through conflict
* The stages in more detail
* Resolving conflict

Paradox Management as an OD Intervention

* The case for paradox management
* Challenges for paradox management
* Can paradox be managed?
* Paradox management as an organisational development tool
* Measuring the immeasurable

Appendix 1: The Paradox Management Process

Appendix 2: Principles of Paradox Management



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