Is a Problem Needed for Change?

In Dear Abby this morning (8/19/2015) (yes I read Abby) a wife wrote about her husbands lack of interest in sex and her desire for more intimacy and better sex  (see letter and response here).


Abby started her response to the concerned wife by saying:

“Your husband has a problem, but in order for there to be any changes in your marriage, he will have to admit to himself —and to you—that he has one…”

Is this the best way to a better outcome? Is she saying there has to be a problem to want improvement? Of course we can call anything a problem. Shakespeare summarized this idea well in Scene 2 Act 2 when Hamlet remarked:

…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Isn’t reality, reality? It is what it is. If it is unsatisfying, we must work to make it better (toward improvement)!

As noted in previous posts, starting with a problem is difficult and starting with a person’s problem means you have to knock them down before you can help. Starting with a problem then makes it more difficult to create interactions so everyone and everything benefits that can generate comprehensive improvements (in their relationship and sex life using this example). Focusing on a problem makes the first discussions, steps, actions or anything more difficult.

To start an improvement process, you must start and the activation energy required to start, as Shawn Achor called it, must be low. If it takes to much effort to even start the improvement process, improvements won’t happen. (Shawn Achor’s great presentation is at the bottom of this post)

As Wayne Gretzky said,

You miss 100% shots you never take.

The shot I suggest they take, as described in many posts, focuses on the idea of paneugenesis or creating all good. My suggestion would be to focus on what they want by Operationalizing an Idealized Outcome. Operationalize means to makes sure all parties see the outcome the same way so all will work toward the same goal. To Operationalize takes work and is the first step – you must clarify what it is you want to create and it is important to insure that involved parties have the same vision – that is what I mean to operationalize. Idealized is what could be but isn’t now.

The concept of Operationalize was learned from W. Edwards Deming who did amazing work and led the quality management movement. If you want to learn more about Deming and his work, you can access the institute and related works done in his name (he died in 1993) here.


My recommendation

  1. Operationalize an Idealized Outcome: determine what could be an idealized outcome they both want. Being married, it seems this would be easier than trying to get my spouse to admit to having a problem. Besides, who wants to be married to a problematic spouse.
  2. Discover Precursors: Figure out what has to be true or what factors must exist for that idealized outcome to be realized.
  3. Optimize the Process: Determine what must be done, skills developed, and environment to create, for agreed upon necessary precursors to exist and be in place.
  4. Plot the Progress: A way needs to be developed or decided upon to measure and communicate or plot progress toward their idealized outcome. Progress after all is the most important contributor to improved well-being. Documenting progress toward their Idealized Outcomes will be fulfilling, exciting, motivating, and fun.

That of course, for those of you who have followed me is how to Practice Paneugenesis: to generate comprehensive improvements by creating interactions so everyone and everything benefits. Do you think this might help that couple that wrote to Abby? How can you apply this to your life or work? I look forward to hearing how you Practice Paneugenesis and about the improvements you generate.

Shawn Achor does a great and entertaining TED Presentation you can access here:

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

3 thoughts on “Is a Problem Needed for Change?

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