Many years ago, I learned that we solve problems not by focusing on opposites but by finding opportunities for breakthrough solutions. We often think in two-way or duality terms such as an "I'm right, your wrong mentality." One solution to this dual thinking is to pose a win-win solution. That somewhere between the two positions there must be a middle. The result usually means each gives up something to obtain a resolution, and in finding that resolution each loses something in the transaction. The other solution to the win-win scenario is win-lose, or lose-lose. I win, you lose or we both lose. In these situations, we go head to head and negotiate a middle ground, lose, win or walk away.
Win-win, win-lose, lose-lose are strategies where people often leave the situation feeling unsettled. They give up something to gain something, or don't give up at all. In a breakthrough resolution approach, we are not thinking with a win-win mentality, we are thinking opportunity, something new, a third dimension or a new creative outcome. For breakthrough solutions to reach full fruition dialogue, collaboration, empathetic listening and transparency of thought are necessary.
Finding breakthrough solutions belies the more conventional approach of individual competitiveness. Rather than competing, a breakthrough approach relies on mutuality and collaborative effort. The process of coming to a solution each empowers the other. In this way, a solution benefits both while at the same time expresses something new. A new entity arises from the two positions but different from them.
If we can resolve problems using this method perhaps we can begin to transform injustices in our workplaces, engender greater respect for each other, strengthen mutual high regard, and in the end, find more enduring solutions.
To become "breakthrough" champions we need to learn how to become less selfish and egotistical, or another way of putting it, we will need to learn how to become more adult in our approach and less of the righteous and petulant adolescent.
One of the keys to breakthrough thinking is to blank out the way we usually solve problems. Rather than framing a situation from one's point of view as a position to defend we suspend all judgement and approach it with new set of lenses. We look for mutual opportunity without the resistance of personal positioning.
Does this mean we suspend our experience? After all, we are who we are based on our experience - it forms our world view about how we approach others and our problems. The short answer is no. It is how we frame the situation and our response that becomes the basis of our breakthrough. An example of this often occurs in meetings when people say such things as 'this is the way we handled this issue in the past," or "we tried that back in 2002, and it didn't work." This is not breakthrough thinking, this is rear view mirror thinking.
Breakthrough thinking draws on our experience without specific reference to the past and looks for new opportunities in the present that will lead to a better outcome in the future. Too many good solutions get shelved because people shut off the flow of creative thinking by dwelling on the past rather than using that experience to explore opportunities which lead to solving today's problems.
When we seek a breakthrough solution we don't think in dualistic terms such as right and wrong, black and white, this way or that way, but rather in triangular or ternary terms. What flows from this and that, black and white, right and wrong, past and future, produces a third opportunity. What flows from black and white is gray, neither black nor white; what flows from right and wrong is situational choice based on conscientious discernment, and what flows from past and leads to the future is the wisdom of the present. Each is a distinct entity different and unique from the other, but flows from the energy of the two to make a third opportunity or result.
At times breakthrough thinking seems to come from a force outside ourselves. It is one of those "ah, ah moments," where a bolt of creativity strikes, and we ask, "where did that come from?" It presents itself not in dualistic terms but as something new and fresh. It may be a result of our subconscious working on the issue, or may be a force beyond ourselves, which many refer to as their Spiritual Source. It is Archimedes in the bathtub or Mary in the last meeting who said, " I just had a unique idea that I think will break our log jam."
It is not easy to arrive at a breakthrough because we seem to be wired to think in opposites and defend our positions rather than seek a third, different course. It takes discipline, energy, collaborative effort and a mutual commitment to go beyond our present world view.
Let's take a couple of typical examples from my own consulting practice:
One of the challenges with breakthrough solutions is that it leads to change because the solution is different from what exists; and this is the rub, because people are often resistant to change (see articles on change). However, if they are engaged in finding a breakthrough the change is embraced as a natural flow from the solution; if they are not engaged then preparatory work is necessary. An edict will not work but a process of open communication, encouragement, empathetic listening and engagement from the ground up will.
What to do: Breakthrough solutions are not always easy, nor are they always possible. However, if we strive in good faith to seek solutions outside of our constricted thinking we may discover better solutions, or at least be clearer about the problem at hand and possible opportunities they present. In any event when approaching breakthrough solutions:
Keep ego in check.
Be open to all possibilities.
Listen deeply and empathetically
Communicate and collaborate openly.
Wait for, and discover together, the "Ah!Ah!" moment.
Prepare self through meditation and work with others unselfishly.
Think opportunity, not in dualistic terms but in third-way and creative terms.