What Kind of Problem is That?

Robert N. Phillips
CEO, Lasotell Pty Ltd.

I listened to a lecture recently that described four types of problem domains that exist in two kinds of environments. It became immediately obvious that if we recognise we are dealing with a Hegelian problem, for example, we may resolve the matter a lot quicker or with a lot less aggravation if we can turn it into a Leibnitzian problem.


The four problem domains are defined by their structure and the way people approach them:

  • Stable Environments (calm work place with a slow rate of change in the market and customer base) typically haveLeibnitzian problem domains—well-structured problems approached analytically.Lockean problem domains—well-structured problems approached with a strong consensual position on the nature of the problem situation.
  • Hyper-turbulent Environments (frantic work place with a very rapid rate of change in the market and customer base) typically haveKantian problem domains—moderately ill-structured problems approached with multiple, explicit views of a complementary nature.Hegelian problem domains—wickedly ill-structured problems approached with multiple, completely antithetical representations characterised by intense conflict because of contrary underlying assumptions.

(The problem domains are named after the psychologists most closely associated with identifying them.)

Many of today’s environments are hyper-turbulent. Sometimes they are genuinely so, but many times they are “manufactured” by poor management practices and the drive to satisfy the god of shareholder value. Be that as it may, recognising that these problem domains exist is nevertheless helpful. Everybody intuitively knows or recognises them, but formally defining the problem domains makes managing them easier.

When we become embroiled in a Hegelian problem, a lot can be achieved by showing the other parties that the problem is so poorly structured, that unless a senior manager simply lays down a unilateral solution (good or bad), no meeting has any chance of meaningfully resolving the problem as it stands. The further we can move a problem up the list towards Leibnitzian, the better for the company, the shareholders, and our own health and sanity.

The art or skill in achieving such a migration of the problem is what management and leadership are supposed to be about.

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