What is a Problem?
by Dr. Ichak Adizes
We used to call anything we do not like, anything that bothers us, a problem. If it is raining and we get wet, it is a problem. If our spouse is an alcoholic, it is a problem. And the crisis in the Middle East, the war going on right now, is also a problem.
Calling anything we do not like a problem not only does not help us solve it, it even hampers our capability to solve it; because it does not guide us correctly to mobilize the energies necessary for solving it.
Let me suggest that a problem should be defined as something we do not like but we can control, i.e.: we can solve. If it is out of our control, if we cannot solve it, it is not our problem. It is an unfortunate fact.
Take me for instance. When I was a teenager, I had a big problem. I was very unhappy that I was short and I happened to like tall girls. It took years for me to realize that I cannot control my height. But I can control my weight.
This brings me to the word control.
Not everything can be controlled by me as an individual. Often it takes several interested parties to solve a problem.
An undesirable fact is a problem when it is controllable, when the sources of authority, power and influence needed to remove the undesirable fact can be mobilized and directed.
Another mistake is to define the problem by its cause, by asking “why?” Why is a person an alcoholic; or why are the interest rates unpredictable? The assumption is that if one understands the cause of the undesirable fact, then THAT is THE problem that needs to be solved.
I suggest that there is no end to the question “why?” A child can defeat a Nobel prize winner by, to whatever the answer is, asking the question, “why?” After about three to a maximum of six why’s, the answer will be, “I do not know.”
My focus is not on what is undesirable or why it is happening but on who can solve it. That is the starting point. Whoever can solve the problem has the assignment to find out why the problem exists and what to do about it. Once the cause is determined, the problem could be redefined focusing again on who has to solve it. Without the ‘anchor’ of WHO can do something about the problem, looking for a cause is an academic exercise. We understand the problem better, but what then?
Here are some examples from personal, business and political life on how to define a problem:
Personal: As long as you believe you can make a difference and make your spouse change from being an alcoholic, it is your problem. If it takes the extended family to make her/him change or receive help to change, it is an extended family problem. If your spouse refuses all help and refuses to change, the alcoholism of your spouse is not your problem any more, nor the family’s. It is her/his problem. You now have to redefine the problem. Your problem is what are you going to do with your life: Do you want to live with an alcoholic or not?
Let us now take a business example: A banking client of mine told me once that one of their problems was that interest rates were unpredictable. I claimed that it was not their problem, because they had no control over Federal Bank’s interest rates. The problem had to be redefined to: We do not have a strategy to deal with unpredictable interest rates; or, we do not have access to an available system that enables us to predict interest rates better, etc.
As we can see, the definition of the problem changes depending on who can control it.
Now, let us look at the disaster in the Middle East:
The killing, the destruction is all undesirable. Those are the facts. But whose problem is it?
Let us focus on what is happening today. In the past, Israel could have done better. Much better. And if so, maybe we would not be in the soup we are in now. But that was then. What about now?
Israel cannot solve what the Hezbollah is doing. The Hezbollah is publicly committed to the destruction of Israel, and they walk their talk. Israel cannot change Hezbollah’s behavior no matter how deep they go into Lebanon and no matter how many guerillas they kill. New ones will take their place or be born. The Lebanese army cannot control the Hezbollah either. There is a two-year-old UN resolution that Lebanon should disarm the Hezbollah and what happened? Nothing. They cannot do it!!
Syria and Iran could stop the Hezbollah (maybe !!!); so, is it their problem? It is not their problem, however, because they do not see what the Hezbollah is doing as being undesirable. Thus, they do not have a problem.
So, whose problem is it?
Those who can control it.
Who are they?
Who can control Syria and Iran?
It takes global pressure to make it happen. But it will not happen. Look at China for instance: They are Iran’s biggest importer of oil. They do not want to fight Iran. They provide Iran with missiles, which Iran provides to the Hezbollah, which uses them against Israel.
I am coming to the most unfortunate conclusion: that the problem called “Hezbollah” is not solvable in the present constellation of world powers and their interests. The international force for Southern Lebanon is a band-aid. It will fall apart at the first stressful event. Hezbollah killed hundreds of marines. They can kill hundreds of soldiers from the international forces; and what is going to happen then? Will the international force fight them and go to war; or, fold and leave?
And Hezbollah is not alone. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and thus requires a global solution. Such a global solution does not exist now. It will emerge when all those necessary for the solution see it as their interest to get together and do something about it. For it to happen, the situation has to become much, much worse. And then I am not sure what the solution will be: to jointly and globally fight terrorism, including Hezbollah, which is very difficult; or, to allow Israel to be wiped off the map as the President of Iran is threatening to do which could be easier for the world to take. Those that support this solution, or will turn a blind eye when it is attempted, are making the erroneous assumption that the disappearance of Israel will eliminate the cause of terrorism. Is Israel the cause of Taliban, Chechnya terrorism or the terrorism in India?
Since it does not appear that there is a global solution to the global problem, what should Israel do? What is its problem? Only what it can solve. The facts are that there is no partner on the other side who can make a negotiated solution work. Hammas, like the Hezbollah, wants the destruction of Israel, and they are effectively in power. The peace-loving Palestinians are not in power. Israel has no choice but to do whatever it needs to do for its survival and do it unilaterally. It is like the example above of the alcoholic spouse who refuses to change. Israel has to decide if they want to stay or leave the neighborhood they are in. Since the alternative of leaving, of six million Jews relocating anywhere else, is inconceivable, Israel has to continue fighting and fighting hard for its existence. Unfortunately it is not going to stop soon. And I realize the harder they fight, the worse it will be. It is like some cancers: The more you fight it, the more it spreads. The more the Israelis destroy Hezbollah, the more support the Hezbollah will get from the Arab population and the more militant they will become.
I saw a poster at an Islamic protest: “The real Holocaust is coming” and I believe they meant every word of it. And this Holocaust, if allowed to happen, will only start with Israel. It will not end there, because the Moslem fanatics’ war is against all infidels.
Israel did not cause the terrors in Afghanistan or in Indonesia or in India or Madrid, London and Paris. The terrorism against Israel is not an Israeli problem. It is a global problem. And if the world allows Hezbollah and Hammas to win, whose Holocaust will it be then?