November 15

What’s the Problem REALLY?!

The following is a synopsis of the Open House Discussion hosted on August 19th, 2022 with Mark Goodman. These discussions are part of a series that will culminate at the upcoming Imagining in Action Summit.

"Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question." 

~ E E Cummings

In our program, Imagining in Action, we explore three pillars that we say are what it takes to bring BOLD Visions and BIG ideas into reality:

  • Communicating a vision, and keeping it alive.

  • Accessing True Collaboration and the WeFactor.

  • Problem finding - identifying what is really the problem? 

In a recent Open Discussion event, we started looking at the third of these - identifying what the problem really is, with Mark Goodman. 

We discussed previously that one of the clues to your bold visions and big ideas are the things that bother you. This can point you in the direction of your vision, however, achieving it requires you to dig deeper than your annoyance.  You want to find out what the problem really is. 

Saying it like that can make us think that we are looking for an answer. But often, solving big problems requires us to ask better questions. 

It is not enough to ask why - why is there so much hunger in a world where so much is wasted? Why do sexism and racism still exist, even now? 

In fact, the question ‘why' can often limit our exploration of these problems as we look for one dimensional answers to satisfy our brain's desire for certainty. 

Better questions, however, often highlight the complexity and nuance that hold problems in place despite the billions of dollars and countless hours spent on fixing them.  So often the “solutions” actually reinforce the structures and systems and maintain the status quo. 

During this discussion Mark challenged us to dig deeper with our questions. Deep enough to get to the heart of what the problems are.


Here are a few of the questions we explored.
Where are you?

There is a saying - one man's trash is another man's treasure. 

Different countries and cultures produce different languages and accents. They produce different foods and music. And they also bring with them different belief systems and mindsets and this means that what can lead to contentment in one country can lead to competition and dissatisfaction in another. So, problems may present differently from one place to another. 

It was put forward that we live in a world where there are winners and losers, particularly in countries with the free enterprise system of capitalism. There are good and bad aspects to this, and it is important to point out that we are also benefactors of this system in many ways. It is this system that means we can order almost anything on amazon to be delivered on our doorstep tomorrow. 

But there are also aspects of this system that feed into problems such as disproportionate compensation in pay between men and women for the same if not better work. It can be worse depending on the demographics where you live, your ethnicity and your gender.  This system fosters the super rich paying less by percentage than their employees. So given that the system supports have and have nots, it’s no surprise that forms of discrimination exist - racism and sexism for example. 

The question is - are these things the problem? Or is the problem something deeper, and these forms of discrimination are just a symptom of a deeper root problem?

In addition, these issues play out differently in different countries. In countries other than the US where the economic system is distinct, there is not the weaponizing of competition. David, one of our regular attendees of the open houses is Danish, and lived in Denmark for a number of years before moving to other countries, including the US.  He commented that competition, which seems to be a big part of capitalism, as it is practiced in the US, can push productivity and innovation to high levels. It can also destroy communities, and result in people who find it hard to feel content - even though they may have a lot.

Who do you think you are?

We often get attached to the roles that we hold or are given. This then feeds into our personality structure and how we see ourselves related to others, especially others we see as being different from us. On top of this, there are subtle and overt collective agreements and incentives that get built into certain shared identities. Then those identities are reinforced by society as systems are built to benefit one identity over another. 

The question is - who do you think you are? What systems, structures or practices reinforce that identity? 
What are your values?

Some countries are known for deep spiritual traditions, or for a connected and caring welfare system, while others are known for accumulating power and wealth. Is one better than the other? It depends on your values and the values of the country.  Those values can be seen by considering what is practiced, what systems are created and put into place, what is prioritized culturally, and the results that can be seen. In some ways, what a society values speaks to its view on what it means to be human - a deeper question with more complex answers.

The question is - What are the values you see being practiced in the community you live in? Bonus - What do you say it means to be human?

Are we being honest with ourselves?

On an individual level, how honest are we with ourselves about how we are benefitting from the systems in place? While we do have agency in the choices we make, it may not be realistic or practical to disengage entirely from the systems we don’t like. 

I recently got into a disagreement with someone on social media who wants to disengage entirely from using Amazon. While I understand the criticisms, and even agree with some of them myself, I found that Amazon was the best place to self-publish my book and share it with the world. Particularly at a time when traditional publishing may not favor a writer like me from a small island. When I went to the UK recently for a course, I found that Amazon was the most convenient way to order what I needed and have it delivered while I spent long days on campus, stayed in shared accommodation, and got around on foot. 

As we get honest with ourselves about our participation within the various systems, we may be able to better advocate for change. And that advocacy requires us to take the time to think critically, instead of outsourcing our thinking to influencers, politicians and journalists to name a few.

The question is - What are some of the systems you benefit from that could use some change? 
Are we hiding behind philosophical questions?

We started this article by suggesting that we need better questions, however, sometimes we can go down a rabbit hole of asking philosophical questions and having conversations, all trying to get to the perfect question to get the perfect answer. This seems like a very scientific approach of trying to break the problem down to its source. But the reality is - we are dealing with human beings, and they tend to respond differently to the same question. In addition, we are dealing with systems which are often more than the sum of their parts, and these systems work because all of the parts are present.

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”  ~ Paul Batalden

We can’t forget - people created those systems and the rules that govern them. At some point, our energy must not only go back to the why and what of a problem, it must also go to our “why” - imagining a better future, a different future and looking at how we can create new systems that are a match for that future.

The question is - What philosophical questions do you hide behind?

How do we maintain hope and remain engaged in the work?

We begin by developing our ability to KEEP the Vision in charge!

Next is having good relationships with others who are asking the same questions and working towards the same goals.   

Then what problem are we trying to solve? The problems are identified by the vision.  Noticing what’s missing or what is a roadblock or barrier to the realization of that vision? 

What questions are you asking?

Synopsis written by iLumn8 contributing author Safiya Robinson, in-house copy editor Susan Bouet and founder Anne Peterson.