On being part of the problem …

Posted by  GeoffBrown —January 28, 2014
Filed in Being Present, Facilitation, Just observations

Co-conspirator of mine, Chris Corrigan, has shared a post he titled – Dealing with your slaves and seeing the world. This piece is a timely reminder about how we perceive the world around us. For me, it’s a little challenge to my own perspective … and to the stories I make in my mind about any problem that I am tackling.

I’ll only focus in on 1 angle of Chris’ post here. This quote from Adam Kahane is at the core of his post …

“Bill Torbert of Boston College once said to me that the 1960s slogan “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” actually misses the most important point about effecting change. The slogan should be, “If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.” If we cannot see how what we are doing or not doing is contributing to things being the way that they are, then logically we have no basis at all, zero leverage, for change the way things are — except from the outside, by persuasion or force.”

When I hear people (and myself) talking about any problem – communication at the local school, device/screen addiction in their kids, the Alcoa Coal mine – the image in my mind looks like this …

on being part of the problem


Imagine if we could really see our own part in every complex problem we perceived – local or global. I think this self perception would fundamentally change a lot of conversations. A deeper understanding about our part (and the parts other’s play) in the problem helps to build up a better picture of the whole. You can apply this to different scales – individual, team and organisational, national.

Chris concludes his post with a few questions:

“So, what is your experience in affecting change from inside the problem?  How do you work towards justice while recognizing your complicity in the very problems you are addressing?”

The practice-challenge to myself is a question about how I reframe things in my own mind. Here is one personal example I’ll apply it to:

What is my part (and how am I complicit) in the device-addiction that has crept back into our family life since returning from our 5 month trip last year? And then … how can I affect change from within the problem?

Geoff Brown



  1. Viv McWaters says:

    Nice post Geoff (and Chris). My question is about the problem/solution frame. A problem pre-supposes a solution. I’m reminded of a post I read recently about grief, and how it’s not a problem to be solved, but adjusting to a new way of living. So maybe there’s some work around identifying what’s a problem? Your example: your assumption that using your devices is an addiction (what evidence do you have?) Is it an addiction or something else? And is it a problem? Or is it a something else that we need to adapt to? When books became readily available to the masses was there angst on how to reclaim the lost time wasted on reading? Another question might be how can we see what’s happening to us, and the world we live in, while we are living it, and how do we judge what’s worthwhile and what’s not? Cheers, Viv

    1. GeoffBrown says:

      I love it when other people throw their own perspectives in. Viv, you have highlighted another Tyranny … the Problem-Solution tyranny that we all suffer from.

      You are right, the device observation with my own kids is just that … it’s something I’m observing at home. I am seeing it systematically replace other activities that our kids usually engage in. Thus I label it a problem.

      Chris addressed the Problem-Solution frame by saying, “So it is commitment to a trajectory rather than a finish line. Complex problems are not “solvable.” You have to get good with living with this uncertainty and get good at accepting the gift and the curse of emergence.” I like the notion here of committing to a trajectory – the finish line does’t exist!

      And yes, screen based time is something all kids (and adults) need to learn to use and, over time, adapt to. Just like the every changing and emergent patterns of social media.

      What you have helped me to clarify in this post is the core idea. That my own behaviour is part of my kid’s pattern of device use. That solutions such as banning or hiding the devices do nothing. That the responsibility for me to learn and engage with kids is central.


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