Posts Tagged ‘critical’

Problems. Managers just love problems.  They grow very attached to them, and to the idea that development is all about becoming a better problem-solver. I would challenge this idea.

There’s no doubt in my mind, from experience observing over the years, that the majority of people who enrol on an MBA programme are highly efficient problem-solving machines. By necessity, though, they have become that and no more. And the demands of more senior levels in management (and, let’s face it, of later adulthood) mean that a highly analytical approach ends up doing more harm than good. In short, at some point the game changes from problem solving to problem setting. Or, as Paolo Freire called it, problem posing. It follows that the education of people as managers should prepare them not for a way to find answers to ever more complex problems, but to master the art of framing the context within which those problems may be said to exist. And to do this they need to change their way of thinking about problems.

The accepted way to do this in Management Education is through a rationalised process of reflective problem solving, often described in terms of learning or knowledge acquisition. There are few models of learning which are mainstream that do not stick like glue to a model of  understanding the world in a step-by-step, empirically testable and verifiable way.  Variables need to be identified and isolated, experiments conducted, and conclusions (embedded with myriad implicit assumptions) drawn. And this tends to be the case whether our research methods involve describing things or counting things.

The ‘problem’, so to speak, is that our world appears problematic only via that lens.  In my view the social world is not as neat as the classic scientific method would demand it be. It’s far messier, far more jagged, and far more beautiful. So perhaps instead of seeking to contain, to solve and secure “the” right answer to all the messiness, we should make the posing of the problem the problematic part. By this I mean taking a critical approach to the formation of our questions. Rather than being systematic, start being systemic.

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