CUUC

CUUC

2014-08-17

Technical Problem vs Adaptive Challenge

As our Community Unitarian addresses the various issues and questions that come up, it is important to be able to distinguish a "technical problem" from an "adaptive challenge." At the Board of Trustees retreat on Sat Aug 16, the Board studied the differences. As we go forward, it will be crucial to ask ourselves: "Is this simply a technical problem? Is there an underlying adaptive challenge here -- for, if so, a very different approach is called for."

The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS VS. ADAPTIVE CHALLENGES


TECHNICAL PROBLEMS ADAPTIVE CHALLENGES
1.Easy to identify Difficult to identify (easy to deny)
2. Often lend themselves to quick and easy (cut-and-dried) solutions Require changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships, & approaches to work
3. Often can be solved by an authority or expert People with the problem do the work of solving it
4. Require change in just one or a few places; often contained within organizational boundaries Require change in numerous places; usually cross organizational boundaries
5. People are generally receptive to technical solutions People often resist even acknowledging adaptive challenges
6. Solutions can often be implemented quickly — even by edict “Solutions” require experiments and new discoveries; they can take a long time to implement and cannot be implemented by edict

EXAMPLES
TECHNICAL PROBLEM ADAPTIVE CHALLENGE
Take medication to lower blood pressure Change lifestyle to eat healthy, get more exercise and lower stress
Implement electronic ordering and dispensing of medications in hospitals to reduce errors and drug interactions Encourage nurses and pharmacists to question and even challenge illegible or dangerous prescriptions by physicians
Increase penalty for drunk driving ƒ
Raise public awareness of the dangers and effects of drunk driving, targeting teenagers in particular

Adapted from Ronald A. Heifetz & Donald L. Laurie, “The Work of Leadership,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 1997; and Ronald A. Heifetz & Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line, Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Table 1.
Kind of Challenge
Problem Definition
Solution
Locus of Work
Technical
Clear
Clear
Authority
Technical and Adaptive
Clear
Requires learning
Authority and Stakeholders
Adaptive
Requires learning
Requires learning
Stakeholders







Table 2.
Task
Technical
Adaptive
Direction
Provide problem definition & solution
Identify the adaptive challenge; frame key questions and issues
Protection
Protect from external threats
Disclose external threats
Orientation
Orient people to current roles
Disorient current roles; resist orienting people to new ones too quickly
Conflict
Restore order
Expose conflict or let it emerge
Norms
Maintain norms
Challenge norms or let them be challenged.

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