Divide and Conquer

I've been revising my Resistance as a Resource Workshop. One of the improvements I want most is to add exercises to help participants explore how relationship issues affect resistance, and how to address those issues. I've been having difficulty creating good exercises.

Meanwhile, today and tomorrow, I'm attending Payson Hall's problem solving workshop. Like his project management workshop, which I wrote about in May, the problem solving workshop is excellent. As part of today's class, we applied some simple and effective problem definition principles to a problem we're currently struggling with. I explored my difficulty creating relationship exercises.

One of the problem definition principles is to identify success criteria for the problem: the conditions that would have to be true in order for us to declare the problem solved. I identified these criteria:

  • The exercises illuminate how relationships affect resistance.
  • The exercises explore challenging relationship issues (not just easy issues).
  • The exercises give participants an opportunity to practice effective ways to address the relationship issues that increase resistance.
  • Learnings from the exercises are directly relevant to real relationship issues that participants are likely to encounter.
  • The exercises are emotionally and physically safe for the participants.

It took me about ten minutes to sort out these success criteria, and those ten minutes were worth the price of Payson's workshop. When I looked at my list, I noticed that I was struggling not with just one problem, but a cluster of problems. If I think about these problems separately, I can see several ways to make progress.

For example, I noticed that my criteria include several learning goals: to illuminate various kinds of relationship issues, and to apply helpful techniques for resolving the issues. Now that I'm clear that my learning goals are multiple, I can create separate exercises for each goal. That's much easier than... whatever I was thinking about before (what was I thinking?). And I can create several exercises of each type, each exploring one or two issues in depth.

Another criterion is to give participants an opportunity to practice effective ways to address relationship issues. As I wrote this criterion, I realized part of why I've been struggling: I'm a little fuzzy about the techniques. I don't lack ideas; I've learned lots of helpful tips from lots of helpful people. But I've been keeping most of the ideas in a big fuzzy ball in my head. It's hard to create crisp, focused exercises from a big fuzzy ball of ideas. For those few ideas that I've taken the time to write down and describe clearly, I can easily see how to create good exercises. So one easy way for me to make progress is to sort out the big fuzzy ball — write down all of the ideas, organize them, and explain them clearly to myself (and probably publish them here).

I have another big ball of fuzz in my head: the good stuff I've learned about what factors in a relationship increase or decrease resistance. Again, I don't lack ideas. I lack clarity and crispness. This gives me more clear steps to take: write about these factors and how they affect resistance.

Finally, I noticed that several of my criteria create some conflict for me. How can I create exercises that explore challenging relationship issues in a way that is emotionally safe for the participants? This may be my biggest challenge, but already I can see some possibilities. For example, I can place these exercises later in the workshop. By the time people experience these exercises, they will have learned and practiced other, more straightforward skills that provide a safer basis for exploring sticky relationship issues. I can prepare exercises with a range of challenge, so that I can select, in the moment, a level of challenge that fits what the participants (and I) are ready to explore. I can remind people that, as always, participation in any exercise is voluntary. And I can work throughout the workshop to make every exercise safe, even while they challenge participants to try something new.

By separating my big, fuzzy goal into several distinct criteria, I've given myself a pile of possibilities for making progress. And most of the possibilities are relatively straightforward. I know how to do this stuff.

This is a big payoff for a ten minute exercise. Thanks, Payson!

Experiment: Think of a problem on which you've been stuck. Brainstorm your success criteria: the list of conditions that would have to be true for you to declare your problem solved. Look for ways to separate the criteria into distinct problems that are easier to solve.

Experiment: Attend Payson's problem solving workshop.

comments powered by Disqus