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The Choice Passage: Dealing With Conflict

The Choice by Eliyahu Goldratt and Efrat Goldratt-Ashlag (emphasis added).

"Father, I can assure you that there is no way you can convince me that people don't have conflicts."

He resorts to his pipe.

After a while he starts again. "Let me take a step back. Maybe we should discuss the differences and similarities between the words contradiction and conflict."

Since I don't know where he is heading, I keep quiet.

"Let's examine an example of how deep everybody's conviction is that there are no contradictions in the material world. Suppose that we have two different techniques to measure the height of a building. And when we use them to measure the height of a specific building we get two very different heights. Facing such an apparent contradiction no one would say, 'Let's compromise; let's agree that the height of this building is the average between the two measurements.'"

"What we would say is that somewhere along the line we have made an erroneous assumption. We'll check to see if, in the time that passed between the two measurements, additional floors were added. If that's not the case, we'll explore if our assumption—that each of the measurements was carried out properly—is correct. If they were, we'll look for an erroneous assumption in the techniques themselves; we'll explore the possibility that one of these two techniques is faulty. In extreme cases we'll even doubt our understanding of height. But we'll always look for the erroneous assumption and never contemplate the possibility of compromise. This is how strong our belief is that there are no contradictions in nature."

I'm not impressed. "A building cannot have two different heights, that's obvious. But a person can have two conflicting desires."

"Believe me, I know," he says. "I know that people may have conflicts. But that is also the situation in the material world. It is filled with conflicts. Reality doesn't contain contradictions, but it is full of conflicts.

"Can you explain the difference between a contradiction and a conflict?"

"Conflict is a situation where what we want is a contradiction." When he sees that doesn't help, he hurries to explain. "Take, for example, the wing of an airplane. On one hand, we need the wings to be strong. And in order to ensure the strength we should use thick supporting beams. But on the other hand, we need the wings to be light, and in order to ensure that, we should use thin supporting beams. A typical conflict. And like any other conflict, including conflicts between people, it will lead in good situations to some acceptable compromise, and in bad situations to a stone wall."

"Actually," I say, "in many situations a conflict will lead to a bad compromise. To a compromise that is bad because it is the cause of many undesirable effects. Come to think of it, I cannot think of even one example of an undesirable effect that is not the result of a conflict."

"No argument," he agrees. "What I'm suggesting is that we treat any conflict like a scientist treats a contradiction."

In the last ten years I've gained a lot of experience, most of it successful, in using his conflict removal method. So I allow myself to take over. "In other words," I say, "when we face a conflict, especially when we cannot easily find an acceptable compromise, let's do exactly the same thing we do when we encounter a contradiction; let's insist that one of the underlying assumptions is faulty. If, or should I say when, we pin down the underlying assumption that can be removed, we remove the cause of the conflict; we solve the conflict by eliminating it."

"Correct," he says. "So can you now verbalize the second obstacle that prevents people from effectively using their brainpower?"

Slowly I say, "I need a minute to organize my thoughts."

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that meaningful opportunities are opened when one sees how to remove a blockage, how to overcome an undesirable situation that I'm convinced I cannot change. Many times, the blockage is due to a conflict that does not have an acceptable compromise. From experience I know that as long as we think that the only way to handle a conflict is by compromising, we'll never think about the underlying assumptions and how to remove at least one of them; we'll never find the way to eliminate the conflict. And we'll never come up with the breakthrough; we'll never reveal the great opportunity that hides there. We'll just lower our expectations.

Confidently I say, "The second obstacle is that people's perception is that conflicts are a given and that the best we can do is to seek a compromise."

Bitterly Father remarks, "In academia we are encouraging that devastating mistake. Under the glorifying title of 'optimization' we invest considerable efforts to teach students, not how to remove conflicts, but how to waste time finding the 'best' compromise. What a waste of talent."

Consider the connection between conflict is a situation where what we want is a contradiction and the TCS concept of "coercion".


Elliot Temple on February 1, 2018

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