Adaptive Dilemma Part 3 - Adaptive Problem vs Technical Problems
Level 3: Master of Mundane
Instead of looking for saviors [with good news] we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face our own problems-problems that require us to learn new ways [do work]
- Ronald Heifetz
The final part of this series will focus on why the series is called the Adaptive Dilemma. The previous two trainings in the series were to orient you so that you can pull it together and understand why we (individually and collectively) have such a hard time getting the outcome we want in the world.
If you missed part two1 of the series covering the dogmatic versus scientific orientation or part one2 you should go back and start there as this article will build off the foundations from both parts.
The Adaptive Dilemma brings together many of the principles we've discussed in The Guardian Academy. It helps us understand why new technologies like crypto, DeFi (Decentralized Finance), and AI (Artificial Intelligence) can be challenging for people to grasp. But here's the surprising part: the technology itself isn't the solution to our problems.
To explain this, let's remember a quote we live by: "Seeking dopamine without effort will destroy a person." The quote at the beginning of this article is a variation of that idea. When we look for saviors who only bring us good news without requiring any effort on our part, it can harm us. This message holds true, no matter which decade we're in.
But why is seeking good news without putting in the work so dangerous? Let's dive deeper into this concept.
Leadership Vs Authority
Picture this scenario, you have a big problem, like a math puzzle that seems impossible to solve. It's tempting to wish for someone to come along and solve it for you, making everything easy and perfect. This desire for a savior with good news feels great because it gives you a rush of happiness, like eating your favorite candy.
However, there's a problem with this approach. Life is full of challenges and problems. If you always rely on someone else to fix them for you, you never learn how to solve problems yourself. It's like always asking your teacher for the answers without trying to understand the math. You might pass a test, but you won't truly learn math.
Leadership, isn't about finding someone to make all your problems disappear. It's about finding leaders who encourage you to face your problems and learn new ways to solve them.
When you seek good news without putting in the effort, you become dependent on others. You lose your ability to adapt and grow. Life becomes a constant search for happiness without real achievement.
In the real world, problems don't vanish magically, and challenges don't disappear on their own. To make progress and improve the world, we need to roll up our sleeves and work on solutions. It might be tough at times, just like solving a tricky math problem, but the satisfaction of figuring it out and growing as a person is worth it.
Leadership and Authority in the Real World
Imagine you're in a situation where there's a problem that needs solving. It could be a big issue in your community, like pollution, or a personal challenge, like losing weight.
Leadership: A leader in this situation would say, "Hey, yes, things are tough, and we all need to take responsibility for our part in this. We can work together to find a solution, but it starts with each of us."
Leaders don't need someone else to grant them authority. They lead by example and inspire others to do the same. They focus on real solutions to problems.
Authority: Authority, on the other hand, often relies on being granted power or votes from others. When seeking authority, people sometimes make promises like, "I'll fix everything for you, and you won't have to change a thing. The problem is all because of those other people."
This approach might sound appealing because it offers easy solutions without requiring individuals to change their behavior. But it can lead to a cycle of poor leadership.
The Cycle of Poor Leadership
Imagine two politicians:
Politician 1: This politician acknowledges the problem, says we all need to work on ourselves to solve it, and asks for your support in making changes.
Politician 2: This politician blames the problem entirely on others and promises quick fixes without any effort on your part.
Who do you think most people would vote for? Sadly, many would choose Politician 2, the one offering easy solutions without asking for personal change. This happens because people often seek quick rewards without putting in effort- a promise of dopamine without effort.
This cycle continues. People choose authorities who promise simple answers, and true leaders are often overlooked. As a result, problems persist and can even get worse. Some solutions do not require a behavior change, others do. When you mistake one for the other, you get trapped in the adaptive dilemma.
Technical vs. Adaptive Problems
Technical Problems and Solution- This is a problem that an expert or authority can diagnose and fix without any additional input or effort. An example could be antibiotics or tetanus shots. If you have a bacterial infection, the doctor knows the technical solution which is an antibiotic, the need for work on your end is minimal.
“My car doesn’t work.”
You bring it in, the mechanic diagnoses and fixes it and you leave.
A technical problem is a problem with a solution that an authority or expert can fix that doesn’t require any real behavior modification or effort on your end.
Adaptive Problem/Solution- These are complex and dynamic issues that require changes in behavior from multiple parties. For instance, being overweight due to poor habits is an adaptive problem.
Imagine you visit two doctors:
Doctor 1: Says, "You need to work on your habits and behavior to solve this weight issue."
That sounds outrageous right? You want a second opinion because you don’t believe it’s your fault that you ended up like this.
Doctor 2: Says, "Don't worry about changing anything. Just take this pill 5x a day, and everything will be fine. It’ll solve all your weight and breathing issues"
Which doctor would most people choose?
Ding ding ding (that’s out prize bell by the way)
Most people choose Doctor #2, unfortunately. The one that promises an easy fix without any work. The doctor that demonstrated poor leadership got your vote (your business, in this case).
Every time you choose the technical solution to an adaptive problem, you incentive all authorities to demonstrate less leadership. They learn “If I demonstrate leadership and truly try to help them, they go somewhere else”
That’s not good.
The Trap of Turning Adaptive Problems into Technical Ones
When we mistake adaptive problems for technical ones and choose easy solutions, we incentivize authorities to demonstrate less leadership. They learn that promising quick fixes without asking for behavior change gets them votes or support.
Many of life's problems are adaptive, yet we try to turn them into technical problems with quick solutions. We avoid looking in the mirror and changing ourselves.
This creates a cycle where we blame authorities and the media, even though we keep voting for them. The "us vs. them" divide grows stronger, and we continue seeking technical solutions.
If we want better leadership, we need to accept our part in the problems in our lives.
The Adaptive Dilemma:
Seek authority for a technical solution (even if the problem is adaptive).
Choose the technical solution over any adaptive solution.
Votes are cast for authorities that demonstrate poor leadership.
Since we avoid the idea that WE need to change, and have authorities that validate what we believe, we conclude THEY (some other party) are the problem.
The “US vs THEM” narrative grows stronger (this is polarization). The stronger the polarization the more people try and make the problem a technical one.
We blame the authorities and the media even though we continue to vote for them.
It gets so bad we must DO something. So we seek a technical solution.
And around and around we go…
Breaking The Loop
To break this cycle:
Recognize that problems can be technical, adaptive, or both.
Realize most of the problems with technology (like crypto, AI, etc) are adaptive problems. It’s not the tech causing problems, it’s the humans and how they are interfacing with the tech.
Examine our own behavior before pointing fingers at the tech or other parties.
Reflection- Opening some loops
How often are we looking for a technical solution when our own behavior is the solution?
How can we seek leaders that are willing to help address the adaptive component?
Journal, reflect, and drop your 6WU.
Wisdom Comes From Multiple Perspectives
Drop your 6WU into the Adaptive Dilemma thread below.
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