If you’re part of the system, you’re part of the problem.

Dave Gray
Dave Gray
Apr 16, 2015 · 2 min read
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Think about this:

If you care enough to try to solve a problem, then it matters to you. If it matters to you, it must affect you in some way. If it affects you strongly, that means that you are probably inside the problem.

But often we try to solve problems as if we are outside them. When people describe a problem you will often see them pointing away from themselves. You will hear the word “them” a lot. That’s because “they” are seen as the problem. But in most cases, “they” are only one part of the problem. The problems that most resist solutions are system problems. In a system problem, if you’re part of the system, you’re part of the problem.

This illusion of objectivity is often particularly acute in senior leaders, because there’s a tendency for people to tell them what they want to hear.

In my interview with Carolyn Taylor she told me the story of a senior executive who didn’t like bad news. When he heard bad news he had a tendency to shoot the messenger. Over time, people started keeping bad news to themselves. They would sugar-coat their messages or conceal information that might upset the boss. When he came to Carolyn for help, can you guess how he described the problem?

Here’s what he said: “I don’t feel like I know what’s going on in my organization. People are not keeping me in the loop and they are hiding information from me.”

He didn’t realize — at least, not at first — that his behavior was causing the very problem he wanted to solve.

Many problems that senior leaders most want to solve are, at least partially, and usually unconsciously, caused by their own behavior. So if you have a persistent problem that keeps popping up and seems intractable, start with this principle:

You are not outside the problem. You are not objective.

If you’re part of the system, you’re part of the problem.

Consider this: If you’re the CEO, or you’re on the senior team, and you haven’t been able to solve the problem, who do you think is going to solve it? Your behavior is part of the equation, and changing your behavior may be exactly what’s required.

Dave Gray is the Founder of XPLANE and author of Selling to the VP of NO, The Connected Company and Gamestorming.

Liminal thinking

Notes and sketches for my upcoming (untitled) book

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