Posts Tagged ‘Problem solving’

The “Qualigence, Quantigence and Synergence” blopic has generated some interesting informal feedback and since being more attuned to this concept I have seen evidence of it at work in practice. My own reflection is that synergence does not quite hit the spot because syn-erg-gence can be translated as “knowing how to work together” and from this small niggle a new word was born – synigence – which I feel captures the concept better. It is an improvement. 

Improvement Science always considers a challenge from three perspectives – quality, delivery and quantity. The delivery dimension involves time and can be viewed both qualitatively and quantitatively.  The pure qualitative dimension is the subjective experience (feelings) and the pure quanitative dimension is the objective evidence (facts) – very often presented in the Universal Language of Money (ULM). The diagram attempts to capture this idea of three perspectives and that there is common ground between all three;  the soil in which the seeds of improvement take root. There is more to it though – this common ground/vision/goal/sense does not look the same from different perspectives and for synergy to develop the synigent facilitator needs to be capable of translating the one vision into three languages. It is rather like the Rosetta Stone an ancient Egyptian grandiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic Egyptian script, and Ancient Greek and, as it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts, it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.  With this key the wisdom of the Ancient Egyptians was unlocked.

My learning this week is that this is less on an exercise in how to influence others and more of an exercise in how to influence oneself and by that route the sum can become greater than the parts.  Things that looked impossible for either working alone (or more often in conflict) now become not only possible but also inevitable.  Once we have seen we cannot forget – and once we believe we cannot understand that it is not obvious to everyone else: and there lurks a trap for the unsynigent – it is not obvious – if it were we would have seen it sooner ourselves.

It seems that some people are better than others at figuring out what to do when presented with a new challenge.

Every day we are all presented with new challenges – c’est la vie – and for one challenge some of us seem to know what to do and others of us are left scratching our heads.

Yet, when presented with a different challenge the tables are turned.

Why is that?

Until recently I believed that improvement was just a matter of accumulating enough knowledge and experience – but the pattern seems to be evident in people of all ages and experience: there seems to be more to it than just experience.

So, I searched the Internet on the topic of “problem solving” and many of the references mentioned the word “intelligence” – a word that generates mixed feelings for me.

My mixed feelings came from an experience I had as a student. I am, by nature, both competitive and curious and I felt it would be useful to know my IQ and to meet others who shared my curiosity – so I did the Mensa test. I “passed” and was duly invited to a get-together at a local pub and was informed that I only needed to look for the distinctive yellow magazine to identify the meeting table (mensa is latin for table). I did not need the magazine to identify the table of Mensans and after that first encounter I chose not to return.  I had a sense that there was something missing – high IQ was not enough – and it was that “something” I was looking for.

I now know that mixed feelings are often a symptom of an over-simplification; a signpost to a deeper awareness; and a hint to keep digging for the deeper meaning. Here is a definition of the word “intelligence” that I found on Wikipedia:

“Intelligence: A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.

This definition resonates and prompted a question:
“Are there more forms of intelligence than the ones we are familiar with in the Mensa-style Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests? And if so, how many forms of intelligence are there and what are their characteristics?”

My intuition said “Yes – there are more than one” and I had the sense that are at least two forms; one that is conscious and that deals with quantities – so I labelled that as quantity-intelligence or quantigence; and another that is unconscious and deals with qualities – so I labelled that as quality-intelligence or qualigence.

It also felt that these are not independent of each other – they do not feel like two separate dimensions – they feel like two views of the same thing.  It just did not feel right that we might be observed, measured and scored on independent IQ scales and then classifed, arranged, ranked, selected, compared, and improved; it feels more dynamic than that.

Perhaps it is how well we are able to employ the multiple forms of IQ in a dynamic and synergistic way to figure out what to do more easily, more quickly and more often.

But what does all this have to do with Improvement Science?

Well because improvement only happens after we figure out what to do and then we actually do it. Both diagnosis and treatment are necessary and the sequence order is important – treatment before diagnosis carries a greater risk of unintended consequences – and unintended consequences are usually negative.

Challenges that require a balance of qualigence and quantigence at the diagnosis stage will appear “tougher” to solve and siuch challenges will tend to accumulate as a list of long-standing, unsolved and unspoken niggles – like a veritable herd of emotional elephants in the room.

This niggle-mine seems to be where the greatest opportunities for improvement are buried – nuggets of new knowledge waiting to be uncovered.

How then do we know if we have a qualigence-quantigence gap?

I concluded that if we are continually struggling with the same old problems; are spending a lot of effort, time, and money; and are not making progress then we  can be sure we have a gap somewhere. The questions are “what, where and how to convert our niggles into nuggets – our weaknesses into strengths?”.


It would appear that we need three ingredients – qualigence, quantigence, and an ability to dynamically integrate them into something that is even greater than the sum of the parts – something we might call synergy-intelligence or synergence.

To test this idea I searched the Internet for the word “synergence” and found many hits that resonated with this concept. Good.

Our next step might be to look more closely at the three ingredients and to ask:

  • Q1.  What would I need to diagnose and treat a quantigence gap?
  • Q2. What would I need to diagnose and treat a qualigence gap?
  • Q3. What would I need to diagnose and treat a synergence gap?

These are powerful questions.

Look what popped out of Santa’s sack!

I have not seen one of these for years and it brought back memories of hours of frustration and time wasted in attempting to solve it myself; a sense of failure when I could not; a feeling of envy for those who knew how to; and a sense of indignation when they jealously guarded the secret of their “magical” power.

The Rubik Cube got me thinking – what sort of problem is this?

At first it is easy enough but it becomes quickly apparent that it becomes more difficult the closer we get to the final solution – because our attempts to reach perfection undo our previous good work.  It is very difficult to maintain our initial improvement while exploring new options. 

This insight struck me as very similar to many of the problems we face in life and the sense of futility that creates a powerful force that resists further attempts at change.  Fortunately, we know that it is possible to solve the Rubik cube – so the question this raises is “Is there a way to solve it in a rational, reliable and economical way from any starting point?

One approach is to try every possible combination of moves until we find the solution. That is the way a computer might be programmed to solve it – the zero intelligence or brute force approach.

The problem here is that it works in theory but fails in practice because of the number of possible combinations of moves. At each step you can move one of the six faces in one of two directions – that is 12 possible options; and for each of these there are 12 second moves or 12 x 12 possible two-move paths; 12 x 12 x 12 = 1728 possible three-move paths; about 3 million six-move paths; and nearly half a billion eight-move paths!

You get the idea – solving it this way is not feasible unless you are already very close to the solution.

So how do we actually solve the Rubik Cube?  Well, the instructions that come with a new one tells you – a combination of two well-known ingredients: strategy and tactics. The strategy is called goal-directed and in my instructions the recommended strategy is to solving each layer in sequence. The tactics are called heuristics: tried-tested-and-learned sequences of actions that are triggered by specific patterns.

At each step we look for a small set of patterns and when we find one we follow the pre-designed heuristic and that moves us forward along the path towards the next goal. Of the billions of possible heuristics we only learn, remember, use and teach the small number that preserve the progress we have already made – these are our magic spells.

So where do these heuristics come from?

Well, we can search for them ourselves or we can learn them from someone else.  The first option holds the opportunity for new insights and possible breakthroughs – the second option is quicker!  Someone who designs or discovers a better heuristic is assured a place in history – most of us only ever learn ones that have been discovered or taught by others – it is a much quicker way to solve problems.  

So, for a bit of fun I compared the two approaches using a computer: the competitive-zero-intelligence-brute-force versus the collaborative-goal-directed-learned-and-shared-heuristics.  The heuristic method won easily every time!

The Rubik Cube is an example of a mechanical system: each of the twenty-six parts are interdependent, we cannot move one facet independently of the others, we can only move groups of nine at a time. Every action we make has nine consequences – not just one.  To solve the whole Rubik Cube system problem we must be mindful of the interdependencies and adopt methods that preserve what works while improving what does not.

The human body is a complex biological system. In medicine we have a phrase for this concept of preserving what works while improving what does not: “primum non nocere” which means “first of all do no harm”.  Doctors are masters of goal-directed heuristics; the medical model of diagnosis before prognosis before treatment is a goal-directed strategy and the common tactic is to quickly and accurately pattern-match from a small set of carefully selected data. 

In reality we all employ goal-directed-heuristics all of the time – it is the way our caveman brains have evolved.  Relative success comes from having a more useful set of heuristics – and these can be learned.  Just as with the Rubik Cube – it is quicker to learn what works from someone who can demonstrate that it works and can explain how it works – than to always laboriously work it out for ourselves.

An organisation is a bio-psycho-socio-economic system: a set of interdependent parts called people connected together by relationships and communication processes we call culture.  Improvement Science is a set of heuristics that have been discovered or designed to guide us safely and reliably towards any goal we choose to select – preserving what has been shown to work and challenging what does not.  Improvement Science does not define the path it only helps us avoid getting stuck, or going around in circles, or getting hopelessly lost while we are on the life-journey to our chosen goal.

And Improvement Science is learnable.