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Our Mysterious Problem-Solving Deficiencies

Written by: Barry Borgerson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


We Solve Many Types of Problems Extremely Well

Advanced societies have become successful because so many of their citizens know how to solve complex problems very effectively. We do that because we can systematically accomplish many activities, including scientific investigations, technology developments, and product engineering. If we look at success from the West's perspective, we also have had the advantages of representative governments, market economies, and personal freedoms.

One of the main paths to success is the enormous education level, both formal and informal, acquired by so many individuals. The very fact that you are reading this article in Brainz Magazine shows your active involvement in absorbing new types of information to increase your knowledge.

We pride ourselves on being very effective problem solvers, and we are, as evidenced by our many successes. Why then have we allowed ourselves to fail badly at solving so many problems associated with human-activities?

It could help you understand the depth of this problem if you try to identify topics that you, your organization, and even your country do not and increasingly cannot solve adequately. If you focus on currently mysterious problems, you might discover to your surprise how many such issues actually exist.

We are struggling because we have failed to recognize two distinct classes of problems explicitly, so we haven’t taken widespread actions to address this dichotomy directly. The issues above, which we might label as Class I, include very complex problems that we solve very effectively. However, we have another large set of problems that we might aggregate under the umbrella of Class II, which we are not solving adequately. Unfortunately, we are becoming increasingly poor at solving these as their difficulty and importance escalate.

Problems We Are Terrible at Solving and Getting Worse

Here are some problems that we do not solve effectively – how many of these did you identify? Perhaps you have a very high level of perception, so you were able to identify most of these and possibly additional problems not on this list. We currently lack the systematic widespread ability to:

  • Incorporate the onslaught of technologies into business cultures at the increasing rate they are occurring.

  • Transform errant behaviors of business leaders so they can operate at peak performance to compete effectively in the global economy.

  • Recognize and avoid simplistic solutions that satisfy the desire for successes without producing the successes desired.

  • Reverse the increasing dysfunction in our political and governing systems in the West.

  • Empower voters to distinguish between valid information and disinformation, including Big Lies.

  • Avoid tragic drug addictions.

  • Rehabilitate prisoners so they can return to society with low chances of recidivism (re-offense).

  • Construct and maintain positive shared values explicitly and systematically

We will briefly examine below each of these important topics that we are not solving well enough. We need to figure out what is going wrong. We are becoming increasingly and methodically better at solving many types of problems. Despite all that amazing capability, we are actually becoming worse at solving a different class of problems.

This article is the first in a series of invited papers by Brainz Magazine. Although many of the above topics are common to most advanced societies, I will primarily take a West-centric approach in these articles to provide context and examples. Also, I will occasionally focus on the US both because of its dominant position in the West but also to give other specific examples.

Our Inability to Incorporate the Onslaught of Technologies into Business Cultures at the Increasing Rate They Are Occurring

We Are Not Prepared to Handle the Next Technology Revolution

In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and chair of the World Economic (Davos) Forum, makes a compelling case that advanced societies are at a major technology-driven inflection point. More importantly, for our purposes here, he also identifies many troubling deficiencies leaders have in systematically managing the business challenges created by this rising technology-driven revolution.

What are we missing? Schwab identifies a robust suite of technologies that will increasingly crash over us, and those technologies and the products they spawn should provide amazing benefits to us. However, he also notes that these technologies will fundamentally change “the way we live, work, and relate to one another” but that we are stuck in “non-disruptive thinking” that may block us from taking timely advantage of these technologies. Schwab then points out that these technologies will affect all individuals and organizations but that we don’t have the necessary “social models” to empower us to “shape the revolution in a manner that improves the state of the world” or have “institutional frameworks” to diffuse the technologies effectively. Why can’t we manage our social models and institutional frameworks as successfully as we manage our technologies?

"There is evidence that the technologies underpinning the fourth industrial revolution are having a major impact on how businesses are led, organized, and resourced. One particular symptom of this phenomenon is that the historic reduction in the average lifespan of a corporation listed on the S&P 500 has dropped from around 60 to approximately 18 [years]."

What is going wrong here? Technologies should be leading to greater successes, so why are companies failing so often?

"The fourth industrial revolution may be driving disruption, but the challenges it presents are of our own making. It is thus in our power to address them and enact the changes and policies needed to adapt (and flourish) in our emerging new environment. We can only meaningfully address these challenges if we mobilize the collective wisdom of our minds, hearts, and souls."

This is where Schwab insightfully identifies the depth of our problems. Yes, the problems are of our own making because they stem from our amazing (Class I) science, technology, and product problem-solving abilities. However, it is not currently “in our power to address them and enact the changes and policies needed to adapt” because those problems lie in human-centered Class II activities that we don’t currently understand and manage well. As a further example of how poorly we know how to solve these problems, even a person of such eminence as Klaus Schwab punts on solving this problem by saying we must rely on the “wisdom of our minds, hearts, and souls.” That just identifies that these problems are still mysterious and elusive – it doesn’t help solve them.

"The world is fast-changing, hyper-connected, ever more complex, and becoming more fragmented, but we can still shape our future in a way that benefits all. The window of opportunity for doing so is now."

I have designed this series of Brainz Magazine articles to satisfy that chronic need now. After we develop some theory in the March article regarding the underlying nature of Class II problems and how to solve them systematically, we will revisit Schwab’s warnings about our inadequacies at incorporating the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

Schwab gave us a qualitative analysis of the emerging technology revolution, the deficiencies of business leaders to manage the human ramifications of this technology tsunami, and the need to take action now. Next, we take a brief look at Professor Robert Gordon’s pessimistic quantitative analysis of a dismal future despite the technology revolution Schwab identifies for us.

We Have Fallen Down, and We Can’t Get Up.

The carefully researched book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Professor Robert Gordon, makes a compelling case that the best years of America are behind us, so we should expect stunted productivity growth. As a result, the US (and by extrapolation, most of the West) can anticipate suffering through continuing low gains to standards of living for many hard-working people. That process is already well underway and has indirectly led to political chaos in the West that is causing a disastrous rush to the political extremes, which, if continued, will likely create growing negative consequences to Western economies and, therefore, to successes in many business sectors. This could lead to a widespread negative spiral.

Unfortunately, the situation may even be worse than Gordon projects. Prosperity and well-being in the US and the West are likely to fall more dramatically than extrapolating historical trends might indicate because (mostly digital-based) technologies create increasingly problematic consequences. You will see widespread evidence of the growing mismatch between the technology disruptions we are creating using our amazing Class I abilities and our increasingly inadequate Class II capabilities to manage the growing unintended consequences to many aspects of human activities.

Max Finally Hits a Wall

Max was the CEO of a midsize manufacturing company with four locations. He had a long and storied career at his company, but he failed to adapt to accelerating changes in the business world. He had a strong personality and tenaciously focused on measurable results but suffered from some significant behavior issues.

Even more crucially, Max’s past successes so paralyzed him that he was way too slow to incorporate new technologies into his company’s operations and to make timely changes to their business strategies to counter emerging global competition. The company could not prosper without making culture change more frequently, and Max had failed to develop the capabilities to accomplish these changes systematically. Max executed so many aspects of his CEO role very effectively. What might be the underlying reason why he could not handle other crucial aspects of his leadership duties?

To be an effective CEO going forward, Max had to change. In a subsequent Brainz Magazine article on culture change as a specific case of understanding and reconstructing our hidden perceptual lenses that often mislead us, you will learn what happened to Max after working his way through two advisory coaches and then engaged in a transformation-coaching process.

Failures to Transform Errant Behaviors of Business Leaders

Why are we so ineffective at widespread behavior changes in business and elsewhere though leaders know they need to align the behaviors of key players on their team and their own involuntary actions with success needs so they all can operate at peak performance to compete effectively in the global economy?

Hal Needs to Rescue His Career

Hal was a senior technical contributor at a multi-site engineering and manufacturing company. He wasn’t formally a manager because many people found it very difficult to deal with him, but he still had considerable influence because of his excellent technical abilities. The head of HR asked me to coach Hal. It turned out that Hal had a special relationship with the CEO because they grew up in the company together, and the CEO had very high regard for Hal’s technical expertise. I suspected that after having successfully coached several leaders in the company, the head of HR wanted me to try and fail with Hal so that he and Hal’s boss could convince the CEO to consent to fire him because of his troublesome, disruptive behaviors.

Because Hal knew he was walking on a tight rope, he had a high incentive to moderate his behaviors, so what might have kept him from accomplishing that when he could solve many difficult problems very well?

William Must Eliminate Dysfunctional Behaviors at Work and at Home

William was the CEO of a mid-size design and manufacturing company. He was extremely effective at most aspects of his leadership role, but he had the dysfunctional habit of publicly humiliating his employees if they did something that displeased him. His HR manager repeatedly urged him to ameliorate his aggressive behaviors, and William frequently embarrassed his wife in public with some of his obnoxious behaviors. The HR manager had convinced William to try a coach, but William just chewed the coach up and spit him out because he could see no value. This is a good example of William wanting to change because he had been made aware both at work and at home of the damage he was doing, but although he had control of so many aspects of his leadership role, he could not make the changes. William needed a transformation coach, and you will see in another article how that worked out.

Just What Is Self-Help?

When we want to learn something new – to acquire additional knowledge, we don’t call that “self-help.” We call that “education” or, in business, we often call it “continuous learning.” Education is clearly a thinking-based, intentional Class I activity, and we are very good at that process. What then is “self-help” for which a massive book, audio, video, and workshop industry has emerged? When we speak of self-help, we are really talking about “periodic transforming” of unintentional behaviors, aren’t we? No amount of new knowledge will reliably empower us to make enduring changes to our undesired behavior habits because transforming behaviors are among the many types of Class II problems. Additionally, trying to transform our own behaviors rarely produces the desired results because self-help is an unfair fight.

We Need to Learn to Avoid Unfair Fights

Though you can effectively solve many types of problems, you can’t reliably transform counterproductive habits that you may have. Even worse, you likely struggle to admit you have such bad habits even though you no doubt notice them in others and others likely notice them in you. The underlying problem is that we always automatically take actions to flee discomfort, and the behavior-transformation process produces considerable discomfort over an extended period. That creates an unfair fight between hopeful intentions for habit change and automatic resistance to staying with the process of transforming oneself long enough to become permanently changed. That is why Max, Hal, and William, along with most other business leaders, could not change their own counterproductive behavior habits to improve their leadership capabilities. The unfair fight is why self-help programs, although they may appear appealing, have such a high recidivism rate to the providers' benefit.

Overcoming Unfair Transformation Fights

Transforming behaviors is likely the type of Class II problem that we have learned to solve most effectively, but not through self-help. The most reliable way to transform errant behaviors is through the transformation-coaching process, which requires specialized processes by an expert transformation coach over an extended period to establish enduring results.

Why Has Systematic Leadership Development Remained Elusive?

Business scholars sometimes refer to management “science” and the “art” of leadership. What are we to make of those designations because management isn’t really science, and leadership isn’t really art? I suggest we do well to view those labels as metaphors that indicate that management processes are Class I problems, whereas leadership processes are Class II issues. That is why we are currently much better at creating management competencies than developing leadership capabilities.

Two primary leadership-development activities are aligning behaviors and actions with success needs and learning to make timely culture changes to respond to escalating disruptions in the business environment.

Here are three basic approaches for solving Class II problems:

  • Simplistic solutions

  • Empirical processes

  • Root-cause theories

Simplistic solutions appear as a first phase when we realize we are failing or when we encounter a mysterious type of problem that we don’t yet understand. Simplistic solutions seduce us into pretending we are solving our problems – that insidious pretending relieves our discomfort of knowing we are failing at something important to us. The next section addresses this ineffective form of solution. You might be unpleasantly surprised to learn you may have fallen for some seduction traps. Simplistic solutions do not provide effective results for behavior transformations or culture changes.

Empirical processes arise as a second phase of solving mysterious problems through employing systematic trial and error. These processes are frequently quite effective, but because they lack a root-cause theoretical foundation, they often end up becoming less successful as the needs escalate. Another limitation is that they are usually single-purpose. That is, in leadership development, they might focus on behavior transformations or culture changes, but not both. You will see some effective examples below.

Root-cause theories for solving Class II problems eventually emerge when the empirical processes start falling behind increasing demands of the still-mysterious issues. These theories remove the mystery by explaining the new phenomenon by building a systematic model of the elusive mental mechanisms involved. As such, they can respond effectively to escalating needs, and they can solve multiple types of amorphous problems, including behavior transformations and culture changes in business and many other types of currently mysterious issues. My March article will outline such a theory. In these articles, you will also discover that once we develop a theoretical understanding of the underlying mental processes involved in Class II problems, we can create transformable leaders and companies, providing the necessary key to unlock repeated future successes as turbulence accelerates in business environments.

Coaching for Class I and Class II Problems

It’s a laudable effort to train and certify coaches because the rise of the increasingly problematic Class II issues and subsequent widespread career derailments has enticed so many people to enter the field without adequate training. However, even the most celebrated certifiers sometimes fail to make the crucial distinction between business coaches and lifestyle coaches and between transformation coaches and advisory coaches. I have used the services of some certified coaches, and so have clients, including Max and William, who didn’t even have a clue how to make behavior transformations even though they claimed they could do that. You will find that advisory coaching is a knowledge-based process that can provide effective solutions to Class I problems when applied by appropriate experts. Transformation coaching is a Class II activity for which effective execution requires very different types of processes and a specialized set of insights and skills.

In terms of transformation coaching, simplistic solutions do not adequately reconstruct errant behaviors or changing cultures. People who develop empirical theories and processes often provide significant help to transformation coaches so they can effectively reconstruct counterproductive behaviors or change cultures, but rarely both. The underlying mental mechanisms still stay mysterious, as do other aspects of leadership development. 2Selfs Theory, which you will see outlined in my next article, removes the mystery surrounding the whole suite of Class II problems, including those for business, as indicated above, and many others. Another wonderful advantage of creating a mind-level theory is that we can retain all of the excellent empirical progress made and then extend it to meet relentlessly growing needs.

Our Inability to Recognize and Avoid Simplistic Solutions that Satisfy the Desire for Successes without Producing the Successes Desired

Simplistic Solutions Cannot Rescue Us.

A heavily advertised, broadly supported, and widely read set of books that appeared over a period of more than two decades (and that many still read and reference) focused on trying to “discover” static business “best practices” for “sustainable success.”

You can see an excellent analysis of this business “success” approach by reading the book, The Halo Effect…and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers by Professor Phil Rosenzweig.

"Start with In Search of Excellence, draw a line to Built to Last, link it to What Really Works, and then extend it all the way to Good to Great. What pattern do we see when we connect these dots? Each successive study made a bolder set of claims – to have gathered more data, to have consulted more experts, to have been more exhaustive in its research and more thorough in its analysis than the previous studies. Each claimed to boldly go where no research had gone before, to do what had never been done, and to have a greater claim to the truth. By the time we get to the last two, there are grandiose claims about virtual guarantees of success and immutable laws of physics"

Most business consultants and professors who contributed to these books are not scientists, so we can forgive them if the authors thought they were actually practicing something related to science. But we may wonder why more commentators did not point out the methodological flaws and the disconnect between the hyperbolic claims and the results they actually achieved that Rosenzweig so effectively describes with his “halos.”

"But for all their claims of rigor and science, not one of the studies cracks the nut at the center of the puzzle. Not one of them recognizes the central problem that robs them of validity – namely, that relying on articles from the popular press, on business school case studies, and on retrospective interviews, their data were compromised by the 'Halo Effect.'"

Rosenzweig provides us a great service by pointing out fundamental methodological flaws in the “best practices” genre of trying to “discover” a formula that would enable companies to achieve “lasting success.” However, he was operating within the boundaries of Class I problem-solving constraints, so he didn’t help us understand how to find a much better way to achieve business successes in our turbulent times. We need a revolutionary new path forward that models the mental foundations of success drivers for clear understanding and provides pragmatic theory-anchored processes to transform inadequate or even dysfunctional leadership attributes to align with success needs.

"While most reviewers took Collins’s work at face value – accepting its claims to be rigorous, scientific, and exhaustive – a few saw it for what it is: a trip to feel-good fantasyland. George Anders of the Wall Street Journal wrote that Good to Great offered a picture of the business world somewhere between Norman Rockwell and Mr. Rogers – a simple and reassuring place of homespun values and old-fashioned virtues where everyone feels safe and secure."

These “sustainable success” books provided simplistic solutions because they didn’t provide a theory – they just created lists of “best practices” derived from after-the-fact interviews and literature searches, as Rosenzweig pointed out for us. This approach of trying to find a magical elixir for “sustainable success” seems equivalent to trying to drive through uncharted, rocky territory by staring at the rearview mirror.

"Guess how many companies on the S&P 500 in 1957 were still on the S&P 500 in 1997, 40 years later? Only 74… And of the 74 survivors, guess how many outperformed the S&P 500 over that period? Only 12 out of 74. The other 62 survived, yes, but they didn’t thrive."

You can see from these statistics why the business profession has resigned itself to expect and accept the inevitability of business failures. Rosenzweig uses a different set of metrics than did Schwab, but they both make the same sad point – companies with long histories of successes fail at alarming rates. The business community will benefit enormously if we discover the root cause of this enigma and create systematic processes to overcome this dysfunction in the future.

Because of the massive disruptions in our business environments that will only accelerate, we must abandon any notion of finding a formula for sustainable success and instead focus on creating theories and processes that will empower us to create a long-term series of repeated successes.

Populism – The Bane of Representative Governments

Populism, whether from the far left or the far right of the political spectrum, provides dramatic examples of the use of simplistic solutions in politics. Populism doesn’t work by appealing to the intellect of voters or to systematic conservative or progressive platforms. Instead, it exploits vulnerable emotions. People with little or no track record of success in actually getting things done in government generally perpetrate populist programs. They appeal to pie-in-the-sky wants of the downtrodden, to fears, which populists often stoke, and to propaganda that promises results that will not materialize. As such, they follow the normal pattern of seduction traps in the form of simplistic solutions that promise desired results without producing the results desired for most voters who they seduce. Populism is the bane of representative governments because it exploits raw emotions, constructs widespread pretending, and makes countries vulnerable to descent into autocratic rule. I will discuss populism and how to avoid/escape it in a future article on the deterioration and resurrection of Western political systems.

The large set of problems that we are not currently solving effectively is causing growing discomfort for many people. As a result, seduction traps are running rampant because simplistic solutions provide an escape from chronic, and often not explicitly recognized, discomfort by seducing people into pretending they have found a solution without actually providing a path to alleviate the source of their discomfort. This was true for the best practices books and is perennially true for populism seduction traps. Until we relieve the widespread discomfort due to the many manifestations of our inability to solve Class II problems, many people will continue to fall for simplistic solutions, which will create grave danger to their prosperity and well-being.

Our Inability to Reverse the Increasing Dysfunction in Our Political and Governing Systems in the West

Unmanageable Political Turmoil

“The World Is Changing Before Our Eyes, and We Can't Do Anything to Stop It.” So says Nic Robertson, CNN's international diplomatic editor in a November 3, 2018 article with the above title. He writes:[1]

"Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, effectively stepped down as the leader of her party and irreparably weakened her ability to keep Europe on an even keel. That very same day, Brazil elected a far-right leader who is even Trumpier than US President Donald Trump…[Jair Bolsonaro’s] arrival and Merkel’s slow shuffle to political oblivion are not happening in isolation: The world is changing, and this week ruled out a reverse…[Markel’s] opponents trade on fears of terrorism, violence and a clash of cultures.

"It’s not just Germany where right-wing nationalism is profiting at the cost of the more traditional parties; it’s all over Europe. Brexit is as much a part of its complexion as is Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s shutdown of the EU’s migrant-sharing policies. The post-war institution is under pressure from eurosceptics of all stripes. Be it from Brexiteers, Italy’s new government, Hungary’s or Poland’s right-wingers, change is coming. They are all trading on fears and harnessing the anger their rhetoric generates.

"We are watching the world order being ripped up over fears of returning to a world order that our current post-war world order was designed to forestall. It sounds complicated, but it is not. There is not enough of everything to go around. There are not enough people making decent livings in a global economy. So, we are reverting to protectionist nationalism to insulate ourselves from the deficit. We are running from the problem, not solving it. But it’s what we have always done when fear takes hold. The world order we see now is one fixing for a fight. We are not quite sure what that fight will be or where it will begin, but we shape our arguments and prepare our defenses. As with many arguments, it has a momentum of its own. We are watching, aware of what’s happening, but without seeing a way to hold it back. That’s what makes Merkel’s slow political demise all the more troubling. In a turbulent Europe, she provided a bulwark of no-nonsense common sense, a steadying logic in an increasingly illogical situation. The season of her political generation is waning, and there is a chill in the air."

The same problems exist in spades in the US, so it appears that the whole West is failing. I will dedicate a future article in Brainz Magazine to analyze the decline of Western political systems and propose ways to resurrect their effectiveness. Robertson’s assessments should terrify us, but they probably shouldn’t surprise us. He says we are experiencing a political descent, and “we can't do anything to stop it.” Some recent actions have “ruled out a reverse.” “We are watching, aware of what’s happening, but without seeing a way to hold it back.” This situation is currently true because we only know how to solve Class I problems effectively. However, when we learn to solve Class II problems, we will have the opportunity to reverse the growing dysfunction of Western political systems.

The Truth Is You Don’t Know What the “Truth” Is

"‘We have turned a corner,’ Matt McGlone, an associate professor of communications studies at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the language of deception, told me. ‘Trump is not the first, but he certainly is the most successful at a national level at showing how persona itself can create a different set of evaluative criteria for the truth.’ Trump doesn’t have to tell the truth, McGlone explained, as long as what he is saying feels true: ‘People don’t take him literally at his word, which is amazing. Just amazing.’[2]"

What is going on when even a professor of communications and deception at an excellent university is “amazed” at the existence of two sets of “evaluative criteria” for the “truth”?

It would be hard to conjure up a more dramatic example of our abject failure to solve critical problems as we move into the third decade of the 21st century than recognizing we still do not know how to understand and manage the existence of two distinct forms of “truth.”

"In Here" vs. "Out There" Realities

Human nature causes us to have some powerful, tenacious realities (including assertions, assumptions, theories, certainties, “truths”) “in here” (that is, in our mind) that sometimes do not correspond to realities “out there” (that is, in the world outside of our mind). We can effectively use our mental processes to solve extremely complex problems, so why can’t we just change our minds to align them with external realities and our success needs? In the rest of my Brainz Magazine articles, you will see how we can solve this and many other Class II problems.

Voters’ Inability to Distinguish Between Valid Information and Big Lies

"Despite scores of failed legal challenges, numerous recounts, and Congress’ confirmation of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, a large majority of those who voted for Donald Trump incorrectly say their candidate received the most votes cast by eligible voters in enough states to win the election. Among Trump voters, 40% say he “definitely” won, and another 36% say he “probably” won the election. Only 7% of Trump voters concede that Biden definitely won the 2020 election, while another 15% say he probably won. Biden voters nearly unanimously believe their candidate won.[3] "

Because people realize I work in the field of currently mysterious problems, they ask me how it is possible that so many voters, even well after President Biden was inaugurated, still think Biden and Harris did not win the election. This is a poignant example, and a potentially fatal one for the viability of Western political systems, of the need for discontinuously different ways to solve this crucial personal-responsibility problem. Once we crack open the nut to reveal why we cannot adequately solve Class II problems, that will create the possibility to solve this issue. Big Lies are discomfort-based seduction traps that construct tenacious certainty delusions when repeated accompanied by strong feelings.

Our Inability to Avoid Widespread Drug Addictions

The statistics in the US are staggering.[4] Whether it’s a problem with alcohol, opioids, cocaine, or any other substance, addiction kills thousands of Americans every year and impacts millions of lives...Addictions destroy marriages, friendships, and careers and threaten a person’s basic health and safety.

  • Almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment.

  • Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990.

  • From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 Americans died from overdosing on a drug.

  • Alcohol and drug addiction cost the U.S. economy over $600 billion every year.

  • In 2017, 34.2 million Americans committed DUI.

  • More than 90% of people who have an addiction started before they were 18 years old.

  • Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to use addictive drugs.

This is another example of a massive inadequately managed Class II personal-responsibility problem. A subsequent article will propose a pragmatic solution to this problem that becomes available once we learn to solve Class II problems systematically.

Our Inability to Rehabilitate Prisoners so They Can Return to Society with Low Chances of Recidivism

In the US, we have an extremely high prisoner population and an unacceptably high recidivism rate. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, about two-thirds of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within three years, and three-quarters were arrested within five years.[5] While the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of its prisoners—about 2.2 million people.[6] Why have we failed so badly to transform the behaviors of prisoners so that when they are released, they have a low probability of returning? For many prisoners, their environment constructs their antisocial behaviors, and deep-seated attitudes often drive those bad habits.

This is another painful example of a Class II problem that we have not yet figured out how to solve systematically. As with all of the other inadequately managed or unmanaged activities discussed in this article, a subsequent article will propose specific processes for managing this problem once I outline a theory that explains the underlying nature of this whole class of currently mysterious problems and provides methodical processes to solve them.

Our Inability to Construct and Maintain Positive Shared Values Explicitly and Systematically

In the United States, the founders of our country bequeathed us some national aspirational values. We have struggled for 2 ½ centuries to make incremental progress in realizing those aspirations. However, our hard-earned, shared positive values are very fragile, and we have recently seen a degradation of our national values. How can we explicitly construct and maintain our shared values, which were done mostly implicitly until now? As you keep reading my Brainz Magazine articles, you will understand that this is another example of a Class II problem based on hidden realities-and-perceptions lenses that frame how we understand and experience our human-activities world.

Where Can We Look to Solve Our Large Class of Mysterious Problems?

We can help ourselves overcome our chronic difficulty in understanding how to solve Class II problems if we notice that even penetrating thinkers have not adequately figured out the underlying mechanisms that empowered us to solve Class I problems, which launched the Modern West.

Here is what Yuval Harari had to say about this topic in his international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:

"History proceeds from one junction to the next, choosing for some mysterious reason to follow first this path, then another. Around AD 1500, history made its most momentous choice, changing not only the fate of humankind but arguably the fate of all life on earth. We call it the Scientific Revolution. It began in Western Europe, a large peninsula on the western tip of Afro-Asia, which up till then played no important role in history. Why did the Scientific Revolution begin there of all places, and not in China or India? Why did it begin at the midpoint of the second millennium AD rather than two centuries before or three centuries later? We don’t know. Scholars have proposed dozens of theories, but none of them is particularly convincing."

Why the Science Revolution happened when it did and in the West is an interesting topic. However, to help us with our current critical need, unraveling the conundrum of what fundamentally happened at the mind level is much more important than solving the mystery of why, when, and where it happened.

We are experiencing an existential crisis to our successes and well-being, so we can no longer leave as mysteries understanding the foundational (mental) nature of the extremely rare culture-wide revolutionary transformations in our problem-solving abilities. That unanswered deficiency will keep us from reversing our descent as a whole Western culture and block our path to recovering and exceeding our previous greatness because we now desperately need another mega-transformation equivalent to the Science/Enlightenment Revolution.

What blocked the brilliant scholars who addressed this problem from finding a satisfactory solution? As you might now expect, they were trying to solve a Class II problem using Class I theories and processes.

When you read my March article, you will discover that underlying Harari’s mystery was an elusive mental transformation that emancipated the West from its millennium-long mental prison so that we could solve Class I problems effectively and that laid the foundation that created the greatness of the West. You will also learn that a different form of the same type of mental transformation must occur now so that we can launch ourselves into the long-term benefits of solving Class II problems increasingly effectively.

You can start yourself on the journey of understanding currently mysterious mental activities if you devote some time between now and when you read my March article trying to figure out the underlying nature of what happened to create the combined Science/Enlightenment Revolution. That understanding can empower us to make a new type of mental transformation so we can solve, to our great benefit, the increasingly debilitating Class II problems as systematically, effectively, and beneficially as we have long solved Class I problems. Because that insight is extremely elusive, as evidenced by the fact that brilliant investigators have not penetrated it effectively enough to stop our widespread decline, I will provide here a high-level map of the terrain we must traverse.

You may find it empowering to think through what mental activity might possibly be in play that could enable us to solve Class II problems as effectively as we now solve Class I problems. Because these elusive mechanisms are so crucial to our successes and well-being, you already know implicitly something about this part of the mind from various ways people inside and outside of business refer to it. What do the mental mechanisms we variously refer to as “paradigms,” “worldviews,” “cultures,” the “box,” “status quo,” and a second form of “truth” have in common? More crucially, how does explicitly understanding and managing this elusive, amorphous mental activity provide the key to unlock the mystery of Class II problems so we can solve them?

We might usefully use the following physical-maturation process as a metaphor to help us understand the nature of our current problem where we need to make a major transformation in the mental-maturation process of the West (and indeed of humankind!) We must learn to walk before we learn to run. Before that, we must learn to crawl before we learn to walk.

We began to crawl toward understanding the existence of Class II problems when careful observers started noticing some mysterious activities they variously called “soft” success factors, the “art” of leadership, and “status quo” as mechanisms that prevent us from making needed improvements in business. More generally, other indirect mechanisms emerged that pointed to mysterious human phenomena such as “paradigm shifts” and “thinking outside the box.” Next, we learned to walk toward these shadowy phenomena when empirical theories emerged in business, including “tacit” knowledge[7], the “people process,”[8] “deep change,”[9] “disruptive thinking,” “social models,” “institutional frameworks” of Schwab, and the “halo effect” from Rosenzweig.

Unfortunately, the treadmill we are on in the form of business and other types of human activities is accelerating due to massive technology innovations, among other issues, so even our fastest walking and even occasional trotting is still causing us to fall off the success conveyor. We must learn to sprint and run marathons for our Class II problems just as we have long done for our Class I problems, and that will require a mental revolution of the magnitude that launched the Science/Enlightenment Revolution.

Here is another insight into why career derailments are increasing and companies keep failing. Most investigators haven’t figured out how to overcome these chronic problems because they have been trying to focus on just one part of a bigger problem at a time. That brings to mind the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant where each blind man grabs a specific part of an elephant and proclaims a different inadequate answer to what an elephant is.

You might better understand why we have been unable to solve so many currently mysterious problems when you recognize that various wise people trying to figure out how to solve these types of problems are grabbing hold of small parts of the overall problem and missing the big picture. Some investigators address such chronic issues as behavior transformations, culture changes, and leadership development in business. Other researchers and scholars are grabbing hold of political chaos and Big Lie seduction traps. Still, others grab hold of drug addictions and prisoner recidivism. They are missing the big picture of Class II problems. As you read through my Brainz Magazine articles, I hope to convince you that we cannot solve these increasingly debilitating problems individually because we have been trying to do that using our magnificent Class I problem-solving capabilities. I will start my March article by painting a picture for you of the whole Class II “elephant.”

If we fail to take bold actions to conquer Class II activities, we risk stumbling into an existential threat, not to our existence as the West and the continuing viability of its countries, but to methodical career progressions, to long-term viability of companies, and to returning to our systematically improving standards of living. Additionally, our well-being is now under systemic threat, including for the deteriorating personal-responsibility problems, which we are not solving anywhere near adequately, as you saw above.

I will address each major issue discussed in this article in future Brainz Magazine articles. While each of my subsequent articles will focus on specific topics that I introduced here, many of them will rely on insights and processes developed in previous articles. Therefore, if you read each article, you will gradually acquire the capability to understand and manage the large suite of Class II problems identified above and many more.

Here are some key topics I will address in my March article – It’s All in Your Mind!

  • Are we just in a bad problem-solving cycle, or have we staggered onto a slippery slope? If we are systemically failing, what could have happened to cause this success-destroying decline?

  • How can we be enormously effective at solving Class I problems and so bad at Class II?

  • What fundamentally changed in the Science/Enlightenment Revolution that Harari says scholars have missed?

  • If the unsolvable issues discussed above have a common barrier to solution, what is it?

  • Can we solve Class II problems discontinuously better while retaining previous progress?

  • What mental mechanisms, which are part of human nature, have we failed to conquer?

  • “Class II” is a weak, indirect identification of our current set of mysterious, unmanageable problems. What strong, direct mechanism can we create to replace it?

You must learn the fundamentally elusive and self-deceiving aspects of human nature that cause debilitating problems identified in this article and acquire the capability to conquer the ones that affect you, your family, your career, and your company. Your future successes and well-being depend on it!

Connect with me on LinkedIn and visit my website for more information!


Barry Borgerson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Barry Borgerson graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Ph.D. in computer science and one of his minors in the management of human resources. Barry co-led a multi-year DARPA-funded research project at the University and then went on to a highly successful career in the computer industry starting as a lead computer architect and progressing through successive promotions to increasingly responsible leadership positions in technical management up to executive-level general management. When he took over a business that was failing and initiated actions to change some dysfunctional behaviors and the outdated culture of that business, he encountered so much counterproductive resistance that he started a long-term study into why very smart, highly educated, and extremely experienced people frequently cannot enact externally obvious changes they need to make to succeed.

That study led him to discover that the underlying cause of so many dysfunctional activities and the tenacious, normally uncontrollable, resistance to deep changes reside in enigmatic automatic human activities that business leaders normally do not notice, cannot change on their own if others point out their dysfunctions, and often deny they even exist. Barry then developed 2Selfs Theory, a comprehensive, business-friendly, generalized theory of the mind that models the sometimes cooperation but often competition between our explicit problem-solving abilities (using our “thinking self”) and our previously mysterious involuntary activities (driven by our “automatic self”) and provides systematic, reliable processes to align our elusive automatic actions with our explicit intentions and needed success priorities. Dr. Borgerson has repeatedly verified the effectiveness of the pragmatic 2Selfs Theory by applying it in many venues including through transformation coaching to reconstruct counterproductive behavior habits of business leaders and to change obsolete or dysfunctional company cultures, where the transformation processes worked immediately and repeatedly as the theory predicted.


References: [1] [2] [3] January 15, 2021: [4] [5] [6]. [7] The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation by Nonaka and Takeuchi [8] Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Bossidy and Charan [9] Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within by Robert E. Quinn



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