31. Know Problem

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

Everyone approaches a problem in a different way. Some focus on what went wrong. Others on how to fix it. In general, a healthy balance is probably 80/20. Spend 80% of your time finding solutions and only 20% on the problem. This lesson is about how to use the 20%. Because staying grounded in the tension and getting specific on what happened allows you to get fantastically more creative with the other 80%.

First, notice the current habit is called “take your tensions seriously,” and not “take your solutions seriously.” The reason is because problems arise when we get attached to any particular solution. If you’ve ever experienced a difficult integration during a governance meeting, you’ve likely seen this in action. Often when the group can’t seem to find a creative resolution to satisfy both objector and proposer, it’s because someone is stuck on one specific solution.

Remember, all of the constitutional rules are focused on tension-processing pathways; i.e. ways of converting any tension sensed by anyone, into meaningful organizational impact. This is why it’s far more effective to stay grounded in the tension than come up with a brilliant solution. What happened specifically? When? With whom? From that description, you can always ask for ideas to help solve that issue.

In this way, you can use everyone in Governance and Tactical meetings as your own personal brainstorming team. “What do you think would work here?” “I was thinking of offering them 15%... anyone know a reason why that’d be a mistake?”

The trick is understanding that, the more deeply-rooted you are in the tension, the stronger and more creative the ideas will be. Because, if we really want to get rid of a problem, then we aren’t going to care too much about what solves it. If you need to get to the hospital, you probably won’t worry what car we take.

Similarly, if you really need to solve a problem, then don’t limit yourself to yourself. Take your tensions seriously by getting concrete. What happened? When? Where?

Make it clear it’s your decision to make, then welcome feedback and ideas with open arms.

Holacracy gives everyone tons of autonomy to make decisions. But that’s not an excuse to act like a rebellious teenager and ignore good advice. After all, it’s not illegal to juggle chainsaws, swallow chlorine, or set your shirt on fire, but they’re really bad ideas. Just because you can make a decision without gathering more information, doesn’t mean you should.

Of course, we will all make mistakes, but some we know could have been avoided. Taking your tensions seriously means processing each one as it arrives (not waiting until they build up) and staying grounded in the tension, not any specific solution.