Making Progress on our Puzzle

20 December 2019

After decades of addressing the issues of managing in organization—by taking a good look at the accepted wisdom, comparing it with the reality, and considering how best to go forward—I turned my attention to doing much the same thing in the wider world. A TWOG on 21 December 2017, entitled “Going Public with my Puzzle”, described my puzzle of how to restore balance in a lopsided world. In the two years since, we have been making considerable progress. The next TWOG will present one aspect of this, called “The Declaration of our Interdependence”. This TWOG adapts the earlier one as a lead-in to the next one.

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and playing other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain, Monopolize my attention. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including that box called “thinking outside the box.”

A couple of years ago, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was supposed to love as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. I’m a word guy who hates word games in a box (although I love inventing words out of books, like TWOG).

On a table beside this game of ours sat a jig-saw puzzle, its pieces strewn about near the box that showed the picture to make. There and then it hit me. These games are too pat for me, too closed ended. Choose the proper words or move the proper pieces while respecting the proper rules to make the proper picture. I want to fly with ideas, not be grounded by rules.

(I took this photo of that table in Toronto.)

Compare these pat puzzles with puzzling puzzles. They are not about breaking the rules so much as creating new rules to get around old ones that don’t work. To do this, we have to be playful rather than pat, so that we can concoct solutions that seem to be outrageous until they become obvious.

In a Puzzling Puzzle:
1. The pieces are not supplied; some of them have to be found, others invented.
2. These pieces usually appear obscure, not clean-cut—more like fragments.
3. These fragments rarely connect neatly.
4. With no box in sight, the fragments have to create the picture.

(I took this photo of my worktable at home, exactly as I left it to puzzle over the original of this TWOG. Notice the fragments, loosely connected.)

Our profound puzzle    Pat solutions can no more resolve puzzling puzzles than can Monopoly develop entrepreneurs or chess train guerrilla fighters.

As I have discussed in various TWOGs and in a book, at the root of our most foreboding problems—climate change, income disparities, declining democracy, nuclear weapons in the hands of loose cannons—lies the imbalance that plagues our societies. Narrow economic forces, manifested in rampant individualism and unrestrained globalization, have been overwhelming our collective and communal needs. This is our profound puzzle, for which pat solutions, such as fixing capitalism, will not work.

This puzzle has been engaging my attention for many years. (And I thought that the managing of organizations is puzzling!) Recently I have come to the conclusion that what we need is global reformation—mass, non-violent change in our social behaviors. But how to get there?

As I have been probing around—by reading, meeting, testing, and tweeting—many fragments of a possible solution have come at me, left and right, in no particular order. A year ago, I felt it was time to connect these fragments. And so, in February, nine of us gathered at a workshop near Montreal, from which came (a) the draft of a map to see balance in society, (b) the outline of a table to help order the many ideas for action, and (c) the intention to write a declaration of interdependence, as a guide to reframe our thinking, for reformation..

Driving back to Montreal from the retreat, Jeremiah Lee, a consultant in Boston, and I read through the clauses of the American Declaration of Independence and began to draft other ones, sometimes using the wording of the original. A great many drafts later, the nine of us agreed that “The Declaration of our Interdependence” was ready to be posted, which will be done here, and on its own site, on the first of January—for 2020 vision.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. The map and the table will be posted on the site of the declaration, and may be the subjects of later TWOGs.

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