Of all the tools associated with the Thinking Processes, I have found the most useful and the one I use most often is the Conflict Diagram. It seems that solving conflicts are part of everyday life. No matter how much you plan, no matter how careful you are, there always seems to be conflicts. So, if conflicts are a normal aspect of everyday life, and decisions are required to solve conflicts, then having access to the best tools to resolve conflicts is paramount.
Conflict Diagrams are necessary condition-based (necessity-based logic) structures used to verbalize and resolve conflicts (dilemmas). In the past this thinking tool has come to be known by many different names. In the early days of TOC development it was known as the “evaporating cloud”. It has also been referred to as the “conflict diagram” and the “conflict resolution diagram”. Whichever name you choose the structure remains the same. I have chosen the term Conflict Diagram.
Typically, resolving conflicts involves investing time (sometimes large quantities of time) in finding a compromise upon which both sides will agree – however reluctantly. Yet there are many times when there is no acceptable compromise that both parties will agree to. The problem with a compromise is both sides have to give up something in order to achieve common ground. When a compromise is used the end result is usually so diluted that it jeopardizes the achievement of an important objective. Unfortunately, many objectives are compromised through this process of seeking consensus on a solution that in the end the results are not satisfying for either side. The compromise process usually results in a “lose-lose” situation. In other words, neither side achieved what they really wanted. If such is the case, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend the necessary time trying to eliminate some conditions (assumptions) in reality that need changing rather than to compromise the objective? In the process of compromise it makes sense that breakthrough ideas are usually hidden to us – we are geared to looking for compromises. Perhaps generating the idea (injection) that creates a “win-win” without a compromise would be a much more acceptable platform to resolve conflicts.
By rejecting the tendency to compromise the stated objective, one gains the ability to:
1) Set objectives based upon what is wanted/needed rather than on that which is currently deemed possible.
2) Challenge vital assumptions that sustain the conflict.
3) Find paradigm-shifting ideas that increase the likelihood of achieving the objective.
The Conflict Diagram provides a concise verbalization of a problem. What is a problem? It is usually defined as a situation where you are unable to get what you want. From this definition it is easy to see that one element of the Conflict Diagram is a description of what you want – the objective – and another element of the Conflict Diagram is a description of something that is preventing the achievement of the objective. In essence – clearly defining the conflict. Once the situation is clearly defined and the entities of the conflict are clearly verbalized the stage is set for generating breakthrough ideas.
Most people have had an idea come to them from out of the blue. You know, you have been thinking about a problem and then all of the sudden you wake up one morning and a brilliantly simplistic solution comes to you. What blocked you from being able to solve the problem before? You probably had some assumptions about a necessary condition that didn’t really have to be necessary. Once you realized this at some level, you were able to come up with a way out of the predicament. Finding breakthrough ideas comes through challenging assumptions we make about our reality. The assumption based thinking (human behavior) is an essential part of the Conflict Diagram.
Structure of a Conflict Diagram
The “A” entity is the objective. It is the statement that defines what you really want to do. The “B” requirement is a statement (entity) that defines something that must exist in order to achieve the Objective “A”. The “C” requirement is the statement of an additional requirement that must exist to achieve the Objective “A”. “D” is the prerequisite statement (entity) for “B”. “E” is the prerequisite statement for “C”. The conflict, when it is surfaced, will reside between “D” and “E” (HENCE: the lighting bolt arrow). The statements written in “D” and “E” will usually be opposite statements. For example, the statement in “D” might say “do something”, and the statement in “E” will say “Don’t do something”, The line between “D” and “E” represents the tug-of-war between the two statements. As a necessity based structure it is read: “In order to have “A”… I must have “B”. In order to have “B” I must have “D”. The same rules apply to the lower leg of the diagram: “In order to have “A”… I must have “C”. In order to have “C”… I must have “E”.
The structure of a Conflict Diagram is such that it presents both sides of an argument or dilemma. Each side of the dilemma is commonly referred to as a leg. One leg presents your side of the conflict, and the other leg represents the other side of the conflict. Each leg appears valid to the person or group presenting those statements. Each leg appears to define the “necessary conditions” to achieve the objective. But each leg is in conflict with each other. One side says, “Do this” and the other side says, “Do that”. You can’t do both – so what do you do? In the next segment we will discuss the uses for Conflict Diagrams and the steps to construct a Conflict Diagram.