Leaders go look for problems to solve by observation and analysis.

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curiosity, awe, and solutions

From: At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others

Effective leaders are system thinking problem hunters, with an existential-phenomenological philosophy. Leaders go look for problems to solve by observation and analysis. (EZM)

This was Sartre’s debonair old school friend Raymond Aron, a fellow graduate of the École normale supérieure. Like the other two, Aron was in Paris for his winter break. But whereas Sartre and Beauvoir had been teaching in the French provinces — Sartre in Le Havre, Beauvoir in Rouen — Aron had been studying in Berlin. He was now telling his friends about a philosophy he had discovered there with the sinuous name of phenomenology — a word so long yet elegantly balanced that, in French as in English, it can make a line of iambic trimeter all by itself.
The phenomenologists’ leading thinker, Edmund Husserl, provided a rallying cry, ‘To the things themselves!’ It meant: don’t waste time on the interpretations that accrue upon things, and especially don’t waste time wondering whether the things are real. Just look at this that’s presenting itself to you, whatever this may be, and describe it as precisely as possible. Another phenomenologist, Martin Heidegger, added a different spin. Philosophers all through history have wasted their time on secondary questions, he said, while forgetting to ask the one that matters most, the question of Being. What is it for a thing to be? What does it mean to say that you yourself are? Until you ask this, he maintained, you will never get anywhere. Again, he recommended the phenomenological method: disregard intellectual clutter, pay attention to things and let them reveal themselves to you.
‘You see, mon petit camarade,’ said Aron to Sartre — ‘my little comrade’, his pet name for him since their schooldays — ‘if you are a phenomenologist, you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!’
Beauvoir wrote that Sartre turned pale on hearing this. She made it sound more dramatic by implying that they had never heard of phenomenology at all. In truth, they had tried to read a little Heidegger. A translation of his lecture ‘What Is Metaphysics?’ had appeared in the same issue of the journal Bifur as an early Sartre essay in 1931. But, she wrote, ‘since we could not understand a word of it we failed to see its interest’. Now they saw its interest: it was a way of doing philosophy that reconnected it with normal, lived experience. (Pg.3)
They were more than ready for this new beginning. At school and university, Sartre, Beauvoir and Aron had all been through the austere French philosophy syllabus, dominated by questions of knowledge and endless reinterpretation of the works of Immanuel Kant. Epistemological questions opened out of one another like the rounds of a turning kaleidoscope, always returning to the same point: I think I know something, but how can I know that I know what I know? It was demanding, yet futile, and all three students — despite excelling in their exams — had felt dissatisfied, Sartre most of all.
He hinted after graduation that he was now incubating some new ‘destructive philosophy’, but he was vague about what form it would take, for the simple reason that he had little idea himself. He had barely developed it beyond a general spirit of rebellion. Now it looked as though someone else had got there before him. If Sartre blanched at Aron’s news about phenomenology, it was probably as much from pique as from excitement.
Either way, he never forgot the moment, and commented in an interview over forty years later, ‘I can tell you that knocked me out.’ Here, at last, was a real philosophy. According to Beauvoir, he rushed to the nearest bookshop and said, in effect, ‘Give me everything you have on phenomenology, now!’ What they produced was a slim volume written by Husserl’s student Emmanuel Levinas, La théorie de l’intuition dans la phénoménologie de Husserl, or The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Books still came with their leaves uncut. Sartre tore the edges of Levinas’ book open without waiting to use a paperknife, and began reading as he walked down the street. (Pg.4)

Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen

From the Preface

Many leaders at all levels tell their people that they hate surprises. They encourage their people to tell them the bad news, rather than providing only a rosy picture of the business. They hold town-hall meetings with their employees, tour various company locations, and remind everyone that their door is always open. Still, problems often remain concealed in organizations for many reasons. Unlike cream, bad news does not tend to rise to the top.
I argue that leaders need to become hunters who venture out in search of the problems that might lead to disaster for their firms. They cannot wait for the problems to come to them. Time becomes the critical factor. The sooner leaders can identify and surface problems, the more likely they can prevent a major catastrophe. If leaders spot the threats early, they have more time to take corrective action. They can interrupt a chain of events before it spirals out of control.


Through my research, I have identified seven sets of skills and capabilities that leaders must master if they want to become effective problem-finders.
First, you must recognize that people around you filter information, often with good intentions. They hope to conserve your precious time. Sometimes, though, they filter out the bad news. Problem-finders learn how to circumvent these filters.
Second, you must learn to behave like an anthropologist who observes groups of people in natural settings. You cannot simply ask people questions; you must watch how they behave. After all, people often say one thing and do another.
Third, the most effective problem-finders become adept at searching for and identifying patterns. They learn how to mine past experience, both personal and organizational, so that they can recognize problems more quickly.
Fourth, you must refine your ability to “connect the dots” among seemingly disparate pieces of information. Threats do not come to us in neat little packages. They often remain maddeningly diffuse. Only by putting together many small bits of information can we spot the problem facing the organization.
Fifth, effective problem-finders learn how to encourage people to take risks and learn from their mistakes. They recognize that some failures can be quite useful, because they provide opportunities for learning and improvement. You must distinguish between excusable and inexcusable mistakes, though, lest you erode accountability in the organization.
Sixth, you must refine your own and your organization’s communication skills. You have to train people how to speak up more effectively and teach leaders at all levels how to respond appropriately to someone who surfaces a concern, points out a problem, or challenges the conventional wisdom.
Finally, the best problem-finders become like great coaches who watch film of past performances and glean important lessons about their team’s problems as well as those of their principal rivals. You must become adept at review and reflection, as well as how to practice new behaviors effectively.
I argue that becoming an effective problem-finder requires more than mastering a set of skills. You have to embrace a different attitude and mindset about work and the world around you. The best problem-finders demonstrate intellectual curiosity, embrace systemic thinking, and exhibit a healthy dose of paranoia.

Learn To Think in Systems: Use System Archetypes to Understand, Manage, and Fix Complex Problems and Make Smarter Decisions

From the Introduction

Thus we can also conclude what’s not a system. For example: sand scattered on the beach, fallen leaves, or random people walking on the street are not a system. Why? Because they don’t have any interaction with each other and they don’t have a unifying purpose.

  1. Donella Meadows says “The basic principle of a system is that it is something more than a collection of its parts.” Systems thinking consists of three things: elements, interconnections, and a function (for non-living systems) or purpose (living systems). The least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior.[iv]
  2. Barry Richmond’s definition of systems thinking is “the art and science of making reliable inferences about behavior by developing an increasingly deep understanding of underlying structure.” He uses the figurative explanation that systems thinkers can see both the forest and the trees; one eye on each.[v]
  3. Peter Senge, a well-respected system thinking expert, sees the definition of systems thinking as being “a discipline for seeing wholes and a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.”[vi]
    Arnold and Wade state that Senge’s definition is a bit hard to grasp and understand, particularly because he fails to provide a purpose for systems thinking. The interrelationships he’s talking about are not properly specified. What his definition does succeed in is a foreshadowing of the profound and complex nature of this type of thinking.[vii]
  4. Linda Sweeney and John Sterman, both well-known researchers in the field, state, “Much of the art of systems thinking involves the ability to represent and assess dynamic complexity (e.g., behavior that arises from the interaction of a system’s agents over time), both textually and graphically.”[viii] The pair of experts also provide a list of specific skills of systems thinking:
    “Understand how the behavior of a system arises from the interaction of its agents over time (i.e., dynamic complexity);
    Discover and represent feedback processes (both positive and negative) hypothesized to underlie observed patterns of system behavior;
    Identify stock and flow relationships; Recognize delays and understand their impact; Identify nonlinearities;
    Recognize and challenge the boundaries of mental (and formal) models.”[ix]
    While these definitions provides tangible examples of skills, Ross and Wade argue they still fail to properly explain the purpose of systems thinking. While they mention “assessing dynamic complexity” as a systems thinking purpose, they don’t really tackle what this actually means realistically. The interconnections between the system’s elements are not mentioned in this definition either. Thus, overall, the very nature of systems is missing.[x]
    5 Ross and Wade propose to create a new, more ubiquitous definition of systems thinking without neglecting the very detail of what systems thinking actually is and what it does; in other words, defining systems thinking by its goals. They explain that systems around us are usually defined by their purpose. Just think about a heating system, a water system, the sewage system, a public transportation system, or the highway system. When the purpose of the system is captured by its name, it’s easier to further brainstorm on its elements and interconnections. Why not also define systems thinking based on its purpose?
    Ross and Wade defined systems thinking the following way:
    “Systems thinking is a set of synergistic analytic skills used to improve the capability of identifying and understanding systems, predicting their behaviors, and devising modifications to them in order to produce desired effects. These skills work together as a system.”[xi]

Phenomenology (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series)

Modern philosophy broke ranks with classical philosophy by shifting attention from the essence of things to the experience of things. (Pg.10)


From the Preface


When I was sixteen I got glasses for the first time. Stunning it was to experience the world in high definition again—I distinctly recall the shock of being able to see the individual blades of grass. With the vividness of things crying out for recognition, I was pulled into perception with a renewed intensity.
Martin Heidegger recalls how phenomenology drew him in: “I remained so fascinated by Husserl’s work that I read in it again and again in the years to follow without gaining sufficient insight into what fascinated me. The spell emanating from the work extended to the outer appearance of the sentence structure and the title page.”2 The word fascinate comes from the Latin word that means “to be under a spell.” Even Pope John Paul II, who as a university professor published a work of phenomenology, says, “I thank God for having allowed me also to participate in this fascinating enterprise.”3 Phenomenology exercises a strange and powerful hold on its participants. They are bedazzled, beguiled, bewitched.
Often things fascinate us by snatching us away from our surroundings. An addictive video game, for example, makes us insensitive to the ordinary things and people about us. In this way, what fascinates makes our world smaller; it confines us to what enthralls or enslaves. By contrast, phenomenology rekindles the magic of the ordinary by putting us back in touch with experience. Instead of making the world smaller, it opens us up to everything and everyone. It is a spell that undoes the deadening spell of the mundane allowing us to see things again as if for the first time. Maurice Merleau-Ponty puts it this way: “True philosophy entails learning to see the world anew.”4 Phenomenology fascinates by restoring charm to the things of this world. It captures our hearts by setting us free, free to experience deeply the truth of things together with others.


What is it about the beach that draws us so powerfully? Here in the great expanse where the land meets the water and the water converges on the sky, there is much to take in. Taste the salt on your tongue. Smell the heavy scent of the sea breeze. Feel the radiating sun above and the gritty sand below. See the froth of the rhythmic waves. Hear their noisy crash and whispering retreat. Unlike the neutral space of the modern office, this is a total body experience, which propels us into an array of playful activities—sunbathing, beachcombing, sandcastle building, surfing, and so on.
Amid such activity, there is much to think about. If you want to learn about the tides and the forces of the ocean, turn to oceanography and physics. If you find curious the creatures that waddle about at water’s edge, turn to naturalists and field biologists. If you marvel at the beauty of the spectacular colors dancing on the waves as the sun slides toward the horizon, turn to the poet or painter. If you find your heart soar beyond all expectations, look to the mystic or theologian for direction. But if you want to know how truth is at play in the ocean-side experience, turn to phenomenology.
Phenomenology is the experience of experience. It names both a contemporary philosophical method and a contemporary philosophical movement that follows this method. Founded by Edmund Husserl, expounded by Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and others, phenomenology is now an international movement of researchers devoted to exhibiting the truth of experience. Rather than resting content with prior conceptions, it ventures forth into the field of experience so that truth might be met in the flesh.


Phenomenology is the study of experience, of the way things appear to us together in their truth. The unfolding of experience allows us to sort true appearances from mere appearances. Phenomenology does not study mere appearance; it studies the true appearance of things.
The blind spot of contemporary science, an inability to locate itself in the picture it generates, serves as a primary focus for the field of philosophy called phenomenology. No account of the whole can be complete if it doesn’t account for the accounting of the whole, that is, if it doesn’t make sense of our curious wonder about the whole. And no account of wonder can be complete if it doesn’t explain the presence of perception, not as the juxtaposition of two things, but instead as our openness to a field of experience. (Pg.4)

Becoming a Thoughtful Spectator

How can we wonder about presence as such? The answer is phenomenology’s transcendental reduction. It is called “transcendental,” because it focuses on the relational structure of experience rather than any of experience’s content. “Transcendence” means to “step beyond,” and our experience steps beyond ourselves and runs up against things. It is called a “reduction,” because it traces back something we experience to the experience that makes it present. The point of the transcendental reduction is to step back, to retrace the steps that make experience happen. The shift from experiencing things to experiencing how we experience things is very strange, but it is anticipated by some ordinary life experiences.

Introducing baseball to a child for the first time is difficult, because the novice sees without understanding and does not know how to make sense of the game. Why is the person running? Why are people cheering? What’s going on? One and the same event happens in front of us, but the child cannot experience what we experience. The producer of a televised game performs much of the understanding for the viewer; the camera doesn’t duplicate the experience of being in the stands; instead, it zeroes in, from the most appropriate angle, and shows the viewer the tiny corner of the field where the action is. And unlike the global view of the fan in the stadium, the shift from camera to camera helps the television viewer stay with the action.8 The radio broadcast must be even more explicit about understanding for the viewer. What the announcer relays is not simply how things look (what even the untutored child can see); the play by play involves relating the understanding of what is seen. “The runner is leading off the base. The pitcher is winding up, the runner is going, the catcher is making the throw, the second baseman’s got the ball, and the runner is . . .” To try to explain baseball to neophytes, to produce the experience for a televised audience, or to narrate the experience for an absent audience involves a shift into being a spectator who focuses not only on the game but also on how the game is experienced.

To enter into phenomenology is analogous to becoming a spectator in baseball. In phenomenology, one thoughtfully experiences experience in general. One can thereby analyze the fundamental structures of experience that hold for watching not only a ballgame but also a performance, a movie, or two spider monkeys swinging from branch to branch at the zoo. One can articulate the difference between seeing something and understanding what is seen. One can identify the difference between seeing with understanding and understanding without seeing (as when I simply tell you about what I saw on my trip to the zoo). To make the transcendental turn is to become a spectator to experience, who takes in the game of experience with understanding and can thereby articulate it for others. We become what Husserl calls “a nonparticipating spectator, surveyor of the world.”9 Like the spectator to baseball, the spectator to experience remains deeply engaged; the difference is that the spectator pays attention to points of view and the new dimension of understanding or intending what is seen as what it is. (Pg.7)

Phenomenology potently combines two forces in philosophy: search for the elusive essence of things and wonder concerning the possibility of experiencing things. (Pg.12)

WE&P by: EZorrilla

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