Every problem is a dilemma

I have 2 experiences with problems in general and it taught me an effective method to deal with them.

1. ALL ‘problems' you perceive originate from ONE dilemma only.

Actually this claim is backed up by a relatively simple process of abstraction. Suppose you are struggling with a list of issues you perceive as a problem. E.g.:

  1.  we’re losing customers
  2.  our margins are declining
  3.  our profitability is under pressure
  4.  we are struggling to meet service levels
  5.  our personnel complains about labor conditions
  6.  etc.

People have an inclination to treat each individual ‘problem’ in ISOLATION although in reality they are CONNECTED. In logic there is no occurrence without a cause.


  1. The “problems” you perceive, actually are SYMPTOMS of an underlying root cause. In this case you are not delivering enough value.
  2. Define the essential measure you need to take in order to fix it [invest]
  3. Define the essential NEED you fulfill by doing this [new value proposition
  4.  Define the essential NEED you fulfill by NOT doing this [save money]
  5. Define the COMMON objective of BOTH needs [increase profitability]

Now you have your dilemma. You have a good reason to invest and not to, but you don’t know how to do them simultaneously.

 2: There is ALWAYS a solution to ANY dilemma.

 Just imagine a simple example:

 You and I are looking at the same OBJECT. I claim it is red and you claim it is green. Is there any way we both could be right?

Of course we immediately conclude that there are 2 possible explanations:

  1. You and I have a different perspective towards the object
  2. You and I process information differently

Just imagine that we would have EXACTLY the same perspective AND EXACTLY the same way we process information; we would see our common “truth”. This can only be achieved by becoming one and the same person! Since we are not one and the same person we will NOT have UNITY in perception and information.

The more data we have to process the higher the risk of running into misconceptions and misinterpretations. Therefore we always run a risk of running into a dilemma.

Therefore a dilemma should ALWAYS be treated as a trigger point for deeper understanding. It calls for an inquisitive mindset because at least 1 of the 2 or potentially both standpoints are wrong. If we falsify the cause-effect relationship in at least 1 of the 2 sides of the dilemma the problem ceases to exist. In this example it is clearly a wrong assumption that developing a new value proposition will require investments and increase operating expenses. There are many innovations that achieve the opposite! Now you have your solution.

But still, can EVERY dilemma be falsified? I strongly belief so. In the 20 years or so, that I apply this method, taken from the TOC Thinking Processes, several other sources and my own experience, it never failed me.

A dilemma arises from friction between your own perspective and that of others. If it were just you and no-one else to take into consideration, if you had acces to unlimited resources, because no-one else claims them and everyone around you would follow you blindly in anything you come up with, it is hard to imagine any dilemma.

Sometimes it fails you or the other side the will to find a solution. The higher the level of abstraction the easier it gets to find a mutual objective (survival, learning, a better life to name a few). The perspective to make it concrete and how to get there may differ. This implies that any conflict can be shifted from "why" to "how". Sometimes there are several ways to achieve an objective and you will easily come together. In other cases there is only 1 way to get there. This implies that you or the other party made a wrong assumption. Clarifying that will solve the conflict.