No one will deny that, like many other countries, we have major problems. Abject poverty among large sections of the population, unacceptably high levels of crime, AIDS, corruption, poor education and poor environmental conditions are just some of our problems.
Although a great deal of effort is being made by a wide range of government agencies, NGOs, charitable foundations and international bodies under the auspices of the United Nations and the World development Bank, it would appear that, while some progress is being made, the progress is insufficient and unsustainable. One of my concerns is that the wide range of debatable causes and statistics, appear to have received more attention than seeking possible positive and tangible solutions.
Perhaps we should not be surprised at this, for this is what happens when we focus on problems and not on opportunities. Problem solving absorbs a great deal of energy, which unfortunately, often provides diminishing returns. Problem solvers become engrossed in analysing minute details, such as the extent and rate of increase in the severity of the problem, believing that problems must be quantified by accurate statistics (which sounds a bit like an oxymoron) before any progress can be made in finding a solution. Another thing that problem solvers believe they have to do is to determine cause and effect. This they tend to do very well and after some time and much effort, can show all sorts of social, economic and political patterns, and their associated demographics; why certain things have become the problems they are and who are the worst affected by them.
Does the fact that the crime rate in the Western Cape is seemingly higher than in Gauteng help us in finding a solution to crime? Does the statistic that three in five pregnant women have AIDS help in discovering a cure for AIDS? Sadly, while criminologists and epidemiologists do their number crunching crime and AIDS continue unabated. Do the dreadful statistics about our education system or the number of school drop-outs help us finding ways to create employment?
Our traditional method of solving problems, which is still being widely taught in management courses, is in itself a problem. Solving problems by analysis and determining cause and effect serves only to focus our attention on failures. It tells us why we have failed and gives nourishment to 20/20 hindsight thinking about what should have been done. It tells us how much of a failure we are and even what our rating as a failure is compared to the rest of the world. Is it important when seeking solutions that our educational system is ranked close to the bottom or that many of our business indices, like productivity and competiveness, have reached about as low as they can go? Attempting to solve problems in this way totally excludes successes. Successes are not relevant in problem solving. The key question to ask is: are conventional problem solving techniques the best way to find effective and long lasting solutions, especially in complex situations where so many inter-relating factors exist? I don't believe they are.
The well-known business management consultant Peter Drucker has for many years advocated that identifying and producing opportunities have far more potential for success than analysing and measuring problems. This is not the same as saying, as so many motivational speakers do, that in each problem there lies an opportunity and a challenge. It means leaving behind problems, not even trying to solve them, but focusing instead on opportunities. He believes that our ability to solve social and economic problems is limited by our lack of imagination and failure to seize opportunities rather than by our ability to optimise solutions, if we can even get that far as to derive a set of possible solutions. Leaving behind problems does not mean ignoring them, thinking that they may just go away. It means putting extra effort in finding opportunities instead of defining and analysing the hell out of problems.
Looking for, and exploiting, opportunities will move us away from past errors and lack of delivery to the future where anything and everything we can imagine may be possible. It provides us with a chance to use the diversity of ideas that we have in this country to conjure up wonderful scenarios of peace and prosperity. It allows each of us a chance to be good at something that all humans excel at, exploring, imagining and being curious. All of us have our own form of 'encultured' knowledge that we need to develop either individually or by forming relationships and partnerships with others. We need to set up networks of communities to breed and develop opportunities that can create jobs and produce wealth.
For too long waited have we waited for someone else to exploit the many opportunities that this country holds. We wait for others to invest money to create jobs for us. Why can’t we as individuals, financial institutions and companies, collectively, invest our own money and our own knowledge to exploit the opportunities that we can imagine? Yes, some will say that the risks are too high to invest in imagination, but many of the wealthiest people in the world have done just that. They look around them and imagine solutions to problems, not just analyse. We need to identify opportunities and imagine how we can exploit them. The world has many problems and cannot see solutions for them. But, there are many more opportunities than problems. Let us spend our energy on imagining solutions rather than on talking about and analysing the problems.
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