The Picasso Trick for Better Problem Solving

Conflict Zen Blog by Tammy Lenski

When we become too wedded to our own solutions, conflict resolution conversations can get pretty stuck. Here’s a trick of the mind to help us stay flexible (even when we’re sure our solution is brilliant), courtesy of Pablo Picasso.

“Let’s try again,” I said to my husband as I reached for the heavy two-person, gas-fired auger. “Now we know what not to do.”

Nearby were two large holes in the earth, destined to hold footings for our new deck. This was years ago, when we were just starting out in our careers, and we wanted to save money by digging the holes ourselves. We’d promised our contractor we could pull it off, so she’d marked the locations for the eight footings and gone home for the weekend. The concrete truck would arrive first thing on Monday morning.

I had campaigned hard to rent the auger instead of dig the holes by hand. Neither of us had ever used a gas-fired auger, but it was very clear to me that power equipment would do the job much more efficiently than hand tools.

So far, it hadn’t gone very well. The auger had a bad habit of lurching around the minute it touched the earth, so we kept obliterating the X’s Rita had marked on the grass. We had to stop repeatedly to re-figure the original location of each X.

Several times my husband suggested we trade out the auger for the post-hold digger and shovels in our garage, but I would have none of it.

Six hours later we finished the eight holes. I had to admit it was hard to imagine the post-hole digger and shovels taking longer than the auger had.

And our yard looked like it had hosted a group of drunken groundhogs.

Rita returned on Monday afternoon, after the concrete was poured. She stared at the footings in silence. She took out her measuring tape and measured, still in silence. We saw her shake her head and mutter something under her breath.

Finally, she straightened up, looked at us with a plastered-on smile, and said, “Well. We can fix this. Let me just re-work the deck plans a bit to match where the footings ended up.”

When we fall in love with our solution

I’d fallen in love with my solution and that love blinded me. Ah, young love.

It also cost us several additional hours and extra money for the contractor to adapt the deck plans to the unexpected footing locations.

I see this in problem solving, too: We become wedded to our solutions and spend a great deal of time and energy trying to get them to see it our way.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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