Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities. Adam Kahane. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities Book Cover Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities
Adam Kahane
Berrett-Koehler Publishers
August 2004

Our most common way of solving problems – at home, at work, in our communities, in national and international affairs – is to use our expertise and authority to apply piece-by-piece, tried-and-true “best practices.” This works for simple, familiar, uncontentious problems. But it doesn’t work for the complex, unfamiliar, conflictual problems that we all increasingly face. When we try to solve these complex problems using our common way, the problems end up either getting stuck or getting unstuck only by force. We all need to learn another, uncommon way.

Adam Kahane has worked on some of the toughest problems in the world. He started out as an expert analyst and advisor to corporations and governments, convinced of the need to calculate “the one right answer.” Then, through an unexpected experience in South Africa during the transition away from apartheid, he got involved in facilitating a series of extraordinary, high-conflict, high-stakes problem solving efforts: in Columbia during the Civil War, in Argentina during the collapse, in Guatemala after the genocide, in Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and the Basque Country. Through these experiences, he has learned how to create environments that enable creative new ideas and solutions to emerge even in the most stuck and challenging contexts. Here Kahane tells the stories and distills from them a “simple but not easy” approach all of us can use to solve our own toughest problems.

Using examples from families, corporations, governments, and nonprofits, Kahane explores the connection between individual and systemic transformation, and shows how to move beyond politeness and formal statements, beyond routine debate and defensiveness, towards deeper and more productive dialogue and action. Engaging and inspiring, personal and practical, this book offers us a down-to-earth and hopeful way forward: the way of open quote open-minded, open-hearted, open-willed talking and listening” vital for creating profound and lasting change.

Adam Kahane is a founding partner of Generon Consulting and the Global Leadership Initiative. He is a leading designer and facilitator of processes through which business, government, and civil society leaders can solve their toughest, most complex problems. During the early 1990s, Kahane was head of Social, Political, Economic and Technological Scenarios for Royal Dutch/Shell in London. Previously he held strategy and research positions with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (San Francisco), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Vienna), the Institute for Energy Economics (Tokyo), and the Universities of Toronto, British Columbia, California, and the Western Cape. Kahane has a B.Sc. in Physics (First Class Honors) from McGill University (Montréal), an M.A. in Energy and Resource Economics from the University of California (Berkeley), and an M.A. in Applied Behavioral Science from Bastyr University (Seattle). He has also studied negotiation at Harvard Law School and cello performance at the Institut Marguerite-Bourgeoys.