Sunday, July 3, 2011

Finding the core issue

Imagine you get lucky: you will be granted three wishes. What will you wish? From fairytales we know how easy it is to wish foolishly or to wish for something that appears foolish afterward. The old Greeks said already that when the gods want to punish people, they grant their wishes. So we need wisdom. Maybe the best first wish is for wisdom with the second wish. And what would the third wish be? The surprising answer is that we cannot know. When our best wish is granted, our situation will change, we will change and only after a while, we may find what would be the best wish then.

I developed core issue identification from my experiences with strategic issue management. After proper analysis, we would usually find between 5 and 15 strategic issues for an organization like a company or an institution. Working on an issue list for the Netherlands, we found six real strategic issues out of a first list of about 35 possible national issues. My issue list for the planet came ulimately to ten issues. With police forces, the first lists would be about 15-20 issues, after analysis reduced to 5-7 strategic issues for the next 5 years.
Interestingly, almost always, by further analysis, one issue would dwarf the others in importance. That discovery would lead to an initial shock and then galvanize the team involved into action. Several times that number one issue, that core issue, would be utterly and totally solved within a few months. Because the organization really set its teeth in it.

In a number of cases, there would be two issues vying for first place, but of a completely different nature: one would be an issue within the present mission and capability of the organization, and one would require a new capability and some redefinition of the mission. Guess which of the two was always taken up first.
Later, I began to apply the same core issue identification for more individual situations, in the framework of coaching and personal consultancy. Usually, it was less easy. Although an individual is a much smaller system than a company or a government agency, both mission and capability are much more indefinite. Few people can bring themselves to the rigorous self-reflection that is necessary. Many seem afraid to look into the mirror and confront the momentary key challenge in their lives.

From a completely different angle, I found an other approach: my work on organizational constellations. I started to do what I call core issue constellations. And I found these can be applied very well to individuals also. Though still I would find that it required both personal courage and wisdom of the client to face and understand the issue. Anyway, finding your core issue is galvanizing.

So now I approach core issue identification sometimes from the analytical and sometimes from the intuitive side, sometimes by strategic issue analysis and sometimes by constellation work. I like this work, though it produced one drawback: I have become impatient with clients who don't want to go to the core of things.
I can't tell you the core issues my clients found and I won't tell you my own core issue, but I can tell you the core issue we found for the Netherlands as a country, six years ago: Immigrants and Immigration. Still sounds right to me.

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