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Three Level Thinking

Ever since the Titanic was ripped open by an iceberg, it has been common knowledge that 80% of the treacherous chunk of glacier is below the waterline. Most think icebergs have two unequal parts: the part you can see (above the waterline) and the part you cannot (submerged core). However, it is useful to think of a third section-the part you can see, if you make an effort, which is just under the surface.

So it is with every challenge, issue, question and change. Getting the right answer often depends on seeing the whole to understand what level created the condition and what level of action is needed to address it.

The small visible part is often the symptom. It is rare that you can deal with the issue in a sustained way by addressing the symptom alone. Solutions grounded in willpower or the simple logic of "Do this" or "Don't do that" are usually insufficient to make the needed change or find the right answer. Keep in mind, 80% of the problem is lurking below, with momentum and mass all invested in the old way.

Looking Under the Waterline

The patience, time and resources needed to dive deeply and examine the total mass of any issue are rare in business. Whether the change is personal or enterprise-wide, deep exploration can require months or years, which few change initiatives are ever allowed. When you need an answer in days or weeks, the richest material available is waiting in the middle layer.

By going below the surface, beyond the obvious, you get a glimpse of the full issue and can take measure of the components most likely to positively influence the outcome. This added understanding permits a level of problem solving unavailable if you choose to stay above the waterline or made too ponderous and threatening by the full deep dive.

What will you find in that middle territory? Usually there is enough view into causality to guide a more sustainable solution. Above the waterline, you may see that you micro-manage. At that level you are left only with trying to remember to be less directive. Peering into the depths may help you understand why you need the details, or which situations are most likely to evoke your need for control.

If you are considering instituting a major organizational change you can easily see the logical lines of influence above the waterline. But it is in the depths that you will find the information to inform how the change is made and how to manage organizational resistance along the way.

The Bottom Line

Next time you are faced with a difficult challenge, or are not certain you fully understand the true reason for the situation you face, try a shallow dive under the waterline to discover what is available there.

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