Solving Impossible Problems

I’ve been searching for ways to operationalize paradoxes and your four component typology has been the most concrete and useful framework I’ve come across.
Apivat (Paul) Hanvongse
PhD Student
Solving Impossible Problems is very rich with models, patterns, and ways of thinking through ‘problems’ to solutions.  And for anyone new to this field, this book would be one that a person could read again and again and again and keep mining rich nuggets from!
L. Michael Hall

…a very worthwhile book which will be very helpful to anyone grappling with the ambiguities and paradoxes of today’s challenges, whether as organisational leaders or as individuals going about their daily lives.
Linda Holbeche
Author & Research & Practice Director, CIPD

Your book is addictive!
Jacqueline Dowsing
Senior Learning & Development Officer

Broadens perspectives and options, linking into proven business models… a very ‘user friendly’ book.
Henrietta Laitt
Trainer, Coach, Supervisor, Psychotherapist

For those interested in how, when, why (etc!) paradox and tensions arise, manifest and impact in business environments, Joe’s book is a must… there are few in the current marketplace who understand the dynamics of paradox management as well as Joe. Joe’s work is typically well referenced, robustly argued, measured, masterfully written and compelling. 
Ed Luttrell
Director & Principal Coach



Say goodbye to organisational dilemmas, tensions, conflicts and stress with Solving Impossible Problems.

Impossible problems are those that will not easily be solved. They twist and turn and defy resolution. When you think you have them nailed down, they loop, split and flip, taking you round in circles until you find yourself back at square one.

The ability to manage tensions, paradox and uncertainty in business is becoming a much sought after leadership skill.

‘Paradox Management’ is a new but increasingly essential field in the area of business management and will be highly influential in the ongoing sanity and success of all organisations and of the people who work for them.

Solving Impossible Problems will give you a greater understanding of organisational tensions and paradox. You will learn how to recognise these ‘twisty turny’ problems and then use practical tools to resolve them or use them for innovation.

This book is a unique guide to greater innovation, heightened wellbeing and enhanced thinking power through the revolutionary process of Paradox Management.



* What are impossible problems?
* Researching impossible problems: The ‘Paradox Study’
* Exploring impossible problems

Organisational Paradox

* What is paradox?
* Three forms of paradox
* Is paradox always negative?
* Why understand and manage paradox?

The Dynamics and Types of Organisational Paradox

* From polarity to tensions
* Dynamics of paradox
* Types of paradox
* Perspectives of paradox: System and individual
* Mapping and diagnosing paradox

Recognising Impossible Problems: Symptoms and Language

* Symptoms of impossible problems
* Learned helplessness
* Group behaviours and organisational mood
* The language of paradox and tensions

Layers of a Problem

* How layers are built
* Organisational defences
* Defensive layers
* Recognising organisational defences
* Addressing organisational defences

Organisational Models for Scoping & Exploring Impossible Problems

* Where do impossible problems occur within organisations?
* Models for exploration

Deeper Understanding: The Thinking and Language of Paradox

* Duality thinking, beliefs and the self-fulfilling prophecy
* Subject and object
* The embodiment of thinking and the dualistic brain
* Either/or thinking
* Positioning – right and wrong
* Negation
* Nominalisations
* Cultural thinking

Thinking Patterns that Transcend Problems

* Thinking beyond the problems ‘going meta’
* Layers of meta
* Logical levels
* The organisation as a hierarchy
* Sorting out levels and hierarchies

Four Thinking Logics

* Methods of thinking: Logic
* Formal logic
* Fuzzy logic
* Dialectic logic
* Trialectic logic

Maintaining Polarity: The Formal Logic Approach

* Dilemma or decision?
* Holding the paradox open and keeping the tension going
* Polarity management

Somewhere in the Middle: The Fuzzy Logic Approach

* Fuzzy logic – seeing the continuum
* Fuzzy logic in ethical dilemmas

Synthesis: The Dialectic Approach

* What is dialectic logic?
* Dialectic Techniques
* Using the dialectic approach for model making

Changing Perspective: The Trialectic Approach

* What is trialectic logic?
* Reframing
* Denominalising: ‘Unsticking’ the paradox
* The reframing/denominalising relationship

Managing Uncertainty and Ambiguity

* Handling uncertainty and ambiguity
* The positive side of uncertainty?
* Types of uncertainty
* Preventing uncertainty

Managing Conflict and Disagreement

* Conflict and disagreement
* Approaches to managing conflicting positions
* Is win/win really possible?
* Directions of thinking: ‘Chunking up’ and ‘chunking down’
* Negotiating through conflict
* The stages in more detail
* Resolving conflict

Paradox Management as an OD Intervention

* The case for paradox management
* Challenges for paradox management
* Can paradox be managed?
* Paradox management as an organisational development tool
* Measuring the immeasurable

Appendix 1: The Paradox Management Process

Appendix 2: Principles of Paradox Management


About the Author and The GWiz Learning Partnership