In thirty years of business consulting, as well as several thousand sessions of couples counseling, I've had the opportunity to see just how wise those words of Albert Einstein were.
Let me give you a $100-million-dollar example:
The negotiation had dragged on for three days, and the end was nowhere in sight. On one side of the negotiation: Four top executives from a household-name media company. On the other side: A team of executives from a household-name software company, the largest of its kind in the world. The media company very much wanted to buy a package of software worth several hundred million dollars. The software company very much wanted to sell it to them. The sticking-point seemed to be price, and the two sides were a hundred million dollars apart.
That was where things were at the end of the first day, and it was where things continued to be on the third day. By now, however, exhaustion had set in, and everyone was on the verge of chucking the whole deal. At this point, a visiting psychologist (who had been called in to assist with the resolution) suggested that the two sides take a meditation-break. They went to their respective quarters and sat down to rest their minds. The consultant invited each group in turn to do the same thing: First, just relax and breathe and rest your mind. Occasionally, he said, float what he called a "wonder-question" through your mind. Instead of thinking you know the solution, ask yourself a wonder-question, one that you don't know the answer to.
He suggested two for them to use: Am I willing to have a solution emerge that everybody's happy with? Am I willing to have a creative solution emerge quickly and easily?
The software company's group struck gold after about twenty minutes. One of their executives volunteered a simple insight. "You know what I think the real issue is? I think they're wondering if we all like each other. After all, we're going to spend three years implementing all the software. I think their real concern is whether we can get along."
The CEO then asked everybody on his team, "Well, do we? Let's not pretend. Let's ask ourselves first if we really like these guys. If we don't, maybe we ought to try again later after we've worked some of those issues." The executives raised various issues, but agreed after a few minutes that they basically liked the other side. They realized that their team was made up primarily of engineering-types, and the other side was mostly lawyer-types.
The consultant called the groups back together. Before anyone could mention any of the processes that had taken place over the past half hour, one of the lawyer-types proposed a brilliant, breakthrough solution. They split the cash difference, and gave the software company equity in several upcoming media projects that, if successful, would add well over two hundred million dollars to the software company's profits.
Twenty minutes later the deal-sheet was signed.
The conflict and its resolution is a classic example of a shift from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian paradigm. If you did not understand the dynamics, you might think a miracle had taken place. However, once you understand the moves that made the shift happen, you can see that there's a science as well as an art to problem-solving by Einsteinian means.
The parties had become trapped inside the Newtonian world of conflict. For every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction. One side pushed, the other pushed back. One side made an offer, the other side responded to it. In some cases, resolution can occur inside the Newtonian paradigm, providing both sides can eventually find a balance-point. In this case, though, the more everybody pushed back and forth, the deeper they got mired in the sludge. When this occurs, it is invariably a call to shift paradigms. However, often the call goes unheeded and the parties persist in doing more of what isn't working. At the extreme, a massive effort toward solving a problem can devolve into a situation far, far worse than before the effort began. Witness the war on poverty launched during the Johnson Administration. Its programs consumed a trillion dollars in tax money, but the country ended up with more people in poverty than before "war" was declared.
The 10/90 Law In Action
By agreeing to stop the wrangling and take a "meditation-break," the participants made their first excursion out of the Newtonian paradigm. Instead of the typical Newtonian move of expending more effort, they broke the paradigm. Then, with the introduction of the wonder-questions, they shifted full-scale into the Einsteinian paradigm. The players freed themselves from the action-reaction model and jumped into the unknown. They were willing to shift out of the confines of thinking they knew the right way to a solution. By transcending the push-me/pull-you Newtonian model and floating into the spacious non-confines of the Einsteinian, they unhooked themselves from gravity long enough for a new solution to emerge. I have seen this happen often enough that I call it the 10/90 Law: If all parties will let go of thinking they're right for at least ten seconds, that ten seconds takes them 90% of the way to discovering a solution that feels right to everybody.
© 2003 Gay Hendricks, The Hendricks Institute