Reimagine Dilemma Management

It was Friday, Feb 7th 2020, when Singapore government raised the public health alert to orange after reporting three new COVID-19 cases, making it the country with the most confirmed cases after Mainland China at that moment in time. It set off panic buying for a weekend, and more people were wearing limited supply of surgical masks when they were out. This immediately posted a dilemma for me and my wife about the use of the 100 or so surgical masks stored in my bathroom cabinet; to wear or not to wear. On one hand, I wanted very much to protect my wife, my 5-year-old daughter and myself from the risk of infection. On the other hand, I was worried about the limited supply of masks for frontline health personnel who are the real heroes battling the virus outspread, and the population as a whole. Confronted with this personal dilemma, I swiftly recalled a story from William Ury about conflict, negotiation, and to me, more so about managing dilemma. This is an excerpt from the transcript of world renown mediator, writer and speaker, William Ury’s 2010 TED Talk.

“Well, the subject of difficult negotiation reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Middle East, of a man who left to his three sons, 17 camels. To the first son, he left half the camels; to the second son, he left a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he left a ninth of the camels. The three sons got into a negotiation — 17 doesn’t divide by two. It doesn’t divide by three. It doesn’t divide by nine. Brotherly tempers started to get strained. Finally, in desperation, they went and they consulted a wise old woman. The wise old woman thought about their problem for a long time, and finally she came back and said, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but at least, if you want, you can have my camel.” So then, they had 18 camels. The first son took his half — half of 18 is nine. The second son took his third — a third of 18 is six. The youngest son took his ninth — a ninth of 18 is two. You get 17. They had one camel left over. They gave it back to the wise old woman.”

Now, if you think about this story for a moment, I think it resembles a lot of difficult conflict, negotiations, dilemma and decision-making situations we get involved in. They start off like 17 camels, no way to resolve it. Somehow, what we need to do is step back from those situations, like that wise old woman, look at the situation through fresh eyes and come up with an 18th camel. It’s what I call the 3rd element in my dilemma.

Back to my personal dilemma; can I manage the use of limited supply of face masks, yet alleviate the risk of infection for my family and myself? I used the dilemma management concepts I embrace in my learning profession to look at advantages and disadvantages of my options and ended up with a list of options which my wife and I agreed on. The options were not just a combination, but also a variation, of the original two options (to wear or not to wear). Our eventual consensus decision evolved around when to wear, when not to wear, who to wear, who not to wear and even how we wear them. While it’s very much about the rational process of managing the dilemma, the right mindset and collaborative decision-making process were also key factors to how we agreed to move forward together when facing a dilemma.

That is why we at Holo Learning Lab enable individuals and teams to holistically diagnose long term benefits or advantages against short term challenges or disadvantages and explore the optimized decisions in managing personal, organization or business dilemmas.