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VOL. 128 | NO. 141 | Monday, July 22, 2013

Chris Crouch

Alternative to Gordian-Knot Thinking

By Chris Crouch

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I always liked the so-called Alexandrian solution. In summary, there was a length of rope tied into an unbelievably complex knot in a kingless kingdom located in an area that is considered modern day Turkey. It was called the Gordian knot; named after an ox-cart driving peasant farmer named Gordias.

To make a long story short, it was quite a knot and the first person to untie the Gordian knot would be declared the king of the land. A guy named Alexander came along and developed a new set of knot-untying rules. Rather than sticking with traditional knot-tying techniques, Alex whipped out his sword and cut the knot in half, declared the problem solved, added the words “the Great” to his name and took over as king of the land.

Much later in history, a boxer named Muhammad Ali used a fighting technique called the rope-a-dope in his 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match against George Foreman. After knocking out Foreman in the eighth round, Ali claimed to be the “the Greatest.” Alexander the Great, being dead for over 2000 years at the time, was unable to argue with Ali’s one-upmanship. So it appears that throughout history, if a person does something extraordinary with a rope, they often feel a desire to attach some sort of superlative form of the adjective great to their name.

Anyhow, the Alexandrian solution became a metaphor for thinking out of the box. However, while you are thinking about a thinking-out-of-the-box solution, you can work in parallel and use another strategy that often works. You can try to find one little strand of the Gordian knot-like problem and unravel it, and then another, and then another.

Think in terms of tangled up Christmas tree lights or a complex knot in your shoelaces. The slice through it with a sword solution will not work out too well in these kinds of situations. It is better to start by unraveling one little section of the overall knot and patiently keep doing that until you get everything untangled.

Take any problem that you have been struggling with for a long time (business or personal, it does not matter), and think in terms of “is there some little piece of this overall mess I can unravel just to get started?”

For example, lets say procrastination is your “Gordian Knot.” Looking at the overall situation might quickly become overwhelming (similar to facing George Foreman in a boxing ring). But what if you found one little thing you could do to ever so slightly unravel your intimidating knot of postponed priorities? Wouldn’t that make things just a little bit better? And it has been my experience with the Christmas tree light problem that at some point the knots begin falling apart on their own.

What is your biggest “workplace knot?” What is the easiest thing you can do today to begin unraveling it? Why don’t you give that a try? If you are successful, that would be great wouldn’t it – perhaps even greater, or the greatest.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.

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