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Adam Kahane has worked on some of the toughest, most complex problems in the world. He started out as an expert analyst and advisor to corporations and governments, convinced of the need to calculate “the one right answer.” After an unexpected experience in South Africa during the transition away from apartheid, he got involved in facilitating a series of extraordinary high-conflict, high-stakes problem-solving efforts: in Colombia during the civil war, in Argentina during the collapse, in Guatemala after the genocide, in Israel, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and the Basque Country. Through these experiences, he learned to create environments that enable new ideas and creative solutions to emerge even in the most stuck, polarized contexts. Here Kahane tells his stories and distills from them an approach all of us can use to solve our own toughest problems—at home, at work, in our communities, and in national and international affairs.
“This breakthrough book addresses the central challenge of our time: finding a way to work together to solve the problems we have created.”
The former "head of Social, Political, Economic and Technological Scenarios" for Royal Dutch/Shell's London office, Kahane is now an international mediation consultant. He offers problem-solving guidance by way of narrative biography, describing his extensive experience in defining and tackling tough problems, those that "usually don't get solved peacefully. They either don't get solved at all--they get stuck--or they get solved by force." The details of his interventions may be fresher than the advice they can be boiled down to: the most important problem-solving components, Kahane says, are talking and listening openly, reflectively and empathetically. Yet when Kahane describes the 1996 and 1997 meetings he helped convene in Colombia between the government and armed factions on the left and the right, the fragility of his concepts and the importance of committing to them in good faith become clear. A workshop he describes at the University of the North in South Africa, "a rural, apartheid-era institution with a history of conflict between radical black students and conservative white faculty," makes for another of many compelling object lessons. Companies and individuals who don't face potentially violent disagreement or carry bitter histories of violence will still find thought-provoking (occasionally verging on spiritual) discourse on handling difficult situations gracefully, productively and calmly.