Two-Facedbook’s Holocaust Denial Dilemma

Silicon‘s sharp-witted columnist, John Murrell deserves the credit for seizing on the “two-faced” word play in his characterization this week of Facebook’s dilemma concerning whether to allow (or not) groups that deny the Holocaust to post and set up communities on their social networking site. As he and others like Lisa Respers writing in suggest, there’s no win here for Facebook. Remove the Holocaust Deniers from the site, and you’re imposing your morals on open, free expression (what do you suppress next?); allow them to post, and you appear to be condoning or endorsing despicable hate initiatives, contributing to new recruits being drawn to the movement, possibly inciting hate-related crimes, and certainly offending people. The harder you look at the issue, the murkier it gets, with layers of repercussions emerging for taking either of the positions: remove them, and you’re on a slippery slope, opening yourself to demands to treat other ‘questionable’ postings; don’t remove them, and risk uncomplimentary comparisons to cases where you did censor, as in recently deleted photos posted by breast-feeding mothers, or ‘lactivists’. Continue reading “Two-Facedbook’s Holocaust Denial Dilemma”

Karzai’s conundrum: leading in volatile, uncertain and dangerous times

Readers around the globe have recently been presented with a harsh rebuff of Afghanistan president Hamid Karzi’s choice of Mohammed Quassim Fahim as vice-presidential running mate in the upcoming election. Fahim served in this capacity once already (2001 – 2004), and was dropped as controversial. He has a checkered past as a top commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during the 1990’s civil war, and is believed by some to have illegal, criminal involvement to this day. The group Human Rights Watch has been documenting abuses in the country for years, and is aghast at the announced alliance, saying with this choice Karzai is “insulting the country”.

In the face of such vociferous, predictable condemnation from abroad as well as within his own country, what would lead Karzai to pick Fahim? The reporting in the AP article we read doesn’t ask this question, but arguably it should and so should we all in making sense of the decision.

We all know that ruling in a country like Afganistan at a time like the present is fraught with risks and that scant rewards are available. The question the leader needs to ask is what is the core dilemma I need to address to make a difference in the situation; where do I focus my and my country’s available resources?


One dilemma that captures the moment and explains the “curious” political decision is the need to promote well-being, peace and improvements on the one hand, while on the other, growing and maintaining credibility and influence. As the matrix above depicts, inherent tensions make this a dangerous and challenging pursuit. Lean too far in one direction and you are seen as unsuitable for the mission at hand. Lean the other way and you will be mistrusted by your own people or the other countries who care about the direction of local events.

This tension between pursuing progressive change versus establishing trust and credibility is of course endemic to volatile transitional situations like we are witnessing in Afghanistan. Others that come to mind are Palestine (Abbas versus Hammas) and Sierra Leone (post- civil war “blood diamonds”).

Identifying the core dilemma does not “fix” anything, but it makes it possible to work on the right issues in the most helpful way. It brings honesty and integrity into the process. It creates a shared understanding and vocabulary for parties to dialogue and be understood.

The Three Faces Of The Problem-Solver

There is a parable retold every year at the Passover table in Jewish homes around the world about freedom from slavery. It begins with the youngest child in the family asking “Why is this night different from all other nights?”. The answer in the text is directed to four different types of children: the wise one, the simple one, the wicked one, and the one who is yet too young to understand. Each of these children will interpret the telling differently, and it is recommended that the story be told with this in mind. In essence, the suggestion is to consider how the story will be heard and to deliver the message with this thought.

In No Problem I identify three distinct and unique outlooks that are applied to challenging moments, whether of a serious or not so serious consequence, and whether involving business or personal affairs. Like the four children around the Passover table, each of the three outlooks receives and processes information about a situation differently.

The Decision Making approach treats demands in a linear way, applying what is known to what must be determined in a systematic, structured way. In cognitive processing terms, decision making is a 1 to 1 to 1 sequence. When options exist and decision criteria are clear, this is the best approach to apply. When the decision matrix is built, the options are listed along one axis and are all compared to the set of criteria that are found on the other axis: 1 to 1 to 1.

The Problem Solving approach treats demands in an exploratory and dynamic way, applying knowable questions to determine or invent unknown solutions. In cognitive processing terms, this is a 1 to many sequence; we search or generate one time to develop and consider a number of alternatives.

The Dilemma-Based approach treats demands in a comparative, dialectical way, developing and maintaining constructive tension. In cognitive processing terms, we refer to this as a 2 x 2 operation. Essentially, 2 x 2 thinking involves consideration of high and low cases of two key factors affecting a situation, as in price and performance, or growth and profit. By looking at the four combined possible relationships (e.g. high-high), we are forced to ask a host of useful “what if” questions, leading to a novel or more accurate perspective.

The very best situation is where the circumstances match the approach. Great problem solvers operate in this way, efficient and linear, creative and analytic, or reflective and restrained, as necessary. The two questions to ask oneself are: do I recognize the difference between decisions, problems and dilemmas, and, am I capable of adjusting my approach.

Let’s take a look at several well-known situations to see how they have been framed and the consequences of misdiagnosis.

The US involvement in Iraq and its stated war on terror appears to be a problem solving frame applied to a dilemma. It is arguable (and many have) that there is no “solution” to the predicaments being faced. In the aftermath of horrible events such as 9/11, there is overwhelming frustration and desire to take decisive action. When facing a dilemma, every imposed “solution” risks causing undesirable and hard to anticipate secondary effects that in time make the situation even harder to manage.

The gradual decline of the US auto industry appears to be a problem solving demand situation treated as a dilemma. The determining forces of uncompetitive cost structures, attractive off-shore alternatives and inflexible design and manufacturing methods have held the big three auto makers in a declining limbo for too long. Courageous and creative action based in well-thought-out problem solving is arguably the antidote that has been absent from the industry’s response from the start.

The titles “Commission’ and “Inquiry” are often signs of decision making demand situations being avoided and treated as either a problem or dilemma. Governments and bodies like the UN engage in this kind of tactic too often as a way to sidestep tough actions that while needed may be unpopular with at least some constituents.

So, getting clear about what’s going on in a situation gives us the choice to match complexity and uncertainty with the most appropriate approach. As I say in the book, make decisions, solve problems and manage and exploit dilemmas.