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Tenacity and Pragmatism…Problem-Solving’s One, Two Punch


By Martin S. Frenkel

Have you ever encountered someone in your life that always seemed to have the right answer to any given problem you were facing? No matter what issue you were presented with the person would come up with a solution. If you have such an individual in your life, count yourself truly fortunate.

My Aunt Barbara has been that person for me and I feel very fortunate to have her in my life. The fourth edition of my column regarding influential life experiences is about her.

Aunt Barbara is, quite simply, the smartest person that I know. She possesses a doctorate in mathematical psychology specializing in a field most people have probably never heard of – decision theory. According to Wikipedia, decision theory “. . . in economics, psychology, philosophy, mathematics, and statistics is concerned with identifying the values, uncertainties and other issues relevant in a given decision, its rationality, and the resulting optimal decision.” In other words, it’s a form of problem-solving.

From my earliest memories, if you were in my family and had a really tough problem – from deciding which college to attend, how to deal with someone bullying your child, or which among competing medical treatment options to choose – you called Aunt Barbara. She would walk you through a framework for making the decision and, when you were done, you felt like you had made the best decision possible.

Furthermore, her approach retained flexibility. If facts or circumstances changed, or were different from what you originally assumed, Aunt Barbara taught her “students” how to re-evaluate the problem by applying this newly gained information to the decision-making framework originally contemplated. Sometimes these new facts or circumstances would even require that you re-define your original goal (or problem) – perhaps because the goal of resolving the particular problem was no longer desirable or achievable. This flexible decision-making approach could be summed up as follows: If plan A for solving a problem does not prove successful, what is your plan B for solving that same problem? Or, if goal A is no longer desirable or achievable, what goal remains attainable?

But, what underlying themes are embodied within Aunt Barbara’s logical, yet flexible, problem-solving approach? I would offer the following: tenacity and pragmatism. We have all encountered people in our lives where something did not go according to plan (i.e. their Plan A failed) who simply gave up trying to solve whatever problem with which they were presented. However, Aunt Barbara’s approach of continuing to push on to a Plan B, C, or more in order to solve the problem exemplifies tenacity – a determination not to allow one failure to derail achieving one’s goals.

In addition, pragmatism is also essential. Stated differently, one cannot be so tenacious as to refuse to adjust methods or goals as dictated by certain practical realities or circumstances, thereby frustrating the ability to achieve anything productive. If a particular goal is truly impossible to achieve or is no longer worth achieving, giving up entirely is not an option. Rather, another good and achievable goal may be defined and pursued. As such, Aunt Barbara’s willingness to assess facts and circumstances and adjust along the way allows one to keep moving forward towards some positive end, as opposed to simply stopping in your tracks.

I am sincerely grateful to Aunt Barbara for teaching me such positive life skills.

At Maddin Hauser, we are known for our tenacious and pragmatic approach in assisting our clients to define and achieve their goals. If you’re looking for a new approach to solving an old problem, or a unique solution to a new one, please feel free to call or e-mail me (248-827-1891 or mfrenkel@maddinhauser.com). I welcome the opportunity to chat with you.