Thursday, 11 June 2009

From liquid logic, to solid and back again

In many disputes, the positions held by people are rock hard. Massive costs are incurred in trying to preserve the sanctity of that position.

Conflicts in the field of design and build demonstrate a wonderful conflict dynamic, namely how positions shift from a liquid state to a solid one and the problems that ensue.

Take an architect who designs a build with an innovative ceramic finish.

It transpires that the specified material is unavailable for several months. The contractor is under pressure to complete the build, or else face late completion penalties. An alternative is suggested but the architect is up in arms. It has to be the specified ceramic finish. Nothing else will do.

Positions have been adopted and have solidified.

And yet, it was not so long ago that the decision on the finish was entirely fluid. At that moment the architect could have chosen from any number of options. Here, the logic is fluid. It is possible to consider a wide range of solutions.

To some extent the decision to go for a certain finish is arbitrary. Sure, the decision will have been informed by aesthetic and other considerations, but there will have been other factors in play also.

Perhaps the architect has seen the finish whilst travelling recently. Perhaps it has received some coverage within the industry. It’s a new material with new technology and the architect is keen to lead the field in adopting its use.

When we deconstruct adopted, solidified positions by reverting to these considerations and questions, then we start to reverse-engineer that process that the architect had previously travelled through.

We back-up along the process of deliberation and conclusion. We can return to earlier logical decision branches and entertain what would have been the result if we had chosen a different branch.

We move away from the solidified state represented by the conclusion originally reached. That conclusion starts to dissolve into a more liquid state once more.

Consider the physicality of the dispute. If you have two solid blocks, or positions, that you are trying to bring together, then you have nothing but bricks knocking off each other. Introduce a degree of liquidity and the positions become easier to manage, easier to merge and easier to mould into a shape that truly fits.

I would like to thank Daniel Plunkett of for the discussion that led to this blog entry.

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