26 Jan 2020  •  Blog, Practice Management  •  6min read

Wrestling a pig of a problem?

Laura Jones asks us to take a moment to think…

What change do you wish you could create? What’s standing in the way of you achieving your goals and fulfilling your potential?

Perhaps it’s a situation that you’ve been wrestling with for some time, or maybe it’s something that has gotten the better of you. The truth is, we all have something we struggle with from time to time.

The authors of Pig Wrestling, Pete Lindsay and Dr Mark Bawden, have come to believe that there is one reason why individuals struggle to create the change that they need. It’s a reason that is common to all individuals, and to every problem that they wrestle with. Sometimes a situation can simply get the better of us. Despite our best efforts and intentions, in spite of considering every avenue available to us, we seemingly find ourselves no further forward. Frustrated, fatigued and at a loss about how to proceed, we might reluctantly conclude there is nothing more that can be done.

The book ‘Pig Wrestling’ is about highlighting the various thinking traps that we can all too easily fall into, along with the assumptions that continue to hold many of us captive. They’ve identified a number of practical routes to getting ‘unstuck’, helping even the most frustrated of us in taking meaningful steps forward. Here we look at their main points…

Wrestling – getting used to a problem, is a problem itself.

As the book describes, ‘The problems we wrestle with come in all shapes and sizes, but they do share certain characteristics. And you will know for certain when you are pig wrestling because it will feel like you’ve tried everything…and whenever someone finds themselves pig wrestling, the only thing we know for sure is that they’re tackling the wrong problem.’

Finding the right problem to solve…


Every pig you wrestle is essentially a problem framed in the wrong way. Ultimately, we tend to end up solving the wrong problem because the pig is covered in the following:

  • Assumptions
  • Biases
  • Storytelling
  • Emotion
  • Judgements

All the above factors contribute to the frame you place it in. Therefore, when you find yourself wrestling, the important thing to realise is that your perception of what kind of problem you thought

you were tackling needs to change. You need to take a step back from the pig and give yourself a chance to truly fully access it and place it in the right frame. Which means you need to…

Remove your assumptions

Our misguided attempts to resolving problems can often fuel the real problem. When you are struggling to create the change that you need, you need to be specifically aware of the narrative that you apply to the situation. Take the time to accurately describe the problem in behaviour and factual terms, rather than prematurely applying meaning and labels.

Stop trying to solve the problem

Stop obsessing about how you are going to solve this problem, and start focusing on how you’ll know it is solved. How would you know that the problem is no longer present? What would you see once this problem was solved? But not only that, keep it concise, filter out the ‘nice-to-haves’ and focus on the ‘need-to-haves’.

Recognise there are times when a problem is not a problem

Ask yourself specifically, when and where does this problem not occur? Deliberately focus your energy, attention and curiosity on the times that the problem doesn’t happen. If you can pinpoint these instances, you can start to identify the right recipe for success. In short, ‘get curious about the times the problem reliably occurs, and explore the context around it’ then ‘follow the same process for times when the problem doesn’t occur, and spot the difference between the two contexts’.

The book uses a good scenario that illustrates all the thinking traps:

Two families shared a gated driveway. Family number one was a couple who had recently moved to the area. Family number two had lived in their house for years and had small children. It was extremely important to them that the gate stayed shut at all times as the driveway led onto a road – even more so since a building site had become established around the corner so the road was now busy all day. The family with children were frustrated as they kept noticing that during the week the gates were being left open, a problem that hadn’t occurred with previous neighbours, so the assumption was that the new couple were not closing it. The family chatted to the couple and stressed the importance of its closure to which they agreed was important. However, the very next day the gate was left open again. A sign was placed on the gate as a reminder, yet still the gate remained open.

Time went by and the family with children became furious and quite hostile towards the couple. One day a member of the family was unusually home and witnessed one of the couple leave for work. They saw them open the gates, drive through them and then dutifully close them again. The family member was shocked. A few moments later a convoy of construction vehicles rattled past and the gates swung wide open. The mystery was solved as to why the gates remained closed at the weekend – the building site only operated during the week. In short, the problem wasn’t the couple, but biases and emotion had affected the frame leading the family to believe them to be the culprits. The problem was the latch on the gate. The solution was a latch that could handle the vibrations of the construction vehicles.

The moral? Don’t be so quick to jump in and judge, otherwise you will always find yourself wrestling pigs. So next time you hear one of your team declare, ‘We’ve got a communication/cultural/team dynamic problem’, stop, pause and explore. Clear your thinking of biases, reframe your problem and you’ll find more meaningful solutions when you or your team are feeling well and truly stuck wrestling a pig.

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