Nothing is Intractable!

In this month’s ATTRACTOR, Glenda talks about a crucial barrier to dealing with intractable problems: It is the way we describe that challenge to ourselves and others. Learn about how this barrier interrupts intentions around our most intractable challenges and what we might do about that. 


In a Landmark Forum course many years ago, I first heard a reference to ever-and-always-voice. I recognized it immediately as the single, greatest cause of sticky issues. Even if you haven’t heard the phrase, I’m sure you will recognize the phenomenon. It works like this.

You have a persistent problem. You find a way to describe or explain it that suits you quite well. Of course you like the description, because it usually shows you as the hero or victim and others as the “intractable” causes for the problem at hand. You repeat the description over and over until you believe it is not just the BEST way to see the situation, but the ONLY way to see it. That story becomes your ever-and-always-voice.

This week I’ve heard many examples from clients, service providers, students, and myself:

  • The organization is so siloed we can never work together.
  • Leadership has no idea what it is like on the front lines.
  • Our political process is so broken that dialogue is impossible.
  • My organization is the victim of changes in policy.
  • My culture made me do it.
  • I don’t have time for what I really want to do.
  • And . . . 

What examples of ever-and-always have created intractable problems for you this week? What statements and beliefs and expectations keep you stuck in impossible situations? The ever-and-always is most dangerous because it always speaks the truth. Organizations are siloed, leadership is distant, political opponents do resist dialogue, cultures shape choices, and time is constrained. The truth of the statements seduces us from seeing how useless the stories might be.

Ever-and-always voices generate intractable problems because we settle into them as truths, even when they are not useful. If we can find a way forward, even past the ever-and-always truth, then intractable problems can be transformed.

That is what we mean in HSD when we say “Nothing is intractable.” No matter how difficult a situation might be, there is always at least one way that is both true and useful for describing a problem. As soon as we find that description, remarkable options for action emerge, and the intractable problem becomes tractable after all.   

If you find yourself stuck, explore your own ever-and-always. True as it might be, is it useful for you? Do you have the courage to explore diverse perspectives until you find some other story that is also true, but much more useful?  Might you find that . . . 

  • Some personal and professional relationships cross over organizational silos?
  • Some leaders remember their work on the front lines?
  • Political dialogue is already happening at dinner parties and on golf courses?
  • Cultures offer options?
  • Time is a resource, not a boundary?

I must admit that the last one—about time—seems unlikely to me. It is my most recent and persistent challenge of an ever-and-always-voice. But, maybe even this intractable story can be replaced by another that is also true and much more useful. If I found a way to manage time, that would really prove that “nothing is intractable!” What are your ever-and-always-voices? What useful alternatives can the models and methods of HSD help you discover? How can you, your team, family, organization, and community break the bonds of your own ever-and-always-voices? Explore this and other options for action in our HSD Live Virtual Workshop on February 4! 

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