Merge's Blog

Be aware of Solomon’s Paradox, and make better decisions

better decisionsWe have all, at some time or another, fallen victim to Solomon’s Paradox.   If you are in a leadership role, it is worth taking the time to understand this phenomenon, if for no other reason than it might help you overcome it.  And if you know it exists, you can deliberately seek to get past it to make better decisions.

Why is it called Solomon’s Paradox?

Solomon was the biblical king most famous for his insights and good judgement.  He had divine help: after ascending the throne at the young age of 20, God appeared to him in a dream and asked him what he wanted.  He chose wisdom.  His guidance and counsel were so valued by leaders across the world that they traveled to him from long distances just for his advice.  Many well-known stories demonstrating his wisdom abound.

Ironically though, as good as King Solomon was at dispensing profound and sage advice to others, he was lousy at using it himself.  His personal life was a wreck, interspersed with short-sighted decisions and abysmal choices.  He was extravagant, wasteful, and reckless.  While he preached moderacy and rationality to others, personally he lived the opposite.  He is said to have had 700 pagan wives and 300 concubines, which no doubt resulted in a multitude of children.  His lack of parenting (how could he with so many!) gave rise to Rehoboam, one of the cruelest tyrants in the Bible.  His everyday life was a chaos of difficulties that got bigger with each questionable action he took.

Solomon’s Paradox, first coined by Grossman and Kross in 2014, reflects this inherent contradiction, where someone skilled at analyzing others’ problems is terrible at using this same analysis and acumen for their own challenges and issues.  Fortunately, if you recognize that this paradox exists, you are already on your way to overcoming it.

How can it be overcome?

So why is it that it’s so easy to see problems in others so clearly, yet infinitely more difficult to do so in ourselves?  The answer lies with distance.  The closer we are to an issue, the less likely we are to see it clearly and without cognitive or personal bias.  So the solution to better decisions … is to create distance.  Through feedback and reflection, it is possible to get a perspective from a more distant viewpoint.

How? Ask for and unemotionally consider input from trusted sources.  If appropriate, consult professionals.  Record your thoughts in a journal, and then look back at them to see if there are patterns over a period of time.  Have a conversation with yourself (you might want to do this privately!) where you deliberately give yourself the advice you might give others.  Perhaps most of all, recognize that it’s common to be trapped in Solomon’s Paradox.

I’d love to know whether you’ve experienced Solomon’s Paradox and if it’s gotten in the way of you making better decisions.  Or perhaps you’ve observed it in someone else.  Please share by adding your comment below.

P.S. I blog about improved problem-solving and better decision-making for leaders quite frequently.  Here is a link to my last post on this subject: Watch for the negative impact of self-serving bias in decision-making.  Or just click on the Problem solving tools category.

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