Holistic Problem Solving - A return to the It's Not About the Nail video

This post is regarding this video, which has been posted on here before.

So here’s why I think that, for the woman in this video, it’s not about the nail.

First, my wife eventually saw this video and her reaction to it was that she hated it because “when women do that, it’s never something that simple to fix. Clearly she needs to have the nail taken out of her head.”

She’s not interested in storytelling and problem solving the way I’ve been over the last several years, so I didn’t say, “No, that’s the brilliance of the skit. It was clearly written by a man with a male…ahem, sorry, Linear Problem Solver’s sensibilities. That’s what makes it funny. If a wom…I mean Holistic Problem Solver had written that skit, it probably wouldn’t have been as funny to the men (and the majority of women) in the audience that laughed when we saw it, at least not for the same reasons. When women do that, to a man it usually is pretty close to being that clear of an answer. But it’s because he and I are solving the problem in a very different way than you and the woman in the video are.”

I didn’t say any of that because she wouldn’t have cared and wouldn’t have gotten what I was talking about. And at the time I knew I couldn’t have really explained it all that well anyway other than to recite the basic Dramatica info I knew only by rote memorization, but that I didn’t understand at all at the time. And that wouldn’t have done any good.

But that’s been a while and I think I’m finally getting at least the theoretical concept of Holistic Problem-Solving if not ability to actually practice it. So, with that said, I’d like to offer a view (keep in mind, this is a theoretical view from an LPS and explained in an LPS’ terms) on why I think that it’s not about the nail.

First, what the guy in the video is seeing. He clearly represents the Linear Problem Solver. According to the theory of Mental Relativity, Linear Problem Solvers are spatial thinkers. Basically that means that as the processes of the mind move around, LPS align themselves with the Space/Ability quad so that Space/Ability, relative to an LPS, appears motionless while the other processes are all bouncing around (I can go more into that if anyone would like). Because of that, LPS find it easiest to tackle problems through dealing with space. They see the journey of problem solving as a linear path from problem to solution and they try to take the shortest, least resistant path. Achieving a goal looks like the end of a problem, the return of equity. So they deal with the space of things by dealing only with the bit of space that’s imbalanced…only they’re linear so they wouldn’t call it imbalanced. They’d probably say broken, or something along those lines. In the video, the problem appears very spatial to the LPS. The nail is stuck in the woman’s forehead. That’s an inequity. Something is wrong with that space because that’s not where the nail belongs and it’s obviously causing conflict by being there. So the simple solution to the LPS is to remove the nail.

Now what the woman in the video is seeing. She clearly represents the Holistic Problem Solver. According to the theory of Mental Relativity, HPS are temporal thinkers. That means that, just as the LPS align themselves with the Space/Ability quad, HPS will align themselves with the Time/Desire quad. Because of that, they don’t see space as motionless the way an LPS would. Instead, they look at space and see the way it evolves over time. Instead of seeing the state of things as an LPS would, they see the processes behind things. Where an LPS changes space as time moves along, an HPS carries space with her through time (I almost wanted to say that she moves through time as space moves along, but that seems strange. I want to think that it’s not wrong, just too Holistic for me to get it, but who knows).

That’s why she doesn’t look for paths from the problem directly to the solution. To an HPS, Space is changing and moving and may not even look the same when she gets there. And she’s trying to carry this space through time. So instead of solving a problem by dealing with the broken space, she tries to adjust the processes as she sees them. Because she is looking at processes, she sees not paths but relationships. And because she is carrying her entire space through time, the easiest way to solve problems is through balance.

For the woman in the video, it’s not the nail in her head that is throwing things off balance, but the processes at work. It’s the process of having a nail in her head, but it’s also the process of getting headaches and having snagged sweaters and a boyfriend or husband that keeps nagging her about the spatial problem that she’s not even looking at. It’s easy for him to go and change his space, but she can’t just go and change her time. That’s already happened, is still happening, and having the nail removed won’t fix the processes she’s already had to deal with because they’re already there. So, in other words, for the woman in the video, it really isn’t about the nail. It’s all about the processes.

Okay, so that turned into a much longer post than I meant for it to be. For those that made it this far, thanks for reading a whole essay. Hopefully there’s something accurate in all that, though I’m sure it’s not entirely so.


Terrible pun intended, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. (I did say it was terrible, didn’t I? :stuck_out_tongue:) I gave my defense of the Holistic side of that video in the original post, so I won’t go too in-depth on that. It’s interesting that your wife took the Linear side, but I think she’s also right that the video is somewhat skewed to that perspective. It’s meant to be a humorous representation of stereotypical fights of this nature, and making it seem like a very simple solution is what makes it funny.

That being said, I think “appearing to have a simple solution, but is actually more complex to solve than it seems” is quite common in these situations. Linear thinkers tell women/Holistic thinkers, “It’s simple, all you have to do is tell him you’re not interested” or “It’s simple, all you have to do is ask for directions.” But it’s really not that simple! With the nail example, I gave the remark, “What if the nail can’t be removed, and she already knows that?” Even if the nail can be removed, what if it would be inordinately costly to do so, or what if all of her friends have nails in their heads, and she doesn’t want to be left out? (If that sounds stupid, consider: high heels.) What if the nail is piercing a part of her brain that’s managing her mood swings, or what if the nail was put in by her father, and admitting it’s causing her pain would mean admitting her father wasn’t as good a parent as she remembers? There can be so many different factors swirling around behind it that make it impossible to simply remove it and cause all of the negative effects of having a nail in your forehead to go away.

I felt the same way the first time I watched the video. “Haha, women are so illogical, they just want to complain rather than actually solve their issues.” But once I asked myself that question–“What if there was a good reason why she couldn’t just remove the nail?”–I really started to understand all the little moving parts that can be behind a problem like this. And of course, it’s kind of silly when it’s a nail, but when the nail is standing in for real problems, like complaining about wearing high heels for example, you can start to realize why removing the nail, or taking the Linear solution, isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

(I think I may have found a clip that demonstrates the male version of the nail: replacing a lightbulb by repairing the engine in your car.)


It’s funny to a woman because it shows guys would just love answers to be that obvious and simple. Oh, I mean funny to a holistic, etc.

What I’d say is, in a large number of cases, yes, it is that simple to someone who is solely looking at paths and goals. What makes it not that simple is looking at the processes involved. “I can’t just tell him I’m not interested because I still have to be around him at school/work/whatever and it’ll get awkward,” or “if I tell him I’m not interested he’ll try that much harder and he’ll turn into a creepy stalker,” or “if I say that, he’ll get mad at me and then we won’t be friends anymore”.

To which a heavily leaning LPS might say, “oh, well in that case here’s where I now see the shortest path of least resistance” and it’s probably not something helpful for dealing with balance and processes, or they say, “hmm, that sucks,” which means “I no longer see a clear path to a solution and have no advice to offer you,” or they switch to HPS mode and do whatever it is an HPS would do. Or, for the sake of having a fourth option, they stumble into the “right” answer for the HPS of saying something like “that sounds really hard” which makes the HPS feel better because they were able to share and it took a little of the pressure off (making it easier to balance) and it also let them feel like the relationship is going well (“we understand each other”) and maybe even feel like the relationship is a bit stronger, which also balances against the problem. I am, of course, still guessing at the HPS side of things.

So I can’t remember the whole thought process that got me here, but the other day I was thinking again about the cliche of guys wanting to fix problems while women just want them to listen. Anyway, it circled around back to this and got mixed up with how linear problem solvers are more goal driven and look at space while holistic problem solvers are more direction driven and look at time. And then it hit me that while linear problem solvers want to change the state in order to achieve the goal of solving the problem, holistic problem solvers aren’t trying to reach a goal but to move in the direction of ‘better’, or in some cases ‘easier’. They don’t want someone to fix the problem because they want someone to help them ride it out. If you are on a wave of chaos, the linear problem solver wants to get you off of it to change space. The holistic problem solver wants to reach up and hold your hand and tell you it’s going to be okay to make your time on the wave a little easier to deal with.


They don’t just want to fix the problem for themselves, but the holistic person wants to fix the problem and all the problems of all the people involved in this situation. I don’t get the handholding, but a holistic person might engage in handholding with the linear to calm the linear down to reassure the linear while the holistic is puttering around trying to fix the problem for everyone. That does take time.

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I found some brief non-dramatica descriptions that help me understand the differences.
Analytic thinking is a cognitive style that is characterized by logical reasoning and involves understanding a system by thinking about its parts and how they work together to produce larger-scale effects. Analytic thinkers believe that events are the products of individuals and their attributes. They have a narrow focus on objects in the foreground and tend to disentangle phenomena from the contexts in which they are embedded.

Holistic thinking is characterized by dialectical reasoning (the process of arriving at truth through a process of comparing and contrasting various solutions) and involves understanding a system by sensing its large-scale patterns and reacting to them. Holistic thinkers believe that events are the products of external forces and situations. They tend to give broad attention to context, relationships, and background elements in visual scenes.

My “standing on one foot” gross oversimplification is:
Linear - sees tree in front of them; misses forest around them. immediate more than long term.
Holistic - sees forest around them; misses tree in front of them. long term more than immediate.