The Case of the Trimmed Hedge

by | Sep 28, 2022 | Blog | 3 comments

“They can’t see the forest for the trees.”

This old saying means the inability to understand or appreciate a situation fully because they are focused on only a few details of it. In my new book Solve the Real Problem, I talk about four things that we need to do to discover the real problem in any situation. One of those essential things is to see the big picture. To see the forest. Here is one story excerpted from the book:

The case of the trimmed hedge

Dividing two properties on a corner lot was a hedge. On one side of the hedge was a family with several small children. On the other side of the hedge was a single woman who lived alone. The hedge belonged to the family with the small children. One day the family returned to their house and found the hedge trimmed. They got upset.

Enter Louise Neilson, MSc – Professional Mediator

Louise has worked as a professional mediator in the Portland, Oregon area for the last 30 years. Louise has worked with activists, lawyers, educators, police officers, not-for-profit boards, psychologists and union members. In a mediation there are two “parties.” Party one is the person that initiates the mediation. They present what they think is the problem. Party two is the person “causing” the problem in the eyes of party one.

The focus of mediation is to find out what exactly the real problem is.

In order to reach a resolution, both parties need to know how the other party views the problem. Because what might be a problem for one person might not be a problem for another. Very often, both will have shared interests, they just don’t know that yet. This tends to occur because they have deliberately avoided the problem and not talked to each other. Such is the case of the trimmed hedge. Here is how the negotiation turned out. Louise asked each neighbor what the hedge represented to them. The family wanted a tall hedge. It kept their children from being visible from the street when they played on their swing set. To them, the hedge represented protection. On the single woman’s side, the hedge bordered a car port. Because the hedge was tall, when she pulled her car in at night she couldn’t see if someone was hiding in the hedge. The hedge represented danger to her.

The solution:

Stair-step the hedge. Keep the hedge tall near the street so the children could be safe and protected. Trim the hedge lower near the car port so that no one could hide in it. Safety for all! It always helps to look at the big picture. This example and more cases of “what we thought was the problem, was not the problem” are in my new book, Solve the Real Problem. Due to be released later this year, I can’t wait to share it with you. Here is a link to pre-order. Thanks for reading!

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Through a series of structured learning experiences, you will learn to become deliberately creative and build your skills to lead innovation teams in your organization. You will be instructed by Dr. Roger Firestien who has presented programs on innovation to over 600 organizations around the world including: fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, universities, associations and religious institutions.


  1. Robert Gatewood

    Very intriguing. I cannot wait to read the book.

    • Margaret

      I wonder if the single woman had a subconscious need to not feel isolated (or, “unseen”). That is a less obvious part of the equation.

      • Louise Neilson

        It really was a matter of her wanting to feel safer at night in the carport.
        Louise Neilson


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