A series of ten articles transferred from Dr. Huhn’s earlier blog posts

Some Fundamentals of the Creative Process and the Transfers into Real Life Innovations

»Create the necessary or desired changes.«

First article:

The Power of Second Order Solutions

A story and a definition

Only if you develop »Second Order Solutions« (as Paul Watzlawick named it) you can call it a »creative« solution.

Watzlawick has described the difference between first-order and second-order solutions and precedes his book »Solutions« (written together with John H. Weakland and Richard Fisch and mainly based on Gregory Bateson's thoughts and reflections) with a highly revealing story:

»When the Countess of Tyrol, Margareta, called Maultasch, included the Carinthian castle Hochosterwitz in 1334, which crowns a steep rocky cone high above the valley floor, it was clear to her that the fortress could not be conquered by storm, but only by starvation. In the course of the weeks, the situation of the defenders became critical, because their supplies were used up except for one ox and two sacks of grain.


But also Margareta's situation had become difficult in the meantime: the morale of her troops was going to rack and ruin, the end of the siege could not be foreseen. She had also set herself other promising military goals. 

In his predicament, the defender of the castle decided to commit a war trick, which had to appear suicidal to his own people; he ordered the last ox to be slaughtered, his abdominal cavity to be stuffed with the remaining grain and then to be thrown over the steep rock face onto a meadow in front of the enemy camp. As hoped, this mocking gesture convinced Margareta of the »futility« of continuing the siege, and she withdrew. The castle was saved.«


It's a fantastic way to get out of a tricky situation in one fell swoop. Even when it looks like a dead-end, where you don't know what to do, there is always a possibility. Before you put it into practice, you should first get to know this important difference between possible solutions and changes.

The ox-throwing story does not stand alone. Watzlawick and his co-authors use several similar examples to illustrate that change processes very often happen suddenly, surprisingly and are based on illogical, paradoxical ideas. So far, this will coincide with your own life experience.

It is interesting to note that the authors have found out why this is so and have drawn conclusions from it that can offer very concrete benefits for your everyday tasks.

The key finding is that there are two types of change:

One takes place within a particular system that itself remains unchanged, while the occurrence of the other change changes the system itself.

If you have a nightmare, you can try anything in your dream: Fleeing, hiding, defending oneself, jumping out of the window, etc.; but it is well known that no change from one of these behaviors to another leads to the solution of the nightmare. The persecutors cannot be shaken off. The solution lies in the shift from dreaming to waking. However, awakening is no longer an element of the dream system, but a change into a completely different system, that of the awake consciousness. A shift into a completely different state takes place.

Since there are no linguistic possibilities of expression for these different processes of change, the authors speak of a first-order change when it comes to the shift from one internal state to another within a system that remains unchanged as such. An example of this is the possibility of changing the speed of a specific gear by more or less accelerating.

A change of second-order occurs when the system itself changes (i.e., when in the example mentioned a different gear is engaged which enables a varied speed range to be extended).

Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE) categorically ruled out such changes by claiming:

». . . because there is no movement of movement and becoming of becoming and no transformation of transformation at all.«

His antipode Heraclitus (about 520 - 460 BCE) already saw this differently, pointing out, for example, that it is impossible to swim twice into the same river and stating: »All change is contradictory; therefore contradiction is the essence of reality.«

Arthur N. Prior (1914 - 1969 CE) described the development of the concept of change as follows:

»Without much exaggeration, one could say that modern science began when one became familiar with the idea of a change of change, for example, the concept of acceleration as opposed to the mere movement.«

Why is this distinction so important?

In analogy to mathematical group theory on the one hand and logical type theory, set theory, on the other hand, Watzlawick. Weakland and Fisch make clear how efforts of change within a group with changes of the first-order level can only lead to more and more of the same. Possibly (and frequently in practice) aggravate the problem instead of solving it.

Changes within a group must be brought about from the outside, from a meta-level, so by definition, they are second-order changes / solutions.

Every second-order change must logically detach itself from the order structure of the first level, contain a discontinuity or lead to a logical jump, so that it can be assumed that the practical manifestations of every second-order change appear as illogical and paradoxical as the decision of the commander of Burg Hochosterwitz to throw away his last foodstuff in order to escape starvation. Such second-degree solutions constitute the specific quality of creative solutions.

As obvious as this may sound, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two processes of change in practice. Disregarding this difference and the resulting confusion of the two forms of change can, therefore, lead to attempts at a solution which not only do not bring about the desired change but make the problem to be solved completely unsolvable. Creativity is then not only desirable but absolutely necessary.

It is high time for the resolution of the »bullock throwing story«.

Read the second article about some fundamentals of the creative process and the transfers into real life Innovations:

The creative process of finding second-order solutions