Wicked Problems

Think of a problem.
Any problem.

Now ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you having trouble clearly defining it?
  • Does it involve changing what people think or do, or how they think of themselves?
  • Do you have a sneaking suspicion that when you’ve solved it, some version of the problem will live on?
  • Do you know that no matter what you do, someone will be unhappy?
  • Have you thought you’ve cracked it before, and found you haven’t?
  • Does what the problem looks like keep shifting? Is the problem ‘unreasonable’?
  • Are you failing to make significant headway by being rational and disciplined?
  • Is it doing your head in?
If you answered ‘no’ to nearly all of these, then you may be in luck. Your problem is likely to be either simple or complex and you can happily get on with solving it using the strategic tools you already carry in your kitbag.

If however you answered ‘yes’ to more than a few of them, those tools won’t work. In fact, they’ll make your problem worse. Why? Because it isn’t simple or complex, it’s wicked. And wicked problems do not play by any known rules.

Welcome to Wicked.

Where do wicked problems hang out? In any of the big fuzzy areas in business that promise the largest pots of gold and seem to be made entirely of quicksand. Where ambiguity rules and there’s no such thing as one ‘right’ answer. In the mess that makes up most of business reality. In areas like innovation, change, engagement, leadership, culture. And of course, inside your head. When was the last time any major project in any of these areas went ‘according to plan’? On time, on budget, hitting planned milestones and delivering expected outcomes without major revisions? (Tried an IT implementation lately? Or being in a relationship?)

The answer is probably ‘never’. Because you can’t execute your way through one of these projects. You have to find your way through, making it up as you go along. You have to create a path by paying attention to how things shift as you take each step and adapting your next step accordingly. Because you can’t ‘execute’ on something that’s never existed before, and no matter how many of these projects have been attempted in the past – how many innovations have been launched, how many leaders have been elected – they’ve never been attempted in this particular situation with these particular people at this particular time. So this situation, your situation, is unique. And a standard process simply won’t work.
What will?

A creative approach.

Wicked problems can’t be solved. But highly successful outcomes can be created.

If you’d like to find out how they can be created in your situation, please give me a call. 

New Book Out Now!!

Filled with 30 years of creative mindset gems that are the backbone of what it takes to be effective when working with design thinking or swimming in a wicked problem space. Insights and fish abound.

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