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Wicked Problems

August 24, 2012 by Jonathan Gilburg

So a client contacted me just the other day concerned and dismayed by the inability of others to be able to look critically at disperse and complex data sources and create some semblance of understanding or synthesis of this information to try and forge a path forward...

Sound familiar?

Check out this video that, I think, does a nice job of explaining why this phenomena exists:

My only hope as a member of the cracker jack facilitation team is that I look less like Elliot Gould and more like any of the others...

But looks aside, I think this video articulates a challenge we have been aware of for some time: the delineation and approach of addressing technical challenges vs adaptive challenges.  Adaptive challenges are 'wicked' and require a fundamentally different approach to what we know.

The stepping stones to addressing these wicked adaptive problems can be found in this video: authentic and robust stakeholder engagement in an iterative manner, vs. a one and done approach.  It takes a lot of strategy around implementing a stakeholder process of understanding and addressing the challenge vs. strategizing the solution then rolling it out (the thing we usually do).

Often the complaint we here from people about the iterative, robust stakeholder engagement process, is that it is messy and does not feel productive.  Our response: are you getting the results you want now with your current approach?  How much time is being spent in the "clean up" of top down implemented initiatives? Are they working?

I think the deeper resistance is not knowing and not feeling competent in having the right answer, which for many is the path that led them to higher levels of responsibility and influence.  And there might be some hint of self protection that wants our position to be the right position, regardless of the efficacy.

Unfortunately, in the face of a wicked problem... the problem doesn't care about our feelings or sense of self worth, and will continue on its trajectory until it is met with the right solution that sticks... long enough for new ones to emerge.

It is encouraging to know that we can solve this stuff as we have in the past.  As a company we are enthralled and committed to helping solve these wicked problems!