Why we suck at “solving wicked problems” | More Beyond – Sonja Blignaut

Source: Why we suck at “solving wicked problems” | More Beyond

Why we suck at “solving wicked problems”

Problems: Wicked, complex, intractable or adaptive  … whatever we choose to call them, we seem to suck at solving them and we often get profoundly overwhelmed and stuck.  I believe the reason for this is hidden in the language I used in the title and previous sentence  (… and no it’s not the adjectives … )

Two words: “problems” and “solving” …

I’ve sat in many workshops where well-meaning people try to tackle what they invariably end up calling wicked problems.  From transforming organisations, to health and safeto to larger issues like youth unemployment to wildlife crime to systemic poverty, we keep circling around and around these issues and never seem to make much progress.  Here’s how I see it:

What we think we need, but often don’t …

  • problem solving skills (and a solution mindset)
  • new and different answers
  • expert advice and proven practices (best practices from other areas where they’ve had some success)
  • clarity: e.g. clearly defined problem statements (preferably at the level of root causes and drivers) & clear goals and focus areas
  • a clear vision of the ideal end state
  • alignment (of stakeholders etc)
  • measurable outcomes
  • a lot of money and the very best technology

What we actually need … (but often avoid)

  1. Sense-making skills and pattern intelligence
  2. New and different questions (we live in the world our questions create) –  curiosity and different questions
  3. Ambiguity and nuance vs certainty and clarity
  4. Focus on the present and what is possible from where we are (vs working backwards from an ideal future state)
  5. Seek coherence not alignment

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