Got a wicked problem?

Have you ever tackled a wicked problem?

Maybe you’re involved with an environmental initiative, but you can’t get your stakeholders to have a dialogue.

Maybe you’re working on building economic equity in your community, but your team can’t agree what that means.

Or maybe you’re coping with a healthcare issue, but you have a time constraint and the conditions keep changing.

You’re in the grip of a wicked problem.

Wicked problems share a set of unique characteristics. They are typically social or socio-cultural in nature, and are by definition difficult and sometimes impossible to solve.

  • They are difficult to define.
  • They are socially complex and involve multi-stakeholder commitment and agreement.
  • They are constantly evolving.
  • The problems themselves are connected to other problems.
  • Information is often contradictory and incomplete.
  • The cost is potentially prohibitive.
  • Sometimes the solution isn’t known until it’s been implemented.
  • Sometimes the solution causes other problems.
  • Often the solution doesn’t “end” the problem; it just shifts it into another phase

Across all sectors, our problems are increasingly complex. At Siena our work is squarely situated in the thorny middle, where we have to think on our feet to address issues – big issues that don’t come with a template. In fact, many issues we deal with are brand-new. We’re living in a time of increasing uncertainty and change economically, politically, and socially. It’s a dynamic and often unsettling environment that’s challenging leaders in every sector to make sense of this new normal – how it’s impacting their organizations, and how to move forward.

So how do we grab a wicked problem by the horns?

Getting unstuck is the first step. Whether an initiative has gotten buried in policy or ongoing discussion, or the sheer uncertainty that makes you hesitate before taking that first step, the groundbreaking step is to make sense of what’s going on, who to involve in the key conversations, and how to move forward.

einstein-quote-7Working in an environment of change requires transformative thinking – a fresh perspective and approach to asking the right questions to shape effective strategy, assess capacity, and create a culture of engagement in shared outcomes.

We have to work together, we have to work differently, and we have to be open to changing the way we approach problems; we have to do different things.

But it all starts with knowing when you truly have a wicked problem.

Drop us a line and let us know what you’re working on. Tell us why it does or doesn’t qualify as a wicked problem. Putting it into words might just get you moving forward. And we might be able to help!


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