Wicked Prob­lems III

Rotman Management Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - Karen Christensen, Editor-in-chief chris­ten@rot­man.utoronto.ca Twit­ter: @Rot­man­mgmt­mag

PRO­FES­SORS Horst Rit­tel and Melvin Web­ber WHEN UC BERKE­LEY coined the term ‘wicked prob­lem’ back in 1973, they could not have fore­seen how poignant it would be­come for 21st cen­tury lead­ers. ‘Wicked­ness’, they ar­gued, does not per­tain to a de­gree of dif­fi­culty; wicked prob­lems are dif­fer­ent be­cause tra­di­tional prob­lem-solv­ing pro­cesses can­not re­solve them. Un­like ‘tame’ prob­lems — which can be ir­refutably solved — wicked prob­lems are messy and re­ac­tive, and there is no sin­gle so­lu­tion. In­deed, defin­ing the pa­ram­e­ters of the prob­lem it­self is of­ten half the chal­lenge.

If any of this sounds fa­mil­iar, it’s be­cause so many of the prob­lems we face to­day fall into the wicked cat­e­gory. What fea­tures should you in­clude in your next prod­uct? How should the global med­i­cal com­mu­nity tackle Ebola? What can be done about in­come in­equal­ity and youth un­em­ploy­ment? The ‘an­swers’ to such ques­tions de­pend very much on who you ask, be­cause wicked prob­lems are about peo­ple with vested in­ter­ests.

Our first is­sue ded­i­cated to wicked prob­lems was pub­lished in win­ter 2009, fol­lowed by a sec­ond in spring 2012. With this is­sue, we pick up the man­tel once again to present some of the tools and mind­sets re­quired to tackle wicked prob­lems of all shapes and sizes. We kick the is­sue off on page 6 with The Power of Co­or­di­nated Ac­tion, where Rot­man Chair in Man­age­ment Anita Mcga­han de­scribes how tem­po­rary, col­lab­o­ra­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions are emerg­ing to cre­ate in­fra­struc­ture and ful­fill mis­sions that no one or­ga­ni­za­tion can achieve on its own.

Univer­sity of Pittsburgh Pro­fes­sor John Camil­lus be­gan the dis­cus­sion of wicked prob­lems in the busi­ness arena in 2008, with an ar­ti­cle in Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view. As he pre­pares to launch a new book on the topic, he presents a tool that can help with ‘wicked strat­egy’ for­mu­la­tion in Feed-for­ward Sys­tems: Fram­ing a Fu­ture Filled with Wicked Prob­lems on page 52.

Else­where in this is­sue, Rot­man Pro­fes­sor Sarah Ka­plan de­scribes the emerg­ing, op­por­tu­nity-laden field of ‘gen­der in­vest­ing’ on page 40; IDEO’S Jane Ful­ton Suri et al dis­cuss the power of em­pa­thy as a strate­gic tool on page 60; and our Idea Ex­change in­cludes UCLA psy­chi­a­trist Mark Goul­ston on the im­por­tance of lis­ten­ing; for­mer Nel­son Man­dela as­sis­tant Zelda La Grange on the key lessons the great man taught her; and Rot­man Pro­fes­sors Dan Tre­fler and Mark Sta­bile on their latest re­search.

Knowl­edge will al­ways be an im­por­tant as­set, but com­plex prob­lem solv­ing also re­quires emo­tional and so­cial re­sources. Im­por­tantly, it de­mands that prob­lem solvers know how to lever­age com­plex­ity, rather than sti­fling it. As con­trib­u­tor Frank Spencer has said: “With­out ac­tively de­vel­op­ing this new type of thinker, we are go­ing to miss the un­lim­ited pos­si­bil­i­ties to cre­ate as­pi­ra­tional fu­tures and solve long-stand­ing world prob­lems.”

As Spencer shows in his ar­ti­cle on page 80, an era of ‘wicked op­por­tu­ni­ties’ not only has the po­ten­tial to usher in some amaz­ing so­lu­tions to our great­est prob­lems, it could also gen­er­ate a new pipeline for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and job cre­ation. The choice of whether to par­tic­i­pate or not is ours; but make no mis­take: one way or the other, the fu­ture will be wicked.

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