The ‘Woe is us’ approach that often characterises responses to Wicked Problems is needlessly defeatist. Instead, and focusing squarely within the organisation, we make a case for using an innovative Wicked Challenges™ approach. This draws on engagement best practice and an ‘Everyone in the Room’ philosophy.
This approach requires that one accepts certain vital principles, which enables an organisation to find a sustainable, locally optimal position within its business ecosystem. At the same time it explores further options and avenues that may enable it to find a yet more optimal location.
This satisficing approach finds support in the work of Simon. (“Satisficing implies using experience to construct an expectation of how good a solution can be reasonably achieved, and to stop searching when an option that satisfies this expectation is found”).
There is a tendency in many organisational and societal contexts today to label problems as wicked ones. While there is merit in categorising problems or challenges, we risk dumping problems in one bucket and developing a defeatist approach to many situations that can be effectively addressed. Is a problem wicked, or is it just convenient to label it as such to deflect criticism of proposed solutions?
Today we confront dynamic complexity and interdependency problems. Such ‘wicked problems’ – and messes – are seemingly intractable. They are characterised as being value-laden, ambiguous, unstable, and resist being tamed by classical problem-solving techniques. Actions and interventions associated with this complex problem space often have unpredictable and unintended consequences. In some respects, this has come about due to the democratisation of information, including much information that is untested. Enhanced levels of contestation in many societies have also rendered traditional methods of stakeholder engagement increasingly fraught. People ‘lawyer up’ at the drop of the proverbial hat.
On the other hand, developing possible solutions in these complex problem spaces depends on the lens we use to examine them and how we frame the problem. Systems Thinking and Operations Research has contributed to managing such complexity.
We set out a process that we believe can take us forward – reframing Wicked Problems as Wicked Challenges™. In this process of reframing, we aim to place organisations in a situation where they ‘resolve’ significant challenges rather than solve them. We advocate that organisations tackle challenges head-on and shape what ‘success’ looks like. In doing this, we view problems and challenges as being different: “You see, a challenge is an opportunity for success and growth. It is not an easy thing, but by approaching an obstacle as a Challenge, rather than a Problem, we retain the power to act upon it, and influence, if not determine, the outcome”.
Time to see your trickiest challenges in an innovative new way! In this paper, we identify a different kind of challenge that could be inhibiting or worse risking your whole organisation. We describe it's Essential and Supplementary Elements and provide a Six IT approach to resolving it.