Wicked Problems and Creative Change

Wicked Problems and Creative Change

Change is a given in organisations and the need for change is recognised when there is a gap between what is desired and what exists. We could refer to this gap as a problem or a series of  issues, sometimes even an opportunity.

Questions Lead to More Mysteries Connected with ArrowsIn terms of problems there are two ways of looking at these, tame and wicked problems. Tame ones are relatively easy to solve as they are clearly formulated and there is an obvious testable solution. These can be solved using logical, rational menas provided that there is a clarity around the problem definition.

What are Wicked Problems?

Wicked problems are not clearly formulated, nor is there one testable  solution. In problem solving terms wicked (or messy problems as they are often referred to)  require a creative approach rather than a logical rational approach because they involve many possibilities, can be seen from many perspectives and there is no one clear answer. If a wicked problem is addressed using rational, logical techniques then it is highly probable that there is no clear understanding of the problem and that a solution has been found which may not actually resolve the situation.

Here are some of the ways in which Rittell described wicked problems:

  • There is no definitive formulation of the problem
  • There is no stopping rule
  • Solutions are not true or false, but good or bad
  • There is no immediate test or ultimate test of a solution
  • Every solution is a one-shot solution, there is no trial and error possibility ( the solution can open up other wicked problems)
  • There is no exhaustive set of possible solutions
  • Every wicked problem is unique
  • Every wicked problem can be seen as a symptom of another wicked problem

For example a typical problem that I have come across with leaders has been: ’employees are not taking responsibility for their mistakes, are not engaged and this needs to change’.

If the parameters above are applied in this example, then it would certainly fall into the wicked problem category: there is no one right answer, the problem is unique within the context of the organisation and its culture and environment, there are many possible ways of solving the problem once the problem has been fully explored and understood.

Creative Problem Solving Approach

So for this reason I would advocate a creative problem solving approach to facilitating the change process. A creative problem solving (CPS) approach makes good use of alternating divergent and convergent phases and forces time to reflect upon the nature and understanding of the problem before it is defined.

I will come back to this process in a later blog post.

If this is something you have experience in and/or are interested in, please share  your stories here.

Importance of love at work – no, not an affair between colleagues but the positive valuing and respect of one colleague to another or a leader and his or her team.

‘Love,’ in a work context could be described as  genuinely valuing the people around you, and the context you work in, so as to provide the emotional space and security for confident exploration and learning. Quoted from the MBA module Creativity and Change (Open University Business school) and referencing Charles Handy (1991).

My last blog post referred to the importance of allowing for mistakes and forgiveness. This is closely related because in order to allow mistakes to happen and to learn from them, there needs to be a climate that is secure and enables growth of the individual. (more…)

Leader or manager? – some reflections and does it matter?

When I started running management training courses for new managers  in the early 90ties, one of the slides that I used to show attempted to define the differences between managers and leaders. This was based upon the work of Kotter

Kotter defines management as being about organising, planning, controlling and managing complexity; and leadership as being about creating vision, communicating and setting direction, motivating, aligning people. His updated work emphasises the importance of both to organisations.

Whilst I would agree that there are two sets of competencies here,  I have always found this split difficult if it is interpreted to mean that there are people who manage and people who lead and that these are two different sets of people. Mostly I would consider the competences of both being necessary to any person who manages at any level of the organisation.  Mintzberg even suggested that the best leaders are good managers and also challenged this way of separating out the two sets of activities.

Recently a new slant was put on this by Julian Birkinshaw writing in Personnel Management

He suggests that management has become a diminished profession as leadership has become the favoured word to use. He suggests that Kotter et al have left managers with the boring aspects and that management needs to be redefined. He goes back to a definition of management which I believe encompasses leadership, that it is about ‘the act of getting people togther to accomplish desired goals’.

However, whilst I would agree with this definition and certainly I would suggest that it combines the concepts of leadership and management, it makes it much more difficult when considered as a set of competencies which can be taught on management development  programmes.  Programmes which are run as action learning programmes, relating learning to live work issues and are accompanied by coaching can however be very effective.

For a more thorough learning experience for managers /leaders they might consider an MBA programme run on similar lines and the highly accredited  Open University MBA offers such a programme.