Project Management

How Wicked Are Your Problems?

Michael R. Wood is a Business Process Improvement & IT Strategist Independent Consultant. He is creator of the business process-improvement methodology called HELIX and founder of The Natural Intelligence Group, a strategy, process improvement and technology consulting company. He is also a CPA, has served as an Adjunct Professor in Pepperdine's Management MBA program, an Associate Professor at California Lutheran University, and on the boards of numerous professional organizations. Mr. Wood is a sought after presenter of HELIX workshops and seminars in both the U.S. and Europe.

Ever heard of a “wicked problem”? If you haven’t, then you may find the concept intellectually stimulating, head scratching and often frustrating. The idea that there are problems that, for the most part, have no testable solution is somewhat counter-intuitive.

Odds are, you or anyone else has encountered a wicked problem that is localized to an organization (or the organization’s industry). I say this because after way too many hours of googling, I could not find a single example of a wicked problem that wasn’t global in nature—or an example of one that related to an industry.

This brought me to wonder why anyone (other than quest chasers) would spend so much time, money and brain power trying to tackle issues and problems that, by their nature, have no actionable solution or commonly agreed upon outcome(s).

Yet there are massive amounts of effort, billions (even trillions) of dollars and other resources being spent on trying to solve wicked problems, including:

  • Poverty
  • Climate change
  • Avoidance of an extinction-level event asteroid strike
  • Homelessness
  • Pandemic prevention
  • International drug trafficking
  • Global nuclear weapons disarmament,
  • Social injustice
  • Lasting peace in the Middle East
  • World hunger

Few, if any, would question the nobleness of trying to find lasting remedies to the above examples. Yet, …

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Half this game is ninety percent mental.

- Yogi Berra