Dialogue Mapping. Issue Mapping. Wicked Problems. Related Works.
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Increasingly, these are the problems strategists face—and for which they are ill equipped. Poverty and terrorism are classic examples. A wicked problem has innumerable causes, morphs constantly, and has no correct answer. It can be tamed, however, with the right approach. In a year study involving 22 companies, he identified five key criteria. According to the author, the need for faster growth is, in all likelihood, a wicked issue for Wal-Mart. A strong corporate identity is essential: It serves as a rudder that helps the enterprise navigate a sea of choices.
Eventually they will make progress by muddling through. Envisioning possible futures and identifying moves that will realize the one the company hopes for will uncover promising remedies. Many corporations, I find, have replaced the annual top-down planning ritual, based on macroeconomic forecasts, with more sophisticated processes. They crunch vast amounts of consumer data, hold planning sessions frequently, and use techniques such as competency modeling and real-options analysis to develop strategy.
This type of approach is an improvement because it is customer- and capability-focused and enables companies to modify their strategies quickly, but it still misses the mark a lot of the time.
Several CEOs admit that they are confronted with issues that cannot be resolved merely by gathering additional data, defining issues more clearly, or breaking them down into small problems. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, professors of design and urban planning at the University of California at Berkeley, who described them in a article in Policy Sciences magazine.
Environmental degradation, terrorism, and poverty—these are classic examples of wicked problems. Not only do conventional processes fail to tackle wicked problems, but they may exacerbate situations by generating undesirable consequences. In the areas of public policy, software development, and project design, experts such as Peter DeGrace, Leslie Hulet Stahl, and Jeff Conklin have developed ways of spotting wicked problems and coping with them.
Policy makers, in particular, have put this powerful concept to good use, but it has been largely missing from strategy discussions. Although many of the problems companies face are intractable, they have been slow to acknowledge the wickedness of strategy issues. Between and , I completed three research projects that provided insights into wicked strategy problems.
Second, I studied strategy implementation in depth at seven of these enterprises. There are several ways to define a wicked problem, but according to Rittel and Webber, it has some or all of 10 characteristics. In , Horst W. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. With a wicked problem, the search for solutions never stops. Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad. Ordinary problems have solutions that can be objectively evaluated as right or wrong.
Choosing a solution to a wicked problem is largely a matter of judgment. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. But solutions to wicked problems generate unexpected consequences over time, making it difficult to measure their effectiveness. Solutions to ordinary problems can be easily tried and abandoned.
With wicked problems, every implemented solution has consequences that cannot be undone. Wicked problems do not have an exhaustively describable set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
Ordinary problems come with a limited set of potential solutions, by contrast. Every wicked problem is essentially unique. An ordinary problem belongs to a class of similar problems that are all solved in the same way. A wicked problem is substantially without precedent; experience does not help you address it.
Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem. While an ordinary problem is self-contained, a wicked problem is entwined with other problems. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. A wicked problem involves many stakeholders, who all will have different ideas about what the problem really is and what its causes are.
The planner has no right to be wrong. Problem solvers dealing with a wicked issue are held liable for the consequences of any actions they take, because those actions will have such a large impact and are hard to justify. Wicked problems often crop up when organizations have to face constant change or unprecedented challenges. They occur in a social context; the greater the disagreement among stakeholders, the more wicked the problem. Not all problems are wicked; confusion, discord, and lack of progress are telltale signs that an issue might be wicked.
As Wal-Mart tries to grow faster, numerous stakeholders are watching nervously: employees and trade unions; shareholders, investors, and creditors; suppliers and joint venture partners; the governments of the U. Wal-Mart also faces resistance to imports, criticism about the wages and benefits it offers employees, and charges that illegal aliens work in its stores. Its low-cost sourcing practices have rendered it vulnerable to the health and safety concerns that surround products made in China.
Wal-Mart has several options. It can try to boost revenues and profits by increasing sales from existing stores or raising prices, by expanding into urban markets in the U. These strategies demand different capabilities, are risky, and sometimes conflict with one another. Consider two of the least complex options before Wal-Mart. It could boost profits by hiking prices, but until now, everyday low prices have helped the company fend off rivals.
To prevent that, Wal-Mart must first modify its value proposition, stock some upscale products, and develop a brand persona that warrants higher prices—challenges that have little to do with boosting profits immediately. Alternatively, Wal-Mart could enter a fast-growing emerging market, as it has done in India.
It has found the going tough there, however. Besides being unfamiliar, the strategy contains the nucleus of another problem. The two strategies we just discussed pose completely new challenges for the company. For instance, Wal-Mart would have to alter its brand image—for the first time in its year history—to justify higher prices.
Wal-Mart is a novice at managing partnerships, but it has had to team up with an Indian conglomerate, Bharti Enterprises. Moreover, the retailer cannot ignore its existing consumers, who shop at Wal-Mart for inexpensive products.
How much of a focus on higher-margin products and higher-income customers is appropriate? The company has no way of knowing that in the beginning. However, the company will lose some of its competitive advantage when it shares expertise with local partners. Growth is a hard problem for many companies, but it may not always be wicked. The aim should be to create a shared understanding of the problem and foster a joint commitment to possible ways of resolving it.
Companies must go beyond obtaining facts and opinions from stakeholders; they should involve them in finding ways to manage the problem.
Getting a variety of opinions helps companies develop novel perspectives. It also strengthens collective intelligence, which counteracts groupthink and cognitive bias and enables groups to tackle problems more effectively than individuals, as Tom Atlee, the founder and codirector of the Co-Intelligence Institute, and Howard Bloom, a visiting scholar at New York University, have pointed out.
Involving more stakeholders makes the planning process more complex, but it also expands the potential for creativity. Buy-in is an important result; companies should look not only for countermeasures but also for stakeholders to get on board with some of them.
Companies believe that shareholders and customers are important stakeholders, but employees are even more crucial. Their tacit knowledge and commitment often help enterprises develop innovative strategies. Merrill Lynch Credit Corporation, for example, places a great deal of emphasis on semistructured social processes, frequently organizing social events and encouraging employees to interact with one another.
Everyone lunches in the company cafeteria, which allows employees to mix with senior executives routinely. A company intranet supports virtual social interactions such as blog-based discussions. Documents also help executives communicate ideas, which is essential if plans are to become reality. All planning processes are, at their core, vehicles for communication with employees at all levels and between business units.
This is particularly true of processes that tackle wicked issues. Smart companies emphasize such communication. So assembly lines at Whirlpool shut down on a regular basis to enable managers and workers to discuss the progress of plans. At Shell a global electronic network, organized into forums with moderators, allows hundreds of managers and planners to discuss planning issues. Two, communicate!
And three, communicate! The documentation process is a good way to generate new ideas. In SAE International, an organization that sets standards and provides training in the automobile, aerospace, and commercial vehicle industries, was looking for new strategies. It commissioned a case study on its situation and then invited 30 senior executives with reputations for creative thinking to discuss the case with its top managers.
SAE recorded the ideas that emerged during the session and has implemented several of them. While a company dealing with a wicked problem has to experiment with many strategies, it must stay true to a sense of purpose. An identity provides executives with direction and focuses attention on opportunities and threats. For instance, in August , Campbell Soup decided it would sell off the Godiva business. By relying on its identity, rather than on financial projections, Campbell made the decision to sell Godiva quickly and painlessly.
In a world of Newtonian order, where there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, companies can judge what strategies they want to pursue. They should therefore abandon the convention of thinking through all their options before choosing a single one, and experiment with a number of strategies that are feasible even if they are unsure of the implications. To pick a starting point, executives can borrow a leaf from policy makers.
Doing so enables policy makers to analyze options quickly and make decisions that meet the goals of several constituents.
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In planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. The phrase was originally used in social planning. Its modern sense was introduced in by C. West Churchman in a guest editorial Churchman wrote in the journal Management Science ,  responding to a previous use of the term by Horst Rittel. Churchman discussed the moral responsibility of operations research "to inform the manager in what respect our 'solutions' have failed to tame his wicked problems".
Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel 14 July — 9 July was a design theorist and university professor. He is best known for coining the term wicked problem ,  but his influence on design theory and practice was much wider. His field of work is the science of design , or, as it also known, the area of design theories and methods DTM , with the understanding that activities like planning, engineering, policy making are included as particular forms of design. Rittel was born in Berlin. Rittel coined the term wicked problem in the mids to describe the ill-defined problems of planning. IBIS for issue-based information system is the instrumental version of the understanding of design as argumentation.