LEADERSHIP SKILLS: KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WICKED AND TAME PROBLEMS
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO SOLVE A PROBLEM THAT DEFIED YOU?
If so, it might have been a “wicked” problem and you might have been approaching it with a “tame” problem mindset.
To understand the difference between wicked and tame problems, consider that the typical approach to solving any problem is a linear process such as:
- identify the problem
- brainstorm alternative solutions
- select criteria for evaluating solutions
- evaluate solutions
- select best alternative
- apply the selected alternative to the problem
But what if you follow this type of process and no alternative satisfies the criteria? Or what if you apply your best solution to the problem and instead of solving it, the problem grows or mutates?
If so, you’ve probably been trying to solve a wicked problem with a thought process designed for tame problems.
A tame problem is one that can be solved by choosing and applying the correct algorithm. For instance, suppose that you knew how to make strawberry shortcake for 6 people, but needed instead to make it for 60. Multiplying the ingredients and changing the logistics is a tame problem.
A wicked problem, however, is one for which there is no known algorithm to solve it. Examples include strategic planning, satisfying customers, transforming organizations, or protecting the environment.
A revealing characteristic of wicked problems is that the more you attempt to solve one, the more it reveals itself to you.
It’s an iterative learning process between problem and solution. The problem grows and changes as you work on solving it.
A tame problem can be illustrated this way:
problem ——-> solution
A wicked problem can be illustrated this way:
problem ——-> solution——-> more problem ——-> more solution——->continue
The advantage to tackling wicked problems is to know that there will likely be no complete solution. So don’t attempt to solve it. Instead, form a team to “design” the future.