What is a Wicked Problem?

Wicked Problem

Previously we talked about Skinny Problems and Fat Problems. Today, we’re going to talk about even fatter problems – Wicked Problems. They have their own unique qualities and properties. And, here’s five symptoms of Wicked Problems so you’ll know one when you meet it face-to-face.

Wicked is Not Wicked

We’re not talking about wicked witches here. Wicked Problems are not evil or bad, just really complex and resistant to being solved.

Have MANY Dimensions

Skinny problems are one-dimensional – they can be solved by viewing them in a single snapshot. Fat problems are two dimensional and need a wide angle lens to view and resolve them. Wicked problems have multiple dimensions. And we need to view them from multiple perspectives and even this may not be enough to get the full picture.

May not have a discrete solution

Generally, Wicked Problems require some level of design thinking where the search is for the management of the situation rather than a complete solution eg manage an illness rather than cure it. Or, in the case of climate change there is no one solution.

Constantly changing

Consider the flu virus. It mutates so quickly the drug companies don’t have time to research and deliver a new drug to cure it.

Involve many domains

In the case of Terrorism, it isn’t just a political or military problem. It’s also a social problem. Plus most of our bigger issues today are complicated by globalisation. It’s not one country having to align its thoughts and actions it many. This is the world of the EU or the UN.

Examples of Wicked Problems

  • Strategy in a large organisation
  • Knowledge Management
  • Uncovering how our brain works
  • Managing your health
  • Designing a large building
  • Planning a City
  • Refugees and Asylum Seekers
  • Stopping Pandemic Influenza
  • Finding a cure for AIDS, Cancer
  • Resolving Drug Trafficking
  • Offsetting the effects of Climate Change
  • Reducing the threat of Terrorism

Source: Book Rapper, Wicked Thinking. Derived from Eric Knight’s book Reframe.


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