The wicked game of business. Going for the reward at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

“Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them”.

Have you ever heard about wicked and tame problems? Wicked problems was a term originally used to describe problems in social policy and planning that were difficult or impossible to solve. Wicked problems are hard to grasp, define and explain, and there is no “right” solution and clear-cut definition of success and boundaries. The full magnitude of the problem is only realised when the solution has been developed and implemented – sometimes years later. There are always many interdependencies, perspectives and stakeholders, and as the solutions are developed, new and unforeseen issues surface. Furthermore, wicked problems cannot be compartmentalised and solved in isolation. Think of, for example, global warming and climate changes, which are wicked problems fitting these criteria.

A tame problem, on the other hand, has a well-defined and stable problem statement, a definite stopping point, it can be addressed in isolation, etc. Tame problems are not necessarily simple, but they are solvable with traditional problem-solving methods. Building a bridge is a tame problem, and so is playing chess.

Companies are some of the most complex systems on Earth, and wicked problems exist on all levels in the organisations – strategic and tactical – and many organisational layers struggle with them every day. Most large-scale initiatives are wicked problems – such as large IT ERP projects, M&As, restructuring, design and deployment of strategies, etc. – as each challenge is tricky, complex and unique. However, this is not always realised by the stakeholders, and the consequence is that the problems are tamed. Taming is when the complexity and scope of a wicked problem is being artificially restricted and reduced, and the true underlying root causes are not properly addressed.

The consequence of taming is project failure (delays, added costs, overruns, etc.) and a significant part of strategy failures relate to taming the challenges facing the company…..

This is the second article in the series of assessment articles, taking outset in the Operational System Sphere.

Download the full article here: A wicked game

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