Wicked problems are gnarly! They’re problems like climate change. Complex. Massive. They have no simple solutions and sometimes the solutions lead to bigger problems. They often polarize people, which makes it hard to find a way to respond. Here are my top 10 tips with working with wicked problems.
1. Map the complexity.
Make sure you include all stakeholders and how they are being impacted by the issue—as you perceive it. Make sure you make the Earth one of the stakeholders. It’s the starting point of all our resources and the endpoint of all our outputs.
But map is not territory: so this is only a starting point to try and grasp the complexity. The real work begins when we start to negotiate the territory the map has shown us. That’s when we encounter the unexpected!
2. Understand that your view is just that—a point-of-view from somewhere. Understand that all views, all perspectives, are points-of-view from somewhere on the playing field of life. We all see an issue from our location in life. Our view is conditioned by our way of knowing—whether that be intuitive, emotional, rational, or some combination thereof. Our view is conditioned by our culture, our privilege, our educational background, our career and work experience, our age, gender, personality preferences, etc.
Take a forest for example. If you’re in a eucalyptus forest you see the sunlight teepee down through the dark leaves. You hear a cockatoo. You smell the dirt and the composting leaves. A mosquito lands on your nose. You feel like you know what it’s like to be in a forest.
If you’re standing on a mountain looking down on a forest you have a different perception of what a forest is. It’s a canopy, or a gently swaying mass of flickering jade. If you are a scrub turkey, or a trout in a stream, or a dragonfly, or a mushroom you have a radically different experience of the forest. All these experiences are valid.
Everyone’s perspective, or view, is conditioned by where we are in that forest of perception. Every perspective holds some truth. No one perspective contains the whole truth, even if you’re standing on top of the mountain. Every perspective is partial.
3. Get curious about your own and others’ perspectives.
If they don’t see it your way they’re seeing something different. Get curious about what they’re seeing, about what influences the way they see, what they believe, and why they believe it.
In order to tackle Wicked Problems we need all perspectives. We’ve gone beyond simple, single perspective solutions. We need to build solution ecosystems where multiple players exercise their expertise in multiple ways from multiple perspectives. Wicked issues and solutions are beyond anyone of us.
4. Create cultures of feedback.
Have one in four meetings be a feedback meeting. Always give positive feedback first: “I really liked it when…,” or “One thing I really appreciated in what you did was…” And explain why you liked it. We all want to make a difference in what we do! And we love to be acknowledged for it.
Next, name one thing you didn’t appreciate and why and what you would like them to do instead. Be direct and be clear on your motivations for offering feedback. Share without judgement, or in others words, take responsibility for your own experience, and your own feelings. This is sometimes hard. We might need a coach or friend to support us to see what we can take responsibility for.
Remember the goal is for us to get traction in action. Remember the goal is to be for one another. Think of compliments and suggestions for improvements as ways to challenge and encourage your collaborators to shine their brightest.
5. Feedback is feedback.
When we’re working with Wicked Problems we’re working with complex systems. Comments from others, no matter how skillfully or unskillfully communicated, are just feedback. They’re telling you about their experience and their perspective. It’s more information for the WE collaboration.
6. Conflict is feedback.
Conflict generally arises when feedback wasn’t given, or wasn’t able to be received. Somebody’s needs are not being met. For instance, the current dysfunction in our Earth’s ecosystems is just feedback. It’s inviting us to see the planet’s need for eco-systemic integrity and balance.
7. Find the power of your own agency, and act.
With Wicked Problems we all have a capacity to do something. Small steps matter. Your action, whether its picking up a bit of plastic from a beach, spending time to hear another’s perspective and value it, make a difference. Random acts of kindness create a world that we’d more like to live in.
8. Be in Action.
Review the impacts of your action. Gain skills if you need them, then act again. Follow your passion! Create a Passion Pod and work with others to create the world you want to live in!
9. Spend time addressing the elephants in the room.
A lot of energy gets lost in projects when we’re not able to be authentically connected with one another. People start pulling in different directions, they silo, they gossip, they complain, they hold onto judgements and subvert or undermine decisions from within (white-ant). All of these behaviors lead group members to disengage.
Addressing the elephants builds connection and focuses energy in the direction we want to travel. It requires courage and willingness to be vulnerable. While challenging, it’s also incredibly rewarding because it deepens connection, compassion and understanding.
If we’re prepared to authentically engage with one another, we expand our sense of aliveness and our sense of what’s possible. We often need skilled facilitators to help us uncover our unconscious ways of being and knowing that underlie these behaviors. That’s why we at Wicked Elephants exist.
10. Get playful.
We need to rest and step back from doing the same old, same old. If we’re stuck in our old ways, our way is the only way, we close down potential. Only when we take a break, does the creative imagination come alive.
When we play with others our creativity is stimulated and sometimes the unexpected emerges. We access intuition and step into a field of possibility. We need to get serious about play to solve serious issues.
Follow these tips and life will get wicked!