Wicked Problems: Full Contact

State of Mind 2: Full Contact

(Last in my series of postings on wicked problems, based on my talk from the About, With & For Conference last fall.)

All of the attributes for addressing wicked problems talked about so far have one thing in common: hands-on experience and in-the-trenches work. Wicked problems are a full-contact sport.

There are two aspects to this. You need to have full contact with your customers (and potential customers, and past customers) to really understand their stated and unstated needs, their met and unmet needs. Don’t just rely on surveys and service follow-up calls, or meeting them on the golf-course. Meet the rank and file where they live, where they work - wherever they use your product. While ethnography is becoming more prevalent as an approach, it’s still under-utilized when it comes to solving wicked problems. This is unfortunate as it’s about the best tool we have at the moment for spotting interesting things at the periphery.

Second, you need to encourage and allow full contact of all the stakeholders involved in the wicked problem: marketing, engineering, design, manufacturing, sales, partners and vendors, executives. For sure this will cause sparks to fly, but when solving a complex systemic problem like a wicked problem, you need to get the whole system in one room so that everyone can see and hear the perspectives of others. By letting this process run its course, you will arrive at a well-rounded understanding of, and agreement on the problem.

It’s tempting to cut this process short if things don’t seem to be moving toward resolution quickly enough, or try to corral it when it appears to be going off course, but these are natural parts of the process. Short-changing them will mean that you are short-changing your competitive advantage by not going deep enough into understanding the problem.