Wicked Problems: High Panic Threshold

State of Mind 2: High Panic Threshold

wayne-gretzky.jpgIt was said of the great Wayne Gretzky that he had the highest panic threshold of any player in professional ice hockey. He would hang back with the puck waiting for the optimum moment to strike. Other less experienced players would panic and prematurely make their move, while he would have the patience and the ability to see the converging patterns of movement.

Wicked problems are like this in that it’s very tempting to jump in and start prematurely defining them (“taming” them to use Rittel’s word). A sense of impending panic can set in as the problem continues to defy definition, leading to a premature (and incorrect or incomplete) statement of the problem and its solution. Ihor Stelmach writes, “The pause, in fact, can be as effective a move in hockey as the quick break, but much more difficult to do as one is based on pure adrenaline and the other on pure nerve.”

It takes discipline and nerve to be able to wait. But this doesn’t mean never committing - that’s fatal too. It just means not committing prematurely.