Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Managing Wicked Problems

Strategy as a Wicked Problem.
By: Camillus, John C.,
Harvard Business Review,
May 2008, Vol. 86, Issue 5

Some interesting points

"Wicked" problems can't be solved, but they can be tamed.

Several CEOs admit that they are confronted with issues that cannot be resolved merely by gathering additional data, defining issues more clearly, or breaking them down into small problems. Their planning techniques don't generate fresh ideas, and implementing the solutions those processes come up with is fraught with political peril. That's because, I believe, many strategy issues are "wicked."

Wickedness isn't a degree of difficulty. Wicked issues are different because traditional processes can't resolve them, according to Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, professors of design and urban planning at the University of California at Berkeley, who described them in a 1973 article in Policy Sciences magazine. A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn't have a right answer, as we will see in the next section. Environmental degradation, terrorism, and poverty - these are classic examples of wicked problems.

There are several ways to define a wicked problem, but according to Rittel and Webber, it has some or all of 10 characteristics. (See the sidebar in the article "The 10 Properties of Wicked Problems.") Caveat: The criteria are not a set of tests that mechanically determine wickedness; rather, they provide insights that help you judge whether a problem is wicked.

The problem is difficult to come to grips with and changes with every attempt to address it.

There's nothing to indicate the right answer to the problem.

Managing the Wickedness of Strategy

It's impossible to find solutions to wicked strategy problems, but companies can learn to cope with them. In accordance with Occam's razor, the simplest techniques are often the best.

Involve stakeholders, document opinions, and communicate.

Define the corporate identity.

An organization's identity comprises the following:

Values. What is fundamentally important to the company?
Competencies. What does the company do better than others do?
Aspirations. How does the company envision and measure success?

Focus on action.

Adopt a "feed-forward" orientation.

John C. Camillus ( is the Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

No comments: