In A Wicked Problem, I said that all levels of complexity exist in our world but more and more of our work deals with real complex problems (in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect), whether they be social, technological, or economic. Complex environments and problems are best addressed when we organize as networks, work to continuously develop emergent practices; and cooperate to advance our aspirations.
Jay Rosen talks about covering wicked problems and describes how journalists could address this “beat”. I think that these approaches align quite well with my Collaboration/Cooperation – Work/Learning framework, based on the working smarter graphic here.
Rosen says that the beat must be global and networked. This is why we must cooperatively engage in external social networks to understand the complexity of wicked problems. He also talks about the need for narrative, pattern-based understanding of multiple disciplines, and becoming a learning machine. This is the role that communities of practice can play. They are more constrained spaces, yet still open to diversity of opinion. Work teams, filled with experts, remain good at solving Tame Problems, or those that can be constrained.
Rosen’s is one more perspective on the need to reframe our work structures to incorporate intentional connections beyond traditional business. The answers lie outside, not inside, the organization. As Rosen concludes:
The wicked problems beat is not a View from Nowhere thing. It starts from the limits of professional expertise. It is a reflection on unmanageable complexity. It preaches humility to the authorized knowers. It mocks the one best answer and single issue people. It seeks to deliver us from denial.
Organizations need to extend the notion of work beyond collaboration, beyond teams, and beyond the corporate fire wall. They need to make social networks, communities of practice, and narrative part of the work. It’s a big leap but we need to change the business conversation away from confident military terms (target market, strategic plan, marketing campaign) and instead talk in terms of complexity, wicked problems and cooperation. As Rosen writes, “Cliché is the vernacular in its spent state. Savage clarity is the vernacular coming alive again.” Let’s bring some savage clarity to the modern enterprise.