Section 1: Tame and wicked problems
Tame and wicked problems
Real-life challenges are often complex systems of sub-issues woven together interdependently. Professor Horst Rittel (1972), a designer, coined the term 'wicked problems' to describe these messy situations. The table below shows how he differentiates 'tame' and 'wicked' problems. (Although he uses the term 'problem', his description applies equally to opportunities.)
|Characteristic||How it appears in tame problems||How it appears in wicked problems|
|Problem formulation||Can be clearly written down. The problem can be stated as a gap between what is and what 'ought' to be. There is easy agreement about the problem definition||Difficult to define. Many possible explanations may exist. Individuals perceive the issue differently. Depending on which explanation one chooses, the solution takes on a different form|
|Testability||Potential solutions can be tested as either correct or false||There is no single set of criteria for whether a solution is right or wrong, they can only be more or less acceptable relative to each other|
|Finality||Problems have a clear solution and ending point||There is always room for more improvement and potential consequences may continue indefinitely|
|Level of analysis||It is possible to bound the problem and identify its root cause. There is no need to argue about the level at which to intervene||Every problem can be considered a symptom of another problem. It has no identifiable root cause and one is not sure of the appropriate level at which to intervene|
|Replicability||It may repeat itself many times||Every problem is essentially unique|
|Reproducability||Solutions can be trialled and excluded until the correct solution is found||Each problem is a one-shot operation. Once a solution is attempted, you cannot undo what you have already done|
Tame problems may still require creative solutions. The creative thinking will be focused on generating ideas, rather than understanding the problem. (You will become familiar with the stages of the creative thinking process in Section 4.) Wicked problems require creative thinking techniques right from the start, to understand the nature of the challenge, define the goal, ensure all elements and perspectives are considered and then to seek solutions.
We think that the issue qualifies as wicked, because:
Once John has opened up discussions about his observations, he cannot 'undo what he has already done'.
Because there are many possible solutions to such 'wicked' issues, gaining acceptance of a particular solution can itself be a challenge, especially in workplace issues involving people from several disciplines. Issues can easily become very 'political', raising issues such as trust, respect, role and communication (hence the value of a creative climate - see Section 3). Discussion, debate, negotiation, etc. are often critically important to make good progress. In particular, getting agreement about the nature of the problem, challenge or opportunity is essential.
(You will be hearing more about John Harris and the GP practice later in this course.)