About Sticky and Wicked Problems

A few years ago, while doing some holiday reading, the following caught my attention:

“Wicked problems have these features: It is hard to say what the problem is, to define it clearly, or to tell where it stops and starts. There is no “right” way to view the problem, no definitive formulation. The way it’s framed will change what the solution appears to be. Someone can always say that the problem is just a symptom of another problem, and that someone will not be wrong. There are many stakeholders, all with their own frames, which they tend to see as exclusively correct. Ask what the problem is and you will get a different answer from each. The problem is interconnected to a lot of other problems; pulling them apart is almost impossible.”

“It gets worse. Every wicked problem is unique…”

“Wicked problems demand people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible, and collaborative.”

Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism – New York University; Author – ‘What Are Journalists For?’, (1999)

The above excerpts of Jay Rosen’s thoughts are from John Brockman’s ‘This Will Make You Smarter’, (2012)

About Wicked Problems

The description provided by Jay Rosen describes interesting problem territory. It captures elite problems that go above and beyond the problems encountered during normal business. At least, I expect the majority of people would think that way. On the other hand, considering the exponential pace of information technology advancement, perhaps all businesses now face wicked problems? And the key considerations are whether or not business people have the wherewithal to understand the extent of their exposure to increasingly more-complicated problems and whether or not they have the ability to either evade or solve those problems.

When I first read Jay Rosen’s description of ‘Wicked Problems’ I thought of our desire to solve ‘Sticky Problems’.

About Sticky Problems

At Waterloo Intuition, we describe Sticky Problems as:

  • Complicated/complex business problems. People are concerned about the problem even though they may not fully understand the extent of the problem’s implications/impact.
  • Crucial problems that must be solved in order to
    • ‘keep up with’ the pace of industry-sector change,
    • grow,
    • increase profitability, or
    • gain advantage over competitors.
  • Similar to Wicked Problems, Sticky Problems affect multiple stakeholders who have diverse ‘frames’ and needs. These diverse needs are not necessarily thought of as exclusively correct, however, they are thought of as particularly important keys to success.
  • Similar to Wicked Problems, Sticky Problems demand people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible, and collaborative.
  • Sticky Problems that have a limited lifespan.
  • Sticky Problems are important but not urgent problems. When they become urgent problems it is too late to solve them because the business is too compromised to fix the damage and/or make up the lost ground…unless the business is so well-funded it can weather and survive even perfect storms.

Sticky Problems & Day-to-Day Problems

All businesses face day-to-day problems. These are a combination of general business problems [finance, HR, software, etc.] and industry-specific or sector-specific problems. The majority of these problems are framed in urgency. Sometimes the problems are important or involve “not-routine” work/tasks, however, most day-to-day problems are not important and their solutions involve routine work/tasks.

All businesses that want to grow, improve or be sustainable face both day-to-day problems and Sticky Problems. People underestimate the importance of their Sticky Problems. Some progressive people at small- to mid-sized businesses are working to solve their Sticky Problems and disrupt their industry sector. Some progressive people at small- to mid-sized businesses are working to solve Wicked Problems in order to change the world or make a dent in the universe.

All larger, more-complicated businesses face day-to-day problems, Sticky Problems, and Wicked Problems. Most large businesses are working to solve or at least thinking about solving their Sticky Problems. Some large businesses are working to solve Wicked Problems in order to change the world or make a dent in the universe.

We look forward to learning more about your sticky and wicked problems and sharing our solution ideas with you.

Please contact us at [email protected].

Together our conversations can expand solutions and value

We look forward to helping you bring your ideas and solutions to life.
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