On one margin you can classify problems according to how well the mechanisms for addressing the problem are. On the other margin, you can classify problems according to how much agreement there is on what the aims should be.
Wicked problems, in my view, are problems where you neither have agreement on the desired end state, nor a good understanding/capacity to effect any potential outcome.
As a self-professed geek, I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking hard about how to address technical mechanisms of problem solving, usually with an assumed view of what constitutes “solved.”
At least in the disciplines where I’ve spent time, I’m increasingly convinced that the lion’s share of every problem is political rather than technical.
With that definition of a wicked problem, it seems obvious why we’d suck at solving them. They’re wicked after all!
Iagree with you completely.
In my view truly wicked problems have both ideological / political components as you say, as well as mechanistic challenges. In climate both types of challenges abound.
If you can implement a new feature within your team, it is not wicked. If you need a few other teams it becomes political and thus wicked.
No, it would be better to embrace it and engineer around and with it.
But there is also the issue that when we do, in fact, solve wicked problems, people essentially "forget" it ever happened.
From my blog, a thing I've said about a billion times and got tired or writing from scratch over and over:
Maybe you have heard of Y2K? No, maybe not. Maybe are you too young to remember it.
When computers first came out, they had very limited storage. It made a big difference if you used two digits or four to record the year. So they used two digits because the extra two were such a hardship.
As the turn of the century approached -- the year 2000 (abbreviated Y2K) -- people began predicting that our global banking system would melt down. Some people became what we now call Preppers. They had five years of flour in the basement and guns at the ready for a post apocalyptic world.
And then midnight came that New Year's Eve and the world did not melt down because old programmers who wrote old programming languages had quietly been fixing the problem for several years. Mostly, you could no longer program your VCR ahead of time to record stuff, which didn't matter that much because most people didn't know how to program their VCR anyway. They just pushed the "record" button when the show started if they wanted it recorded.
No one wakes up these days and says "Thank god! I'm not living in the Y2K Post Apocalypse! ATMs work and the global banking system still works and VCRs have long since been replaced."
Except maybe me and my sons. We occasionally say things like that. But no one else does.
Instead, there are people who mock the idea that this was ever a problem, like "Can you believe those idiots ever thought it would become a global banking meltdown! Ha!"
Similarly, when Iraq set fire to hundreds of oil wells on its way out of Kuwait, experts predicted it would burn for years and be a global environmental disaster. Then crack teams from around the world converged on Kuwait, invented new techniques on the spot and wrapped up the job in a mere six months.
There was no media storm celebrating this amazing victory on par with the dire warnings we heard about endlessly when this disaster was being predicted. This triumph became a minor footnote in more exciting news stories.
We don't run around today thanking our lucky stars that the Kuwaiti Oil Fires failed to become the global catastrophe it was expected to be.
"Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them." -- Einstein
The Chilean president gets credit for unwavering support for a rescue, but the American drilling team ultimately was the successful one.