SC 2016 Semilab: Wicked Problems!!

by Anne-Marie Grisogono

What are wicked problems?

The term was coined over 40 years to describe real world social and economic problems - such as poverty, drug use, corruption and failing economies  - which seem impossible to solve because so many factors are interconnected to each other and to other problems, so that attempts to fix one issue often cause things to get worse in unexpected ways.

Today we can add many more to the list of wicked problems – for example climate change, terrorism, rising obesity and the unaffordability of escalating health costs. The common thread in all of them is complexity, which undermines some of our familiar ways of analysing and solving problems. 

But it’s not just serious global problems that are wicked. Many of the problems of everyday life are frustratingly difficult for the same reasons of underlying interconnectedness – in business for example, or sports team, or social networks.Wicked problems are not evil, but they are resistant to resolution, and if solving them matters enough, then that’s bad! In this SemiLab we will use games, models, and stories to explore what makes wicked problems intractable, and what we can do to tame them. Along the way we will delve into system dynamics, complexity science, psychology, and evolutionary theory to start developing a better cognitive toolbox for looking at and thinking about them. 

There won’t be a silver bullet in your toolbox, but you might learn some surprising things about how you think, and how you think about thinking.

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