Accelerating Rates of CHange

what are wicked problems

The term wicked problem only dates from the 1970s when it was first used in an obscure article on urban planning. Although it is still far from a houseful term,  wicked problems are an increasingly important part of our daily lifes.

Definitions of wicked problems revolve around the fact that there are causes and consequences are so intertwined that you cannot deal with them separately, quickly, or easily. In fact, some analysts go so far as to argue that you can never solve them, because the minute you address on of a wicked problem’s components, others get created as a result. Instead, experts talk about making limited but significant progress in dealing with them through a repeated process of trial and error in which we learn from our successes and failures and our efforts improve over time.

Furthermore, almost any issue of any significance facing the world today can–and should–be thought of as a wicked problem. That includes all of the human security issues covered in Hauss’ book. But, as anyone who has ever been a parent will attest, raising children is a lot like dealing with a wicked problem.

We could present an example here that is clearly security related. However, it makes more sense to start with this grabbing slam poem, “There Is No Such Thing as Fair Trade Cocaine” by Kiran Singh Sirah.


Our work is based on the assumption that the values and institutions we use in making the decisions that shape our lives are not up to the task of dealing with wicked problems starting with the international drug trade and continuing all the to threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. In fact, that means rethinking our very definitions of what security and governance mean in our rapidly globalizing world.

If nothing else, the fact that we are using an outdated paradigm in trying to deal with today’s wicked problems is one of the reasons why so many of our social and political systems are mired in gridlock.

To see why, keep reading the pages in the ideas section of Wicked Problems 101 by clicking on the numbered links below.

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