Reacting

After you map a wicked problem, the next step is to react to what you’ve learned.

And that means dealing with your emotions which are bound to be in the mix when you try to make sense of any wicked problem. If Harvard’s John Kotter is to believed, you cannot make meaningful change on any important issue in your personal, social, political, or professional life unless you also take your emotions into account.

Over the years, we have found that two sets of emotions, in particular, matter—the degree to which a wicked problem makes you angry or frustrated and whether they leave you feeling optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future.

So, take out your map and think about the squares and circles at or near its heart. How do you react emotionally to the issues that you thought about as you drew the chart? Which of them do you feel most strongly about?

Anger and Frustration. If you are feeling angry and frustrated about something, the odds are that you aren’t the only one. Assuming you aren’t alone, these are probably the issues that warrant your attention first. And, part of coming to grips with wicked a wicked problem is building a network of people who share your concerns. We can help you do that, but you probably don’t need us to get started. Who are the people in your community (defined in any way that makes sense to you) who share your anger and frustration? Start talking with them, especially if they come from ideological, social, or other groups you don’t routinely work with.

Hope and Pessimism. This pair of emotions come into play here in a different way. Go back to your chart and put a check mark next to the squares and the arrows from the anger and frustration part of the exercise that you feel most and least optimistic about. Especially if your friends and colleagues in your network feel the same way, you are beginning to see some first signs of the issues you could most profitably work on. Put simply, why butt your head against a metaphorical brick wall and take on an issue that makes you angry and can’t think of anything you could do about it? Instead, take the issues you care about that you think are most likely to be open to change and begin exploring what you and the people in your network could do about it together.

In other words, try to identify some “bright spots” or instances in which the otherwise depressing dynamics of your systems map don’t seem to hold. Ask yourself, why things might have turned out better in that case or cases? Those exceptions point you toward changes you can help bring about that affect the whole system and, perhaps, help it perform at least a little bit better. And, if you’re lucky, the really good ones can be taken to scale.

So, it’s time to turn to the next change to see how you can do your part to make wicked problems just a little bit less wicked.

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