Reflect and Then Act

In all of our work on wicked problems, we have learned that there is one paradox that all wicked problems share. On the one hand, it is all but impossible to solve one once and for all. On the other hand, if you don’t try to do something about them, wicked problems fester at best and, at worse, conditions only get worse.

Therefore, if you are going to make any progress in dealing with yours, the first step is to do something, knowing that it will not be “the answer.” Indeed, the experts who have written about wicked problems and complex systems in general agree that making any kind of progress in dealing with them comes as a result of a repeated process of trial and error. Start small and try to do the best you can given what you know and using whatever resources you have at your disposal. Assume that whatever you try will be far from a complete success. Assess what you’ve done. Learn from your mistakes.

Then try again. And keep trying.

Above all else, don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We also know that we make the most progress and come closest to producing paradigm shifts after we successfully reframe the problem itself by, for example, adding new factors to you systems map–which is one of the reasons why the version you just finished will only be the first of many drafts.

So, before going any further, look at your map and your list of emotional reactions. They will show you the parts of the system that you should probably start with.

Combining the map with your emotional reactions will help you reframe the problem by seeing a new mental lens with which to view it by putting it in a broader perspective that includes other factors that were not in your original map that allows you to see more options, perhaps, by showing you mental blind spots that you missed either because you didn’t have either a systems map or didn’t deal with your emotions.

Without knowing more about your wicked problem, we cannot suggest things you could or should try, but you probably can.

Where is change the most needed?

Where is the system most open to change? Leverage points

If you can think of any given what you already know


What could you and your community do

What would it take to get you to actually do that

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