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43 thoughts on “Guestbook

  1. Jeff Clay Post author

    I found the original Rittel-Webber paper on Taming Wicked Problems online and thought I would share it here.

    Reply
  2. andy

    Joe, thank you for the discipline and dedication in sharing your thoughts. Wonderful resource and inspiring for me. A question for you…It’s a busy world and you have much to do…Why does it have so much meaning for you to be taming your thoughts on wicked problems and investing the energy to share them with us all? Andy

    Reply
    1. jbentley

      Andy: Interesting and worthwhile question. I have said (probably too many times) that any question that begins with Why has no answer – only a series of guesses. Why am I spending most of my time on this project? Here’s my best guess: Over the years, as a therapist, teacher, consultant, parent, husband, I have wondered why we collectively are so bad at managing our most important problems. When I came upon the Wicked Problems model, things fell into place. I now had a framework within which to understand things better, and even work on things. I have been thinking and working and writing about this for over 15 years, and believed I have some things figured out that are worth sharing. Plus, I am convinced that happiness flows from a project that one believes in passionately. That’s me. Thanks for your interest, joe

      Reply
  3. Molly Pickett

    Great to see this site and the book. I continue to share the Wicked Problems concept with my friends and family.

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  4. Ken Williams

    Morning Joe,

    Nice to see a new post on your web site. And nice to read Michael is part of this activity. Brings back fond memories of time together with you and Michael thinking and talking about problems and challenges of all kinds. As you make clear, wicked problems remain and are still in a taming process. I am thinking this morning of family issues that just keep repeating themselves. Ah well – this work is ongoing. I hope you and family are well and smiling.

    Ken

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  5. Ken Williams

    Hi Joe,

    Thoughts of wicked problems, brain evolution, organizational change and the challenges in my family all occupy part of my days. Our conversations over the years have provided plenty to keep thinking about as well as emotional support for the dark and confusing wicked problems that take up moments, hours and occasionally years. As you make clear they never go away – just come back in similar or variant forms.

    I am finding an interesting convergence with the work you are doing and that of folks doing research about brain “plasticity” as it is called. Specific regions in our collective brains have evolved to respond to problems and danger in ways that are informed by experience. This brain architecture and chemistry has adapted to our history. The brain, we now know, is not fixed in a permanent operational mode. Adaptation happens. I connect this to the way we have evolved to respond to organizational problems – wicked and not so wicked.

    To add to the metaphor of big cats – in the ring at a circus, hiding in the brush next to the trail taken daily or at the entrance to our cave dwelling. I consider how our ancestors for millennia have learned to address the dangers they faced and how these dangers shaped the architecture and chemistry of brains. Do we now respond to wicked and dangerous problems as we have for millennia with a forceful, assertive “attack” to fix this problem – to make the danger, say a saber tooth tiger at the entrance to our dwelling, go away and not return? But the danger returns over and over. Have our efforts in organizations predominantly been the same – make the danger disappear – over and over? I am guessing the answer is yes. I am hoping the ideas and methods you are writing will provide a guide to new wiring and better taming. Thanks Joe.

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  6. Ken Williams

    Thanks for the new post Joe which reminds me of an important area in my life.
    Romancing is flowers, picnics, chocolates, special moments and lots of playfulness until the end of the date. When we can go home to our routines and preferences. The hallmark might be …. caring enough to give the very best. Relationships are the perpetual events of picking up messes, caring for the children all night when they are sick, trying to finish taxes together before April 15, agreeing to visit the spouse’s family instead of going on the fishing trip … trusting enough to share the worst. And then returning to the hard work you outlined here. Over and over. I relate and appreciate your thoughts on the prevalence of the challenges in relationships that matter.

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  7. Ken Williams

    “Life is trouble, only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.” (Zorba) Thanks for your years of thinking about and addressing problems Joe.

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  8. Ken Williams

    As you observed Joe -Wendell Berry said it well, we must “act in ignorance.” This entry and Wendell’s comment remind me of the unanticipated experiences I’ve had with my family – some of which you know Joe. Acting with the best understanding and knowledge I had while stumbling and falling then getting up to stumble more, seemed my only course of action. Looking back with the knowledge of wicked problems – that is the “messy situation” I was in.

    Thanks again for providing knowledge and context of what we all (I am guessing) have and will continue to address.

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  9. Mike Gruenhagen

    Joe,
    These Wicked Problem posts are wonderful! From a technologists perspective, the future of high tech progression is all only about wicked problems. The “simple” problems have been solved already by scientists like Faraday, Newton, Watson & Crick etc. (Although for their time period their problems were “wicked.” ) Everyday I go to work there is some new wicked problem preventing electronics from working perfectly and tons of little wicked problems that pile up, not to mention human relation wicked problems. Mentally, I’ve decided it is best to embrace the mess of wicked problems or you will never have a chance of seeing the other side of a level of success. My only wish is management would embrace “wicked” to help improve moral in employees when wicked problems happen. Typically they want simple boiled down explanations and over time as you dig into a wicked problem that becomes possible. Historically I’ve seen challenges getting management to keep focus enough to see the details organized to go from major wicked to less wicked. Explaining the mess of wicked problems to management to me is a wicked problem in and of itself. I’ve found Root Cause Analysis 8D formats the best scenario to convey wicked scenario problems. Any other inputs would be much appreciated!

    Thx,
    Mike Gruenhagen

    Reply
  10. Ken Williams

    Hi again Joe,

    Each of your entries has been useful and thoughtful. Thank you for doing this work.

    We won’t close the gap even a tiny amount unless we have conversations. Conversations with careful and respectful listening – which seems to be an activity going out of style. Steven Covey observed, ” Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

    Turning this around sounds like a wicked problem to me.

    Keep sharing your experience and wisdom my friend. I appreciate your words.

    kw

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  11. Ernesto Buenrostro

    Hola Joe, me dio mucho gusto recibir tu correo sobre todo porque, siendo tú una persona demasiado ocupada, te tomas el tiempo en escribirme, a mi, uno de los más humildes de tus alumnos. En cuanto al tema de los “wicked” problems me han sido muy útiles las notas en tu website. Yo me acuerdo que tú has estado trabajando en el tema desde hace mucho tiempo. A mi me tocó aprender de ti muchas cosas cuando asesoraste a varias empresas mexicanas. En el tema, en particular me acuerdo de Tubacero. Fué como en 1980. Entonces me llamó la atención tu énfasis en el tema, sin embargo yo carecía de experiencia para entenderlo y apreciarlo COMO AHORA LO HAGO.
    Sin menospreciar tus aportaciones, pero guardando la debida proporción, te considero el Peter Drucker en el Desarrollo Organizacional. Aunque hay otros pensadores muy prolíficos en el tema, la manera como tu expresas tus pensamientos, a mi me facilitan MUCHÍSIMO su entendimiento. Cada vez que vienes a visitarnos me inscribo para escucharte.
    Espero que dios te dé mucha más vida para que nos compartas tus reflexiones y pensamientos en los temas que nos apasionan: la eficacia de los grupos en la toma de decisiones relevantes.
    Saludos de tu amigo y alumno por toda la vida: Ernesto Buenrostro (Monterrey, México)

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  12. Manuel E. Familiar

    Hola Joe,
    I love what you are doing here! What a way to look at things. It makes a huge difference to me when I realize them in those terms (Taming Wicked Problems). I am looking forward to your blogs, your wonderful insight and your book to help me tame my wicked problems. I know that with your sage advice, they won’t seem unsurmountable, but will certainly turn into fascinating challenges. Keep up this important and wonderful work!

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  13. Ken Williams

    I think this “nails it” Joe. Returning to a job I retired from 9 years ago has been an eye popping event. Wow – the changes that have evolved in the past nine years seemed to have created ” …. bulls in society’s china shop, with people lurching from one point to another, often seemingly out of control, and steered more by sheer momentum and by chance encounters that by design”. Ouch !!!!

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    1. jbentley

      A voice from the real world helps. Now, we have to figure out a way to work on organizations to make them more responsive to people. Stay tuned.

      Reply
  14. Mike Gruenhagen

    Joe,

    Excellent sections again! I especially like Pythons vs rattlesnakes.

    One slight deviation, I don’t agree with this section, copied below. As someone who has been scientist, engineer, technologist, I’ve waded through a ton of swamp!!!

    I think your statement was truer when technology was less complex. Technology keeps getting more complex and you need more instruments to describe, understand, categorize the messes you are faced with… before you can order them. Or, you have to rely on incomplete data and struggle to get a good dataset to determine order. There is a ton of swamp to wade through before reaching dry ground.

    Rgds,
    Mike

    “High Ground

    The people who spend their working lives on the high ground bring specialized and expert knowledge to their work. They are mostly scientists, engineers, technologists, researchers, and skilled and experienced technicians. The work that they do is usually theory-based, and often leads to the development of hypotheses about causes and relationships. These hypotheses are then tested by relying upon data, mostly numbers, gathered by using quantitative methods, and then organized into tables and charts. Many of their “solutions” to the problems they struggle with emerge from their labs as reports or academic papers, containing suggestions and recommendations as to what needs to be done.

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    1. jbentley

      Mike: I couldn’t agree more! Your understanding of how much swamp is involved in technology is superior to my own. The metaphor is, as are all metaphors, an exaggeration to make a point. Read the next posting and see if that could be helpful. Always nice to hear from you, best, joe

      Reply
  15. Ken Williams

    “The classical paradigm of science and engineering–the paradigm that has underlain modern professionalism–is not applicable to the problems of open societal systems.” (Rittel-Webber, Policy Sciences 4, 1973).

    The model we have learned has worked with problems that can be “engineered”. My 9 year old grandson has his own ideas of how to solve problems (as his dad did when was 9). It has taken his child psychologist grandfather years to understand that children can be guided but never engineered.Guidance is a tricky art – engineering is a precise mathematical activity. Two very different activities with different outcomes.

    Thanks again for bringing all this to the attention of your readers Joe.

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  16. Mike Gruenhagen

    Joe,

    Your website keeps getting better!

    I think you should add the below Lincoln quote to your quotes section? I think it follows your general ideas very well.

    “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
    -Abraham Lincoln, Annual message to Congress, December 1, 1862

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    1. jbentley

      Thanks Mike. In book version of Taming (pretty much done now), Lincoln’s words form a central part of the argument: That our “case ” new, and our occasion is piled high with difficulty, and so we must think anew and act anew. Way back in 1862 Lincoln knew what he was talking about!

      Reply
  17. Ken Williams

    Thank for your persistent blog entries Joe. Your most recent entry using ON THE WATERFRONT was spot on.

    I just got off the phone with my 9 year old grandson. He called to tell me how much he missed me and was in tears through out our conversation. I spoke to his dad later seeking details of what might be going on. As usual, his dad spoke briefly and gave me non of the information I sought. He does not discuss emotional issues with comfort – ever. This all occurs on a weekend following time with work colleagues who usually do not want to talk about any personal or organizational issues that I find troubling – in need of taming. As one of my colleagues stated emphatically last week, “This is only a job for me. I do what is expected and count the days till I can retire.”

    Sons move away from their families for work, independence and dreams, colleagues are not “wired” for or interested in conversations about messes, many folks would rather text, email and find other tech ways to not have challenging face to face conversations. We struggle, make mistakes, try something new and fear that unintended consequences will come. We hope triumph comes eventually – to even a few of the wicked problems we encounter.

    Courage and persistence sometimes pay off. It is always, in my experience, hard work requiring friends who will listen with empathy and genuine interest. Your blog has provided guidance – especially when there is so much “at stake” and discouragement is close to the surface. Thanks again.

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  18. Linda Johnson

    Thank you for the post on simplicity on the other side. You presented an accessible and simple view of the complexity of life and how to embrace it. I was inspired by the flute story and your articulate words encouraging us to let our experiences shine. Those experiences come from going through what is in front of us and attempting to do it with grace and a little music.

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  19. Amy

    Hi Dad–wonderful post. I remember hearing something vaguely about the giraffe at the Copenhagen zoo but never knew the whole story. I guess part of the “wickedness” of wicked problems is that there will never be a shortage of them.

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  20. Hector W de la Garza

    What a great personality Joe has
    I hope to meet him during a long dinner sesion
    We chat for an hour, but honestly I needed more time
    Enjoy his comments!

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  21. Nancy Bentley

    I found the Steve Lewis “Third Way” story very interesting. Dilemmas can have a different shape?

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  22. KEN W

    “What is needed is conversation.” Which involves, I believe, listening for understanding, empathy and time. None of which I see in the public school district that employees me. We are ” …. fast paced, digital, must multitask and nobody takes time to listen” This from the director of special education programs. Without an interest in the slow, thoughtful, attentive work of committed folks – getting to the first level of conversation seems impossible. Are there folks who follow Joe’s blog who have more promising experiences ? Please share them.

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  23. Amy

    Found your Nov. 30th post so interesting–it’s complicated! Great quotes by politicians and others promising to fix wicked problems in no time–clearly that’s what the voters want to hear (or what the politicians think the voters want to hear). How does someone running for office acknowledge wicked problems for what they are and get elected? Have there been any examples you can think of? FDR maybe?

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  24. Ken

    Thank you Joe for the real life stories and examples of folks confronting messy wicked unexpected challenges. Phil Jackson “allowing” the team to address Pippin’s tantrum, John Glidewell’s conversation with his 5 year daughter, the mess at Intel. I relate to each of these and find your examples helpful .

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  25. Ken

    “Now is a time for simplicity. Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness.”

    Thank you Joe. A timely and close to home post. You have been a real person through out our long friendship – and led me to understand the value of compassionate tenderness along with the need to accept institutional boundaries. I am still learning – your example has made all the difference. Gratitude my friend.

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  26. Linda Johnson

    Thanks for the post Becoming Skilled: Making Problems Actionable. I especially appreciated your suggestions on how to address problems through concrete, actionable steps. The tasks of identifying obstacles and then making plans to remove those barriers seems essential to facilitate small steps forward. What are your thoughts about accountability and follow through when making problems actionable?

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  27. Joel

    I am a high school band director and am pursing my masters in school administration. Your posts ring very true to my world and I have found your writing to be very refreshing. The post about undisscusables were both affirming and eye-opening, thanks!

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  28. Amy

    Great April 10th post. I especially love the sentence: “If Knowledge is knowing what to say, and Skill is knowing how to say it, then Wisdom is knowing whether to say it or not.” Thanks Dad!

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  29. Paul

    Hi, Joe. Arrives at this website via a recommendation on Twitter from @Jonathan_Rowson. Really enjoying it. Thank you.

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  30. J Brian Lewis

    Joe,
    I’m most grateful to have found your website! Being your student, beginning in the fall of 1997 – the learning gained from the experiences and lessons you so masterfully teach impact every aspect of my life to this day.

    Reviewing your latest posting on “Nexting” in face to face conversations, and dealing with “wicked problems” (and the previous topics too), so many of your classroom and group lessons come to mind. You know, I soaked them up like the dry sand on the beach. I still ponder them and share them frequently in my workplace and close associations. Just yesterday I was looking through some notes, even a booklet of lessons – our small part of HBLC that we put together to contribute to the rest of group/class.

    Since then, all these years later, looking back – I guess I’ve made a career of problem solving in manufacturing. The notes and recollections, the learning’s gained are so valuable to me. What an understatement! Even one of the very first ones you presented, maybe on that first day of class … “the way you treat people is important” is at the very core of how I act and interact with others. Please know you’ve been referenced by name with colleagues all these years!

    One of the things going on presently in my work, I’m coaching a summer intern from Carnegie Mellon University on her two factory level industrial engineering projects, where I work. I’m impressed with her dedication and the quality and thoroughness of her work. Even more so, how teachable and willing she is to listen and apply the simple concepts of effective teams, straight talk, and the need for face to face conversations in order to get her projects completed during the 12 weeks she is with us. Another observation … Sitting in her meetings with the various groups or people, who she needs to have buy-in to her proposals, there have been moments where we’ve needed to say “Next” … as you say, once the point has been made, in order to move on and stop beating the proverbial dead horse. Using principles in straight talk, the rephrasing, the “I” language has made those transitions most effective. We’ve discussed this together.

    There’s more I’d like to say, and I will do so. Also, I’m looking forward to reading, internalizing, and becoming skilled on these topics, putting them into practice. I couldn’t wait to say … Joe, it’s great to find you online! Thank you for sharing, for all you give, now and always! You’ve had a life of giving and making a difference. What a difference you make! I wish you always the very best!

    Many, many thanks!
    - Brian

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  31. Amy

    Thanks Dad for these insightful thoughts. Helpful to think about problems as “beyond right and wrong.” As you say, “we must learn to live with the unsettling fact that the matter can never be finally settled.”

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  32. Ken Williams

    As I mentioned earlier – big smile Joe. Thanks for selecting these four as examples of “shut up and listen.”

    kw

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  33. Nancy

    I really liked the discussion of I-statements. (And the great Gertrude Stein quotation.)
    Nancy

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  34. Ken williams

    “The only way to teach people to think is to infect them with the perplexities that one is confronting.” thanks Joe – reminds me of recent conversations we’ve had. Bumps happen and are wicked at times. !!!!

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  35. Ken williams

    ” … It seems that while things are getting more complex, they are getting complicated at a much faster rate.” My experience – rate of change and complexity accelerating. UGH. Thanks for this essay and post Joe.

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  36. Ken williams

    “The Universe is made up of stories, not of atoms,” and the stories almost always provided instruction and connection.

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  37. Ken williams

    “We work to establish and maintain trust. We not only accept, but value differences and conflict …” Agreed and grateful for your work Joe. Plumbers and poets – we rely on both.

    Reply

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