Laurence J. Peter
Dr Peter may well have been talking about the problem of understanding, building and maintaing resilience.
Resilience is a wicked problem.
A wicked problem is one that is almost impossible to solve, and where addressing some part of the perceived problem will often create adverse consequences in other areas.
The concept was originally proposed by Horst Rittell in 1973 . The concept sets social or cultural problems as different to those faced by scientists and engineers. The opposite of a wicked problem is a tame problem.
A wicked problem was defined in terms of 10 attributes, some of the key ones being;
- There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem
- in order to describe a wicked problem you have to have some ideas about possible solutions
- Wicked problems have no stopping rule
- You do not know when you are done, because the real problem is not clearly defined
- Generally these efforts stop when the entity runs out of money or time – asserting that the result is “good enough”
- Do I need to go on? Surely this alone tells you that most BC and RM programs are covered.
- Solutions are not true/false but good/bad
- perhaps better/worse rather than good/bad
- because of this, the outcome is going to be perceived in terms of the judgement of others
- There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution
- In the case of resilience – you don’t know if you have succeeded until there is a major problem
- This is the notion that resilience is an emergent property
- Every solution is a one-time option
- Every wicked problem is essentially unique
- Like resilience it needs to be addressed in the context it occurs
- Therefore standards and SOP are irrelevant
By the way, the Dr Peter I quoted at the beginning of the article was the same person who created The Peter Principle. Essentially the general principle this is based upon is that anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.
To pursue building resilience in organisations we need to try something new, not simply apply the same old ideas.
Keith Grint is a Professor at Warwick Business School in the UK. He offers a couple of useful ideas that can be applied to these wicked problems.
The first is that wicked problems require ‘clumsy’ solutions – rather than the ‘elegant’ solutions that are often the result of architectural and top-down design processes. Grint offers the metaphor of ‘bricoleur’ (the do-it-yourself craft, or patchwork). The idea that making do with the material available at hand is not just the best way forward – but the only way.
Elegant solutions tend to be the result of scientific approaches and processes. These address tame problems.
The wicked problem requires that we merge and blend different approaches to craft a solution that will meet enough of our needs.
The second concept is about how we need to exercise power and direction in addressing wicked problems. Grint offers a typology with three different types of problems;
A critical problem would be construed as a crisis – very little time for decision making and action.
To deal with each different type of problem we need to take a different approach;
- Critical Problems require Command
- The leader provides the answer to the problem and dictates what needs to be done
- Tame Problems require Management
- By definition we know how to address a Tame Problem
- Hence we address this by application of scientific method and managing the application of SOP
- Wicked Problems require Leadership
- The leader asks the right questions, rather than provides the right answers
- This requires a strong collaborative culture to succeed
Resilience is not a new name for the process known as BCM (nor RM for that matter).
It is the result of a body of work that touches the people and culture of an organisation. A wicked problem. If you approach it as just another management system process, it is likely you will fail.
Are you re-framing resilience into a management process?
Are you able to define a ‘stop condition’ for your BCM Program?
How much resilience is enough?