Unraveling Wicked Problems

Unraveling Wicked Problems

February 5, 2018—One of the most critical skills leaders need, arguably now more than ever, is that of problem solving. The challenges facing congregations and organizations continue to become more technologically complex, socially entangled, costly, and multi-faceted. It is evident that most religious leaders are not just dealing with programmatic, administrative, and technological problems, they are dealing with wicked problems. The experience can feel like trying to unravel an endless tangled cord.

A wicked problem is a form of social or cultural problem that is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements for their solution. When these problems are unrecognized as such the attempt is to solve them through policies, the wrong means, or, simply ignored as too hard to tackle, merely kicking the proverbial can down the road, only to have it come back worse.

Horst Rittel, one of the first to research wicked problems, references ten characteristics that describe this sort of complicated challenge:

While not all problems a leader faces are wicked, those that are will be the most demanding. Even difficult problems can have a solution, and most leaders can get adept at tackling them. But wicked problems will be the most challenging to leaders due to the indeterminate scope and scale required to address them. Wicked problems can’t be fixed; they’ll be the bane of every successive pastoral or organizational leader in office.

What are the wicked problems you face in your church or organization?
Who are you consulting with on addressing the wicked problems?
Are you aware of your biases which may hinder you from seeing alternative and imaginative approaches?
Are you alert to unintended consequences as you apply strategies to wicked problems?
In what ways are you defining and interpreting the wicked problems to the various audiences in your school?

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and; A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan; and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context..

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice).

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