Four simple (but surprisingly difficult) ways to solve our most wicked problems

In my region right now housing has reached an all time crisis. This isn’t just housing as in a roof over one’s head (which of course should be a basic human right), it’s also housing in the case of an ever increasing un-affordability and shortage of housing stock.

I’ve no doubt the case is similar if not exactly the same in your region along with the dire issues of skill shortages, lack of transport and too many kids going to school today hungry.

For too long these issues have been seen as the domain of the community sector. I can’t begin to tell you how many times people have told me these issues are the “fluffy stuff”.

Community sector people have expert skills in sticky taping scarce resources together to address our community’s problems and have been doing so – forever. So, don’t be surprised if your local sector seems a bit miffed if you’ve just rocked up with your bright ideas to save the day. But also, don’t let that deter you.

The solutions to our most wicked problems have to start somewhere, and as I’m hearing more and more in community forums I facilitate it’s time to STOP TALKING – and DO SOMETHING.

Ironically, it’s not that nothing is being done, in fact, there are many, many things being done every single day towards alleviating our most pressing challenges, the problem is that it’s all happening in a vacuum, a silo. And these silos are actually the petri dishes of the issues. They are places where with even the best of intentions new thinking is blocked, collaboration is limited and action is thereby stifled.

And even worse… wicked problems are a self-perpetuating industry equipped with funding sources, advocacy power and voting potential. These sexy beasts have media leverage and engage the voices of our keyboard warriors in a feeding frenzy as long as the debate around an issue can be sustained via lacking consensus or, dare I say ‘single source of truth’.

At their most base level our wicked problems are the things that stop us moving forward. So why can’t we solve them?

Because it’s too simple.

Via my theory, solving our most wicked problems requires four simple (not simple) steps:

  1. Leadership: Some brave body needs to rise up above the tall poppies, beyond the opinions and well above the naysayers and be prepared to DO. While a logical finger may be pointed in the direction of our anointed leaders, chances are that’s not actually the right direction – not because they aren’t willing or able, but because experimentation, innovation and living on the edge does not often (and arguably should not often) come from our anointed leaders. This needs to come from the grassroots. So, if there’s someone with the chutzpah (read nerve) in your network be their first follower. And if it’s YOU – put your head down and go for it…
  2. Fourth sector and inter-local government collaboration: You need all of the relevant smarts at the table to enable change – fourth sector collaboration draws together community, not for profits, all levels of government and industry. TOOOOOO many things I have been involved in over the years is representative of only one, or at best a few of these sectors. All of the voices count – and while I’m at it, did you know that problems don’t see geographic borders? It’s bizarrely true.
  3. Ideas: Your brain is more powerful that you probably know. I recently attended a talk with Todd Sampson – haven’t found him under the rock you’re living under? More here. Among other things Todd explores ways to improve our creativity via some simple brain techniques. The thing about our wicked problems is that they are perpetuated via same thinking – Einstein certainly covered it when he said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Actually, we need to look under, over and around the problems and find new ways. My best advice – ask a 9 year old, they probably have a better solution.
  4. ACTION: we need to STOP being paralised in our actions. Yes – someone will ALWAYS be offended, Yes – someone will ALWAYS have a better ideas. However at some point the wheels must start turning and the DRIVE gear needs to be enacted. Some of our most stunning wicked problems have had their wheels spinning for decades. ENOUGH! One of the biggest blockages to the adoption of ideas is the potential of failure – we need to enable a culture of ‘successful failure’ and ‘flearning’ – learning through our mistakes; and creating success through the stuff ups.

If you are a do-er I’m with you. There are bigger changes on the horizon and now, right now we have a little window of time in which to learn how to work together – who is in ?

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