At PurpleBeach we are energised by solving client problems. Yet what is increasingly happening is that our clients often know they have a problem and think they know what it is. However, once we start working with them, it quickly becomes evident that what they thought the issue was keeps changing. Therefore, finding solutions to this requires an innovative approach and mindset. It necessitates comfort with discomfort, and this is problematic in industries where business leaders strive to create certainty and solutions as a means of navigating through challenging times. Leaders are reaching for a post-pandemic ‘New Normal.’ At PurpleBeach we believe striving for this can be limiting and will not ensure business success. We understand that the world we are in today is constantly filled with ‘New,’ and there no longer is any ‘Normal.’ In this space, the problems are no longer straightforward and complex, they are Wicked problems.
But what exactly is a Wicked problem?
As opposed to a simple problem (I know what the problem is, and I know what the solution is) or complex problems (I understand the problem, the solution is not uncomplicated however, eventually a solution is discovered), Wicked problems add a layer of complexity.
Wicked problems occur when we know something is not right, but we do not know what is wrong. When it is eventually unravelled, the problem changes and we must start again, anew!
Social Examples of Wicked problems include Climate Change, homelessness, and drug trafficking. The causes of these issues are varied and complex and not necessarily predictable, and the solutions to the problem(s) are equally as numerous with no one solution providing a silver bullet which answers the issue. Often a solution in one context encourages a host of unfamiliar problems in another, thus it can feel like a vicious circle.
In the business context, the most relatable Wicked problem has been COVID-19. Businesses were faced with an entirely new, ever-changing problem, one with no playbook or previous experience. How did businesses choose to react and adapt in these challenging times? How are they now dealing with the consequences? Whilst the pandemic may be ‘over’ from a social point of view, the legacy impact on business is only now being felt. New and unexpected commercial challenges keep appearing, and pre-pandemic approaches to leadership and employee engagement are no longer fit for purpose. Tangible examples here include the ongoing discussion on what flexible working means, ever-changing expectations of employers from different generations of employees within the workplace and the quiet quitting phenomenon, where people show up but are no longer engaged in what they do at work, yet do not quit and increasingly become disengaged. In short, there is an ongoing challenge in defining what the employment relationship in this ‘New’ environment should be.
The goalposts for what were previously clearly defined expectations, commercially, regarding leadership and social norms, moved during the pandemic. What makes the situation truly ‘wicked’ though, is that they are still moving, and what is abundantly clear is that the approach to finding solutions will require a shift away from viewing and engaging with these Wicked problems as if they were mere simple and complex problems. In the ‘New’ landscape, there will no longer be clear solutions that will last because our context will keep transforming.
So, what can organisations and their leaders do? We have always known the key to businesses unlocking growth and innovation lies in unlocking the potential of their employees. At PurpleBeach our sweet spot is helping businesses adapt and build muscle, meaning that their workforce can face Wicked Problems. We see that to have an impact on commercial results is rooted in equipping leaders and organisations with their unique toolbox of PurpleBeach techniques. This toolbox encompasses mindset, methodology and at its core curiosity and courage. It encourages a cultural shift that removes the fear factor from encountering problems and shifts mindsets from victim mode towards embracing the possibilities the ‘New’ offers us. It follows a non-linear approach, encouraging employees and leadership teams to become naturally more creative, resourceful, and whole. It is people’s behaviours that will help everyone effectively embrace the multiple Wicked Problems we will be facing in the ‘New’ business landscape.