Wicked Problems and Social Complexity

"Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them" (L.J. Peter). With this quote, Jeff Cocklin introduces his book Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems. In the following chapter, he lays a foundation that identifies the "problem" which Dialog Mapping addresses. This problem is:

  • The powerful fragmenting forces of wicked problems, social complexity, and technical complexity;
  • The confusion, chaos, and blame created by failing to distinguish these forces;
  • The lack of tools and techniques for "defragmenting" project dynamics.

The process of Dialog Mapping is a powerful approach for addressing the problem of fragmentation, as it allows a diverse group of people to generate coherence around wicked problems. This group coherence is a necessary step toward addressing fragmentation, yet it is neither a silver bullet nor a cure-all. Given the complex nature of organizations, it is not sufficient for a single team or even multiple teams to achieve coherence; the organization as a whole needs to become a knowledge organization, and gain a kind of "literacy" or "fluency" in the language of coherence: distinctions, tools, methods, and practices for crafting shared understanding and shared commitment. Dialog Mapping is a first step toward that kind of literacy.

Read the first chapter for more...