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CRITICAL, TAME, WICKED PROBLEMS. MESSY AND ELEGANT SOLUTIONS

 

Keith Grint

 

Grint (drawing on the work of Thompson’s Messy solutions), developed the idea
of Critical, Tame, Wicked. This is a way of understanding that there are different
types of problems and that different problems need different types of response and leadership.

Critical problems

 

These problems cause a crisis and need immediate action. They fetch uncertainty
and fear. ‘Commanders’ are needed who will coerce people into action and tell
people what to do.

 

Tame problems

 

Known problems with known solutions that are within existing expertise and
know how. Tame problems are best approached from a management style of
leadership, with a structured logical approach.

 

Wicked problems

 

Complex problems that hold a multitude of other problems within them. There is no known solution.
Sometimes they have to be accepted and adapted to rather
than overcome. These problems need leadership that involves everyone,
and approaches that look in to everything and every possibility.

Elegant and Clumsy Solutions

 

Grint drawing on the ideas of Cultural Theory suggests that solutions to
problems can only be designed through understanding the values, identities and
beliefs of the people involved. This is difficult because different people hold
different beliefs depending on which ‘cultural group’ they belong to. Different
groups have different views and values that need to be considered and included
in solutions. This means that solutions should combine every voice, meaning
solutions are going to be ‘messy’.

 

Hierarchical groups: Believe problems are caused by lack of rules and structure.
They want solutions to come through strong leadership and more rules.

 

Egalitarians: Believe a ‘change in attitude’ is all that is needed. This can be
achieved through debate, discussions and collective responsibility.

 

Fatalists: Resigned to the problem being insolvable.

Individualists: Argue that problems occur because people are constrained. They
see problems logically and believe that solutions can be found through creating
opportunities for exploration.

Further Resources

Keith Grint, Professor of Public Leadership and Management at Warwick Business School,
writes about the role of leadership in Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions in this paper
published by The British Association of Medical Managers. You can view it here.

Critical, Tame and Wicked Problems

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