Understanding Complex Problems

The more that you can understand a complex problem, the more you can understand your options in tackling it.
Adapted from Zimmerman, Westley, & Quinn Patton. Getting to Maybe, 2006 as cited in Weinlick & Velji, Social Innovation Field Guide, Think Jar Collective. https://thinkjarcollective.com/tools/social-innovation-lab-field-guide/

What are 'complex problems' anyway? They are:

  • Difficult to address and change with every attempt to address it
  • Involve many stakeholders with different values and priorities
  • Have causes and drivers that are interdependent and filled with uncertainties
  • Are unique and have no precedent
  • Do not have definitive criteria or indications for the right solutions
Adapted from Camillus, Harvard Business Review. Strategy as a Wicked Problem, 2008.
We are surrounded by problems that are complex. Think of declining species or the warming of our oceans, rising housing costs, socio-economic inequality and the list goes on. What complex problems are you working on, and how are you learning about them?

Three Perspectives to Understanding a Problem

There are three perspectives to understanding a problem; individual, institutional, and systemic.
Source: MaRS Solutions Lab
A systems perspective helps us see the complexity of a challenge, to identify who is or needs to be involved and to decide where to develop particular actions.

Key Resources

David Snowden. Cynefin Framework Introduction. http://cognitive-edge.com/videos/cynefin-framework-introduction/