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What Keeps You Up at Night? Identify your Wicked Problems.

President & CEO, HNI

It's one of those thorny questions: "What keeps you up at night?"  

We recently held an offsite retreat to bounce ideas off each other and to open discussion about the business issues our clients are facing.  Prior to the gathering, we conducted an informal survey by asking clients across many industries: “What are your three wicked business problems?”  The responses rolled off their tongues as if they were just waiting for us to ask. Not a lot of deep reflection required, they were top of mind.  The trickiest wicked problems, wicked business problemspart or the question was limiting their response to just three.

Wicked problems are not JUST “what keeps you up at night,” but this question that can begin to uncover these problems.  (Besides, new business opportunities and excitement can act as a highly caffeinated cup of Starbucks at 2:00am leaving you tossing and turning as well.)    

So what makes problems wicked? 

Our survey results clearly indicated that business leaders are keenly aware of the issues they need to deal with.  The trick is deciphering which are the superficial problems and which are the deeper, root causes; or as we call them, the Wicked Problems.  Simply put, we define what makes certain problems Wicked is this; you can’t write just a check and make them go away. 

Wicked problems require CHANGE. In order to solve a wicked problem, somebody has to start acting differently.  The change usually starts at the top of the organization and ends with a totally transformed culture. With the time constraints and competing demands that are a part of everyday life, it's much easier to focus on more superficial, less daunting issues than to tackle the wicked problem that’s at the heart of it all.

Sometimes the Wicked Problem is the way we see the problem

In order to solve wicked problems and create the change you want in your organization, the journey begins with digging deep to crystallize the wicked problems facing you and your organization. Better said, it’s important to define the WHY these wicked problems need your attention before attempting a solution [or giving in to the temptation to write another check]. Then, and only then, can you start to strategize HOW to solve the wicked problem and WHAT you need to do to change the game. The ability to discover the wicked problems requires careful questioning and collaboration that many business leaders don’t have the time or objectivity to conduct.

The Only Real Problems are Wicked Problems

We think business leaders are ready for a smarter conversation.  It’s time to talk about the wicked problems.   At the end of the day, the only Real Problems are Wicked Problems. To help determine what the wicked problems are in your organization, download this questionnaire and share with your team.  The response will fuel a smarter conversation.  So, What keeps you up at night?  Help us by throwing a problem [wicked or not] into the mix by commenting below or drop me a note. mnataliz@hni.com.


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Topics: Construction Transportation Leadership / Strategy Manufacturing