The Wickedness Behind Most 21st-Century Leadership Failures

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It’s not typically the wickedness of leaders (or of boards, for that matter) that gets companies into trouble. It’s their failure to effectively manage the wickedness of the problems they face — problems that resist obvious solutions.

 

It’s not typically the wickedness of leaders (or of boards, for that matter) that gets companies into trouble. It’s their failure to effectively manage the wickedness of the problems they face — problems that resist obvious solutions. Wicked problems are being tossed up by the exploding complexity of our modern world — complexity originating from the increasing interconnectedness of everything we do. Not only are there more of these problems, but the degree of their wickedness is increasing.

 

The race is on between the complexity that is confronting organizations and their ability to respond to it. Leaders are behind and need to catch up.

The hallmark of a wicked problem is that it cannot be reduced to a single-cause explanation. Complexity arises from the interconnections between things — how parts within a system interact via intricate feedback mechanisms. The information signals we need to make sense of complex things are buried in a lot of noise, and we, unfortunately, are not adept at digging for cues. We have been conditioned by thousands of years of evolution, as well as our daily routines, to draw speedy conclusions by picking out simple, linear, cause-effect connections. This approach works well with straightforward problems like securing food, shelter and sex, or crossing a busy street. But we are now living in a world where multivariate and non-linear causal connections hide below the surface of our immediate perceptions, and diverge to different possible interpretations. When our standard intuitions meet modern-day complexity, a brain-world gap arises.

 

 

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