Friday the 9th of December 2016 celebrated National Pastry Day (we’re not joking – it’s a thing), and since Christmas is creeping ever closer we thought we’d give you an early present: a mince-pie-themed thought experiment! It’s pastry and Christmas all in one neat little treat!
First, imagine that every Christmas you make a point of going to the exact same café at the exact same time every day to buy a mince pie as a little snack. You’ve had this routine for years, and you’ve no plans to deviate from it any time soon.
But one day, you find that the worst possible thing has happened – the mince pies are completely out of stock. The horror! Luckily, you’ve encountered this problem a few times before, so you know what you have to do: you’re just going to have to order something else.
This challenge is a tame problem. Tame problems are relatively simple to solve – they’re common, they’re not complex, and they have easily identifiable answers.
Now let’s consider an even greater anxiety-inducing scenario. Imagine that mince pies have gone completely out of fashion (like spangles… remember them?). No-one sells them anymore. The only way for you to enjoy a mince pie is to make one yourself.
So you buy what you think will be the right ingredients, and get ready to magic them into a mince pie. However, despite your best intentions, you realise that you’ve never really had any experience of baking, you don’t have half the things detailed in your recipe, and you only have a microwave oven available.
This is a wicked problem. Wicked problems are less common, usually unique, and have no obvious answers.
Pretty often organisational change is unique, with no obvious concrete, step-by-step process for getting through it. But it’s often the wickedness of the problem that can bring out the best in us, and others. Wicked problems give us the opportunity to flex our creative and innovative minds and encourage us to develop skills and the find the right mix of ingredients and resources to achieve the desired outcomes.
Perhaps if we viewed change from this perspective, it might just make the process as palatable as a steaming hot mince pie with a dollop of double cream.