What is a wicked problem?

In a general sense, problems can be defined as either well-defined or ill-defined. Well defined problems have clear objectives and just require the application of the appropriate tools to complete. With ill-defined problems both the goal and the means to get to the solution are not clear. A significant amount of work is required to get either the goal or the process defined in order to begin, but from that point on the problem can be solved.

A particularly nasty variant on the ill-defined problem is the wicked problem. In this case the goal can be very difficult to define, and may shift over time. Determining a stop point can be very difficult as questions can be continually asked and formulation can be a continual exercise. A different process may be required for each formulation and so the process may constantly adapt as well. And as a final kicker, the variable nature of the exercise will always provide a wide variety of possible solutions. (the source for a lot of the info here on wicked problems is a great book: Rowe, P.G (1987). Design Thinking. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT  Press.)

We have a bona-fide wicked problem to wrestle with in the marketing strategy world. I have a feeling it will be a cage match.

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