In our ever-changing complex world, rethinking traditional problem solving methods has become necessary. Complexity has brought an inability to count on what once were tried and true solutions because the emerging problems themselves are hard to control and wicked in nature.
A wicked problem is defined as “a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for these reasons:
- incomplete or contradictory knowledge,
- the number of people and opinions involved,
- the large economic burden, and
- the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems. (i.e., Poverty is linked with education, nutrition with poverty, the economy with nutrition, and so on.”)
Living in a world confronted with such intractable problems as poverty, sustainability, equality, healthcare and terrorism catapulted us into the Age of Innovation. This is an age where new complex problems require us to invent new complex means, often through trial and error, to improve our circumstances. What we discover is no template exists. We have to make it up as we go. Impact, in the form of lessening negative consequences, is what we can expect rather than solving the problem once and for all.
Interestingly, complexity has not only impacted the nature of our social challenges but also those in our personal lives. As an example, it is rare today to find someone who has kept the same career or employer throughout her/his entire working life. In previous generations the norm was to stay in one occupation, even one company, until retirement. Currently, we are more likely to have two or three very different careers over our lifetime. Certainly, my life has evolved through several career iterations — athlete, artist, peace builder, organizational designer and writer. No wonder the life design program at Stanford University asks their students to sketch out three radically different life plans for themselves.
Each of us will write more than one chapter during our journey through life. As much as you can, stay true to your own voice. Bill Burnett
The rapid change and increasing complexity that bridged the last century to this one reduced some careers to ashes while simultaneously invented never before existing ones. An aftermath of this increased complexity has allowed for the opportunity to design, experiment with and redesign our way toward improving what currently exists, and enacting this design process multiple times across our lifespan.
As a child, I was often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As an adult, I now ask myself, “What do I want to be next?” Of course, being conscious or self-aware of one’s own character and feelings has become vital to facilitating a changing career direction.
Self-awareness is the interrelationship between who I am (my current identity), what I believe (my values) and what I am doing (my behaviour). The Socratic principle — all knowledge is self-knowledge — has long held that conscious knowledge of oneself provides us the wisdom of the ages. In more practical terms, the principle states that if we know ourselves, we will know the ways of the universe. I would further translate this to mean — if I know myself, I am able to glimpse the next step I need to take in order to improve whatever wicked problem is confronting me.
A colleague, from a previous career incarnation, described such glimpses or visions as being the crossroad between your greatest passion (favourite talents) and the world’s greatest need. Another heavy-weight in the thought arena, Aristotle, would agree.
Where your talents and the needs of the world cross;
there lies your vocation. Aristotle
So, what are you doing with your life? Are you consciously designing your next step? Or, are you aimlessly wandering day-to-day hoping that something great will fall in your lap?
Below is an exercise that will take you one step closer to answering your own great mystery. Under each category, brainstorm a list from your perspective.
For more on self-awareness and designing your life, click here.