Mason and Mitroff

6 August 2017

What if Mason and Mitroff [-@mason_1998_complexitynaturereal] are right?

I am sometimes unclear as to how students respond to the material that they are exposed to; e.g., something like the notion of wicked problems. For a small minority of students, typically those with whom I end up having one-on-one conversations, I get much greater clarity of the ‘sense’ they are getting from the work we are doing.

But for some students, including those with high GPAs, I wonder to what extent they believe the ideas that they are encountering, and—if they accept that something like the work of Mason and Mitroff is right—how do they operationalise those insights.

What if Mason and Mitroff [-@mason_1998_complexitynaturereal] are right?

Personally, I believe that Mason and Mitroff are on to something. What they say fits well both with my experience of the world in general, and of organisations, in particular. Their work also fits with much of the material/theory I know from organisation studies (again in general) and strategising (again, in particular).

So what?

That given, what are the implications, from my perspective; how do their ideas (of folk like Mason and Mitroff)affect what I do?

First, I take the following to be truisms about wicked problems:

 - Hard to _formulate_ the problem
 - The problem and its solution are _synonymous_
 - It is impossible to _test_ the solution
 - There is no stopping rule for wicked problems
 - There is no exhaustive list of operations to be used to solve a
 wicked problem
 - Wicked problems have many possible explanations
 - Every wicked problem is a symptom of another wicked problem
 - Each wicked problem is a one-shot problem
 - Wicked problems are effectively unique
 - As it is hard to know if the problem has been solved, few seek to
 solve wicked problems

The guide me in what I do in the classroom as we (the class) work towards finding some solution. Although students what a neatly packaged problem they can slice-and-dice in some form of routine way, the reality is that the problems they are confronting in class are not amenable to that. There is no one expert answer, there is only iterations towards better understandings and better solutions/approaches.

In other words, there are no easy answers (or easy solutions, or easy problem formulations) when doing strategy work.