I was recently introduced to this idea in a nice little book by Keith Grint - Leadership: A Very Short Introduction. This is one of the more than 200 volumes in the Very Short Introduction series published by Oxford. These are very cool little books and you can find all of them on their website.
A "tame problem" is one that may be complicated but we can resolve it through the application of familiar ideas and approaches.
A "wicked problem" has a level of complexity that goes beyond the limits of knowledge and previous methodologies that worked in the past. In fact, wicked problems appear virtually unsolvable and unresolvable. Which is why they are WICKED.
We are seeing Wicked Level Problems everywhere in the world. The current global economic crisis is one such VERY WICKED PROBLEM. This image on complexity is found on this site.
Many years ago, James Emory White wrote a book called, Serious Times. He took the title of his book from a letter written by John Adams to his friend Thomas Jefferson, after the American Revolutionary War was ended. Adams said:
"My friend, you and I have lived in serious times."
Serious times indeed they were and are today.
Do you remember the opening paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .
Serious times, best/worst of times, Wicked Problem times . . . which require leadership far beyond average, considerably better than good, and in fact, great may not be sufficient. Superlative leadership is the need for today. At all levels. From many, many people. Will we be such leaders?
I think I'll go and pray . . .
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International