Solving Life’s Wicked Problems

By Building Small, Cheap Versions of the Future

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Some problems are wicked.

A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four 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. -Jon Kolko [1]

Wicked problems are almost never solved simply by thinking about the problem or even by talking about them with someone else.

Wicked problems are not often solved at all.

“[P]overty, sustainability, equality, and health and wellness” are examples of wicked problems — complicated, constantly shifting issues that are hard to nail down. [2]

Our own lives are often wicked problems — especially when it comes to figuring out what to do with our life when we feel like we have no options, hundreds of options, or we have two good options.

If you’re brooding over a wicked problem and getting nowhere, praying about it and feeling stuck, and getting little concrete direction from friends, you have two possible options:

Wait: chill and see if the fog clears.


Prototype: rapidly test out the future by building small, cheap versions of it.

You know, try things.

Sit in on a class at that university, take a weekend trip to the possible city, talk to someone who currently does that dream job, volunteer at an organization serving those people you care about, write a blog post on the theme of that 300 page book you want to publish.

This is simple, but we don’t often do it.

Instead we brood, we talk, we complain, we sigh.

Faced with a wicked problem, prototype forward and follow the results toward an answer.

[1] [2]

For more on this sort of idea, visit:

Hi, I’m Michael and this is my daily project where I write about diverse ideas.

This is Dose #56.

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