Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Using empathy to solve wicked problems: staring ambiguity in the face and still walking forwards

I watched the musical "Wicked" with my son this summer.  It was an interesting twist on an old story that made me realize how important perceptions and interpretations are in solving any problem.

This week I've heard the term "wicked problems" several times. We've talked about it at school in our Design Thinking meetings and I've heard it on a TEDtalk about how we can develop empathetic leaders through design (embedded at the end of this post).  First of all most people want to know what a wicked problem is, as opposed to a tame one.  There are many definitions which I will attempt to summarize here:
  • a wicked problem is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements
  • it's an incomprehensibly complex and messy issue that we have trouble defining as well as attempting to solve
  • it cannot be reduced to a single cause explanation - it's complex because of the interconnectedness of things
  • it's not governed by simple cause-effect relationships
  • it hides below the surface of our immediate perceptions
  • it's a divergent problem - the more it is studied the more people come to different solutions and interpretations
The TEDtalk below asks some interesting questions for educators:  how do we prepare students for the future when the future is constantly changing?  How do we prepare students, when we don't know the answers ourselves?  Sami Nerenberg argues that students want to put their education into action and solve the world's problems by empathizing with those in it and designing projects that will have local and social impact.  Human-centred design involves taking in the world in order to give back to it.  In Design for American students are asking what is the smallest change they can make that will have the greatest impact.  There are many interesting answers.

Photo Credit: Express Monorail via Compfight cc

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