When I first ran into the Wicked Problems Cooperative I was amazed by the magnitude and scope of world problems that this group of volunteers are willing to tackle.
The WPC has just released their first book, What Do We Do About Inequality? I had the opportunity to chat with WPC founder and editor, Chris Oestereich about new ways of looking at Wicked Problems and their solutions.
Melanie Rockett: What are wicked problems?
Chris Oestereich: Wicked problems are stubborn issues that tend to stick with us. War, disease, and more recently, climate change, are a few examples. They are complex, systemic, and typically hard to define, and they often produce unexpected results when we attempt to “fix” things.
Polio is an example I discuss in our book. It was around for thousands of years, but few people contracted it prior to the late 1800’s when advances in hygiene-which helped reduce the spread of multiple other diseases-enabled Polio to take off. The act which reduced the spread of many other diseases led to an explosion in Polio cases.
Melanie Rockett: How did The Wicked Problems Collaborative come to be, and who are the members?
Chris Oestereich: The WPC came out of a yearning that’s been with me for a long time. I’ve long wanted to make a positive impact on humanity’s biggest issues. I struggled for a long time to find a way to do something that fit my interests, and my desire to work with others who wanted to do the same. I was discussing the idea with my old editor, Ali Shames-Dawson, and when I finished describing it, she yelled out, “That’s ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’!” Ali was referring to an old poem which describes six blind men who approach an elephant from different angles and declare it to be what their senses tell them the individual parts are: the tusk a spear, the body a wall, the leg a tree, the trunk a hose, and so on. As I wrote in the book, “Each of them unveils an aspect of the beast. Alone, all of them fall well short of unveiling its true nature.”
Ali’s excitement about the idea helped nudge me out of my inertia, and so I started reaching out to people who have unique perspectives to see if they might be interested in joining the effort. I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive responses I received.
Melanie Rockett: The WPC’s first book is titled What Do We Do About Inequality? Can you tell us what the book is about and why you chose to tackle this topic first?
Chris Oestereich: Our first book looks at inequality in many of its various forms, including: race, wealth, income, education, and access. The goal of the project was to bring together a diverse array of thinkers to help the reader see matters in new ways, so that they might then reformulate their own perspectives, rather than trying to force feed a particular take and ask them to accept it uncritically.
Choosing the topic for the first book felt incredibly important. I intend to keep adding volumes to what will be a series for many years, so I thought we had to get out of the gate with the right topic to keep from failing to launch. I considered having the first book be about climate change (and do intend to get there eventually), but I think there’s a much higher level of awareness around that than with inequality. I also thought that inequality was something that could be dealt with more easily than climate change, and that putting forth a assortment of ideas could lead to projects which might have a real, positive impact on human lives.
Melanie’s Note: The book has 36 different collaborators in addition to editor, Chris Oestereich.
Melanie Rockett: The Collaborative is definitely tackling a “wicked problem,” what will readers get out of the book? A new way of thinking? Something concrete to do?
Chris Oestereich: The goal is to provoke both. It seems there’s growing concern over inequality, so I’m hoping our book will help people start to nudge things in a better direction. The book will expose them to new ideas, but it also implores them to act. From the opening chapter which features a progression of quotes by respected thinkers to the closing chapter is a clarion call for action in a time of great need.
Melanie Rockett: What’s next for The Wicked Problems Collaborative?
Chris Oestereich: We’re getting What Do We Do About Inequality? out the door this week, so I’m starting to organize efforts around the next one. Book 2 will be centered around the following question, “What do we do with technology?” With this book we’ll take a look at the rapidly changing technology environment, the possibilities afforded, and the potential dangers on the horizon. Those who contributed to our first book have already had a few weeks to start thinking about it, and I’m hoping most of them will have something they want to share. I’ve been putting together a list of additional folks to invite to the party. The goal is to get going quickly, and release Book 2 sometime next year. I also have a solo book on inequality that I’m planning to release later in 2016, so it looks to be a busy year. Aside from that, there are plenty of wicked problems to work on, so I’m going to try to release a new WPC book about once a year going forward.
Here’s how to stay in touch with the Wicked Problems Cooperative and Chris Oestereich.
Join the conversation and be part of the solution!
Chris Oestereich on Twitter: https://twitter.com/costrike
WPC on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WPCollaborative
Margot Cairnes says
Dear Chris, Wonderful to hear about the cooperative. I have been working with wicked problems in business for 30 years and have seen massive transformations occur when leaders raise their consciousness to a level that allows them to see and work successfully with wicked problems. I have written 6 books on leadership in times of rapid change (2 published by Simon and Schuster, one published by the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a fourth published by Australian Institute of management) and would love to contribute to your forthcoming book on technology and how business can use it to make the world a better place (whilst being more successful and happy themselves). I have both case studies and a advanced technology which could add to your readers. I have been a World Economic thought leader and worked globally. My cloud based problem 12 Steps For Business is a one year program guiding individuals, teams and businesses through wicked problem generated and consciousness raising transformation.
I look forward to hearing form you , Margot Cairnes