Category Archives: Wicked Problems

Has media reached a reality/complexity tipping point?

A landmark paper appeared last December in the National Science Review (summary).  It describes the complex interdependencies between climate, consumption, population, demographics, inequality, economic growth, migration, and more.  Written by an interdisciplinary team of 20 authors hailing from organizations worldwide including NASA, Johns Hopkins, and more, the paper explains that it is impossible to understand these systems in isolation.  There are important—and non-obvious—interactions.  Poverty impacts climate.   Inequity impacts the status of women.   Conflict impacts resource usage.  And much more.

The bottom line: our understanding of the world is no longer good enough.  We need to raise our game.

Continue reading

Published by:

Responsibility, authority, and insanity

So this is pretty basic.  But it’s huge.

Problem: You are working at a bank and have been tasked with developing a new customer care program.  You’re making good progress, and reach out one day to a colleague for their ideas.  Word of the meeting gets around, and an executive walks into your office one day, assuming you’re floundering, and tells you what to do.

Problem: Your second grader is in trouble at school.  Teachers and other parents call you on the phone, asking you to fix the problem.  You are starting to develop some good ideas and making plans.  But one day, the school principal makes the decision to move your child to a special classroom.

Problem: You work on an automobile assembly line.  Your bonus depends on the quality of the cars you help to build.  You see a problem with a welding machine which would cost $100 to fix.  But management won’t approve the repair.

What’s the common pattern here?  It’s responsibility without authority: a good recipe for insanity.

Continue reading

Published by:

One link think

In the swirl of events, I’m often left wondering if there’s something deeper going on.  Our leaders seem to be increasingly missing the bigger picture.  A glimpse, here and there, into the underlying cause of dead ends we’ve reached: problems with capitalism, the media, politics, climate, conflict, health care.   Is there a common cause?

2016 might arguably be characterized as the year we all decided we’d had enough of government as usual.  Between Brexit, the Trump ascendancy, and the sheer energy behind the Bernie Sanders campaign, it seems that many are thinking, “enough is enough”.  And that’s the good news.  When disenfranchised groups have zero representation, then terrorism and revolt seem to be the inevitable outcomes.

Continue reading

Published by:

From maker space to solver space

Conferences are for meetings.  Project teams build deliverables.  Data is for data scientists.  Online communities are for social contact.

Until now, when a new mix is emerging.  Can we solve difficult problems in a short-term conference setting?  Is there a new way to run a workshop, which is dynamic, data-driven, visual, collaborative?

I wrote a few months back about the Silicon Valley Sim Center: an initiative to bring a new way to solve “wicked” problems to Silicon valley.  And in an article in this month’s Wired called “Hey Silicon Valley, Buckminster Fuller has a lot to teach you by Sarah Fallon, she interviews Jonathon Keats about his new book on what Bucky has to say to Silicon Valley.*

And from “maker spaces” to “solver spaces”, a new way of working together to solve difficult problems is emerging.

Continue reading

Published by:

The World Resources Sim Center: on its way to Silicon Valley

Last month I received an intriguing email inviting me to an event at Kimberly Wiefling’s house.  I’d met Kimberly before through Jonathan Trent, as part of the work I’ve been doing to help out the Omega Global Initiative.  I knew she was an international consultant, but it was great to also learn that she was passionate about systems thinking and visualization.  Jonathan and I drove up to Kimberly’s house together, where she and  Peter Meisen explained their initiative to bring a Buckminster Fuller-inspired Sim Center, based on a similar center in San Diego, to Silicon Valley.

Continue reading

Published by:

What is machine learning, and why you should care (in 500 words)

It’s critical that you understand machine learning, even if just a little bit. Why? Machine learning is at the heart of the most common artificial intelligence systems today. It’s an important new technology that’s moved beyond hype to the brink of an exponential explosion, at the core of a 320% growth in AI-based startups last year. And, in combination with decision intelligence, Machine Learning has the potential to solve some of the most important problems faced by humanity today.

So here’s what you need to know.

Continue reading

Published by:

Data from the future in the presidential race

Looking back on the presidential election of 2012, one view of the Obama win is to attribute it to his team’s understanding of a phase shift in electoral dynamics: Democrats looked at historical turnout numbers and perceived a systemic change; in contrast many believed that Republican certainty in a Romney win was based on a reasonably expected regression to the mean.  This is the essential idea behind “data from the future“.   We ignore these principles in this system, as in many others, at our peril.

In light of this history, it’s worth asking if the fundamental dynamics of how elections are won is shifting this year again. Continue reading

Published by:

Guest Post: A knowledge management system capable of blinking red

Inattention to critical knowledge is an old problem. Lessons are forgotten, near misses are ignored, caution is dismissed, disasters result. Titanic. Bhopal. AIG. Katrina. Fukushima. And on and on.

Knowledge Management (KM) is supposed to make the right information available to the right people at the right time in the right form—and to the best level of certainty possible—for making the most appropriate decisions when and where they are needed. KM should also direct the attention of decision makers to critical information and help them make sense of it. The bigger the stakes, the more situational awareness and mindfulness are needed. Continue reading

Published by: