Unfamiliarity can be wicked

Imagine you are waist deep in the mud under a tree canopy in a South American rainforest, 300km from any village. It’s humid and the forest is teeming with life. How you got here is unclear. You are not alone. Nearby is a man in his 80s, who can hardly walk. With him is his 13-year old grand-daughter. Next to them is a middle-aged and obese investment banker. The banker has a backpack filled with food. Each of you has a series of deep cuts on your arms and legs from a recent fall. There is no phone or map. Individually or as a group, what should you do?

The more unfamiliar a situation, the harder it can be to agree on the problem, let alone the right solution. Our respective motivations, goals, preferences, behaviors and views of reality often differ. e.g. when I asked my internet gaming step-son what he’d do in this scenario, he said, “I’d kill the old guy, steal food from the fat one and save the girl.” Wicked and darker problems like these require bigger picture thinking and a careful understanding of the underlying issues, as well as the interrelationships between players, as things evolve. Global issues are similarly wicked. Climate change, income inequality, and the refugee crisis are complex, multi-causal and dynamic problems. Such unfamiliar problems benefit from collaborative approaches with a focus on creativity, small wins, and continuous learning. Set and forget thinking offers little value and can be particularly dangerous in unfamiliar settings. e.g. Jurassic Park.


A mind map is a visual way to brainstorm ideas. Create a mind map on a blank sheet of paper. At each corner of the page, draw a small box for each person in the rainforest (including yourself) and label them. Draw six short lines coming from each box and create a small circle at the end of each line. Imagine individual responses from each person to the Six Best Questions below and write their responses inside or beside the six circles. Has the problem become less or more clear? Has your understanding improved? Are ideas starting to emerge? What would you do next?

Six Best Questions:

Q1. Why should we move?

Q2. What should we do?

Q3. Where should we go?

Q4. When should we do it?

Q5. Who should be involved?

Q6. How should it be done?

2018-11-09T15:10:23+00:00By |Strategy|