Why Learning & Development should be focused on wicked problems

Learning and development should be focused on solving wicked problems in organisation but too often, L&D appears to avoid engaging in these problems. Using Horst Rittel‘s ten criteria for wicked problems, here’s my argument for why learning and development should be about wicked problems:

  1. Wicked problems have no definitive formulation: performance issues in organisations will have many different causes – from skills deficits, process issues, equipment issues, investment issues, poor leadership, poor management, an individual, a policy, a combination of some or all of these etc. Each problem formulation and diagnosis should be unique
  2. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to measure or claim success with wicked problems: just because an intervention coincided with improvements does not necessarily mean you can demonstrate that it was the learning intervention that improved things. Just as causes are complex so is teasing out what works and why. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try or that being unable to make show the causation is a reason not to implement the intervention.
  3. strategically important learning and development rarely resolves an issue, it improves a situation: organisations perform better but never perfectly.
  4. significant learning interventions are learning events in themselves and you can’t know it all at the start, just what you’ll be learning next…..
  5. … and so there is likely to be more than a single diagnosis – you should have a number of hypotheses to test in different ways …
  6. … as capabilities, systems, processes, people, culture, strategy, etc are all interconnected and all play a part in what you are trying to do.
  7. Nothing is definitive – learning and development, like people and communities don’t conform to laws of natural sciences.
  8. As your learning and development intervention is implemented it will generate change in other aspects of the organisation so trial and error is both the key to success but is also more difficult to do.
  9. So problems do not repeat themselves – there is no “same old same old”.
  10. Learning and development professionals are responsible for the effectiveness of the learning interventions in the long and short-term.

One comment

  • 1
    09/01/2013 - 12:33 am | Permalink

    There is no way that I could agree more. The term “shock troops” comes to mind!

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