CEO Moment | Dealing with Wicked Problems

“We begin with the assumption that human beings constantly strive to improve or bolster their life situation, and that in so doing they are constantly engaged in problem-solving activities.” – Professor Irving Tallman, Washington State University  

In 1973, design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber introduced the term “wicked problem” in order to draw attention to the complexities and challenges of addressing planning and social policy problems. It seems that this year, has become synonymous with wicked problems. As we slowly move out of dog days of summer into crisp autumnal weather, 2020’s wicked problems have yet to calm down.

Wicked problems lack clarity, their roots are complex and tangled, and are difficult to come to grips with as they change with every attempt to address them. Phillipe Vandenbroeck’s Working with Wicked Problems sets the framework for moving forward during these times.  Wicked problems require an odd mix of discipline and flexibility. When operating in wicked settings, it is safe to assume that there are no clear-cut scripts to rely on – we must jump in and get our hands dirty.

In a world of Newtonian order, where the relationship between cause and effect is clear – the road is much easier to traverse.  In a wicked world of complex and vague possibilities the road breaks off into an unkempt labyrinth. To navigate these wicked problems, we still must focus on action.

One of Lamp Rynearson’s core values is the commitment to the advancement of our communities. We foster a culture of giving back through our community changing projects, supporting local non-profits, staff volunteering time, and educating the up and coming scientists, engineers, surveyors and landscape architects of tomorrow. A pertinent action we know that can be taken during these unprecedenDeated times is to remain committed to the betterment of our communities.

As 2020 continues to unfold, it is apparent we may not be navigating towards a fixed harbor. By the time we arrive, our destination may have changed. Despite this, our firm’s dedication to our communities remains unwavering. 2020 sometimes feels like a surreal experiment, but our experiences during this time are building our stepping stones towards the future.  

Take care of yourselves and each other,

Nancy Pridal, PE


Vandenbroeck, P. (2012). Working with Wicked Problems. King Baudouin Foundation.