Solving wicked problems — the invasion of Ukraine.
Watching the situation in Ukraine from our various corners of the world, many of us will feel the trifecta of — ‘feeling horrible’, ‘wanting to do something’ and ‘knowing that there is very little we can do’.
After all, we are witnessing the unfolding and evolving nature of a new — wicked problem.
Wicked problems are known in the design world as problems too large to solve. They are complex, multifaceted, unclear and simply — too large to impact and overcome.
A related, yet more hopeful position on wicked problems is slightly different. This position suggests that wicked problems are not truly unsolvable — they simply feel that way, due to their daunting size.
Solving wicked problems
The way to solve a wicked problem is by breaking it apart into smaller components and then repeating the process. You do this over and over, till you are left with something that begins to look somewhat — addressable.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is no different.
Venn and the art of breaking problems apart
There is this podcast I love called ‘how to save a planet’. In it, they try and address a different wicked problem we’re all facing — climate change.
As per the problem at hand, the hosts address the feeling that the issue is too large and difficult to solve. And yet still, episode by episode, they manage to break apart the insurmountable into addressable parts.
Amongst the many pearls of wisdom dropped on us by hosts Alex Blumberg and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, is an exercise they recommend to try and do— a Venn diagram (those overlapping circle things).
The Venn in their exercise is made of 3 circles. The first — signifies the problems that need addressing. The second —what it is you care about and want to do. The third — what you are good at. Somewhere there, in the middle of the Venn — lies the magic of what you could personally do.
Breaking problems apart
A few of us have recently tried applying this approach to the Ukraine problem.
In the middle of our Venn laid the capability and the love of breaking problems apart into components and forming a comprehensive model of complex topics.
Seeing our centre, and taking the words of Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson as gospel, we went ahead and tried to apply it with regards to the invasion of Ukraine.
Addressable problems and a touch of naiveté
Trying to break apart the invasion problem was surprisingly straightforward. We started with a few elements, broke them apart, went back, changed some things, added a few more layers, kept changing the order and rather quickly ended up with a model that seems to us as both comprehensible and I kid you not — somewhat addressable.
Problems not solutions
Our intention was not to come up with solutions for the Ukrainian problem. We do not think ourselves so clever that we would have all the answers. But in terms of doing our part, we tried getting the problem to an addressable place — a place where you could brainstorm around each component and think of different ways to solve for it.
Before we get all excited and dive into it, let’s call out the obvious — there is a touch of naïveté in our approach.
Of course there is. We are on the other side of the world (this article is currently being written in a pub somewhere in Australia), trying to find ways to impact a huge, unfolding problem in a country far far away.
But hey, this approach gives us something to try and do. If it ends with simply giving us and a few other hopeful souls, a better mental model and understanding of the insane problem, that is the invasion of Ukraine, we’re ok with that.
Moving into action.
Checking-out the model
We figured that the best way to share the model with you all is to give you access to the raw format in which the model was created.
The model was created using a tool called miro — a visual collaborating space that we like using for these kinds of activities. You’ll get to the link shortly (at the end of the article). Once you get into the model, you’ll be able to see exactly what we it is that we created and how it all comes together to form a neat little map of the problem at hand.
Help improve the model
Enough with reading, let’s start moving you into action. The model we made is far from perfect and we know it. There are things that must be wrong or perhaps just not quite right, and there is plenty that is missing.
The first thing we need from you, is to help us improve and build upon the model. Challenge it, ask questions, suggest improvements. You could do it right there and then where you see it all, using miro’s digital post-it notes. It’s really such a neat tool.
Collate and suggest solutions
If improving models isn’t your thing, or perhaps you have attempted to do so, but now want to do more, there is another layer of work for you to engage in — collate and suggest ideas.
The model (as you will shortly see), is full of branches and at the end of each — an addressable component. Each of those components are followed by a design challenge, and each challenge is waiting for great ideas to be put forward around it.
Have you come across interesting solutions to one of the components? Got your own ideas for how certain aspects of the problem could be impacted? — Put them down at their respective place.
Let’s make something epic here.
Who will action these?
Fast forward a few days and this model might be quite a thing — a neat mapping of all the moving parts, in a cascading fashion — leading to a design challenge and then a plethora of solutions, ready to be enacted.
Honestly, if we would be able to get this to even a slither of that, we would have achieved quite a feat. True we wouldn’t have taken arms and joined the resistance, but we would have done something— we would have gotten this to a place that is ready for someone who is able, to enact it.
Who will that be
Answering this question properly isn’t simple. The initial hunch of course, is that the majority of what we’ll map-out would fall into the realm of governmental action.
And yet we don’t think it will simply end there. Of course, there will be the smaller bits that many of us could do — demonstrate, donate, discuss etc. But we think there would be more. We believe that there will be plenty there, sitting somewhere in between what the common person and what governments could do, that would be within the reach of other players.
It would really be up to individuals/organisations/governments, to look at the model and figure out for themselves — which part they could address.
Back to the Venn
It all goes back to our beloved Venn — What is the work that needs to be done? What is the part you care about? And what is it that you actually have the ability to do?
Together, we would have jump-started the first circle (the problems at hand and what could possibly be done), it is now up to everyone else to figure out what lies at the centre of their own diagrams.
Let’s get busy
To get to the model, simply click on the link below. It should take you right there, and from there it should be quite self-explanatory (we left some instructing bread crumbs to guide you through it).
And hey, don’t worry, this link isn’t a malicious Russian-ware.
But hell — we get your suspicion.
Side note- this looks better on a screen, just saying.
Shake & break
Once you are in there go forth and shake things up; And don’t worry about breaking anything. We have set it up in a way that is quite hard to break, and in any case, we will constantly be backing it up, so if something does break, we will fix it.
And that’s a wrap
Now let’s see how far a little naiveté can go.