I recently conducted a rigorous research study on how key stakeholders in an organization make sense of a seemingly intractable complex challenge exacerbated by human dynamics issues. The current economic mess is a wicked tangle because it involves multiple stakeholders, each with a different view of the situation. Each stakeholder not only has their own interests, but also a different idea of how the situation should be solved. The photo above gives a snapshot of the myriad of stakeholders enmeshed in this wicked tangle. When faced with wicked corporate tangles, it is helpful to draw a picture of all of the stakeholders, and identify their positions and underlying interests.
Last night, Jon Stewart , host of the Daily Show , interviewed Bethany McLean , a contributing editor of Vanity Fair about the current economic crisis. Stewart opined that while we can understand the Madoff fraud, it is much harder to wrap our heads around the economic meltdown. Jon Stewart commented that money seemed to disappear in this crisis, and wondered how it could be recovered. This got me thinking. I coined the term Wicked Tangle, after the term wicked problems. I define a wicked tangle as a multi-system tangle that involves challenges without definitions and boundaries. Everything is intertwined, and the solution to one part of the challenge creates problems elsewhere. The Feds give money to the banks and the banks tighten their lending policies. You can never truly solve a wicked tangle. What differentiates a wicked tangle from a wicked problem is that the human dynamics of greed, ego, and lack of transparency both create and exacerbate wicked tangles.