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.
Based on my experience as a management consultant and executive leadership coach, the best way to solve truly complex challenges is to bring the broadest possible array of stakeholders in one room and convene a dialogue that allows for the free flow of ideas. I have done this on a much smaller scale, with corporate leaders within one company. What works best is to create a visual map of the challenge that includes everyone's view of the challenge. Only when everyone sees and agrees to the complexity of the whole picture can creative problem solving begin. We need all hands on deck to solve this global wicked tangle.