I had a dream

27 07 2010

What is it about dreams? They are weird places where exciting, gorgeous, impossible, frightening and some would say telling things happen. I have a few recurring dreams: my stress dream of not being able to run away properly due to a muscle injury and  my happy dream that I can fly.

So what, you are rightly asking, does this have to do with “a learning journey into Clinical Leadership”? Well, I am currently writing my thesis for the Masters and I suspect this is why my head is full of thoughts struggling to escape or find order depending on one’s view of the universe. This morning I was having the weirdest of dreams but, just as I awoke, I had the most amazing moment of clarity: the reason I don’t want to be a manager is that I can’t make it work, it is a wicked problem.

Let me explain that this is a reasoned argument, based on current leadership theory and not just casual street speak either. innit!

Grint, in an oft quoted but exceptionally difficult to source monograph, “Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions” explores the reasons why most change initiatives fail and suggests that “this failure might be more to do with our framing of the problem and the consequent approach to resolving it.” He goes on to look at the nature of problems and the leadership approach most suited to dealing with these.

Essentially there are three situations for which we seek guidance from authority. (I am trying to avoid using phrases like management and leadership until the concept is clear.)

The first are those extreme and urgent situations, such as a fire or fight, where, what is needed principally is simply a decision. Ultimately that decision may not be perfect, it may not be the best thought out but what is required is immediacy and action. From that movement further action may be taken in a more structured manner. Grint classifies this as a “Critical” problem for which we look for Command and Control style direction.

A problem for which there is clear solution, however complex that solution may be, is classified as “Tame”. Essentially a puzzle, there is a proven and effective approach that the use of management strategies can offer resolution.

Lastly there are conditions for which there are no solutions, a “Wicked” problem. Importantly, this is not due to the urgency or complexity of the issue but essentially, because it cannot be removed from its milieu to be analysed and solved, it is unsolvable the use of either Command and Control or Management approaches. What is required is, as termed by Grint, a “Clumsy” solution, recognising that the problem cannot be solved but must be addressed by a less than perfect solution cobbled together by the collective minds. He uses the analogy of the “bricoleur” a do-it-yourself craftworker who makes do with what is available rather than seeking the answer of perfection and design. Grint proposes that the searching for the perfect solution (viewing the problem as tame/solvable) is part of the problem and the leader’s role is ” to ask the right questions (of the collective) rather than provide the right answers.”

So, back to my moment of clarity, my waking dream. My life and training is about fixing things, small children in particular and cobbling together a clumsy solution for wicked problems just doesn’t fit with that. I can see people who would revel in such activity and they should be the ones to facilitate the rest of us in our collaboration.

Now, of all the dreams we can have, including those ones, to wake up de-constructing leadership theory is not what I live for. My Prof may or may not be impressed but there you go, it’s part of my journey.

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