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Muddling, a Both/And Proposition

The construct of wicked problems reflects situations where intuitions based on conventional logic will often not be adequate. Wicked problems are chaotic. Thus, conventional ways to decompose problems based on the intuitions of linear analytic techniques or traditional causal reasoning will fail. It is here where ‘experience’ and ‘wisdom’ are the best guides. It is here where Captain Kirk (a bias toward action), Spock (logic), and Dr. McCoy (emotions) must work together to keep the boat stable amid the waves of epistemic uncertainty.

In dealing with wicked problems the head and heart must trust each other and work together to muddle through. For these situations pragmatics take priority – the right choice is the one that works! And often the only reason it works will be that you did what was required to make it work!

This involves more than classical logic. It often requires going forward and following your intuitions, even when conventional logic says to turn back. It involves passion, persistence, and discipline. For these situations, it is not about making the ‘right choice.’ It is about making your choices work! And typically, this will require the efforts of both head (mind) and heart (body).

Again, it is tempting to argue about whether the head or heart should lead. But this reflects a dualistic trap based on either/or reasoning. It is ultimately a matter of coordination between heart and head. It is not about abandoning analytic aspects of cognition, but rather recognizing that the heart is a necessary partner. Success depends on effective coordination between heart and head in order to make the choices work out right! And still there are no guarantees. Serendipity and luck also play a role. 

Without Captain Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy might get caught in infinite analytical loops and never pull the trigger, but without Spock and Dr. McCoy, Captain Kirk may not be able to make his choices work! And despite their combined efforts the waves of uncertainty may still get the final vote! 

2 thoughts on “Muddling, a Both/And Proposition

    1. John Flach

      I guess it is hard for me to imagine that the heart and brain don't get a vote. But of course the ecology also gets a vote. So, I would contend that performance will typically reflect some weighted combination of heart, brain, and ecology. Allowing that the relative contributions of each component (the weights) might vary quite widely from situation to situation.


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