Home Leadership Solving Wicked Problems: Talk Is Cheap (Part 1)

Solving Wicked Problems: Talk Is Cheap (Part 1)

by Miguel Guhlin

“Our kiddoes are stuck in a portable building with no Internet,” challenged a kindly, experienced principal, smiling her demand, “and I’m not sure why. Can you help me, please?”

In any environment, there are various ways of accomplishing goals and objectives and of receiving funding for needed projects. In some locations, a conversation that moves participants towards action suffices, while in others, the value is placed on a formal presentation or proposal. In the next few blog entries, I explore several ways that most supervisors will ask for plans of action. Having successfully introduced and implemented several types of technology projects, I hope that these suggestions will save you some time.

Approach #1 – Conversations that Result in Action (and Funding)

“The network conduit pipe needs to be installed to a ‘pull box,’ capped when not being used, with a pull string, and the pipe needs to be buried, not laid in an open trench.” I had just come from seeing the work a small district maintenance team had done and snapped a few pictures.

The response was to the question “Why can’t the district maintenance department do the job at a lower cost?” Of course, they had stated they knew how to do the job of putting a network conduit pipe in place, but had done so poorly, a fact evidenced by several photographs. Obviously, not doing these things resulted in several problems. When it rained, the network conduit pipe was filled with water and the networking contractor could not run the cable without a pull string. This resulted in a delay of several months to the project during the school year.

The goal was to outsource the job to networking professionals who knew the proper way to install a conduit pipe. But how to get district leadership to understand the necessary cost and that saving money really was just wasting time?

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When working with others who approve budgets for a project, it is absolutely critical to introduce expensive ideas in informal conversations that focus on the needs of the organization. Your responsibility, as the person proposing the information, is to clearly articulate the need(s) of the organization. It’s not YOU that wants to spend money; rather, you are compelled by the need you have encountered.

Make sure to have these conversations with all stakeholders prior to having a formal meeting. These kinds of conversations will carry the day for the needs you have expressed and the people you serve. When possible, obtain pictures or photos. Following this approach enables leadership to not be overwhelmed with technical information and to clearly see the problem.

It’s clear that while talk is cheap, conversations can result in much-needed action.

A Problem for You to Solve
Let’s explore an additional scenario which features a wicked problem, a problem that has endured for years, and see how you would handle it. Leave your approaches in the comments.

“When the power poles in the computer labs were put in, the maintenance department failed to connect the power.”

“Wait,” the technology director asked in surprise, “Are you saying that all these power poles do not have power in them? Are you just daisy chaining the power from one outlet?”

“Yes,” replied the media specialist. “That is exactly what we have had to do. As you can guess, we can’t put as many computers in this room as we would like. And I’m worried about overloading power. Isn’t this unsafe or something? I’ve told my principal, but she doesn’t have the money to get it done and it should have been done when they built the school several years ago.”

In the next blog entry, we will explore another approach to getting projects funded out of existing budgets: the Executive Summary.

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