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Wicked Problem Solvers

Lessons from successful cross-industry teams


By Amy C. Edmondson
HBR June 2016
Introduction

But as the premium on innovating


grows, especially for wicked
Companies have long cooperated problemsthose with incomplete, Cross-industry collaborations can
within their ecosystems, working But,
But, how
how to
to build
build and
and
contradictory, or changing generate radical innovations is run
run them
them is
is another
another
with suppliers, partners, requirementsmore organizations clear.
customers, and even competitors. matter.
matter.
are tapping the capabilities of new
and far-flung partners.
Lets understand the problem solving loop
The Problem

Participants often live in different intellectual


worlds and have distinct technical languages.

The gulfs between behavioral norms and values


across industries and professions can be even wider.

As cross-industry teams come together,


they often suffer from culture clash.

The parable of the learned blind men encountering an


elephant captures the essence of the cross-industry challenge.

People on cross-industry teams frequently spiral into perplexed and emotionally


charged disagreement, unable to see value beyond their limited field of view.
Solution

Foster execution as
learning
Test and learn
Enable knowledge Welcome arguable
sharing changes
Emphasize professional
Promote values
psychological Force face-to-face
safety interaction
Fostering an Acknowledge the
Adaptable vision experiment
Making project values Reduce legal concerns
explicit Encourage social
Inviting input and bonding
celebrate change
Conclusion

Leaders are increasingly finding themselves operating in complex business ecosystems


where cross-industry teaming is necessary to innovation.

To succeed in this world, they must strike a difficult balance:

They need to advance their vision by looking


beyond their own industry perspective and
engaging a host of potentially antagonistic
experts with distinct industry mindsets.
They must be flexible, open-minded, and
humble on the one hand and filled with fierce
resolve on the other.
Leading this way is challenging, but its a
learnable skill, and as cross-industry teaming
becomes the norm, it is one that no leader or
firm can afford to ignore.