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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

I don’t deal in issues as weighty as racism or as complex as a Nasa space shuttle — but I do work on thorny and complicated problems. But I still see, as Patti just experienced, a deep desire to choose SMART action steps instead of thinking.

The problem is that SMART action steps put a quick stop evolution and necessary, non-linear meandering. Tell me where you have learned more: Flashing down the highway doing 60 or wandering aimlessly at the edge of dirt road. Something resonates in us when we simply explore. While we all share a strong pull to simplistic and quick problem definitions, we also share a natural (life-preserving, life-enhancing) curiosity.

Maybe we should start experimenting in curiosity instead of problem solving. When faced by a CEO or bureaucrat bent on a quick fix try asking questions instead of giving answers. Describe a mystery instead of a problem.

Instead of: “We have a knowledge management problem. Too many of our people are replicating someone else’s work, too few are sharing their experience, and we remain locked in departmental silos — this all needs to change.”

Could we try: “I’ve noticed two things I can’t explain. First, Olga is always talking in the hallways, if she’s at her desk then she’s on her IM — Yet she’s the most productive and creative policy analyst in the group. Second, I’ve never been able to ask her a real question without her saying she wants to talk with someone else before she answers.”

The first is a simplistic problem statement that lends itself nicely to a crippling set of SMART action steps. But the second is carefully hedged to avoid next steps and provoke curiosity — banal as the topic may be.

Wicked problems require something different from us. But we are built for well-trod surfaces and love to follow old paths. I’m wondering if the trick is to avoid highways by inviting another natural response — intense curiosity.

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