wicked problems

Wicked Problems
A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. The term was originally coined by Horst Rittel.
Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.
Most projects in organizations — and virtually all technology-related projects these days — are about wicked problems. Indeed, it is the social complexity of these problems, not their technical complexity, that overwhelms most current problem solving and project management approaches.
Some specific aspects of problem wickedness include:
  • Individuals don’t understand the problem until they have developed a solution. Indeed, there is no definitive statement of “The Problem.” The problem is ill-structured, an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.
  • Wicked problems have no stopping rule. Since there is no definitive “The Problem”, there is also no definitive “The Solution.” The problem solving process ends when you run out of resources.
  • Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong, simply “better,” “worse,” “good enough,” or “not good enough.”
  • Every wicked problem is essentially unique and novel. There are so many factors and conditions, all embedded in a dynamic social context, that no two wicked problems are alike, and the solutions to them will always be custom designed and fitted.
  • Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation,” every attempt has consequences. As Rittel says, “One cannot build a freeway to see how it works.” This is the “Catch 22” about wicked problems: Individuals can’t learn about the problem without trying solutions, but every solution they try is expensive and has lasting unintended consequences which are likely to spawn new wicked problems.
  • Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions. There may be no solutions, or there may be a host of potential solutions that are devised, and another host that are never even thought of.

 For a more detailed discussion of wicked problems, see Wicked Problems and Social Complexity, CogNexus Institute’s most downloaded white paper. Also, read the original and definitive paper on Wicked Problems by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.

Problem wickedness demands tools and methods which create shared understanding and shared commitment. Following Horst Rittel’s analysis, we have developed “Dialogue Mapping”, based on Rittel’s Issue Based Information System (IBIS), which provides an elegant way of dealing with the fragmentation around a wicked problem.
Because the group or team’s understanding of the wicked problem is evolving, productive movement toward a solution requires powerful mechanisms for getting everyone on the same page. There will be volumes facts, data, studies and reports about a wicked problem, but the shared commitment needed to create durable solution will not live in information or knowledge. Understanding a wicked problem is about collectively making sense of the situation and coming to shared understanding about who wants what.
Dialogue Mapping™ is such a method, because it is an approach which is rooted in maximizing communication and coherence among diverse stakeholders. Dialogue Mapping™– the process of crafting IBIS maps interactively with a group — is not a process in the traditional sense: it is a structural augmentation of group communication. It provides a group with an enriched Dialogue environment which both DE-emphasizes personal dynamics (e.g. right/wrong or win/loose dynamics) and creates a coherent shared space for crafting and negotiating shared understanding.

Wicked problems thru open critical enquiry

Traditional inquiries seek to eliminate a paradox by narrowing the definition of an issue, re-stating the problem, or hoping it will go away,

Major social change spurred by technological change has led to unprecedented flows of people, information and resources impacting on global ecological systems. Unfortunately for all of us, these flows have produced a new class of sociology-environmental problem that challenges the very existence of the society that produced it.

Wicked problems that have arisen from the impacts of social-environmental change include community responses to environmental disaster and the clash between the social and biophysical sciences. In each of these examples, the source of the problem is also the basis for its resolution — an underlying paradox. Unfortunately, traditional inquiries seek to eliminate a paradox by narrowing the definition of an issue, re-stating the problem, or hoping it will go away.

Conversely, in an open critical inquiry, paradoxes provide a valued diagnostic for points at which current thinking is frozen. Whereas in traditional research, a paradox is treated as a pair of opposites, in an open inquiry, the pairs of opposites are treated as complementary, and provide a useful indicator of the heart of the issue.

The three foundational elements of an open critical enquiry are:

• multiple ethical positions;

• multiple world views; and

• multiple ways of constructing knowledge.

In the traditional mode of inquiry, the problem would be approached by selecting one world view and one construction of knowledge, and expecting the two to be logically consistent. For example, a socio-environmental issue would be divided into issues of society and environment; the ethical perspective would not usually be examined. In an open inquiry, a way must be found for all to be included — even if in practice, the three foundational elements are contradictory. For example, agreeing on the existence of climate change as a reality does not necessarily lead to a shared concern for the next generation, or to equal acceptance of the sources of information that led to the projection.

Shifting to an open critical inquiry entails a different construction of the task: • No longer is the inquiry regarded as the sole responsibility of one specialist discipline or profession; rather, it seeks evidence from all affected parties;

• The findings of the inquiry are not expected to be final, certain or complete;

• Rather than being treated as an error to be eliminated, any paradox that arises is welcomed as offering a potential solution; and

• Participants in such an inquiry include both researchers and the researched, since both groups are part of the problem and of its potential resolution.

Following are four steps for conducting an open critical inquiry.

STEP 1: Identify the range of world views that make up the context of the problem. When dealing with wicked problems, the world view of the interested parties might be of the planet as an inexhaustible source of resources, or as divided between Western wealth and Southern poverty, or as a set of technical or a set of social issues. They may have assumed that the state of the world will always be in a state of flux, and that our understanding of either the social or the physical environment will always be provisional and partial. On the other hand, the participants may consider that the research outcome should be certain and generalizable to other wicked problems. It is up to the transdisciplinary practitioner to make these positions transparent to each participant.

STEP 2: Select the knowledge traditions most likely to contribute to the review of a particular wicked problem, without being limited by any particular disciplinary perspective or the current conventional wisdom on the issue. In accepting the equivalence of the knowledge from all contributing parties, an open trans-disciplinary inquiry recognizes the validity of each construction of knowledge and its particular tests for truth. For example, if the context of a wicked problem is ‘the pursuit of an industrially-developed world’, the constituent epistemologies would be those of the differentially-developed North and South. If the context is ‘the current distribution of planetary resources’, the key knowledge’s would be social, economic and ecological management.

 STEP 3: Establish that there is a group of knowledge cultures that make up the suite of interests in social-environmental decision-making. Within each of the five ‘knowledge cultures’ described below, there are criteria for testing the validity of the evidence that that knowledge culture is prepared to accept. The trans disciplinary inquirer must therefore be familiar with those criteria or they run the risk of testing one knowledge culture’s contribution against another’s set of criteria; for instance, judging a holistic contribution by statistics, or a community contribution by the objectives of the lead industry of the area.

i.Individual knowledge Each individual mind is, by any definition, the primary site of the construction of knowledge, albeit mediated by the society in which it is developed .

 Michael Polanyi identifies the difference between individuals’ explicit and tacit knowledge’s. That is, what you know you know, and what you continually draw on without knowing that you know. Added to this is the important difference between ‘knowing that you don’t know’, and ‘not knowing that you don’t know’. In classical Science, these finer points are excluded from an inquiry. Only the individuals’ rational and externally-validated observations are considered to contribute to knowledge. Yet an individual’s reflection on their experiences is crucial to any understanding of the dynamics of change.

 ii.Community Knowledge A community’s knowledge is constructed through shared events, significant symbols, and above all, a shared local language.

 Anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes the knowledge of a local community as gained through “citizens not just using their eyes and ears, but using them collectively, judiciously and reflectively to understand their own locality”. Each community is different from all others, but linked to others in a network in their local region, across the nation and around the planet.

 iii.Specialized Knowledge

Each specialization – Medicine, Law, Ecology, Engineering, etc. — forms a distinct community of practice, with its own research models and paradigms.  The rigor and validity of a specialized inquiry rests on well-defined questions, critical doubt, empirical observations, and capacity to generalize the findings. The result will often be delivered in a specialized language that increases accuracy but reduces access to the findings by other forms of knowledge. With no built-in connection between the disciplinary paradigms, specialized knowledge can be represented as a disconnected ring of boxes.

This poses challenges for open trans-disciplinary inquiry, which aims to be both synoptic and synergistic.  A synoptic inquiry seeks to understand a whole through the insights of each of the component parts.  Examples are the synoptic weather chart and multidisciplinary inquiries. A synergistic inquiry seeks to establish a relationship between the parts capable of producing a fresh whole, one that none of the parts could have achieved alone.  Examples are the four chambers of the human heart that beat as one; and an open trans-disciplinary inquiry that resolves a wicked problem.

 iv.Organizational Knowledge

Generally speaking, government, industry and the major non-government agencies have  adopted a ‘managerial approach’, and as a result, all forms of organization tend to function under a similar framework of strategic decision-making that includes planning, designing, applying and reviewing. The language used refers to results, cost/benefits, objectives, timelines, inputs and outcomes, depending on the knowledge culture.

v.Holistic Knowledge 

Holistic knowledge is universally described as ‘an understanding of the whole’. One school of thought seeks to document the parts of the whole as units in a hard (technical) or a soft (social) system.  The findings of such an inquiry are represented as a grid, a hierarchy of detailed lists, or a flow chart.  The second interpretation of holistic, which is to seek to understand the whole through grasping its essence or core.  For example, holistic thinking has contributed to our understanding of Ecology through the creative coining of concepts such as biodiversity and ecological niche. The validity of the findings of a holistically-oriented inquiry rests on the extent to which it evokes a shared meaning among the participants and consumers of the research.

STEP 4: Establish a Collective Learning Cycle

The aim is to bring the participants in the wicked problem together so as to create a greater understanding of the whole while respecting the perspectives of the contributing knowledges.  A methodology is needed that can respect the contributions of each individual knowledge culture, while at the same time provide a body of expertise that brings them together synergistic.    such a methodology can be found in Weatherhead School of Management Professor David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model, which entails four steps: reflecting on principles; making concrete observations; generating new ideas; and testing the ideas in practice.  Over several decades, Kolb and his colleagues have confirmed the reliability of this cycle for adult learning in general.  Building on Kolb’s model,   ‘Social Learning Spiral can be developed that consists of four questions, to be asked in sequence:

1.What should be?  Reflecting on principles, generating ideals.

2.What is? Conducting concrete observations, generating facts.

3.What could be?  Thinking creatively, generating new ideas.

4.What can be?  Testing the ideas, generating effective practice.

The extent to which this process differs from the usual decision-making process cannot be over-estimated:  at each stage, the process of collective knowledge construction differs radically from the usual pursuit of one ‘right’ answer. Following are my suggestions for proceeding through the four questions.

1. WHAT SHOULD BE? Develop Principles. The first step involves bringing together the multiple world views of the different knowledge cultures of the participants, ideally drawn from all the cultures involved.   Their world views will be reflected in each of the participants’ ideals for the outcome of resolving the wicked problem.  Each participant’s ideals stand alone and are respected for their own sake.

2. WHAT IS? Describe Parameters.  The second step asks for the same group to identify the parameters that support and inhibit the attainment of their ideals.  All parameters are treated as legitimate, as in Step 1.  This supplies the ‘facts’ that define the inquiry and reflects each of the contributing knowledge cultures.

3: WHAT COULD BE? Design for Potential. The third step calls for the use of the imagination, as the process moves from the synoptic to the synergistic.   Optimum conditions for creativity such as trust, security and challenge are required to develop shared creativity.  Innovative, business not-as-usual ideas are sought, remembering that this issue is a wicked problem whose resolution will fall outside of the mainstream society that generated it.

4. WHAT CAN BE? Doing the Design. The fourth step is again a synergistic process. The energy generated in the design process is maintained in forming practical collaborations to put the ideas into action. Appreciative and illuminative evaluation methods monitor the plans, steps and outcomes of the collaborative action plans.

In closing

The collective learning process described in Step 4 applies each of the foundational principles of an open critical inquiry: the shared ethic is made clear in the focus question; different worldviews are respected and shared in stage one; multiple knowledges are reflected in the parameters of the wicked problem that the decision-making interests declare in stage two; the creative use of the imagination in stage three generates the creativity required for innovative solutions; and finally, the innovative solutions are put to the test by taking and reviewing action.

A note of caution: having completed an open enquiry, we are not finished. Remember, wicked problems have no ‘stopping rule’. The last stage of the cycle only serves to secure the collective learning to date and provides a launching pad for the next learning cycle.




Critical thinking – cognitive skills for next generation management

The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills

Over two decades ago, the Secretary of Labor appointed a commission to determine the skills our young people would need to succeed in the working world. The commission’s fundamental purpose was to encourage a high-performance economy characterized by high-skill, high-wage employment. Although the commission completed its work in 1992, its findings and recommendations ring true in the new millennium.

The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report identified critical thinking skills as being essential for a high-performance workplace. The post identifies a three-part skills foundation: basic literacy and computational skills, the thinking skills necessary to put knowledge to work, and the personal qualities that make workers dedicated and trustworthy. This foundation in thinking skills includes creativity, decision making, problem solving, seeing things in the mind’s eye, knowing how-to-learn, and reasoning. Today’s work place puts a premium on reasoning skills and an ability and willingness to learn.”

The findings in the SCANS report have been reinforced in subsequent studies.  In 2009 the Economist Intelligence Unit published a report, The Intelligent Enterprise:  Creating a culture of speedy and efficient decision-making. The report states that “despite the wide recognition that accurate and timely decision-making is crucial, most firms’ ability to make good decisions needs improvement.”

The Conference Board identified two key skills needed by successful leaders in their report, Developing Business Leaders for 2010—analytical ability—especially the ability to sort through information sources and focus on the most relevant aspects—and the ability to make sound decisions in an environment of ambiguity and uncertainty.

In September 2011, the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 5,000 workers, globally, and found a lack of analytical skills was “pervasive among both the general employees and among management.” Only 38% of the average workforce uses a balance of judgment and data in their decision making.

Critical Thinking Skills are Essential

Critical thinking skills can be defined as the ability to exercise sound reasoning and analytical thinking, using knowledge, facts and data to resolve workplace issues.  They are essential for:

  1. Solving problems and making decisions. Rapid changes in the workplace require delegating decision making and problem solving farther and farther down the organization. Among today’s workers the critical thinking skills for analysis, problem solving, and teamwork are in high demand and short supply.
  2. Problem prevention. Preventing problems does not happen automatically. Identifying potential problems and planning preventive and contingent actions require good, solid analytical thinking.
  3. Effective teamwork. The benefits of teamwork are oft reported; but teamwork is not automatic. Teams experience growing pains and they take time to mature into productive units. Team members need critical thinking skills for communication, conflict resolution, decision making, problem solving, and self-management.
  4. Empowerment. Effective empowerment means providing the responsibilities and the skills for people to manage their own work and to do it effectively. To keep teams cohesive, a common language for solving problems and making decisions is needed.  These skills empower people to work together to solve problems, make better-balanced decisions, and manage business-critical projects.

The Challenge of the 21st Century

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that during the 2010-20 decade, over 54.8 million job openings are expected and more than half—61.6%—will come from the need to replace workers from the baby boom generation as they retire or otherwise permanently leave an occupation. A lack of critical thinking skills among new employees compounds the loss of institutional knowledge held by employees leaving the workplace.
  • As organizations become more global, the diversity of the workforce requires a common approach to resolving organizational issues that can surmount cultural and language barriers.
  • The information explosion continues to move at a rapid pace with no end in sight. This accelerates the rate that technical knowledge becomes obsolete while exponentially flooding our lives with data. As a result, the ability to organize and evaluate information with an analytic eye is increasingly important.

Putting the puzzle together

Rapid fire changes in the workplace mean increased responsibilities for many employees. These new responsibilities mean that analytical skills, driven by a process that is underpinned by logic and good questioning, are key to maintaining competitive advantage. Sharpening the thinking skills of workers and providing a context in which they want to and can succeed is a key to solving the 21st century challenge of staying competitive in environment of rapid change.

Research conducted in recent years by Pearson, as well as by a variety of independent academics, has shown that people who score well on critical
thinking assessment are also rated by their supervisors as having:
Because it is often difficult to discern such critical thinking skills through a resume or job interview, many organizations are turning to assessments
to help them evaluate candidates. One of the most widely used assessments in this area is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, from Pearson TalentLens. The Watson-Glaser offers a hard-skills appraisal, and is suited for people in professional and managerial positions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, independent research has also found that the higher up the ladder a position is, the more essential critical thinking becomes. People who are successful in these positions tend to be able to learn quickly, process information accurately, and are able to apply it to decision-making. One of the most well-established research findings in
industrial psychology is that cognitive ability is directly related to performance in all jobs5.
Critical thinking, one type of cognitive ability, is of particular importance where sophisticated decision-making and judgment are required.
It is not uncommon for organizations to ignore such research findings when they are engaged in succession planning or top-level executive searches. Organizations often assume that everyone at the highest corporate levels is bright and a “good thinker,” so they don’t assess their candidates’ critical thinking capabilities. However, a 2009 study by Ones and Dilchert6 found that there is variability in critical thinking ability within groups of executives (as well as among supervisors and managers). Although executives generally did perform better on critical thinking tests when compared with other groups, there was a wide range of higher and lower scores.
Simply put, the research found that some top executives are better at critical thinking than others – and so are likely to be more successful. It is important to note that research has also found a positive correlation between certain personality characteristics and job success.
Consequently, organizations that include both critical thinking and personality in their battery of assessments tend to get a more comprehensive view of a candidate than do organizations that use either personality or critical thinking assessments alone.

fortunately, critical thinking can be taught. Pearson has developed the following RED Model – Recognize Assumptions, Evaluate Arguments,
Draw Conclusions – as a way to view and apply critical thinking principles when faced with a decision. This model is particularly helpful in critical-thinking training programs.
Recognize Assumptions.

This is the ability to separate fact from opinion. It is deceptively easy to listen to a comment or presentation and assume the information presented is true even though no evidence was given to back it up.
Perhaps the speaker is particularly credible or trustworthy, or the information makes sense or matches our own view. We just don’t question
it. Noticing and questioning assumptions helps to reveal information gaps or unfounded logic.
Taking it a step further, when we examine assumptions through the eyes of different people (e.g., the viewpoint of different stakeholders), the end result is a richer perspective on a topic.
Evaluate Arguments.

It is difficult to suspend judgment and systematically walk through various arguments and information with the impartiality of a Sherlock Holmes. The art of evaluating arguments entails analyzing information objectively and accurately, questioning the quality of supporting evidence, and understanding how emotion influences the situation. Common barriers include confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek out and agree with information that is consistent with you own point of view, or allowing emotions – yours or others – to get in the way of objective evaluation. People may quickly come to a conclusion simply to avoid conflict. Being able to remain objective and sort through the validity of different positions helps people draw more accurate conclusions.
Draw Conclusions.

People who possess this skill are able to bring diverse information together
to arrive at conclusions that logically follow from the available evidence, and they do not inappropriately generalize beyond the evidence.
Furthermore, they will change their position when the evidence warrants doing so. They are often characterized as having “good judgment” because they typically arrive at a quality decision.
Each of these critical thinking skills fits together in a process that is both fluid and sequential.
When presented with information, people typically alternate between recognizing assumptions and evaluating arguments. Critical thinking is sequential in that recognizing faulty assumptions or weak arguments improves the likelihood of reaching an appropriate conclusion. Although this process is fluid, it is helpful to focus on each of the RED skills individually when practicing skill development. With concentrated practice over time, typically several months, critical thinking skills can be significantly increased.

Tao for Business

For more than two thousand years, political and business leaders have drawn inspiration from the ancient Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching. It has endured because its principles about the patterns of living systems–the flow of energy that occurs in the natural world as well as in families, relationships, businesses, and nations–are as true today as they were centuries ago. The Tao acknowledges that the world is constantly changing, and a Tao leader must how to blend these changes into new patterns of harmony.

A Tao leader is someone who can assess a situation, bring people together, build consensus, and discover solutions that draw upon the talents of everyone involved. A Tao leader is a facilitator, communicator, and team builder who realizes that our greatest resources are our minds and hearts, together with those of the people around us.
Tao leaders don’t shrink from the unknown, they embrace it. Living on the edge, leading from the edge, they respond to uncertainty by seeking their balance in dynamic interaction with the challenges of life.

Taoism, the 2,000-year-old Chinese philosophy, has millions of adherents and has influenced artists and writers not just in the East but also in the West. Its principles have been ‘applied’ to enterprises as diverse as baseball and investing. Those who see natural patterns in life or in a specific activity are drawn to it. Though many are superficial dabblers, others, such as Dreher, live their lives in the ‘way of the Tao,’ seeking harmony with nature and accepting simplicity and spontaneity. Dreher has degrees in English, holistic health, and spiritual counseling, and she teaches classes and conducts workshops on Taoist principles. Here she suggests that those principles and various aspects of Taoism (centering, harmony, joy, renewal, community, vision, etc.) are particularly suited to effective leadership, making the difference between leaders and managers.

According to Taoism the formula for success is:


Success is the sum of preparation and opportunity.

Tao is really Nature’s way: the order, course of pattern of all things created. The Tao never acts with force, yet there is nothing that it can not do. Yin and Yang are symbols of the Tao.  They are the dynamic force of the Tao, constantly interacting with one another.

Yin and Yang are the two polar energies that, by their fluctuation and interaction, are the cause of the universe. The notion means that the reality consists of relationships between opposite and opposite principles. Yin and yang are polar manifestations of the Tao of the supreme ultimate. The One is divided through the creative powers of the Tao into two opposite energetics and dualities, which then give birth to “the ten thousand things”.

Being In Accord With Reality

The Tao helps you achieve much more with much less effort. This effortless skill comes from being in accord with reality. You can’t tell the singer from the song. You can’t tell the dancer from the dance. When you are in harmony with the Tao, when you go with its current  of energy, your innate intelligence takes over, and the right action happens by itself.  If you think about it, you lose it. This is the purest and most effective form of action that Tao Te Ching calls “not-doing” or “non-action”.

The Tao teaches you the art of living and doing business. It gives you advice that imparts perspective and balance. It applies equally well to the management of large corporations or the running of a small business, to the governing of a nation or the leading a small team, to your personal development or to the coaching of others.

The Leader is best,

When people are hardly aware of his existence,

Not so good when people praise his government,

Less good when people stand in fear,

Worst, when people are contemptuous.

Fail to honor people, and they will fail to honor you.

But of a good leader, who speaks little

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

The people say, ‘We did it ourselves.

The Tao of Change consists of many sets of guiding principles that help you understand the universal laws. The person who fights the universe always loses because the will of the universe cannot be changed. Nothing stands still. For everything there is a proper time. Nothing lasts forever. All that exists must change. Everything, including success and decline, follows a specific pattern of succession and occupies a specific period in time. The pattern of change is repetitious.

The Tao of Change helps you understand this pattern and, thus, find true contentment. Fighting decline or any other changes will result in misery, Do not strive to hasten good fortune prematurely and accept inevitable decline if you wish to achieve true contentment. Tread the middle path of balanced progress to avoid all conflicts by aligning yourself with steady rhythms of the universe and finally become one with Tao.

Philosophy in Business – A perspective

The financial and climate crises, global consumption habits, and other 21st-century challenges call for panacea or elixir.  . Credit, climate, and consumption crisis cannot be solved through specialized expertise alone. These problems, like most issues businesses confront in the global marketplace, feature complex interdependencies that require an understanding of how political, financial, environmental, ethical, and social interests influence each other. Expertise and experience will not make you a better analyst of the evidence. In the case of experts ,the abilities to ride above difficulties, to reinvent yourself up and start all over again, to reduce unmanageable difficulties to manageable proportions – all such admirable attributes are psychological, not physical: or, put another way, they are ‘emotional’, not ‘rational’.

What managers truly want is a guide to those psychological behaviours – their own even more than those of their subordinates – that will achieve a higher, indeed, the highest degree of competence.

The world is changing fast—we are more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. How we work, what we work has always mattered. But today, it matters more than ever and in ways that it never has before. Technology has joined us together across time, distance, and culture faster than we have developed frameworks to understand one another. That’s why we must change the way we behave, consume, and build trust in both our business and personal lives.

We have to innovate in how we approach our relationships with others if we – and the organizations and institutions that we represent – are to thrive in this new world. We also have to change our idea of success. The singular pursuit of success might be the very thing that causes it to elude us. Those who instead choose to pursue significance in their work and life find success for themselves and others along the way.

 we need to broaden our understanding of problems by looking deeper at our own beliefs, values, ethics, and character, and then understand how they relate to those of others who share a stake in our problem-solving efforts.

Philosophy can help us address the existential challenges the world currently confronts.  Companies translate their values into corporate practices and behaviors that result in sustainable competitive advantage. Philosophy applied to help businesses develop ethical corporate cultures: Philosophy is powerful enough to tackle sprawling issues. The discipline can be applied to the day to day business problems after existing for more than 2,000 years.

 We’re constantly fascinated by new ideas in organizational governance and behavior. Philosophy for business guides us to implement ideas, values, and principles to work for our  organization.


  1.   Imbibe Values and principles like Consistency, self-knowledge, fairness, self-discipline, thrift, responsibility for our actions and their effects on others,
  2.   Ability to lead by example
  3.   Vision and management philosophy with guiding principles
  4.   Business Ethics
  5.   Corporate Social Responsibility Policy
  6.   Lean’ Principles to Service Industries
  7.   The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
  8.   Implementing the Law of Attraction
  9.   Developing the right corporate culture helps companies be  more profitable and provides sustainable competitive advantage.
  10.   Corporate values
  11.   Authentic leadership
  12.   Mindful leadership
  13.   Organizing Knowledge – Knowledge based view.
  14.   Leadership as Holarchy
  15.   Self Governance and peer Governance
  16.   Transformational Leadership
  17.   Transforming Organizations to Transform Society.
  18.   Develop a Powerful Creative Imagination
  19.   The Role of the CEO & Top Management Teams
  20.   Conflict Management, Politics & Negotiation
  21.   Cross-Cultural Management
  22.   Buddhist Economic Principles

Minimalist design and Zen gardens

Minimalist Product Design from Zen

The Japanese rock gardens  or dry landscape gardens, often called Zen gardens, are a type of garden that features extensive use of rocks or stones, along with plants native to rocky or alpine environments that were influenced mainly by Zen Buddhism and can be found at Zen temples of meditation.

The Japanese rock gardens ) or “dry landscape” gardens, often called “Zen gardens”, are a type of garden that features extensive use of rocks or stones, along with plants native to rocky or alpine environments that were influenced mainly by Zen Buddhism and can be found at Zen temples of meditation.

Japanese gardens are gardens in which the plants and trees are ever changing with the seasons. As they grow and mature, they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience. The underlying structure of a Japanese garden is determined by the architecture; that is, the framework of enduring elements such as buildings, verandas and terraces, paths, artificial hills, and stone compositions.

Karesansui gardens can be extremely abstract and represent miniature landscapes also called mindscapes. This Buddhist preferred way to express cosmic beauty in worldly environments is inextricable from Zen Buddhism.

Dry landscape dry garden is a garden style unique to Japan, which appeared in the Muromachi period (1392-1568). Using neither ponds nor streams, it makes symbolic representations of natural landscapes using stone arrangements, white sand, moss and pruned trees.

The act of raking the gravel into a pattern recalling waves or rippling water has an aesthetic function. Zen priests practice this raking also to help their concentration. Achieving perfection of lines is not easy. Rakes are according to the patterns of ridges as desired and limited to some of the stone objects situated within the gravel area. Nonetheless, often the patterns are not static. Developing variations in patterns is a creative and inspiring challenge.

 Stone arrangements and other miniature elements are used to represent mountains and natural water elements and scenes, islands, rivers and waterfalls. Stone and shaped shrubs are used interchangeably. In most gardens, moss is used as a ground cover to create “land” covered by forest.

Other, mostly stone, objects are sometimes used symbolically to represent mountains, islands, boats, or even people. Karesansui gardens are often, but not always, meant to be viewed from a single vantage point from a seated position.

  The influence of Zen on garden design was (probably) first described as such by Kuck in the early 20th century and disputed by Kuiter by the end of that century.

Though each garden is different in its composition, they mostly use rock groupings and shrubs to represent a classic scene of mountains, valleys and waterfalls taken from Chinese landscape painting.

Today, ink monochrome painting still is the art form most closely associated with Zen Buddhism. A primary design principle was the creation of a landscape based on, or at least greatly influenced by, the three-dimensional monochrome ink landscape painting. In Japan the garden has the same status as a work of art.

 The beauty of one of Japan’s most popular Zen gardens has long eluded explanation. Now neuroscience scientists have found that its minimalist design suggests a pleasing picture to our subcontinents.

The 500-year-old Ryoanji Temple garden in Kyoto contains five outcroppings of rocks and moss on a rectangle of raked gravel. Using symmetry calculations the researchers have discovered that the objects imply an image of a tree in the empty space between them that we detect, without being aware of doing so.

The finding suggests that Japanese garden designers – originally priests – balanced forces from visual science.

The trunk of the hidden branched tree lines up with the preferred garden-viewing spot of ancient temple floor plans, repeating the calculations with random rock groups failed to generate any similar patterns.

Earlier work by Ilona Kovacs, a visual scientist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, showed that the human brain uses similar symmetry lines, like those of a child’s stick figure, to make sense of shapes.

In the Zen garden, you have even less to go on with just the best points, or rocks, along the symmetry lines. The brain may recognize the tree during meditation and other Zen states.

Through the years, people have come up with various interpretations for the rock clusters themselves, a mother tiger herding her cubs across a river, mountaintops poking through the clouds, and strokes of Chinese characters.

These logical descriptions miss the point;   the suggestive symmetry explanation fits the Zen mind better. It has always been thought that the priest-gardener’s layout was something that didn’t come from the conscious mind, but from a deeper level. They could have easily intuitively developed that kind of tree layout.

 The garden, like Mona Lisa’s smile, has intrigued visitors for centuries. Tour guides bringing visitors to the ‘best’ spot to view the garden stop exactly where the symmetry lines converge.

A miniature dry landscape garden

There have been many attempts to explain the karesansui garden’s layout. Some of these are:

The gravel represents ocean and the rocks represent islands.

The rocks represent a mother tiger with her cubs, swimming to a dragon.

The rocks form part of the kanji for heart or mind.

A recent suggestion by Gert van Tonder of Kyoto University and Michael Lyons, of Ritsumeikan University, is that the rocks form the subliminal image of a tree. The researchers claim the subconscious mind is sensitive to a subtle association between the rocks. They suggest this may be responsible for the calming effect of the garden.

The term minimalism is also used to describe a trend in design and architecture where in the subject is reduced to its necessary elements. Minimalist design has been highly influenced by Japanese traditional design and architecture.

Minimalist architecture simplifies living space to reveal the essential quality of buildings and conveys simplicity in attitudes toward life. It is highly inspired from the Japanese traditional design and the concept of Zen philosophy.

Zen concepts of simplicity transmit the ideas of freedom and essence of living. Simplicity is not only aesthetic value, it has a moral perception that looks into the nature of truth and reveals the inner qualities of materials and objects for the essence.

The Japanese aesthetic principle of Ma refers to empty or open space. That removes all the unnecessary internal walls and opens up the space between interior and the exterior. Frank Lloyd Wright was influenced by the design element of Japanese sliding door that allows to bring the exterior to the interior. The emptiness of spatial arrangement is another idea that reduces everything down to the most essential quality.

The Japanese aesthetic of Wabi values the quality of simple and plain objects. It appreciates the absence of unnecessary features to view life in quietness and reveals the most innate character of materials. For example, the Japanese flora art, also known as Ikebana has the meaning of let flower express itself. People cut off the branches, leaves, and blossoms from the plants and only retain the essential part from the plant. This conveys the idea of essential quality and innate character in nature.

Product Design

  Minimalism is a design trend that started in the 20th century and continues today, most prominently through companies like Apple and various graphic and visual designers. A minimalist design is a design stripped down to only its essential elements.

The unofficial mission statement for minimalist design came from architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe:

Less is more.

Another motto was from designer Buckminster Fuller:

Doing more with less.

There is not much else to add to that, other than reiterating that minimalist design is more of a principle than visual design. It does not matter if you are designing a website, a flyer, a user interface, a piece of hardware, a house, or anything else – you remove the unnecessary and keep only the essential elements.

Naturally, the focus on simplicity also spilled over into consumer products, with designer Dieter Rams (also more on him below) using minimalist design in products for Braun. IKEA, the Swedish furniture company, is another example of minimalist designed consumer products. The furniture is so simple that it is designed for everyday people to be able to assemble with ease, often without even needing instructions due to it being self-explanatory.

In addition, of course, minimalist design carried over naturally into the digital realm, with visual and web designers applying minimalism principles into their own designs and designs for clients. In a minimalist design, every detail has significance. What you choose to leave in is vital.

Knowing the history and key figures of minimalist design is nice and all, but knowledge without action is useless (outside of entertainment purposes, of course). So here are some resources on the right practical approach to minimalist design.

Principles of Minimalist Web Design

 Less is more – use only elements that are necessary for your web design; the end effect is greater than the sum of its parts.

 Omit needless things – don’t include unnecessary elements in your designs; include only what’s necessary to the content and function of your website (including certain design and graphical elements that directly affect readability and usability).

 Subtract until it breaks – remove elements until your design stops working the way it should (stops being user-friendly or stops delivering your intent experience); the point right before that is when you’ve achieved the most minimalist design possible.

 Every detail counts – what you choose to leave in is vital, so think of the feeling you want visitors to have, then include only the details that will create that feeling (funky, modern, clean, sophisticated, and so forth).

 Color minimally – use only the colors that interact well with each other and create the feeling you want visitors to have.

 White space is vital – do not try to fill every space, instead use white space to emphasize certain elements over others.

The Ins and Outs of Minimalist Design – a Design Shack article that looks at key aspects of minimalism in web design and showcases examples from designers who got it right. The key aspects it covers are:

 Typography – choose clean, simple fonts with a high level of readability.

 Strong grid alignments – a readable and pleasing arrangement of content; our eyes are familiar with this pattern, and we want items to line up in a predictable manner.

 Contrast – increased contrast can drastically improve your design’s readability and user-friendliness.

 White space – emphasize where you want viewers to look while making them feel comfortable and less claustrophobic.

Zen and creativity for Business innovation

Zen and Creativity and Innovation

The principles of the Zen can inspire the means to unlock creativity and find freedom in the various dimensions of our existence.

Naturalness, spontaneity, and playfulness are all aspects of the ordinary mind that catches a glimpse of the world of things just as they are. However, as the predominant note on Zen Buddhism is more intellectual. Zen teaches to have a thorough insight into the nature of Mind. Zen the seemingly different pursuits of awakening and creative expression are actually kindred, even twins. Creativity is a nebulous topic that fascinates everyone endlessly.

Zen is an art of self-discovery and awakening which the disciple must experience firsthand. Creativity is the ability to associate seemingly unrelated concepts in your mind; and then combine, branch and recombine them until you get an A-HA moment. This is the manner which new ideas, products, processes, and business models are innovated. Most of us use this method subconsciously, but there is a certain mystery and awe around our creative facilities. This intangible process makes our creative process and emergent outputs seem somewhat unpredictable and serendipitous.

Creativity is a property of consciousness itself. Broadly shared by all schools of thought, which is the unity of nature with human thought. Simply put, in ancient Chinese thought humans and nature are actually the same. All the principles that apply to nature could also apply to man. Thus, humanity could experience the process of the development of the universe, just as could the universe itself, or every other being in the universe.

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 leadership competency of the future. Yet it is not just about sustaining nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care.

Koan and Creativity

Suzuki roshi emphasized simple daily zazen practice and ordinary everyday living. Zen Buddhists may practice koan inquiry during sitting meditation (zazen), walking meditation (kinhin), and throughout all the activities of daily life. Koan practice is particularly emphasized by the Japanese Rinzai school, but it also occurs in other schools or branches of Zen depending on the teaching line. A koan is a story or dialogue, generally related to Zen or other Buddhist history; the most typical form is an anecdote involving early Chinese Zen masters. These anecdotes involving famous Zen teachers are a practical demonstration of their wisdom, and can be used to test a student’s progress in Zen practice. Koans often appear to be paradoxical or linguistically meaningless dialogues or questions. However, to Zen Buddhists the koan is the place, the time, and the event where truth reveals itself unobstructed by the oppositions and differentiations of language. Answering a koan requires a student to let go of conceptual thinking and of the logical way, we order the world, so that like creativity in art, the appropriate insight and response arises naturally and spontaneously in the mind. Koans and their study developed in China within the context of the open questions and answers of teaching sessions conducted by the Chinese Zen masters. There are also various commentaries on koans, written by experienced teachers that can serve as a guide. Koans are not scripture in any traditional sense. Bodhidharma said that Zen is without doctrine, without words either written or spoken. Koans, like meditation, are thought of as road signs in these traditions.

The ancient masters devised a way to explain Zen using ox-herding pictograms, which represent ten stages of self-discovery. The ox represents the mind or the self, ego, or pre-conditioned responses. The ox herder is the practitioner attempting to understand his or her nature and, therefore, his or her mind. Throughout the series, these two entities slowly merge until they eventually become one with each other. All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.

Zen inspires our creative soul. To practice “Zazen” is to see into one’s “own nature”, which is from the very beginning, pure and calm, and every being in the world has it.

Creative thinking requires focusing on a problem followed by defocusing, i.e. relaxing and letting the mind wander on its own, creating opportunities for sudden insights to occur. The soul of creativity arises from an undivided mind.

Zen is a great way of relaxing the mind and body. The quieter you become, the more you can hear. Zen is a very creative experience. The wise practice the six virtues of perfection to get rid of confused thoughts, and yet there is no specific consciousness on their part that they are engaged in any meritorious deeds. Obey the nature of things, and you are in concord with the Way. The rare invaluable gem is never impaired however much one uses it. Moving in the direction of your dreams, furthering the life you would love to create. Zen teaches to have a thorough insight into the nature of Mind. The only way to grasp higher order happiness (emptying mind) is through a calm and settled mind. When you see into your own nature, you know who you are, you know what, and how everything and being in the world really is. From this, your action and reaction will be in harmony with the whole and in situations around you.

The Six Glorious Virtues of Zen Buddhism

Every great religion contains precepts or exhortations toward a better life. In Buddhism, the Paramitas are a set of “Virtues” describing qualities of thought and action, which, if made a part of one’s life, will reveal the mysteries of the universe and of man. It has also been said that their practice by the sincere aspirant will lead ultimately to complete higher order happiness.

I. Charity — the key of charity and love immortal;

II. Uprightness — the key of harmony in word and act;

III. Forbearance — patience sweet, that nought can ruffle;

IV. Dispassion — indifference to pleasure and to pain;

V. Dauntlessness — the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal truth;

VI. Contemplation — the open doorway to truth. It is only when a system or code helps us to channel our aspirations that it becomes a bridge to a fuller comprehension of existence

Creativity is strongly linked to receptiveness to life and what it has to offer us. It means being open to what is true, about ourselves and about others. Creativity flourishes when the truth about things is admitted to oneself.

Koans and mondos are used to exhaust and disable the analytical mind, paving the way for (existential) insight. Zen is an authentic religious experience. Its authenticity is in its inspiring conscious creativity in human beings. Harmony begins with trust and a positive view of human nature. Harmony is enhanced by practicing a non-judgmental attitude towards others they only contemplate their own words and deeds. The human need to explore, discover, decorate, dominate, conquer, protect, invent, tell stories and make magic goes all the way back to our origin as a species. Zen inspires being Natural, that is examining dispassionately various phenomena in life and drawing indisputable conclusions. It pays attention to very accurate and precise details, and portrays things as they are. It is believed that we cannot create adequately from the control and illusion of the mind.

Both Zen and innovation:

I. involve exploration and discovery

II. Uncover latent possibilities

III. Strive for a breakthrough


Business Innovation

Innovation is driven not just by the need for business growth or market dominance, but also by the imagination, creativity, and ingenuity of the human mind. Whatever learning there may be in Zen, it comes from our own mind. The future demands the whole brain- integrating the left-brain with the creative and intuitive modalities of our right brain. Cultivating mindfulness will help you to innovate and enjoy life more. Focusing on one task at a time, putting yourself fully into that task, is much more effective than multi-tasking.

Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas, where an idea is understood as a basic element of thought that can be visual, concrete, or abstract.

Ideation is all stages of a thought cycle, from innovation, to development, to actualization. As such, it is an essential part of the design process, both in education and practice. Creativity and innovation based on the power of our subconscious. Our subconscious mind is constantly processing the ideas and stimuli received consciously. A useful technique is to work on a problem before going to sleep, allowing the subconscious to take over. Review any ideas when you awake, and make sure you have a pad and pen by your bed to record the ideas.

Focusing on one real objective at a time is also more effective. Focusing on what you are doing right now is highly effective. You are more productive and innovative when you are mindful. Insight is preceded by, but is not the result of, logical effort. It comes suddenly out of “nowhere” and with a feeling of absolute certainty. Nowhere is the creative mind associated with the right hemisphere of the brain. A person, who never has time to think, may turn into a thoughtless person. Likewise, an organization that does not have time to think may turn into a thoughtless organization. Society is moving out of the Information Age, dominated by ‘left brain’ analytic modes of thinking. The future demands our ‘whole brain’, integrating the holistic, visual & symbolic, synchronistic and intuitive modalities of our ‘right brain’. We need to activate the power of your imagination and intuition.

A synergy of techniques, including meditation, drawing, improvisation and visualization teach us to expand beyond the boundaries of our habitual awareness. Words (affirmations) and images (visualizations) affect your mind and body. We cultivate holistic,
intuitive and ‘super-conscious’ capacities that utilize the full spectrum of human potential.

It has well known by now that we only use 10% of our minds, and the other 90% is the unconscious portion. Creative imagination allows people to tap into this unconscious portion of their minds and harness its potential power. Imagine more creative space in your mind and in your workspace. No matter how compelling the two-dimensional image will never measure up to the molecular resolution of physical holographic reality. Finding your voice is your key to the realm of infinite creativity.

Missing link between success and happiness was lack of awareness of one’s “inner self”. To achieve sustainable peak performance, learn to transform your motivation from fear of losing to joy of action. Cultivating a deeper awareness of one’s self can be learned like any other skill through practice.

True inspiration for inspiration is not physically measurable, nor tangible in any concrete way.

Innovation Capacity =

  Preferences + Innovative Work Behaviors + Innovation Practices

Innovation and growth is not just about products or solutions – it is about creating a transformational change in the way people live, work, and play. Zen leads the transformation.