I've worked with Keith Grint off and on for over a decade now. Keith was asked to support us through the Leeds Castle Leadership programme and over the course of several cohorts I was able to hear his thinking, explore it with him and see how it developed.

At its most simple level, Keith introduces the ideas of critical problems that require command, tame problems that need management and wicked problems that are about leadership. Here he draws on Rittell and Weber and articulates with clarity how different situations require different approaches. This strikes an immediate chord with most audiences who can see clearly the difference between the authority and power of a uniformed commander in a crisis and the diffuse and confusing sources of power in the circumstances of prolonged social change.

If Keith stopped there he would have added much of value and for many this is the key thing they take from him. However, he then takes us more towards complexity by examining how we determine what sort of problem we are looking at. We construct problems as we like to solve them. There is no clean and absolute definition. This subjectivity leads us to the necessity of working on the complex collectively if we are to make sufficient sense to progress.

(Image, with thanks to Keith Grint)

That then takes us into the work of Mary Douglas and cultural theory. The interplay of different values and social groupings leads to what have become termed clumsy solutions. Clumsy solutions require what Keith terms 'bricolage', the french word that points to an advanced process of DIY, the art of the skilled jobbing builder.

This challenges the notion that change and leadership can be pre-planned, rolled-out, delivered or otherwise done to people. It is about asking the right questions, not seeking the right answers. In complex situations, the question becomes 'what is it that we might create together?', not 'how will we deliver the plan?'

In the art of formulating the question together we begin our process of change. There are few things as potent as a damn good question.


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