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Embracing Embarrassment, Condemning the Cover-Up

Operational Design & Wicked Problems

Dr. David Alkaher


In the face of rapid and existential changes, individuals, organizations, and corporations rely on strategies to navigate these challenges. However, when adversity strikes, potentially leading to embarrassment and diverting us from our desired goals, it becomes evident that our mindset is trapped within a prevailing misconception. This phenomenon can be described as an "offset," representing the gap between how we perceive reality and its actual state. Embracing embarrassment, rather than covering it up, becomes the catalyst for acknowledging the need for clarity and fostering fresh perspectives. An operational design is the systematic process that aims to bridge the offset between our perception of reality and its actual nature. It serves as a structured framework for embarking on a transformative journey toward clarity, enabling us to reevaluate and reshape our conceptual framework. This journey equips us with the tools to cultivate new and more effective strategies, ultimately revealing pathways to effectively address complex and wicked problems.

Operational Design

The Journey Towards Clarity

Imagine embarking on a quest with a mythical artifact as your ultimate goal. In this extraordinary journey, you find yourself in a dense and mysterious forest. Your mission is to navigate through this intricate woodland, not merely to observe the trees, but to understand the entire ecosystem, all in pursuit of the legendary "Scepter of Clarity."

As you venture deeper into the forest, you immerse yourself in the heart of the challenge. It's not about glimpsing the surface; it's about peeling back layers to uncover the true essence of the problem—the location of the hidden scepter. You employ tools akin to a compass that helps you find your way (root cause analysis) and a magnifying glass that reveals hidden details ('5 Whys'). But you're not alone on this quest. Fellow explorers join you, each bringing their unique perspectives to the expedition. Together, you create a dynamic map, always ready to adjust as new parts of the forest are unveiled. Your ultimate goal: to understand the forest so thoroughly that you can navigate it with ease and find the Scepter of Clarity.

Operational Design

As your journey continues, you stumble upon a mysterious portal that transports you through time. You find yourself in a medieval village, where you serve as both a historian and a time traveler from the future. This is our second phase. The villagers share their stories of the past, and you meticulously analyze ancient scrolls to uncover clues about the scepter's history. Your mission now is to bridge the gap between their world and yours to learn more about the Scepter of Clarity and where it might be hidden, seeking the clarity that has eluded many.

Operational Design

With your newfound knowledge, you step into a bustling marketplace in a city that never sleeps. The stalls are filled with a diverse array of goods, and you're not just a shopper; you're an inventor. This represents our third phase. The marketplace mirrors the constantly changing world, where each shift reveals new opportunities and threats to your quest. Like a master chef concocting new recipes with unusual ingredients, you brainstorm innovative solutions and gather resources. As you explore, you assess the value of each discovery, weighing the pros and cons, and strategically choosing what to invest in to aid your quest for the Scepter of Clarity.

Operational Design

Finally, your journey leads you to a battlefield where you assume the role of a general leading your troops to victory. This marks the fourth and final phase. You've gathered intelligence and resources, and it's time to act. Just like a chess grandmaster predicting moves, you anticipate obstacles and have a well-thought-out battle plan to secure the Scepter of Clarity. Your troops are ready, and you execute your plan with precision. However, it's not a rigid plan; it's flexible. You adjust as the battlefield changes, akin to a dance of strategy and adaptation. Continuous monitoring is your watchword, tracking progress and making necessary adjustments, committed to securing the ultimate prize—the Scepter of Clarity.

Operational Design

In the end, this imaginative quest through our problem-solving adventure leaves you not just as an explorer but as a seasoned problem-solver who has successfully navigated the complex yet simplified quest for the legendary Scepter of Clarity. You understand that it's not merely about recognizing problems; it's about diving deep, embracing change, and crafting effective strategies for success, all within the framework of this captivating journey to obtain the mythical artifact.

The mythical artifact, in this context, serves as a metaphor for a complex problem or challenge that requires a structured approach to understand and solve. Just as the quest for the mythical artifact represents a journey filled with obstacles and unknowns, tackling a complex problem can be similarly daunting. The artifact symbolizes the ultimate goal of gaining clarity and finding effective solutions, mirroring the real-world objective of resolving complex issues through the four-step Operational Design model.

The 4 Step Operational Design Framework

Welcome to our exploration of Operational Design, a strategic approach integral to solving complex problems in diverse fields like business, technology, or organizational development. This methodology, a game-changer in its own right, enables us to navigate through complexities and find effective solutions. Operational Design can be envisioned as a symphony with four movements, each vital in harmonizing our approach to complex challenges. These steps collectively forge a comprehensive pathway for problem-solving.

Step 1 - Initiation of Learning and Construction

In this foundational step, we immerse ourselves in the problem, gather all relevant information, and understand the issue from multiple perspectives. It emphasizes constructing a new understanding of the strategic context to formulate a relevant strategy.

We embark on this journey by initiating learning and construction. It's about deeply comprehending the problem's depth and implications, not just identifying it. In our quest to understand the problem, we delve deeper, employing structured techniques like root cause analysis and the '5 Whys' to precisely define our challenge's core. This step goes beyond mere problem statement; it involves peeling back layers to discover the true root causes, ensuring our approach is targeted and effective from the outset. As we navigate this step, engaging diverse stakeholders becomes crucial. Their unique insights and perspectives help us view the problem from various angles, painting a complete picture and anticipating different needs and challenges. Following this, we formulate a clear and concise problem statement. This statement, however, remains flexible, adapting as new information emerges and our understanding evolves, keeping our strategy relevant and dynamic.

Step 2 - Identification of Relevance Gap and Obtaining the Historical Shift

Having established a deep understanding of the problem, we now move to Step 2 - Identification of Relevance Gap and Obtaining the Historical Shift. This phase focuses on identifying the gap between current perceptions and the evolving reality. It involves analyzing historical data and trends to understand how the problem has changed over time, enabling the formulation of a new approach that better fits the evolving context.

The next step requires us to recognize the discrepancies between our current understanding and the evolving reality. We analyze historical data to decipher past trends and decisions, gaining insights that guide us towards more informed strategies. This step is pivotal in adjusting our perspectives, aligning our views with present and future realities, and embracing new paradigms suitable for our evolving situation.

Step 3 - Potential for Change

With our understanding of the problem's evolution in place, we proceed to Step 3 - Potential for Change. Here, the emphasis is on recognizing opportunities or threats that can be leveraged or addressed to advance the organization's interests. This step involves brainstorming innovative solutions, assessing their feasibility and impact, and prioritizing actions based on their effectiveness and alignment with goals.

As we enter the third step, the potential for change comes into focus. In a constantly evolving world, each shift uncovers new opportunities and threats. Identifying these potentials allows us to craft proactive strategies that shape the future. This step is where creativity in solution-finding comes alive, brainstorming innovative approaches and exploring all possibilities. We then bring a lens of realism to these ideas, assessing their feasibility and impact, and strategically choosing actions that align with our resources and goals. This process of prioritization is about balancing urgency, importance, and practicality to create an ambitious yet achievable action plan.

Step 4 - Strategy - Counteraction - Campaign

The final step, Step 4 - Strategy - Counteraction - Campaign, is about formulating a detailed strategy and developing an operational plan for its implementation. This includes anticipating potential obstacles, devising contingency plans, and ensuring the strategy is robust against unforeseen challenges. The focus is on translating insights into actionable steps in a cohesive campaign to effectively address the problem.

In this step, we set our priorities and delve into developing a detailed strategy, outlining specific tactics, timelines, and responsibilities. Anticipating obstacles is key, as we identify potential challenges and devise contingency plans, ensuring our strategy is not only ambitious but also resilient and robust against unforeseen challenges. Implementing this strategy is where planning meets action, executing it with precision and aligning efforts with our goals. As the strategy unfolds, continuous monitoring becomes essential, tracking progress and making necessary adjustments, a commitment to learning and evolving to ensure our approach's effectiveness and responsiveness.

Operational Design


This presented model has outlined the four critical steps of Operational Design, emphasizing their interconnectedness and the importance of a structured approach to problem-solving. The journey from understanding the problem's depth to crafting and executing a robust strategy is essential for tackling complex challenges effectively. As we move forward, the principles of Operational Design will guide us in applying these steps to real-world problems, ensuring our approach remains relevant, dynamic, and responsive. Operational Design stands as a powerful methodology, enabling us to navigate complexities and find practical solutions in an ever-evolving landscape.

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