Is it Possible to Solve the Unsolvable Problem?

Posted October 22, 2013 in Public

Is it possible to solve the unsolvable problem?  The Wege Foundation believes it is, and they are putting their money on Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) to help do it.

Take environmental degradation. It’s a problem that encompasses many different layers of the world, affecting human health, the balance of ecosystems, the growth of cities, the practices of industry, and the development of economies.

Because the problem concerns psychology, sociology, economics, business, and science, a single answer that comes from a single area doesn’t help. The environmental scientist has a view of the problem and a solution. The economist has a view of the problem and a different solution. And the psychologist has a view of the problem and yet another solution. While each solution may be innovative in its own right, they are all just partial answers, limited by the narrow perspective of an individual problem-solver.

“Wicked” problems are complex issues that, like environmental degradation, often create other problems when we try to solve them. Stop using non-renewable energy and our economy grinds to a halt. Slow the economy and the physical and mental well being of the country suffers. With these issues healthcare costs rise, and the solution provided for one problem gives rise to a host of others.

But what if every field that informs the problem could collaborate to find a solution? Chances are high that by addressing the problem from multiple perspectives and satisfying multiple needs, collaborators would get closer to a solution that inspires hope for real success.

Design thinking offers this approach using a messy process of brainstorming and the rapid prototyping of answers to try out the possibilities and narrow ideas to the solution that will work best at the moment.

The importance of a multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach to solving real world problems is the basis for the new bachelor of fine arts in Collaborative Design at KCAD, and the reason the Wege Foundation has partnered with KCAD to create the first annual Wege Prize.

The Wege Prize is a new collegiate competition for teams of five students from five different areas of study to tackle a wicked problem and attempt to solve it using design thinking. The best solution will earn each member of the winning team a $3000 scholarship, and each member of the second and third place teams $2000 and $1000 scholarships, respectively.

“The Wege Foundation trustees approved this gift due to its collaborative nature and believes that if the students keep the six E’s of Economicology (Education, Environment, Empathy, Ecology, Economy, and Ethics) in mind the results will be an inspiration to all,” said Wege Foundation CEO Ellen Satterlee.

“Design thinking is the future, and in order for us to build a better future, KCAD needs to help others understand how collaboration and design thinking function as tools for problem solving,” said KCAD President David Rosen. “We will begin by implementing this competition on a regional level, moving to a national level in year two and an international level in year three. What’s exciting is that the Wege Prize gives us a way to begin educating people about how to apply these principles to solve any problem, on any scale, anywhere in the world.”

The solutions generated by Wege Prize are not guaranteed to change the world, but the competition embraces the possibility that they could. What can be assured is that practicing collaboration using the perspective of multiple disciplines and the methodology of design thinking will prepare participants for a future when such skills will be required.

The rules and call for teams to participate will be announced shortly. Stay tuned.

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