Why You Need To Know if You’re In a Wicked Industry

Why You Need To Know if You’re In a Wicked Industry

Introducing Wicked Industries


Working in wicked industryDo you work in an industry where there is a high level of ambiguity; where deadlines are often moved, and at last minute. An industry where clients can be demanding, and often don’t even understand what you do for them so you’ve got all the issues of communicating the worth of your work on top of doing it? If so you might well be working in a wicked industry.

Wicked Problems and Wicked Industries

Whilst Wicked Industries may sound like something you might find on Breaking Bad, it is my own term. It was inspired by Wicked Problems – something I first came across when I was doing my Business Psychology masters. During my dissertation I found the term wicked problems. I loved its edginess. People’s ears always pricked up whenever I used the term.

Wicked problems are problems that cannot be solved, and that are always moving. In fact if you do solve part of the problem, that solution is quite likely to cause more problems elsewhere. Climate change is a wicked problem, as is homelessness and world poverty. My own findings were that the people who flourished working with Wicked Problems were those that could cope with living with high levels of ambiguity.

What Are Wicked Industries?

It was only a year later that I started to think, if we can have wicked problems, then why not wicked industries? Again, these industries aren’t evil or out to cause damage and destruction. What they do have in common is that they have:

  • High levels of ambiguity and an expected speedy response to events
  • Despite paying the bill, clients often don’t understand what you are doing for them and so there is a barrier between you and then
  • Deadlines that can change when you least expect it
  • Peaks and troughs of stress, including times of very high stress

PR as a Wicked Industry

wicked industry My background before psychology was PR. I ran my own agency for years and then specialised as a PR and marketing coach helping small businesses understand how to use PR. The PR workplace is a perfect example of a wicked industry –  you are juggling press deadlines with client deadlines; clients want you to get press placement and publicity but may not understand how you do that. At the end of a week you’ve put blood sweat and tears into getting on the phone and selling their latest gadget into press and yet all they are seeing is that no one has picked it up yet.  This can not only cause misunderstandings, but also a long-term environment of constant low level stress.

I work with three main Wicked Industries – PR, media and tech – and I often see that the very things that drew people to these type of jobs are the ones that wear them down in the end. The long term results are a loss of motivation, high staff turnover, a feeling of disenchantment, living with stress and even mental illness.

Of course, this isn’t true for everyone. Some people thrive and love the pressure, the drama, the stress. But, not everyone.

The Practical Tips For Working in Wicked Industries

So, what can you do if you work in a wicked industry and are feeling that it’s taking its toll on you?

A friend of mine has a son who has just done the Cambridge University entrance exam and interview in Maths. One of the questions they gave him was insolvable and after a few minutes he handed it back and said so. This was the test and he had passed.

Like the maths puzzle, the problems of wicked industries aren’t really solvable. By their very nature these industries will have constant deadlines, clients that want the earth and high levels of stress for their participants. Recognising that you are in an industry like this is the test. If you recognise that you do work in a wicked industry you then have a choice. Do you leave and move to something less ambiguous or less driven? To be honest, for most of us, these are the sort of things that attracted us in the first place! However, people change and these qualities may not be working for you any more.

The other approach is to think about dealing with the elements of these industries – looking at your own responses, building resilience, recognising what causes you stress and how you can mitigate it. Of course, this is what I do with my clients in those industries, and it is different from person to person. In the meantime, just recongising if you’re in one of these may produce a paradigm shift that helps you cope better with what’s going on on around you.

If you would like to set up a call to talk about workplace coaching, please contact us here.

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