• Paul Barnett

Undaunted: How Successful leaders face up to wicked problems and avoid preventable surprises

Updated: Jan 4


This is the focus of a new one-day workshop by Be-Advisory. It has evolved from research for a a paper to be presented at a conference organised by Warwick CG’s executive doctoral candidates of business administration at the University of Warwick, Warwick Business School (UK), the conference explored Reframing Impact: Driving Change Under Wicked Conditions.


The paper and presentation explored how successful leaders facing wicked problems, unpredictable surprises or Black Swan events remained undaunted. How they distinguish between situations within their control and those beyond their control. And how they manage for resilience on the one hand and a state of preparedness on the other, so they are ready to respond decisively. They know the best solution is usually to innovate out of a crisis. Equally, they look for the opportunities that often accompany a crisis. And a focus on customer-value creation guides all their strategic thinking and choices at all times.


These are the insights I identified having read a number of cases, and during the developmental work he has been doing for a research-based initiative exploring Predictable Surprises and How to Prevent Them, to be launched by the Strategic Management Forum in the spring of 2020.


During the time I have been working on this presentation, Andy Wilkins, Co-Founder of BE Advisory, was chairing a number of conferences on the topic of customer experience (CX), and how the discipline needs to evolve. Over and over he was hearing the same message from senior executives in corporations, the focus of CX is rarely customer value creation. It is value extraction from customers, to maximise the company’s “share of wallet” from each customer. In other words, how to cross-sell, up-sell and use every means possible to extract as much value from each customer. Too often that is what businesses really mean when they say they are customer focused.


The CX executives Andy was engaging with know this approach is short-sighted and wrong. They know customer value creation is the way to earn and keep a customer, and profits are a by-product. But they told him boards, and too often CEOs, “don’t get it”. Their short-sightedness often ends in a crisis of their own making. Customer value focused challengers enter the market and disrupt the industry. Increasingly they are Amazon-like platform businesses - operators of customer value creation systems, both within and beyond their own operations.


Businesses face some genuinely wicked problems – problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are difficult to recognise – but, most of the problems businesses face are self-inflicted, and the damage they cause leaves them unprepared to face the genuinely wicked problems when they must.

On the other hand, successful leaders stay customer focused to avoid self-inflicted problems. They also prepare to deal with wicked problems when they arise. And look for the opportunities to become disruptors themselves. They also remain undaunted.


During the one-day course Andy and I will share the practical insights we have identified. And we will introduce new ways of thinking, new methods and new tools. Each are the approaches successful leaders use to remain undaunted by the challenges that more and more business leaders find overwhelming. Download the brochure PDF