Center for Technology and Innovation Management (CTIM)

Wicked Innovation Management

This working group includes a series of forums with associated events and task forces devoted to discussion of examples of Wicked Innovation Problems. Beginning in 2015 with a generous gift from David Paul, we also coordinate an annual  competition in which multi-disciplinary student teams with faculty mentors apply a systematic methodology (developed by Paul) for a first-cut analysis of potential solutions to critical complex global problems.

Wicked problems

"Wicked problems" are distinguished by having a high level of complexity, ambiguity and even volatility (often with limited data to support analysis and decision-making), change-resistant legacies, and multiple stakeholders with widely-varying agendas. Solutions must deeply consider contexts. Wicked problems tend to be highly interconnected and it is often difficult to determine where to begin to address a problem, how to measure progress and when the problem is "solved." Remediation efforts may reveal and exacerbate other problems; still urgent attention is required. Management of such problems also has significant organizational implications.


Forums focus on new energy (FINE) and health (FICH), as well as three cross-cutting ones on smart systemsstandards management and education; and evolution of an industry-academic "super journal." The forums draw participants from across Northwestern, other schools as well as industry.

They approach the domains from broadly multi-disciplinary perspectives and apply specially adapted analytic and planning tools including:

  • Modeling
  • Scenario planning (challenging assumptions and pushing consideration of a range of possible futures)
  • Mindmapping (exploring complex interrelationships)
  • Roadmapping (laying out goals and sequences of steps to achieve them over time with associated risks and resource requirements)

Particular attention is paid to ongoing innovation focused corporate and Industry Roadmapping. Industry Roadmapping, carried out on a regular basis in a growing number of sectors, establishes a baseline of "best" current thinking and practice. It helps build consensus on industry directions and standards, highlights critical gaps and potential paths to address them, establishes future milestones, and stimulates collaboration across key industry stakeholders and suppliers. Resulting roadmaps influence local, national and even global policies. Although specialized roadmaps exist in the FINE, FICH and Standards targeted areas, they generally fail to account for the "wicked' issues and have gaps that the Forums hope to address on a complementary basis.


The group is intentionally highly cross-disciplinary with participants (including faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and advanced graduate students) coming from Law, McCormick, Feinberg. Weinberg (from Political Science to Art) and Medill, along with industry representatives. Programs frequently include faculty from other schools and guest speakers and while many are on the Northwestern campus, others take place elsewhere including in international locations. An important output of group activity is the development of related teaching materials including, particularly exercises and simulations. Many are test applied in undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education courses offered by group leaders and members.

Northwestern Impossible Challenge (NIC) Student competition

This annual competition is enabled by a generous gift from David Paul. Each year will target a different problem. The first year focus is on climate change/global warming and is implemented in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 47 students are working in 9 teams with Yip-Wah Chung, Jay Goldstein, Peggy Kepuraitis Matson, Christopher Riesbeck and Mark Werwath serving as faculty mentors. For more information, see: