Steve Blank: ‘Lean’ Meets ‘Wicked’ Problems

Steve Blank, center, with students from the Wicked Entrepreneurship class at Imperial College Business School in London

I just spent a month and a half at Imperial College London co-teaching a Wicked Entrepreneurship class. In this case “wicked” doesn’t mean morally evil, but refers to really complex problems, ones with multiple moving parts, where the solution isn’t obvious. (Understanding and solving homelessness, disinformation, climate change mitigation, or an insurgency are examples of wicked problems. Companies also face wicked problems; in contrast, designing AI-driven enterprise software or building dating apps are comparatively simple problems.)

I’ve known Professor Cristobal Garcia since 2010 when he hosted my first visit to Catholic University in Santiago of Chile and to southern Patagonia. Now at Imperial College Business School and co-founder of the Wicked Acceleration Labs, Cristobal and I wondered if we could combine the tenets of Lean — get out of the building, build MVPs, run experiments, move with speed and urgency — with the expanded toolset developed by researchers who work on wicked problems and systems thinking.

Our goal was to see if we could get students to stop admiring problems and work rapidly on solving them. As “Wicked” and “Lean” seem to be mutually exclusive, this was a pretty audacious undertaking. This five-week class was going to be our MVP.

Here’s what happened.


Professor Garcia scoured the world to find eight wicked/complex problems for students to work on. He presented to organizations in the Netherlands, Chile, Spain, the UK (Ministry of Defense and the BBC), and aerospace companies. The end result was a truly ambitious, unique, and international set of curated wicked problems.

  • Increasing security and prosperity amid the Mapuche conflict in Araucania region of Chile
  • Enabling and accelerating a green hydrogen economy
  • Turning the Basque Country in Spain into an AI hub
  • Solving Disinformation/Information Pollution for the BBC
  • Creating blue carbon projects for the UK Ministry of Defense
  • Improving patient outcomes for Ukrainian battlefield injuries
  • Imagining the future of a low-earth-orbit space economy
  • Creating a modular architecture for future UK defense ships


With the problems in hand, we set about recruiting students from the design and engineering programs at both Imperial College Business School and the Royal College of Art.

We held an information session explaining the problems and the unique parts of the class. We were going to share with them a “Swiss Army knife” of traditional tools to understand wicked/complex problems, but they were not going to research these problems in the library. Instead, using the elements of Lean methodology, they were going to get out of the building and observe the problems first-hand. And instead of passively observing them, they were going to build and test MVPs.

All in six weeks.

Fifty students signed up to work on the eight problems with different degrees of “wickedness.”

See the next page for a week-by-week breakdown of the Wicked Entrepreneurship class.

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