A wicked problem is one that is so complex that no single, clear pathway forward can be identified as clearly correct. They tend to have multiple partial solutions, the appropriateness of which will depend on your viewpoint and individual goals and preferences, and they tend to bog down in political kerfluffles. Examples include the war on drugs, curing malaria, many aspects of public education, immigration, and pretty much anything having to do with governing fairly (if it wasn't a messy problem, it wouldn't be an issue, now would it?).
A super wicked problem is worse. It is a wicked problem that is additionally:
- Time sensitive.
- Has no central authority or governing body that is responsible for correcting it.
- Is caused by the same people who are working to fix it.
- Has greater effects in the future than in the present.
Examples include (depending on your viewpoint), global warming, ocean acidification, peak oil, AI safety, and, on a personal level, your diet and exercise routine.
While it appears that the primary development of the phrase was to refer to global warming, it is useful to remember that these four additional criteria are often present, individually or collectively, in many problems that are otherwise simply wicked. Perhaps it is time to coin the term "suprawicked problem" to refer to those that do not meet all four of these criteria, but do meet at least one.
Brevity Quest 2016