i’m not lost, i’m wondering

I first heard the expression “there are no straight lines in nature” sometime in the mid- to late-90s, and it immediately struck a chord. I was, at the time, neck deep in learning about the then new (to me at least) science of complexity. I later discovered a more complete version of this sentiment, attributed to Buckminster Fuller:

Everything you’ve learned in school as ‘obvious’ becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.

Another quote from a very different author has long resonated with me as well:

Not all who wander are lost.

I have, over time, adapted and adopted it as a bit of a personal motto:

i’m not lost, i’m wondering.

And my mind wonders quite a bit. But there are a few attractors that keep pulling me in to explore, including:

  • Variations on a theme: Everything is just a variation of everything else, we just use different words for them. Informed in large part by work of Hofstadter and Sander in their book Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking.
  • Rules: From the making of rules to the breaking of rules and everything in between. Rules get a bad rap, most often seen as a limit on creativity and action. I see them otherwise, as the basis on which creativity and action are built. At least the good ones.
  • Everything you know is wrong: As the saying goes, “all models (maps?) are wrong, but some are useful”. I’ve most often heard this used in the context of actual models or maps, things explicitly identified as such. But much of what counts for “facts” or “knowledge” these days are really nothing more than models. And they are, in the same way, wrong but useful. Way points on the journey to ever more “right” models. (For those who prefer something less dramatic, you can look at this one as “Everything you know is subject to change.”)
  • Layers of abstraction: The story of progress is one of abstraction, of increased convenience, and the taming of novel experience into the everyday. (Related to the idea that everything you know is wrong, but sufficiently different to warrant being examined separately.) This is not in and of itself bad, but the more we commoditize our thinking – the more we are on auto-pilot – the more abstracted we are from an understanding of where our beliefs come from, and the harder it is to understand where others are coming from.
  • Debt and Progress: When people think or talk about debt it is usually in the context of financial debt, the borrowing of money against the future to pay for something today. But there are other forms of debt, the one that most readily comes to mind is the concept of “technical debt” from the world of software development. Others that I am exploring include social and cultural debt.
  • Disruption (Disruptors and the Disrupted): Is disruption a goal, or is it the means to achieve a goal. How many disruptors are actually interested in providing something of value to their “customers”, and how many disruptors are simply pandering to the crowd to enrich themselves. Are the disrupted ever better off?
  • Thinking in bits (not atoms): The early days of “digital” was all about adapting things and services into bits, but still thinking in the physical context in which those things and services originally came about. Who am I kidding, the “early days”? This is still how most people think about and implement “digital”.

Except for the last one, thinking in bits, I think that there are elements of each of these attractors in just about any narrative you look at, be it politics, business, or whatever. The more I wonder through different domains of knowledge, the more I believe that if we can develop a deep understanding of one thing, we are well on our way to being able to understanding everything.

Even if that understanding is ultimately wrong (or, at the very least, subject to change).

STLX Remote Worker’s Workshop

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutting down of basically everything (and, of course, a desire to keep everyone safe and healthy), we had to cancel the STLX event we had scheduled as part of Global Service Jam. And as many of us have seen, our work has become suddenly remote, with no real idea of when this may end.

Remote work, especially in the experience and service design fields, presents some unique challenges, so we pulled together a “Remote Worker’s Workshop” to share insights and experience, as well as some ideas for how to best thrive in what looks to be a new normal (at least for a little while. In three sessions presented by STLX members (thank you everyone who put something together for this!), we talked about the various aspects of successful remote XD work.

Remote work – the basics

When it comes down to it, the work you need to do is basically the same whether you are in the office or remote. But, as the saying goes, context matters and your physical environment plays a big part in the context of your daily activities. In this session we will share tips for creating your own personal work context and take your questions and suggestions based on your own experience. Featured Speakers: Ken Moire of Spry Digital and G. Brett Miller of DSA, Inc.

Communicating and sharing while Remote

The key to successful remote and distributed work is the concept of working out loud, also known as observable work. Depending on how “out loud” your company works at the office, the transition from in-person to remote work may require anything from a radical change (if you rely on a lot of face to face communication and share files on local network drives) or not much of a change (if you are already working out loud by using digital tools for your communication and sharing). Either way, this session will help you make sure that you and your team(s) have the capabilities you need to work out loud and be successful while working remotely. Speakers: Martha Valenta of 1904 labs & Brian Schwartz of Centric Consulting

Stay organized and think visually

The first two sessions provided insight into the where and the how of successful remote work. This final session gets to the heart of remote work, namely the work itself. In this session we will look at how you can keep your team(s) organized and on task and discuss some of the tools you can use in support of your design & research work. Speakers: Nathan Lucy of Booz Allen Hamilton and Holly Schroeder of STLX

We hope these sessions are helpful for you in the coming weeks (months? years?) as we all figure out how to make this all work.

Design Thinking misses a fourth circle. Ikigai comes to the rescue.

Sustainable Design Thinking inspired by the Ikigai Source : complexus.fr and @maga-lik
Sustainable Design Thinking inspired by the Ikigai Source : complexus.fr and @maga-lik

That being said, I’m here to argue that without integrating the needs of our ecological and social fabric, design thinking is obsolete. Not only does it generate less value, it also directly contradicts the “human-centered approach” that IDEO claims since its beginnings in 1978. I will go as far as saying that Tim Brown himself, consciously or not, knows it.

FXPasquier – Design Thinking misses a fourth circle. Ikigai comes to the rescue.

Understanding complexity: A prerequisite for sustainable design

The sciences of complexity are a variety of process-oriented areas of research exploring non- linear dynamics within complex systems. As I have mentioned before, the simplest definition for a complex system is any system with more than three interacting variables. Complexity is thus a common feature of the world we inhabit.

Daniel Christian Wahl – Understanding complexity: A prerequisite for sustainable design