On Elephants and Alligators

October 22, 2010

I have very much enjoyed the opportunity to blog with you here for the past two weeks. If you are interested, you can read more about my work here. In this, my last post for this blog series, I want to return again to the theme of parallel evolution in theory and practice across many formal disciplines.

Yet another area where striking similarities can be found to Cognitive Edge is in the area of Design Thinking. My thoughts go first to Buchahan’s 1992 paper on design thinking where he asserts, “Without integrative disciplines of understanding, communication, and action, there is little hope of sensibly extending knowledge beyond the library or laboratory in order to serve the purpose of enriching human life” [1].

Design Thinking, as I understand it, is the study and practice of the nature of design. Its primary object of study is the thinking professionals designers engage in, abstracted away from their object of design, be it a building or box. The idea behind this study is to support a better understanding of what is behind the ability to design.
Buchanan’s formulation of design thinking stresses the following key elements:

1Symbolic and Visual Communication
2Design of Material Objects
3Activities and Organised Services
4Design of Complex Systems/Environments for Living, Playing, or Learning

Here we see parallels with Cognitive Edge methods, which, without question, are heavily invested in points 1, 3, and 4.

Similar to dynamics found in the Complex space of the Cynefin Framework (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin), Design Thinking stresses prototyping, short iterations, and experimentation to arrive at a “solution”. I quote the solution here because in design, while there is good design and bad design, there is not single best solution in the sense of Mathematics. Perhaps Design Thinking operates in a different space to Rational, Reductionist thinking and may account why, as Rich Gold has described, Designers and Scientists “…are states of being as different as alligators and elephants”[2].

Rich Gold's Four Hats

This ontological view is helpful; it tells us that the way that we “be” in the world shapes not only how we are perceived by others, but has an impact on the what we are capable of perceiving. It also reminds us – cultural dynamics are at play and active in all social situations. Ignore them to your own detriment!

[1] Buchanan. Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues (1992) vol. 8 (2) pp. 5-21
[2] Gold, Rich. 2002. The Plenitude. Palo Alto, CA: The Present Press.

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