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Dave Snowden

Mischief, thou art afoot

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I promised yesterday to republish this table which I created some time ago after I had read Martin’s book on Design Thinking and had a meeting with IDEO over on the West Coast. It was put together quickly and it will be modified before Mary and I complete the draft article so questions and comments are welcome.

The form of this table is one I have used a lot when people contrast their idea with that which went before us. I previously used this approach when I created side casting to contrast with forecasting and backcasting. I extracted the first two columns from Martin’s writing and adding a third to cover a complexity approach. The intent her is part mischievous and therefore serious. I played Anthony at school and always loved his line Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. / Take thou what course thou wilt. It is from the Brutus as “an honourable man” speech in Caesar for those who don’t recognise it; one of the masterpieces of oratory. Mischief is the essence of the trickster in stories and the role of the trickster is to move things to a new place, so I offer it in that spirit.

So if we take each line of the table:

  1. In Martin and others we see an understandable scepticism about linear hypothesis based investigation in making progress. No one from a complexity background would deny that. But I am less sure about the effective reject of research in favour of solutions. Yes I can see the value, but I prefer to think about sound theory co-evolving with practice. That makes it more possible to create solutions that can scale beyond the initial design context. It also increases the chance of seeing a radical new perspective.
  2. The proposal for synthesis over analysis is also useful, but I think we can go beyond that with the notion of exaptation or repurposing.  To do that we need to go to a more distributed form of abstraction that can exist within a design team.  The shift from synthesis to abduction also allows wider engagement of the subjects in the process of solution creation which is not the same thing as providing a need and modifying a prototype …
  3. … which really makes my third point that the design creative is a critical part of the process, but they do not own that process.  Hence our use of distributed cognition in SenseMaker® and the ability to present and re-present to multiple actors through high abstraction filtering.  I’ve blogged on that a lot over the years but there not a specific link I can make so I will pick that up in a future post.
  4. Part of my attempt to shift the emphasis from the designer (which still engaging them) is my emphasis on techniques such as ritual dissent.  Killing dissent seems to be desired as an alternative to cynical rejection of novelty (at least that is how I interpret Martin), but there are other options.  Our use of ritual dissent, and multi-perfective interpretation through MassSense (previous posts link) would be examples.
  5. Wicked problems are to my mind better described as intractable as that better describes their nature.  But this line is probably the least important in the table and I may remove it.
  6. Finally and most importantly the shift to distributed ethnography over interviews and observation wrongly described as ethnography.

The final one is the most serious so I will return to that tomorrow.

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