HUMANTIFIC SEARCH RESULTS

07
Feb

Architecture / What’s Next?

We enjoyed reading the most recent issue of Architect magazine (“The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects”) entitled What’s Next?: Architecture in an age of Transformation. We recognized that many of the challenges raised in the feature article have existed in the architecture industry for many years. Since this edition of Architect magazine strives to be about organizational and industry “transformation”, we wanted to point out that there might be some process confusion embedded in “What’s Next”.

Recognizing that “What’s Next” is full of good intentions, lets not get what the magazine is successfully doing confused with the questions it raises. From a transformation methods perspective we would like to point out that the challenge of: How might a provocative magazine issue be created ? is quite different from: How might you reinvent your practice ? and How might you reinvent your industry ?. The well-meaning contributors appear to know more about the former and less about the later.

While the methodology of provocations is a useful approach to magazine article making, it is not robust enough, precise enough or scalable enough for use in addressing the latter transformation challenges. In other words, provocation is the right tool for creating entertaining magazines and the wrong method for organizational transformation. Transforming organizations and industries requires a different set of cocreation methods and skills.

Popular in academic circles, the provocations approach intermixes facts, challenges and possible solutions. In the “What’s Next” edition one can see them intertwined throughout.

While there has been no consensus (outside the magazines advisory team) on what the facts are or what the challenges are in the architecture industry, a partial picture is never-the-less created. Even with the best of intentions, the picture represented by the five central provocations in the “What’s Next” edition may or may not reflect what the key challenge areas actually are in practice and in industry.

While we were struck by the numerous insightful provocations in Bruce Mau’s “You Can Do Better” contribution to the edition it would be safe to say that the days are gone when simply complaining about complaining is enough to drive meaningful change. In the context of organizational transformation the act of “provoking” is recognized as the relatively easy lift.

Provocations tend to generate heat rather than clarity. The provocations approach typically yields more provocations, a lot of coffee chat conversations and not much forward change motion. If driving to coffee chat is your goal then provocation might be a methodology worth considering.

In the online feedback over at Architect magazines web site, one can see what happens when the wrong problems have been defined, solutions to problems that don’t exist proposed and little buy-in has occurred.

Since transformation is the subject of the edition the overall picture being created by using provocations as an approach tends to reinforce the misperception that getting to the future in organizational contexts is argument and provocation based. It seems likely that readers come away with the misperception that this is what organizational and or industry transformation looks like and feels like. In our experience transformation need not look and feel like a magazine hit-job.

The reality is organizational transformation is messy and often complex. It is quite common that the challenges present even in small organizations vastly supersede five problem areas. To undertake this kind of work one has to get ready for navigating upstream from the terrain of tidy framed briefs where many fuzzy complex challenges exist in parallel.

Perhaps ironically this is the operational terrain that Mr. Mau seemed to be referring to in his “You Can Do Better” commentary to the “What’s Next” readers: get prepared for a place where architects are willing and able to engage, not in building creation challenges alone, but rather in addressing challenges requiring no preconceived outcomes. Mr. Mau insightfully invites readers to rethink the DNA of architecture skill not the DNA of building creation. Unfortunately what is missing from “What’s Next” is the acknowledgement that getting to that terrain and operating there clearly involves more transformation skills than provocation.

While there is nothing particularly new in Mr. Mau’s message of reorientation and reskilling, the difficult and probably more meaningful truth is that much of the graduate architecture education community including high profile institutions like Harvard Graduate Design School have for more than ten years consistently missed the globalization driven message to prepare their students for working upstream from briefs. Many graduate design schools have been tone deaf to the need for this form of strategic change. In other disciplines that message was heard years ago loud and clear. As a result when it comes to leading cross-disciplinary cocreation upstream from briefs the realm of architecture is now playing catch-up. Today, much of the most current upstream cross-disciplinary cocreation knowledge exists outside of the architecture profession.

Perhaps unintentionally the “What’s Next” magazine edition brings one unasked and unanswered key question into clear view, and that is: How will the professional association of AIA provide relevant value to its members going forward in this time of great change? If we can acknowledge that the days are already gone when it is enough for a professional association to sponsor a magazine provoking “dialogue” as its contribution to industry transformation, what then is AIA’s plan for helping its membership make sense of and navigate the realities of what’s next?

With the spirit of constructing change making in mind we would like to table a capabilities challenge to American Institute of Architects as an association. Beyond provocative conversation stimulation you might want to consider creating a change making institute capacity inside AIA that in some form is capable of offering meaningful transformation help to its membership. If there is serious appetite for such an ecosystem Humantific would be happy to help AIA create such an initiative.

Perhaps this time next year will bring more to AIA membership than yet another “What’s Next” provocation.

Further Reading:

Join the NextDesign Leadership Network on LinkedIn

Into the Immeasurable: Understanding the New Umbau School of Architecture

GK VanPatter in conversation with William Tate. NextD Journal 2005

Human-Centered Innovation: Understanding the IIT Institute of Design
GK VanPatter in conversation with Patrick Whitney. NextD Journal 2004

31
Aug

Humantific in Finland

Humantific CoFounder GK VanPatter will be giving several presentations on NextDesign Geographies / Understanding Design 1,2,3,4 and SenseMaking for ChangeMaking at Savonia University of Applied Sciences and Kuopio Academy of Design in Finland Sept 14, 15, 16. He will also be meeting with program leadership, observing studios, student work, etc.

To learn more about the PALMU UnConference at Kuopio Academy of Designsee Facebook:

 

30
Aug

Why “UnConferences” Disappoint

After attending many formally and informally structured events framed as “design thinking” sessions branded as conferences, workshops, meetings and unconferences we have observed several dialogue patterns that are relatively consistent.

Many informal design thinking unconference-like events seem to reflect the fact that much of the newly forming “design thinking community” is relatively new to cross-disciplinary cocreation and thus assumptions from old ways of working are being imported into a new era. The emphasis seen often is on event brand building rather than event substance. The focus seems to be on creatively selling old skills under a new banner rather than actually changing or admitting that new skills might be needed for a new way of working.

At such events the often conflicting universes of Design 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 can be seen in action. When you say “design thinking” which design are you referring to? At such events one can see that some present want “design thinking” to simply be a reflection of old Design 1.0 skills relying primarily on intuitive process now being creatively reframed as “emergence”. Alot of coffee-time chit-chat occurs while often the goals and challenges pre-identified are not insignificant. This misalignment between meeting goals and the processes and tools in use is one of 40 dynamics seen at such events as described below.

40 Reasons Why “UnConferences” Disappoint

1.    Vastly different, unarticulated, unaligned expectations among participants.

2.    Lack of awareness that many types of dialogue exist.

3.    Lack of acknowledgement regarding what the default dialogue mode is.

4.    Disconnect between (serious significant) expected outcomes and (tea party-like) processes.

5.    Lack of acknowledgement that the scale of challenges facing us has changed.

6.    Lack of acknowledgement that few adults in the mix presently have been educated at high levels in cross-disciplinary work skills.

7.    Lack of awareness that content knowledge is not process knowledge.

8.    Deeply engrained academic value system based on argument dialogue dynamics.

9.    Lack of appropriate content knowledge among participants.

10. Lack of adaptable process knowledge among participants.

11. Lack of adaptable process mastery among session organizers and leaders.

12. Lack of common change making language.

13. Acting out of bad behaviors learned in previous eras.

14. Dialogue filled with tribal acronyms.

15. Habitual reliance and overemphasis on judgment/convergent thinking.

16. Lack of ownership of challenges among participants.

17. Lack of trust among participants.

18. Competitive marketplace forces (includes schools).

19. Assumptions that participants are all using the same cognitive processes.

20. Over-reliance on words, no visual sensemaking present.

21. Fear of looking dumb among participant colleagues.

22. Over emphasis on portfolio presentation of preconceived solutions.

23. Little upstream navigation awareness present.

24. Lack of awareness that sustainability is a type of challenge (content) not an innovation (problem solving) process.

25. Lack of awareness regarding the messiness of human cognition.

26. Inattention to the cognitive aspects of the physical work-space.

27. Blank slate phenomenon, no acceleration research materials present.

28. Assumption that technology equals innovation.

29. Assumption that with technology present no process or process skills are needed.

30. Importation of conflict oriented online interaction dynamics.

31. Assumption that observing (lurking) is constructive participation.

32. Over reliance on feel-good ego-based (emergent) chat dialogue rather than on outcomes.

33. Resistance to learning by adult participants.

34. Lack of acknowledgement that new learning is needed.

35. Lets wait until they fail and then return to the default mode approach.

36. Lack of appropriately scaled and designed integrative thinking tools.

37. Challenge overload and fatigue among participants.

38. Constant churn, session activity overload.

39. Assumption that simply putting diverse minds in proximity to each other creates innovation.

40. Assumption that broadcast mode equals cocreation mode.

Even in these kinds of conditions event organizers can often be seen expecting participants to magically produce meaningful outcomes in compresssed time frames with giant sized challenges framed. Humans are amazingly adapatable creatures but lets get real. While coffee-time chit-chat is an important form of dialogue, assuming that it will lead to complexity navigation, opportunity finding, problem solving and or meaningful solutions is a giant leap of logic that does not reflect what is already known. If the real objective is to provide a feel-good coffee-time chit-chat social experience then why not just say so? At the end of the day unconferences tend look alot like the unproductive meetings occurring everyday in many organizations. No big news there.

Not knowing and or agreeing to what is already known about cross-disciplinary cocreation and integrative thinking remains a staple of the hotly competitive “design thinking” marketplace. There are alot of repeating starting point initiatives going on out there that conveniently ignore what is already known. For the most part “design thinking unconferences” remain far behind best practice cocreation.  Are you looking forward to the era of beyond unconferences as much as we are?

01
Feb

How to Think UP! 1942

 

In the Humantific Innovation Archives, we have many of the early books and papers from the history of creative thinking, applied imagination, applied creativity, creative problem solving, systems thinking, human intelligence, learning styles, structure of the intellect, etc.

From time to time we will post a few examples here, as these early materials contain many gems in spite of the fact that the world has changed a great deal since they first appeared.

This book How to Think UP, by Alex Osborn, is an early example, as it was published in 1942.

For those interested in understanding such history, these books are wonderful windows into the early thinking based on the context that existed at that time.

At Humantific, we have great respect for this early work, as we all stand on the shoulders of this history whether we know it or not. :-) Written at a different time, we do not have to agree with everything in the materials to appreciate these works.

The early pioneers of creative thinking methods were primarily focused on jumpstarting idea creation, and not on complex challenge/opportunity framing—not on the research and visual sense-making that would now occur as part of framing.

Seeking to encourage imagination, many of these early works are incredibly optimistic regarding American ingenuity and the challenges facing the country and the world. Here, one can see the seeds of the early “everyone can be creative” philosophy, where it came from, and how it was first applied.

Here are a few quotes from How to Think UP:

“When necessity reaches a crisis, the crisis cries out for ideas. American ingenuity is rising to the challenge.”

“Some of life’s stony problems can be cleared away by outside science, others by judgment, but most of them by ideas.”

“Ideas are the priceless keys to good living.”

“The more ideas we can think up, the more satisfying our lives will be.”

“Even old folks can think up things when they try.”

“There is no royal road to creation. The production of ideas can never be a science but will always be an art.”

“Too many employers just ask for ideas without specifying what about. Occasionally a problem is assigned, and ideas are asked for within that limit. Or employees are set to work in a group and asked to think up together. But, by and large, rank-and-file people are nearly always invited simply to pick their own subject and to do their brain-storming on their own.”

“Who can think up ideas? You and every other normally intelligent person. But you have to try.”

“Everybody loves to be a critic or a judge. Judicial judgment calls for no great mental sweat.”

“Ideas more than luck will land the job you want.”

And the all time classic: “If you can’t originate an idea, think up how someone else’s good idea can be turned into a better idea.”

Of course, it is equally interesting to reflect upon the context in which these early works were created.

In the introduction, by Bruce Barton of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn Inc., he writes: “There is so little literature that might help Americans in their endeavor to think up more ideas for the war effort that I persuaded Mr. Osborn to send this manuscript to a publisher. I hope a large number will be circulated in American offices and plants.”

While some innovation consultants remain focused, even today, on ideation techniques, most operating in the realm of organizational and social change understand that much more is now required.

We are, at Humantific, always interested in the past, present and future of innovation. One of our internal projects underway involves researching and constructing a visual timeline that combines the history of the applied creativity movement and the history of the design thinking movement. If anyone else out there is working on such projects please feel free to let us know.

Image Source: Osborn, Alex. How to Think Up! New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book, First Edition, Second Impression, 1942. Humantific Collection, New York.

27
Aug

Data Visualization 1890

Those readers studying the parallel histories of visual sensemaking, information design, information architecture, statistical graphics and or data visualization will know that long before Richard Saul Wurman, Edward Tufte, Karl Weik, Otto Neurath, Gerd Arntz, Isotype Institute, Jacques Bertin, Fritz Kahn, or Willard Brinton came along, there existed various forms of what we now call visual sensemaking or social sensemaking. For decades, it has been a set of professions in constantly changing evolution. It has been referred to by numerous names, fragmented in many directionsfocused in various terrains with different skill-sets, tool-sets and purposes, but the work of unpacking and then explaining complexity has been around for more than 100 years. We love to find and study early visual sensemaking!

Shown here, from the Humantific Collection, are three examples of 19th century sensemaking in the societal context from Rand McNally World Atlas, published in 1890. Inside the atlas are a dozen beautiful diagrams that accompany hundreds of pages of maps and pictorial engravings.

Often, the individual creators’ names have been lost in history, but what they managed to create in 1890 with the tools of that era is rather amazing. Referred to in atlases of the day as “statistical diagrams” or “statistical graphics,” they were often visual depictions of data-driven facts focused on subjects such as Population, Race, Crop Yields, National Debt, Religions, School Enrollment, etc. Also appearing were more abstraction-based depictions (not based on data), such as visualizations of what the Solar System was perceived to be at that time in history.

In these 19th century data visulization examples, you can see the sensemaking device or technique of making comparisons. Depending on the subject, those comparisons might be from country to country, state to state, or year to year. More than one hundred years later, depictions of comparisons remain central to many sensemaking diagrams made today. Professional sensemakers know that comparisons provide context, and context aids in understanding.

As in the majority of data visualization being created today, most 19th century sensemaking work seen in atlases was focused on depicting past and present states.  At Humantific, we call these pictures of Yesterday and Today.

Also fascinating is that more than one hundred years after these 1890s visual comparison models were published, the American organizational theorist Karl Weick was speculating, in a rather non-visual 1995ish way, on the dimensions of sensemaking in organizations, pointing out that in order to give meaning to the present, humans compare it to similar events from their past. Many such unsyncronized realizations can be found in the various literatures.

In the 19th century, thinking about what we might be tomorrow and then moving towards that picture was not part of the statistical diagrams business, as it is for some, but not all sensemakers today. The truth is, a significant part of the now-very-popular data visualization community is still generating pictures of yesterday and today, not fully understanding what is missing.

Of course, one can generate pictures of yesterday and today from data sets, but creating pictures of tomorrow requires additional dimensions of skill in the mix, including applied imagination, and cocreation.

Effectively cocreating such visual pictures in real time with humans from multiple disciplines in the room requires additional skill dimensions that were not in the mix in 1890, and in some circles are just being recognized today. Today at Humantific, we integrate past, present, and future visual realizations as part of cocreated change making. For more than 15 years, we have been operating on the understanding that data visualization, in itself, is not enough to drive and ensure changemaking. In the real world, 99.9% of the time, change making has to be socially constructed. In other words, it has to be cocreated. This is part of the everyday bridging work that we love to do.

Viewing historical examples of data visualization in person, having original material on hand helps to inspire and inform how we think about our own work today and to better understand how its different!

Images Source: Rand, McNally. New Standard Atlas of the World. Rand, McNally and Company.  Chicago: The Continental Publishing Company, 1890. Diagrams by Unknown. Humantific Collection, New York.