Censemaking No. 37

Summertime Learning

As we get into the dog (or cat) days of summer many of us are making time to unwind a little because, let’s face it, we’ve been pretty wound up for a long time.

Whether it’s taking a breather or a true vacation that’s in store the summer is a great time to learn and sharpen your skills and expand your thinking. To help you along we are dedicating this issue to diving into the topic of thinking itself. We look at design (thinking), systems (thinking) and critical (thinking) and how it all comes together to shape what we make, why, and what it means.

We’ve also got some tools, tips, and techniques to help think differently and transform your summer dreams into innovation realities.

How’s that for some light summer reading?

So get your iced coffee and sunglasses and lean back in your beach chair (or wherever you find yourself) and let’s think a little about thinking.

Keep well and keep cool — Cameron

Design (+ Thinking)

Design is how we envision, explore, make, and share things. It’s about transforming ideas into reality. Thinking about design — what it is and how it’s done — is something vital to an innovator’s mental toolbox. And Design Thinking is changing.

One way to conceive of a design problem is to ask ‘how might we…’, but as data expert Tricia Wang explores in Fast Company, the design thinking culture that’s formed around this question and the benefits that it accrues might not be all designers have made it out to be. Her exploration of this question is worth a read.

So is design thinking done? Some think so. Christian Madsbjerg argues that the way we ‘think’ about design is largely problematic and that it doesn’t account for a long-term perspective.

Natasha Jen’s popular talk Design Thinking is BS continues to draw attention while we take a slightly different twist on this by suggesting that much of what makes design thinking BS is about how we use it, not the idea itself. I’ve also suggested how design thinking can get past it’s ‘bullshit’ phase.

While we’re poking holes at design concepts, what about system design? Corneliux - a self-described systems designer — questions whether we actually can design systems and whether we are misleading ourselves into thinking we are able to design true systems or just ways of working within them.

The argument he poses is about scale. Over at Smaply, they argue that scale is something that can be done well when it comes to service design. At Censemaking, we’ve questioned whether people understand scale and design at all. Lots to consider to scale your design + thinking.

Systems (+ Thinking)

Complexity might not be the first thing you think about when you hit the beach, but as we discuss over at Censemaking, that might change. Consider how the beach might be a perfect metaphor for understanding complexity and diversity in practice.

Adaptation is a big part of working with (instead of against) complexity and requires some different ways of thinking and seeing situations. Brad Stulberg suggests six principles that can help us to see, contemplate, and act in ways that acknowledge complexity and help us to adapt and change, rather than get overwhelmed by change.

If you want to learn more about complexity,The Systems Innovation Network has just released an amazing set of cards that each profiles and explains in concise, simple terms a variety of key concepts in systems thinking and complexity theory. These cards are designed for novices and skilled professionals alike and are generously provided for free.

Complexity can confuse which is why it’s important to be able to think clearly. Philosopher Tom Chatfield has created a guide with clear strategies for cutting the clutter and thinking more clearly about what’s important.

Thinking clearly helps us understand our mental models — the frames we use to see and consider situations. Farnam Street’s mental models project brings together more than 100 different models of thought that might help you to clarify, organize, and articulate your thoughts.

If applying systems thinking in the world is your interest you’ll get a lot from Luke Craven’s newsletter Pig on the Tracks where he recounts his stories from the field, lessons learned, and reflections on applying systems thinking to the world of policy, government, and beyond.

Change (+Thinking)

Skilled lifeguards know that water can cause people to see and experience things differently. Consider the high diving board - another analogy that illustrates how people see situations differently. When you get to the top you see not only the surface, but all that is below it. The same is true for organizations and situations and we can learn from that.

Fear is a big barrier to innovation and change. Amy Edmondson has spent her career studying fearlessness (or rather, an ability to overcome fear) and found that creating psychological safety is your organization is the key to having a fearless innovation culture.

Safety comes from connection and without a means to feel safe sharing your ideas, aspirations, and critical thoughts it can be quite lonely. That’s what research from INSEAD has found — many of our teams and the way we work with them are making us lonely.

What does it mean to contemplate the nature of change itself? Nora Bateson’s two-part essay on submerging will get you thinking about where we are, where are we going, and what does change mean in an age of increasing complexity.

Watching & Learning

We wrap up this issue with our continuing recommendations for podcasts, video channels, and other media.

Derek Muller is a master teacher of science, engineering, and education. His YouTube channel Veratasium is a deep dive into critical thinking about how the world works and how we, as humans, work with it. His video on the myths of learning styles is a must-see for educators, parents, and learners of all ages.

Muller’s more goofy, but no less interesting, peer is Mark Rober. He’s dedicated himself to helping people learn to make things using science and engineering concepts. His videos on squirrel mazes will change how you see those fuzzy little friends in our neighbourhoods forever.

How do values come into all of this? Educator, innovator, and evaluator Matt Keene’s series on creating a future we want will walk you through everyday problems and issues tied to creating a world guided by values, not just ‘stuff’. His lessons come from his work in environmental evaluation and as a teacher to his two girls yet apply to us all.

Thank you for sharing your beach time (or desk time, lounge time or wherever this finds you) with us.

Until our next coffee break….


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