The Necessity of Being ‘Un-Disciplined’ and ‘Out-Of-Control’
First published in: Journal of Performance Improvement Quarterly, 1994.
In conversations with colleagues and friends, reading reports in the mass media and reviewing summaries of formal reports, there emerges a feeling of consensus on the overwhelming need for dramatic change in many, if not most, of our significant institutions and organizations. Re-engineering, re-structuring, or re-invention are labels of strategies meant to facilitate the desired changes in businesses, schools, hospitals, governmental agencies, and other human activity systems which serve our personal and public needs. The challenge is similar in all regions of the world. It is nearly impossible to find a quiet place away from the noise of confusing problems and issues of unprecedented scale and complexity.
A part of this noise comes from our not knowing which of the clearly defined problems are of the highest priority, or what the right frame of reference ought to be for key issues. The noise keeps us from seeing what is real in our experience of chaos in complex systems and what is phantom. It is difficult to discriminate between symptoms and root causes.
There is a growing belief that more than one perspective, or discipline, is needed to see our human condition more clearly. But, often multiple perspectives, or multiple disciplines, seem to increase the noise of confusion. In the hope that we will be assured of intended outcomes rather than unintended and unacceptable consequences, we also require more detailed information from which we construct predictive knowledge of our interventions in complex problematic situations. Often we feel paralyzed, or only willing to take small incremental actions, which can do little harm and thus have little consequence.
The challenge is that our habits of thinking, both scientific and artistic, which traditionally have had such success in describing and explaining the natural world, seem to have limited direct utility in the creation, or re-creation, of elements of the man-made, un-natural world. Herbert Simon (Simon 1982) proposed the creation of a science of the artificial, distinct from the science of the natural. His proposal was one of the first significant contemporary arguments for appreciating the distinction between creating what does not exist, versus describing or explaining what is already found to be in existence. Because, his idea was framed within the rational tradition of science, it formed an important early bridge between that tradition and the much more inclusive tradition of Design.
Design is a strategy for facilitating change, which includes, but goes beyond the theory of a science of the artificial; in that it deals with social organizations, patterns of human interactions and functional social-technical structures, which serve human purpose. These human activity systems are formed by ethical and aesthetic principles, in addition to those of formal logic. Design is a synthesis of creativity and innovation within this multidimensional domain.
Design is both process and artifact. In the process of design there emerges an understanding of possibilities, which cannot be predetermined. The innovation of these possibilities requires the utilization of a form of creative leadership, which pulls people into change, rather than pushes them into it. As an artifact, design serves human purpose through the creation of functional assemblies or systems, which become part of people's lives.
The terms, design and redesign, are often applied to activities which can be better described as planning, management or problem solving. This has discouraged attributes unique and outside of these familiar domains from being examined. For example, design thinking is often characterized as a cognitive midpoint between scientific and artistic understanding as in professions like architecture or industrial design. However, Design needs to be dealt with on its own terms and its uncommon nature needs to be explored. Designs also need to be appreciated as applicable to a wider spectrum of human endeavors.