How to Communicate Complexity

Simon Roberts is a researcher at Arup, an engineering group doing amazing research and pioneering work. You may remember a previous post where I shared recent obsessions around systems thinking, and so this continues along the theme of understanding and communicating complex systems.

You might be a little confused why I share this movie for the first, but at about halfway everything goes bonkers, with graphs and arrows and chaos that becomes a huge, wild map of excitement. Most excellently, the logic becomes clear and the big messy visual begins to make some deep sense.

While the topic is out of my league to comment – England’s economy is hardly an area I’ve considered a lot of – the economic driver that Simon recommends for further review is in the area of service innovation which is something I’m reflecting a lot upon recently, and will likely post on soon.

So enjoy this one, and a huge thanks to Simon and Arup for sharing:

4see model and introduction to poster from Simon Roberts on Vimeo.

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Whole-Heartedness & Vulnerability

This fascinating talk from Brene Brown via TED has got my brain spinning at the moment. I can not remember a TED talk that has got me thinking at this depth for a long time. It’s an old(ish) post, but seems to be making rounds again at the moment. Jump in and enjoy – it is a very different flavour of conversation than my other posts, but I think any conversation about how we commit to making change and work with one another has a deep impact on many levels. Enjoy.


Ambiguity and Design

Image by Carl Hastrich: Another diagram communicating conceptual process.

I’ve moved into a position where I can do strategic design research, which I need to explain online as things settle down in the new year. Ever since starting this blog I have been exploring the key questions around innovation and the various processes, recently some big ah-ha moments are occurring that are weaving these thoughts together.

What really is design anyway

Sometimes I can be a bad ambassador for design. I can’t relate to people who don’t see the critical need for design thinking tools. When I meet someone who assumes that designers only wrap pretty skins around functional objects my eyes glaze over.

The reality is that contemporary design process is much more about making sense from ambiguity. It is a rigorous, systematic methodology for gathering insights and reading between the lines of what people say they want, and what they really need. There are of course rigorous methodologies for developing and implementing solutions to problems, but the real value lies in identifying what the problems are in the first place.

Clarity in Confusion

Reading a recent article in Fast Company I fell in love with the definition of complexity and ambiguity by Dev Patnaik, CEO of strategy firm Jump;

“Uncertainty is when you’ve defined the variable but don’t know its value. Like when you roll a die and you don’t know if it will be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But ambiguity is when you’re not even sure what the variables are. You don’t know how many dice are even being rolled or how many sides they have or which dice actually count for anything.”

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Design, Engineering, Science – Their Differences through the lens of Biomimicry

Is this holy trinity of innovation? Note: Am making sure that strategy and tactics are at the same hierarchy - I think that is critical.

I have had the opportunity to spend some time with amazing people over the last couple of weeks. These include everything from researchers in basic science laboratories looking for nature’s recipes, to architects working on enormous projects collaborating directly with engineers, and the never ending flow of creative students who keep willingly signing up for my design thinking experiments. At the risk of gross over simplification, I’m beginning to see some repeating patterns.

Vision, Strategy and Tactics – the holy trinity of innovation

I wrote about vision, strategy and tactical thinking when I first began this blog, but it has never really been out of my mind. Here is my current synthesis regarding what they mean to me;

  • Vision = WHY. These are the fundamental values that drive an individual or business forward, and ultimately form the framework to measure success.
  • Strategy = WHAT. This defines the opportunities within the vision, or the problems that must be solved, in order to achieve the vision.
  • Tactics = HOW. These are the pragmatic, executable actions that must be resolved in order to achieve the vision.
Innovation occurs when all three elements line up and are achieved. While the above explanation ridiculously simplifies an incredibly complex process, it has helped me frame design process and scientific research in context.

Design as Strategy, Science and Engineering as Tactics

Is anyone offended by the above generalizations? There are of course individuals or sub categories within disciplines that live more one one side than another... perhaps business should also sit on the left page, fitting in at the why/what stage

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Biomimicry as Journey vs Destination

The two personalities are required for productive innovation, and are of course an integrated part of creative process, but they don't always play well together. Note: you could easily replace biomimicry with innovation for the following conversation.

Last week I had an “ah-ha” moment around questions of teaching and consulting biomimicry. It became apparent through conversations with architects, project managers and design students that there are two different “audiences” or “practitioners” of biomimicry (or innovation in general), and consequently two different ways of approaching them.

Explorers – Biomimicry as journey

Explorers are people who don’t care where they end up, and are passionate enough to dive in the deep end without seeing what’s below the surface. They are hungry for process and enjoy the experience of growing, learning and evolving. These maybe companies looking for transformative change, or individuals looking for personal growth.

The experiences explorers are looking for challenge them conceptually and personally. These are often candidates for biomimicry fanaticism,  i.e. whole hearted true faith in biomimicry as a solution to every human challenge.

Executor – Biomimicry as destination

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