Instead Of Picking Model A Or Model B Create Model C

To gain some additional perspectives on design thinking take a look at this video interview with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto. In the video Rotman answers questions about integrative thinking, which is a term Martin uses to describe design thinking. I’ve written about Martin before, especially in wanting to share ideas about his “opposable mind”, and how it is a way of using design thinking to identify new solutions when existing models may not be appropriate for a given situation. Martin talks more about this in the video, which only runs about five minutes.

One of the reasons I seek to further explore the development of the opposable mind is because the library profession presents a good number of complexities and situations for which standard models and solutions are ineffective. One of the most challenging elements of my job is trying to develop good solutions when a simple option A or B won’t work. At those times I think back to Martin and his stories about thinkers who were able to see new solutions that others didn’t see. And being a design thinker doesn’t mean being a lone creative genius who gets hit with lightning bolts of great ideas. Coming up with Model C requires involving one’s colleagues and exploring multiple dimensions of a problem situation.

In the last few months I’ve come across a number of different reports, blog posts, e-mail news items and discussion board entries that all, in one way or another, suggest the demise of libraries. Most will conclude with something along the lines of “libraries have got to change the way they do business or they won’t be around long” but without saying much about what to do. I think similar concerns about turmoil in the world of business lead Martin to develop and share his approach called integrative thinking, and to make design thinking a core educational value for MBA students at the Rotman School. Librarians who will successfully lead their organizations through these challenging times may well be the ones who use integrative thinking to develop Model C.

Additional video to watch: A few months back I shared news about an interesting article in a magazine called Seed. Written by Paolo Antonelli, this article described the idea of the elastic mind. Those with elastic minds are moving past adaptability. Turns out Antonelli spoke about the elastic mind at TED and they have made the video available on their site. She talks more about the interaction of scientists and research scientists.

From Adaptability To Elasticity

With the American Library Association’s Annual Conference just about to begin, today I’m thinking about the Midwinter Conference that was held back in January 2008. At that event I attended a thoughtful program that featured a speaker talking about mastering the art of adaption, something librarians were advised to do – individually and organizationally – to thrive in the 21st Century. I thought of this program just the other day as I read a short but interesting essay titled “Design and the Elastic Mind.” I came across this article when a colleague of mine gave me a copy of a magazine called Seed. I had never heard of it. I guess I’d describe it as a popular science publication. This particular issue, the March/April 2008, was “The Design Issue”. My colleagues know I’m interested in design. In this essay by Paola Antonelli, which leads off the design articles, she writes:

 “As science and technology accelerate the pace of society, design has become more and more integral to our ability to adapt to change. Indeed, in the past few decades people have coped with dramatic changes in several long-standing relationships—with time, space, information, and individuality, to name a few. Designers are translating these “disruptive” scientific and technological innovations by providing thoughtful guidance and a collaborative approach. In order to step boldly into the future, we need design.”

I’m glad to hear that we need design. But what caught my attention is that Antonelli says that while being adaptable is good, the rapidly accelerating pace of change requires more than adaptability. What we really need is elasticity. According to her that means:

“being able to negotiate change and innovation without letting them interfere excessively with one’s own rhythms and goals. It means being able to embrace progress, understanding how to make it our own. One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change. Designers have the ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores and to convert them into objects and ideas that people can understand and use. Without designers, instead of a virtual city of home pages with windows, doors, buttons, and links, the internet would still be a series of obscure strings of code, and appliances would be reduced to standardized skeletons of functions.”

So it may be that we need to shift from mere adaptability to an elastic mind. Just exactly how we do that is discussed further in the article, but it involves shifting our temporal rhythms. And of course, new design principles that go beyond human-centered design will help us achieve this elasticity in ourselves and our objects. Take a look at this essay, and if you can obtain a copy of the Design Issue, you may find more there worth exploring. I did.