Cartesian Problems in Communicating about Designing and Design Thinking

Interesting article – Thinking About Design Thinking – by Fred Collopy blogging for Fast Company.  Fred considers, “As (Design Thinking) is a way of talking about what designers can contribute to areas beyond the domains in which they have traditionally worked, about how they can improve the tasks of structuring interactions, organizations, strategies and societies, it is a weak term”, because it makes a “distinction between thinking and acting.”

As Fred points out Design Thinking is beset by the Cartesian Mind – Body problem, which is frequently being rejected today.  One form of rejection is found in the idea, “thought” has it’s genesis in “action”, like how you learn to walk and then you learn to think about where you want to go.  A similar idea (attributed to Bakhtin) is that Cartesian thinking unnecessarily divides being from becoming, where the abstractions of disembodied thought never fully capture either the actions of our lives or the moral aspects of those actions.

This is especially important for education that often has it exactly backwards, trying to teach you how to think in order to go out into the world to act.  Education would be so much more valuable if there were no dichotomous walls. (i.e. classroom/world, schooling/working, or even the idea that education = a 4 year quest for certification instead of an ongoing quest for knowledge.)

A Networks Model for Evidence-based Management and Knowledge Transfer

Couple of interesting reads this morning (Bandura 2006 and Guest 2007) that are relevant to the topics of learning, performance support, knowledge transfer and evidence-based management (EBM).  The bottom-line:

(From Bandura) Knowledge transfer in many situations can be seen as a form of learning that proceeds through ongoing modeling with feedback and increasing approximation, not by an explanation of abstract information.

(From Guest) Practitioners do not generally change their practices as a result of abstract knowledge, but from the example of others in their organization or field.  (e.g. bankers looking to other bankers or retailers looking to other retailers)

Furthermore – Guest laments the current state of EBM.  Changing it requires attention to the communication process (communicator, message, medium and receiver) and the building of bridges (both traditional and non-traditional) between research and practice.  Guest is pestamistic about the readiness of the management field to address EBM.  I would disagree and suggest the following based on Guest’s communication process analogy:

  • Communicator – The concept of EBM is not an outcome, it is the bridge that can close the gap between researchers and practitioners. However, the communicator must stand on this bridge, not on either shore.
  • Message – Standing on the EBM bridge, the most important aspect of research is validity.  It is a view of validity that begins with the whole of the concept (not the narrow view of traditional research validity).  Research is not valid until the consequence of it use in practice can be demonstrated.  See a previous post on validity here although I may need to do additional work on the validity concept.
  • Medium – In the light of Bandura, the real medium of concern, in fact, are the people in the practitioner’s network.
  • Receiver – We need to build up the scope and diversity of practitioner’s networks and the ability of these network to act as learning models for evidence-based practices.

Ideas and paradigms are Important Enablers of Creativity

A timeout from research to respond to a relevant blog post.

George Siemens posted about studies from the PsyBlog relevant to my current  research on creativity.  The PsyBlog post ended with the recommendation to go it alone if creativity is important to you.  I think this is counter productive.  Many important outcomes require group work and diversity in groups can be an important source of creativity when it brings together different perspectives.  Certainly one important factor encouraging creativity in groups are shared ideas and a paradigm based that supports creativity.  The base of my thoughts are in the following comment made in response to George’s blog post.

Good discussion George and Ken;
It reminds me of Vygotsky’s lower and higher mental functions. What Ken describes sounds like a group manifestation of lower mental functions ( a level of thinking shared with animals). Valuing something like diversity may only occur if a higher mental function regulated this primal instinct for conformity.
I would not call this type of creativity destruction a problem with norms, but a problem of lower levels of responding. Something like diversity may require a higher level of function with ideas, paradigms and the sort, mediating the thinking, whether it is a group or an individual. Valuing diversity could be a norm too! Creativity may need to start with an individual, but for a group to participate, you may need relevant shared ideas to be present in the group. As a metaphor, think of shared ideas and artifacts like the neurotransmitters of the group.
In the study referenced by the PsyBlog, we don’t know what kinds of paradigms underly the groups thinking or of the study. Science in my view is a blend of theoretical and empirical. This study sounds like it over emphasized the empirical without a good theoretical understanding of creativity. Sort of like a hold over from behavioral experimental psychology that thought of the individual as a black box where you only measure the inputs and outputs. Measure group creativity, but keep their shared ideas and paradigm base as a variable in the equation.

Building A Creative Infrastructure: The Prime Economic Directive

This post begins a process to consider the importance of, and different methods of creativity.  It is a recognition, a re-thinking if you will, of the need for creativity, what it means, and how it is the foundation of much of my recent reading.  I’ll start with a couple of interesting finds from yesterday’s blog reading.  In subsequent posts I’ll look  at the research literature relevant to building a creative infrastructure.

First Harold Jarche posted about a project he undertook involving the idea of a research center bridging university research and venture interests through: applied research – prototyping – pre-commercial seeding.  As part of my comment I asked; Do you think anyone knows how to do such a thing – examples of methods?  A serendipitous browse of other blog readings that day led me to consider that creativity could be the basis of such a research center.

It was later that I came across a post by John Howkins, a guest on The Creativity at Work Blog. John has a new book, Creative Ecologies.

My new book, ‘Creative Ecologies’, shows that eco-systems is a useful model. A creative ecology is a network of habitats where people change, learn and adapt (or not, in some cases).  . . .Ecological models have a great advantage over the financial models that preoccupy government.  Ecologists speak the same language as do biologists and environmentalists and can share their ideas and theories, whereas economists are tied to rationalist preconceptions and to monetary values.  . . . Running throughout the model is what the Indonesian diplomat Soedjatmoko calls the ‘capacity to learn’.  It is astonishing how closely a country’s capacity to learn as a whole, rather than any individual genius, affects national levels of creativity and innovation. (Emphasis added)

He goes on to talk about bringing institutions of learning together and making their impact felt throughout a culture.

. . . bring think-tanks, research bodies and NGOs into the education process; protect learning-for-the-sake-of-learning from being squeezed out by learning-for-a-job vocational courses.  We must re-think ‘knowledge transfer’. . . .

In this perspective, your productivity and your sense of well being may well depend on the ecology you’re in. As Howkins says;

It helps if you are in the right place at the right time.  The old question, Where do you want to live?, is now, Where do you want to think? (Emphasis added)

Howkins, I believe, is talking about the importance of building an infrastructure of creativity, something that he indicate is substantially different from industrial era infrastructures.  It potentially could involve diversity, culture, communication, community resources and many other factors.

Which begins us to a post by Diego Rodriguez at the Metacool Blog on the The four ways of creative cultivators.  Interestingly, Diego begins with the same idea that I left off with in my last post (in my review of Management Rewired), collapsing the distinction between managing and leading.  He also uses a garden metaphor (something to which I’m partial), but I also believe that  he is really talking about 4 ideas for building an infrastructure for creativity:

1. Being at the bottom of things  (T)he leader-as-cultivator makes it their job to live simultaneously at the bottom and in the middle and on the edges, dealing with things that might seem like plain manure to outsiders. The bottom can be a messy place, but it is the wellspring of success . . ..

What is the foundation of creativity?  One aspect is to prepare your ground and the nutrients needed from growth.

2. Trusting what is there  Creative cultivators trust what is there. A wise cultivator resists the temptation to “dig up the seed”, as it were, to check if people are being creative enough. Many breakthrough innovation initiatives are stifled by linear project timetables . . ..

I don’t think this means don’t manage.  Think instead of the ways that Charles Jacobs (In my review of Management Rewired) operates in a Socratic mode collapsing the manager and leader distinction.

3. Seeing the ecosystem:  By their nature, gardens are part of larger ecosystems.

Two things.  Reflecting Howkins, the surrounding intellectual / learning community is an important source for creativity, as we already know in Silicon Valley, the North Carolina research triangle or Boston’s 128 Corridor.  But, it is also important the companies cultivate open environments and their infrastructures and policy frameworks recognize and encourage open boundaries.  Open models are becoming very successful.

4. Taking a bird’s eye view:  Finally, creative cultivators do all of the above while simultaneously curating the garden from a bird’s eye view. Managing a portfolio of creative endeavors requires knowing how many plants a certain piece of land can support and then pruning or as culling appropriate.  . . . guiding growth to be something unique and wonderful – that is the essence of strategy, and of gardening as well.

Diego also emphasizes that we can’t manage creativity, it can only be led:

(Creative Companies) see the leadership of creativity, in all its facets and complexity, as something akin to the act of cultivating a garden. Particularly when it comes to harnessing the power of emergent behavior, where creativity morphs into world-changing innovations, leaders must all — in fact, can only — tend to their gardens.  They must learn to become cultivators of creativity.

Echoing Howkins ideas of the importance of a culture of creativity, Diego says:

. . . it is incumbent upon leaders to unleash the creativity of the many, not the few.  . . . Modern organizations . . . must be able to tap in to the creativity, intelligence, and initiative of everyone affiliated with the brand, not just the talent of a select creative few.

In my next post I’ll review a Hemlin, Allword & Martin article “Creative Knowledge Environments (2008, Creativity Research Journal, 20, 2 196-210.).

Management Rewired Reviewed: A Summary

Nine is the final and wrap-up chapter of Jacobs’ book.  It does not present new information and I will use this post to summarize my ideas about this book.

First, what is the contribution of Neuro-science?  I believe that neuroscience and fMRI studies are very important, especially going forward, but at this point they seem to be insufficient in themselves.  We still need to understand and interpret the data and that depends on psychology more generally.  Jacobs’ suggestions are very interesting, and management could certainly benefit from a stronger connection to the insights of other social sciences, it is just that his positions could be better supported by the findings outside neuroscience.  In a future post I will look at the social nature of learning, working, and the artifacts that we use to make sense of organizations.  I think this can not only support Jacobs position, but may be able to extend them further.

What are the primary insights that I have gained from this book?

  1. The mind works holistically.  Don’t be ruled by emotion, but logical mind sets that discount emotion can cloud important insights.  When logical thinking discounts emotions and the holistic nature of the mind, it is constraining decisions not making them better.
  2. Higher mental functions like stories, paradigms, metaphors or theories can focus and enable thinking skills in a way that honors the minds holistic nature.
  3. Relationships are complex and understanding that people are active thinkers with minds of their own is a much more functional method of management.  Treating people and organizations as mindless machines is counterproductive.  Jacobs makes the mind (behaviorism’s epi-phonemena) central  in management.
  4. Instead of relying solely on managers abilities, avail yourself of employees mental capabilities.  Be like Socrates: ask don’t tell, ask for objectives, for reviews of their work, for their ideas about support needs.

Management Rewired Reviewed: Chapters 5, 6, 7 & 8

Chapter 5 discusses the benefits of organizing through small cross-functional teams over hierarchal forms and chapter 6 talks about examples of strategy and how emotion and other previously mentioned themes can have an impact for good or ill.  There is nothing particularly new in either of these chapters.

The topic of chapter 7 is change and change management.  Jacobs addresses this subject through previously introduced topics.  He suggests leading change by changing the paradigm and avoiding negative relationship dynamics.  Because we often think of organizations like machines (he calls this Aristotelian logic) rather than mindful thinking people, the best path to change can often seem counter-intuitive rather than direct.

In chapter 8 Jacobs talks about transformational leadership (as opposed to transactional leadership).  The idea of a transformational approach is consistent with the main themes of this book, but I think it can be better viewed by looking at the distinction between leading and managing (See the subsection Leadership versus management in the Wikipedia leadership article).  Jacobs’ ideas of Socratic management de-emphasizes power relationships while emphasizing vision and empowerment.  This makes the distinction between leading and managing to almost nil.  His 5 key actions of leadership reads like a summary of the book in actionable terms (paraphrased):

  1. Transform the way people think; shift the paradigm
  2. Make it Participative;
  3. Convey an aspirational vision
  4. Tell the Story: Use the power of narrative
  5. Create focus and urgency

Management Rewired Reviewed: Chapters 3&4

In Chapter 3 Jacobs begins to address relationships.  First the idea Jacobs develops, that each person experiences their own version of reality.  It is close to the theory of mind.  We can’t understand how a person behaves until we have some conception of what their thinking.  In general, trying to manage relationship can become very complex.  It does not lend itself to a proscriptive approach and Jacobs acknowledges this.  The emotional IQ people have a good handle on the complex process of reading and responding to others.

Where Jacobs analysis picks up is when he begins to look at how a theory of mind changes our base behavioral expectations regarding reward, punishment, how they are often used to manipulate behavior, and how the results of manipulation are often counter intuitive.  Behavioral science made one fatal error.  They considered the mind an epi-phenomena, when the mind proved to be the central point when trying to understanding human behavior.

In chapter 4 Jacobs offers a proscriptive approach that seems appropriate in a broad sense: switch from an Aristotelian approach to a Socratic one.

Rather than tell an employee what to do and create all the negative relationship dynamics, the manager needs to ask . . . ask the employee to set (objectives). . .ask them how they think they are doing . . . it turns the relationship upside down.  As the prime mover of the organization, the employee now calls the shots and the manger is in a supportive role.

I believe there is an important role for Jacobs here.  This Socratic role is consistent with suggestions by other management thinkers, but what Jacobs does is associate these approaches with current social science.  Management is a branch of the social sciences, but there were not good linkages between management theory and current directions in the social sciences.  Jacobs provides a rationale for making these linkages explicit.

Review of Jacobs’ Management Rewired: Chapters 1 & 2

Working my way through Charles Jacobs’ Management Rewired.  I have some reservations about his findings, but he does a good job to frame psychology and education’s relationships with business in specific and with practice in general. The next few post are directed to a chapter by chapter listing of first impressions.

Chapter 1 focusses on emotion over logic in decision-making.  I think this chapter is potentially confusing.  First, his card game example does not prove emotion is better than logic.  What it does suggest to me is that the emotional parts of the subjects minds picked up on the underlying logic implied in the game before the reasoning portion could state it.  This is more in line with Malcolm Gladwell‘s line of though in his book BlinkThe emotional mind was able to understand the logic of the game before the logical mind could express that logic.

What does this mean?  Well, we should pay attention to our gut.  However, the very existence of science is because our gut response is so often wrong.  Jacobs does do a good job of expressing the holistic way that the mind works and to suggest that practice should reflect the function of the mind.  For example, we may have a sound logic behind a practice, but that practice will be much more effective if we are emotionally behind it.

In chapter 2, Jacobs talks about the primacy of perception.  We can’t experience the world directly, we experience it through our minds perception and the world we experience may not be remotely similar to other peoples perception. Therefore, idea, theories, paradigm, metaphors and the like play a big role in our perception.  This idea also reflects what I believe about measurement / assessment.  You can’t understand what your measuring if you don’t base your measurements on theories.  The theoretical world and the empirical world are in a dialectical relationship.  You might think of them as 2 sides of the same coin.  I’m greatful for how Jacobs gives voice to this idea.

Jacobs also echos a theme in chapter 2 that I attribute first to Vygotsky, the relationship between lower mental functions and higher mental functions:

Lower Mental Functions (LMF): (are) inherited, unmediated, involuntary, . . . Higher Mental Functions (HMF): are socially acquired, mediated by meanings, voluntarily controlled and exists in a broad system of functions rather than as an individual unit (from the Lev Vygotsky Wiki).

LMFs (memory perception, emotion, etc. . .) can be controlled to a certain degree when they are mediated through HMFs which are Jacobs’ stories, paradigms, metaphors or theories.  The one caveat over Vygotsky is that the fMRI studies Jacobs is referencing do give us a much clearer sense of what these mental functions are, how they function, and how they are related to each other.  Vygotsky thought of LMFs as being isolated from each other, something that current knowledge and (I believe) Jacobs would refute.

Side-bar I am becoming somewhat uncomfortable with the way that Jacobs uses neuroscience.  These fMRI studies are important and enlightening, but as an educational psychologist, I see a much broader field of knowledge (like the above reference to Vygotsky).  Neuroscience seems to be used as a rhetorical device like science often is.  In example, newspaper articles will often read “studies say” when they want to indicate that the authority of science behind their conclusion, even when their conclusion is not scientific.  Neuroscience is a relatively new field that most people know little about and referencing it can give one a certain authority that psychology would not supply.  Yet, there is little in neuroscience that is really useful without taking it back to a general understanding of psychology and (in some cases) education.  I don’t begrudge Jacobs, you have to find a way to sell your ideas, but I do step back and look closely at the way he uses neuroscience in framing his (rhetorical) arguments.

Synergy, hermeneutics and simplicity

Synergy, hermeneutics and simplicity is at the heart of my thinking, my advocacy and my ideas for learning and supporting performance.  I think it will be difficult to be understood without making what this means more explicit.

Synergy – On 4-2-09 I posted an idea (How to Think:) drawn from the blog of Ed Boyden from MIT’s Media Lab who wrote: “Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read . . . ”    Creativity is essential to success and nothing supports creativity more than the synergy that comes from synthesizing ideas in new ways.  It is also at the heart of learning.  New knowledge must be integrated with existing knowledge to make sense and this often requires synthesis.

Meaning Making (Hermeneutics) – Our brains and sensory systems can process an enormous amount of information, but it’s all chaos (psychologist William James’ buzzing blooming confusion) until we make meaning out of it.  Meaning is not a given, it is a human and a learned (for the most part) achievement.  Like synthesis, creating meaning (hermeneutics) is also a basic skill needed for successful practice.  When I advocate for measurement, it is as a tool for making meaning.

Simplicity – In my 3-19 post, Writing to Tame the Chaos I advocated for simplicity in academic writing that communicates beyond one’s disciplinary silo.  With the help of Cunha & Rego (2008), I would like to extend simplicity as a general approach to practice in my next post.  For now I will just comment that synthesis and meaning making are supported by simplicity.  Science can be very complex.  Think, statistical path analysis, double blind random controlled trials, and item response theory in test construction as examples.  But, all these ideas grow out of a relatively simple idea of science.  Create a model to account for observations, develop a hypothesis and collect evidence to test the hypothesis.  You may decide that a path analysis is appropriate to your context, but attempt to return at every step to the simplest most parsimonious understanding.

Measurement Literacy: Without Meaning, Measures Indeed Can Get Out of Hand

We say that someone is literate if they can read for meaning or if they can calculate with numbers.  There is also a need for measurement literacy which is when someone can say what numbers mean when they are obtained in measures.  Although it is a bit wonkish, it’s still important to remember that measures measure constructs not the thing being measured itself.  Constructs are concepts that are thought (theoretically) to be a property of things, but they are not the things.  To understand the meaning of number obtained from measurement, it is necessary to understand the construct.  Harold Jarche recently posted 2 quotes that expressed negative opinions on measurement processes.  I believe these critiques are ill founded for two reasons:

  1. Poorly designed measures should not be used to condemn measurement practice and
  2. Eliminating measures often lead to politics, gut instincts and other poorly founded basis for decision-making.

In this post I would like to go deeper on this subject and show how the problem can be explained as a problem with measurement literacy.

First, Jarche quotes from Charles Green at The Trusted Advisor:

If you can measure it, you can manage it; if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; if you can’t manage it, it’s because you can’t measure it; and if you managed it, it’s because you measured it.

Every one of those statements is wrong. But business eats it up. And it’s easy to see why. …  The ubiquity of measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure (Emphasis added).

The second quote is from Dave Snowden:

We face the challenge of meeting increasing legitimate demands for social services with decreasing real time resources. That brings with it questions of rationing, control and measurement which, however well intentioned, conspire to make the problem worse rather than better. For me this all comes back to one fundamental error, namely we are treating all the processes of government as if they were tasks for engineers rather than a complex problem of co-evolution at multiple levels (individuals, the community, the environment etc.).

I posted this response on Harold Jarche’s blog:

I agree that there are many instances of problems resulting from measures that are based on little more than common sense or tradition, but it is not helpful to base decisions on gut instincts or politics. I believe the need is to increase people’s understanding of good measurement practices and how to develop a deeper understanding of what their measurements really mean. Everyone should know if their measures are valid. In turn, that means being able to say what your measures mean, how they are relevant to practice, and how they are helping to improve practice. It’s not just for big wigs either. Front line employees need to understand how to use measurement to guide practice.

Going further, Charles Green, also said this in his post;

There’s nothing inherently wrong with measuring. Or transactions. Or markets. They’re fine things.  But undiluted and without moderating influences, they become not just a bad deal; they can be a prime cause of ruining the whole deal.

Green is not clear here, to the extent that he doesn’t explain moderating influence.  For measurement, I believe this moderation influence could be meaning or construct supported meaning.  First, Measurement can easily get out of hand because numbers can do two things.  Through constructs they can have meaning, like words, but they can also be calculated.  Being able to calculate with numbers is not the same as being able to say what they mean.  Though people often conflate the two, they are not the same.  Calculation can result in the potential for meaning, like when we calculate a Pearson’s correlation.  But, understanding meaning requires a deeper understanding of how measures were obtained, what is the theoretical construct basis for the measures as well as consequential and other basis for the validity of the measures.

Many people have a good grasp of statistics and how to calculate, but they have less knowledge about measures, validity, designing measures and measurement meaning.  Mistaking measures for the things they represent is a problem of meaning.  Having measures confound complex evolutionary problems is rooted in miss-understanding measurement meaning.  I believe many people would like to give up measurement, but that would not ultimately result in better consequences.  What is needed is better education directed toward literacy in measurement meaning.