The Integration of Design and World: More on Design Thinking.

This post responses to Anne Burdick’s invitation concerning the presentation: Design without Designers (found in the comments of my last post).  I will address the question, why would educational theory build on design concepts or how do I see the relation between education and design? I will look at three areas:

  • Erasing the distinction between art and science
  • Artifactual cultural aspects of psychology
  • The trans-disciplinary nature of ideas

Erasing the distinction between art and science

I see general changes in the practice of science along the following lines:

  • The critique of positivism (for promising more than methodology could ever deliver)
  • The critique of postmodernism (for fetishizing certainty; i.e. If positivism fails than scientific judgement cannot be trusted at all.) and
  • More acceptance for addressing real world problems (where problems tend to be interdisciplinary and often involve mixed methods).

The result is that many of the walls and silos of science have been reduced including the distinction between art and science.  In example, I often refer to judgements based on validity.  Although validity uses rational and empirical tools, building a body of evidence and achieving a combined judgement is more like telling a story.

Artifactual cultural aspects of psychology

The work of (or derived from) Vygotsky is popular in psychology and education.  It has also proved consistent with, and complimentary to the recent findings of the “brain sciences”.  While there are genetic and hardwired aspects of psychology, the structure of our minds can be said to reflect, to a great extent, the structure of the social and artifactual world that we live in.  The design of the world is more than just a decorative environment to an autonomous mind, it has an impact on who we are in both development and in how we interact with it in our ordinary lives.

Our delineation of the subject matter of psychology has to take account of discourses, significations, subjectivities, and positionings, for it is in these that psychological phenomena actually exist. (Harré and Gillet, 1994, The Discursive Mind and the Virtual Faculty)

The trans-disciplinary nature of ideas

Ideas never seem to respect the traditional academic disciplinary structure the way that methods and theories did during most of the 20th Century.  In the mid-90s a graduate school mentor pointed out that you could read many books at that time and have no clue to the discipline of the author without reading the back cover.  Psychologist, educators, literary critics, philosophers, sociologists and yes, designers, they all often seem to be speaking in the same language about the same type of things.

In Conclusion

  • The distinction between art and science is dissolving.  Method is important, but it does not rule.  Achieving a scientific break-through is analogous to creating a work of art (even though it still uses rational and empirical tools).
  • The design of our world is not just decoration, it reflects who we are and who we are reflects the design of the world.
  • Tools (artifacts, concepts, theories, etc. . .) are needed to act on the world.  Where these tools come from is less important than our ability to make use of them.

So in the above ways, design and design thinking is everywhere.  I do think designers should be more present in my own thinking as both a technical adjunct and as a foundation of both my thought and of the academic curriculum?  Yes, I do!  What do you think from a designer’s perspective?  How does the thinking of designers and current design curriculum fit into the above ideas?

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

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.

The Need for Rituals in Learning and Living

Clark Quinn in his recent post Transformative Experience Design looks anew at Post and Gilmore’s transformative experience as part of the experience economy; (the idea that the next phase of business is to sell experiences that are transformational.)  He make a great synthesizes of this idea with 2 other authors: Brown and Rappaport.  This is a comment I left on his blog.


I don’t know where this came from, but I think that the synthesis of transformational experience, JS Brown’s ‘questing disposition’ and especially Rappaport (God rest his soul) is shear genius.  The following is from a review of Rappaport’s book by Mary Catherine Bateson:

Rappaport is . . .describing the kind of ecology of ideas and actions that might include and sustain religion (or secular rituals) as an integral part of life. . .  What is needed is not new theology (though some tune-ups might be helpful) but new forms of practice and social engagement. We can talk until we are blue in the face, but that may do more harm than good, creating new polarities; what we need to do instead is to march or dance or sing, as in the great civil rights demonstrations of the sixties that forged new convictions and new unity.

I think these forms of practice and social engagement can come in many different forms and can be short lived or last for centuries, but they all must exist and tap into an ecology of ideas and actions that are at a scale that is much larger than any single individual or any single designed event.

My first thoughts on Browns ‘questing disposition’ reminds me of the institutional university.  Many of the best are full of rituals and lore, and their ancient stature towers above all who are there (think: Go Crimson).  But the way they do things and their ecology of ideas, just doesn’t fit this new world.  We go to university, graduate, take a job and hear from them in the form of donation requests.  Our educational rituals and our educational relationships need to be lifelong, just like our learning. There will come a time in the year 2020 when I need will need knowledge and practice from my university, except that the course I will need hasn’t been thought of yet.  We need university rituals that go with us into the world, and extend beyond rooting for your team in March Madness.

A second thought.  I have long thought that religion must have served some important purpose to be so widespread and this fits with Rappaport’s basic idea (at least as presented by Bateson) that ritual and religion co-evolved with language and that it did this in order to counter some of the destructive things that can be done with language (hence Bateson’s comment above that talking can “do more harm than good”).  And Bateson’s prescription also seems real to me; that religion’s problems are rooted not primarily in theology, but in the need for new practices and new forms of social engagement.  Now I admit, there are some theologies that I do have some problems with, but I believe that Bateson would say that a lot of these problems are just me letting my words getting in the way of practice and social engagement.

A third thought.  Ritual, as Bateson talks of it, can be seen as a form of distributed cognition or maybe as a form of the distributed unconscious.  Yes, I believe that just as there is much cognition that is below our conscious awareness, much of our rituals serve a similar unconscious cognitive role.

Well, let chew on that for a while.

How Do You Change Behavior

Geetha Krishnan asks us a foundational question that is central to education, management and any other field related to psychology and concerned with behavioral skills. “Can (behavioral skills) really be taught to an adult? More accurately, can an adult change behavior through training?” I would answer yes; with substitute behavior, with appropriate mediation, with changing the functional structures supporting change and with a long term view and plan.  In answering, I will reference the examples presented by Geetha in his blog post

Before beginning, let’s take Geetha’s question one more step.  Trainers, coaches, and others involved in leadership, professional development, training or performance support are responsible for facilitating behavioral change.  The question is not if, it’s how?  I think it starts with a deep understanding of the person: their motivations, beliefs and desires, as well as with the expectation of the culture and community in which they are embedded and it continues as a partnership. You may develop curricula materials and training programs based on the general needs of the population you’re targeting (like the inspirational program Geetha references), but I think facilitating behavioral change is person specific, long-term and personal.  This may not be an exclusive list, just a start.

Substitute Behavior: One of BF Skinners insights is that people are active.  You can’t stop behavior, people will still be active, you can only change behavior.  In Geetha’s initial discussions the question is; how do you get people to talk less in meetings and to substitute active listening and recording behaviors instead.  In addition to thinking about what you do not want people to do, give some thought to what else they could do instead.

Mediation: The psychological insight of Vygotsky and Leont’ev was that people can regulate their behavior through cultural mediation.  That is, we can use language (inner speech) and ideas to regulate our behavior and these ‘mediators’ originate in the social world around us.  In Geetha’s example, there was an original training session that provided the ideas and justification for changing the way a supervisor was interacting with the people under him.  These ideas (mediator) were reinforced by the person’s peer group and likely by the corporate hierarchy.  What we don’t know from Geetha’s example are the cultural community and social influences on this persons behavior.  I think Geetha correctly identifies that there are tools that help us to change behavior, there are hows and methods for making this change and there are whys and reasons we are motivated.  What I suggest is that these are all mediators and that they are formed in the social world, but the ones discussed are not the only ones.  There are many others, sometimes contradictory ones that are out there and it takes a deep understanding of the social situations to understand what is supporting behavior in a person’s social milieu.   It is not hierarchical either.  Pressures from subordinates can be as important as those from bosses.

Structure: I believe that behavioral changes that are functional are the most likely to be maintained.  What do I mean?  Consider a person who listened more and recorded what he learned during client meetings.  Suppose he would then follow up by regularly summarizing what he learned and would make that learning a part of his response to his clients.  If that improved his performance, especially as it is seen in the social milieu, it would be a strong motivating factor in maintaining his new behavior.  I believe people can do things out of habit.  Making the new behavior a functional improvement is one why to break out of a habit.

The long view: Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross (1992) speaks of a reoccurring cycle when trying to change behavior.  (They were speaking of therapy for addictive behavior, but I think it is applicable to many types of behavioral change.)  Behavioral relapse is common.  It does not mean that behavior cannot change, just that the cycle of change must be repeated.  For any change that is important, I think we must be committed to a long-term view with repeated efforts. Any change process should anticipate relapse and the need for repeated efforts to change should be considered normal.

This rather long and wonkish post should be considered the first draft of an idea in response to an important question.  It is almost the history of psychology.  I am sure that much addition thought and revision needs to occur here.  I certainly welcome any comments.