Tag human

“We have put up too long with schools that are devoid of hope, humor & potential.” – Dominic Randolph on Rethinking Schools …*

Here are some excerpts from Dominic’s If I Were Secretary of State for Education post, which is a series of 41 articles written by leading international educationalists about what they would do if they were Secretary of State for Education in the UK. The articles were commissioned by the Sunday Times Festival of Education and Summerhouse Education, and sponsored by Pearson. Read them all at IfIwereSoSforEducation.tumblr.com.

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I would tackle what I think are the three principal issues that plague educational systems in the UK and in much of the world: how we undervalue the work of teachers, how we undervalue the task of educating our young people and how vitally important it is, and how we undervalue the crucial necessity for supporting lifelong learning so that people have the opportunity to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Therefore, I would concentrate on vigorously reframing the place of schools in our culture by making schools the most exciting place to be in any given community, making them the core of communities.

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Schools would be places that would inspire and normalize intellectual development but also the development of character and good ethical decision-making. They would be places that are truly human and, rather than reducing people industrially to summative scores or grades, would encourage ongoing formative development of the full range of their capacities. They would be preventative care health centers. Schools would become the community resource center. People attending schools would develop their potential and grow. They would focus on the delta of their development in an ongoing way rather than measuring it statically at certain points.

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Making schools positive, productive and cool places at the heart of each community would be the aim. We have put up too long with schools that are devoid of hope, humour and potential. Starting a movement to change this reality and bring learning to the centre of what we are about could be a great dream for us all to have.

Read Dominic’s full post here.

imagine, reframe & rethink …

Milton Glaser: You Can’t Take Anything at Face Value, You Have to Go Beyond the Superficiality of Existing Belief …*

“I saw a Cézanne that I had never seen, a pencil and watercolor of a landscape, and I was transformed. By looking at it, my world was enlarged. At this ancient age, I am still capable of astonishment, of feeling, “My god, I never had this experience before.” And that is what the arts provide, this sense of enlargement and the sense that you haven’t come to the end of your understanding—either of yourself or of other things.” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking to infuse your day with a hefty dose of inspiration, I suggest this interview, which iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser gave for Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project. The conversation is full of insights into Milton’s creative process and his understanding of the human experience. I highly recommend finding the time to watch the video in full, but in the meantime, I have transcribed below my three favorite insights from the conversation.

make the ordinary unknown & rethink …*

Milton Glaser: Certainty Is A Closing of the Mind via The Good Life Project

{ To Make Something Is Miraculous & the Creation of Beauty, At Its Core, Is About Empathy }

After a while you begin to realize, a. how little you know about everything and, two, how vast the brain is and how it encompasses everything you can imagine, but more than that, everything you can’t imagine. What is perhaps central to this is the impulse to make things, which seems to me to be a primary characteristic of human beings—the desire to make things–whatever they turn out to be. And then, supplementary to that is the desire to create beauty which is a different, but analogous activity. So the urge to make things, probably, is a survival device, the urge to create beauty is something else, but only apparently something else, because as you know, there are no unrelated events in the human experience. So beauty, and the creation of it, is a survival mechanism. There is something about making things beautiful, and we sometimes call that art, that has something to do with creating a commonality between human beings so that they don’t kill each other. And whatever that impulse is and wherever it comes from, it certainly is contained within every human being I’ve ever met. Sometime the opportunity to articulate it occurs, sometimes it remains dormant for a lifetime, you just don’t get the shot at it.
But I’ve been very lucky, I’ve imagined myself as a maker of things since the age of five. I realized that to make something was miraculous and I never stopped. I just kept making things all my life.
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{ Learning to See is A LifeLong Endeavor; Drawing Helps }

The great benefits of drawing is that when you look at something you see it for the first time.
You have to constantly be attentive to what you deflect in life and what you don’t pay attention to and all the things that you can’t see, and all the preconceptions that you do have about everything. Those preconceptions basically blur your vision. It’s very hard to see what’s in front of you.
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{ Be Suspicious of Defining the “Good Life,” Don’t take anything at face value & go beyond the superficiality of existing belief }

I’m very suspicious of some words like that and also what they link to. I guess I feel now that you can’t take anything at face value, you have to go beyond the superficiality of existing belief. My favorite quote is, “Certainty is a closing of the mind”. And so, I don’t know what a good life is. A good life for me, certainly, has been the things that I think are important–friendships that I have; people that I love; certainly, a marriage that has endured and continues to endure; teaching, which I’ve been doing for well over half a century, and feeling that whatever you know has a possibility of being transmitted and shared—outside of that I wouldn’t know how to define a good life. And as you know some people seem to be heroes to some and villains to others.
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{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering …*

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering ...* | rethinked.org

I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God. – Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

May is National Walking Month in the UK (it’s National Biking Month in the US) If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the past two weeks, chances are you’ve come across some article describing a newly published Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter:

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

Walking is experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance as the business world is embracing its value and function in promoting creative thinking and thus enabling innovation while scientists are decrying the health risks of immobility. Standing desks, treadmill desks and walking meetings are all the rage.

But walking isn’t just a fashion or a means to an end, it’s an innate human drive according to Bruce Chatwin, whose birthday is today. Chatwin argues that:

in becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new. This would explain why mobile societies such as the gypsies were egalitarian, thing-free and resistant to change; also why, to re-establish the harmony of the First State, all the great teachers–Buddha, Lao-tse, St. Francis–had set the perpetual pilgrimage at the heart of their message and told their disciples, literally, to follow The Way.” – I Have Always Wanted To Go To Patagonia, 1983

This notion of our migratory drive appears again and again throughout Chatwin’s work, who professed to having, “caught a case of what Baudelaire calls “La Grande Maladie, Horreur du domicile.” Chatwin spent his short life giving in to his restlessness, trying to make sense of it and to harness it as a creative force. To celebrate his birthday and walking month, I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes of his on restlessness, wandering, journeys and the importance of walking. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, go for a walk. You never know what creative brilliance may strike you on the way as you walk yourself into a state of relaxed attention, better known to scientists as transient hypofrontality.

wander & rethink

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“I stayed at the Estacion de Biologia Marina with a party of scientists who dug enthusiastically for sandworms and squabbled about the Latin names of seaweed. The resident ornithologist, a severe young man, was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.” – from In Patagonia, 1977

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“And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home,’ for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”  – from A Tower In Tuscany, 1987

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“What is this neurotic restlessness, the gadfly that tormented the Greeks? Wandering may settle some of my natural curiosity and my urge to explore, but then I am tugged back by a longing for home. I have a compulsion to wander and a compulsion to return–a homing instinct like a migrating bird. True nomads have no fixed homes as such; they compensate for this by following unalterable paths of migration.” – from The Nomadic Alternative, 1970

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“In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a room. ‘Notre nature,’ he wrote, ‘est dans le mouvement…la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement.’ Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Some American brain specialists took encephalograph readings of travelers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well-being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produced fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, that a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air-conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to another, should feel the need for journeys of mind or body, for pep pills or tranquilizers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“I prefer the cosmopolitan skepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a ‘profitable exercise; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things…no propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own…The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalize me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the sense and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearings on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second–paths down the garden, the way to school, the way round the house, corridors through the bracken or long grass.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Travel must be adventurous. ‘The great affair is to move,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey, “to feel the needs and hitches of life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot, and strewn with cutting flints.’ The bumps are vital. They keep the adrenalin pumping round.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“The best thing is to walk. We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in ‘the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way.’ For life is a journey through a wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it were biologically true.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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What are some of your favorite Chatwin books and quotes?

Stefan Sagmeister, Paulo Coelho, Milton Glaser & Other Creatives on Rethinking the Fear of Failure …*

Stefan Sagmeister, Paulo Coelho, Milton Glaser & Other Creatives on Rethinking the Fear of Failure ...* | rethinked.org

I once received a proverb from a fortune cookie that read, “Everybody loves progress but nobody likes change.” That’s something that’s proven true again and again in both my personal and professional life. Every time we want to reach for something, we are confronted with the possibility of failure and the paralyzing fear that often comes with that possibility. So how can we manage that fear? How can we acknowledge the possibility that our efforts may crumble but still strive for what we want? I don’t believe in definitive, one-size-fits-all answers because we all wrestle with very individual amalgams of inner tensions, insecurities, hopes, dysfunctions and past experiences, but I found this series of insights on the fear of failure from various creatives very inspiring and illuminating. The series was curated by the Berghs School of Communication for their 2011 symposium on the fear of failure:

During 4 days, between 26-29th of May, we dissect, discuss, learn and listen how overcoming the fear of failure is the only path to take if you’re aiming for success. 

As part of the exhibit, the students asked several well-known creatives in various fields to send back video responses in which they discuss the fear of failure. Below are some of my favorites, but be sure to check out the Bergs School of Communication Vimeo channel to browse the full collection of responses.

PAULO COEHLO – BE AUTHENTIC

“I sit down, I breathe and I say, “I did my best, I put all my love, I did it with all my heart. So whether they’re going to like it or not, it is irrelevant. Because I liked it. I’m committed to the thing that I did.” And so far, nobody has ever refused it or criticized it or anything. Because when you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they realize that it is there. That you did this with your body and soul. So what I encourage you to do is this and don’t worry about the fear of failure, it is a human feeling. The important thing is to move beyond this fear and to do what you think you should do.”

Paulo Coelho – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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STEFAN SAGMEISTER – CULTIVATE A BIAS TO ACTION

“Specially as a student, but probably throughout life, it is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff, as much stuff as possible with as little fear as possible. And much much better to end up with a lot of crap but having tried it, than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.”
“If you don’t start it now, you will not start it later. “

Stefan Sagmeister – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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REI INAMOTO – DEVELOP SELF-AWARENESS

“Knowing what you’re weak in, is probably the best way to overcome.”
“A tip is not just accepting the fear of failure and the fact that you’re going to fail at some point in your career and in your tenure at a job that you might have, but also knowing your weakness and how to overcome that weakness.”

Rei Inamoto – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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SARAH MOON – REFRAME

“The failure I want to talk about is the one that comes from one’s own demand, the one that never leaves you in peace, the one that is supposed to be the contrary of success but here again, what does success mean? In my view, it hasn’t got much meaning, it is more about achievement in the sense of doing as much as you can. That’s what success should be. So fear of failure, at the end, can be a good natural instinct that allows you to make mistakes, and that therefore, find a new road and maybe, a surprise.” 

Sarah Moon – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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MILTON GLASER – CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET, BE T-SHAPED, WHEN IN DOUBT,  ASK: WHAT WOULD PICASSO DO?

“The consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you. It hurts you because it basically doesn’t aid in your development. The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail—they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. As a result of that, I believe that Picasso is the most useful model you can have in terms of your artistic interests. Because whenever Picasso learned how to do something, he abandoned it. And as a result of that, in terms of his development as an artist, the results were extraordinary. It is the opposite of what happens in the typecasting for professional accomplishment.”

“One question is, what are you afraid of? Is it the condemnation of others—if you do something and it is inadequate is the criticism of critics and other experts and even your friends and relatives that embarrasses you, that makes you unwilling to go forward? Of course, there’s also in professional life the fear is that you won’t get anymore work because visible failure is a detriment, people think, and perhaps correctly, that you don’t know what you’re doing. So there is that inhibiting factor. Another one that may be more profound and more interesting is our own self criticism. A characteristic of artistic education, is for people to tell you that you’re a genius, and that you’re an artistic genius, and that you’re a creative genius. And so everybody gets this idea if they go to art school that they’re really a genius. Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. And doing a project that is truly complex and difficult tests your real ability and since we all have a sensitive ego, alas, within our confident facade, the thing that we most fear in regard to failure is our own self-acknowledgement that we really don’t exactly know what we’re doing. There’s only one solution, and it relates to what I was saying earlier, you must embrace failure, you must admit what is, you must find out what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply will never subject yourself to the possibility that you are not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are. But that is, of course, delusional. So my advice, finally, about fear of failure, which is a kind of romantic idea, there’s only one way out—embrace the failure.”

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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[Hat Tip: Famous Creators on the Fear of Failure via Brainpickings]

{ Traveling Lightly …* } How Might We Thrive & Flourish Within Tensions & Contradictions?

{ Traveling Lightly ...* } How Might We Thrive & Flourish Within Tensions & Contradictions? | rethinked.org

“My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” – Maira Kalman

Mine too (dream–down to the pleated skirt; definitely green). I have always felt quite strongly l’invitation au voyage, the compulsion to wander and explore, to pack up and walk into the unknown, yielding to restlessness. During my teenage years, I imagined Bruce Chatwin’s essay, The Nomadic Alternative, my personal manifesto. Having grown up in three different countries and across two continents, I have always fancied myself a true nomad. Flying back and forth between the United States and France, three times a year, every year until I turned eighteen, I remember looking at the little GPS monitor on the plane, feeling there must have been an error on my passport: I was not French, I belonged nowhere and everywhere–I was the child from the middle of the Atlantic.

Of course, I fully realize that there is a fair degree of romanticizing in my conception of nomadism in my life. I am well aware that, practically speaking, it would be more difficult than I like to think it, to pack everything up one crisp fall morning and walk into the unknown. There are leases and bills and my unimpressive muscles which would soon tire of a backpack, however neatly arranged, all of which would very much restrain my ability to live on the go. But the idea of nomad, not as daydream, but as value–the idea of treading lightly through life, of being nimble, curious and prone to exploration and unhousing at a moment’s notice–is and has been for as long as I can remember a core value in my worldview and sense of self.

So what happened? How is it that two weeks ago, I found myself drowning in my stuff, trying to cram an endless amount of things into far too few boxes. I was moving out of my apartment and decided that the move would be a good time to shed what I imagined to be my very few bulky possessions — a couch, a large bed, maybe store a few books with my parents. Yet once I started attempting to pack, taking things out of their designated spaces to place them in boxes, I was surrounded by things, my treasures, which taken collectively were suffocating me. Paper cranes, sculptures of matchsticks and clay, poster boards, countless stashes of notebooks and loose torn out pieces of paper covered in paint and words, my grandmother’s broken jewelry, boxes of letters, photographs, markers, books–everywhere–crawling like ants in every corner of every room. So many things, which, individually, delight and reassure me but when taken out of the nooks and closets in which they hide, thrown together, made me sick, literally, dizzy and nauseous. How could there be such a disconnect between how I imagine and desire my life and how I actually live it? And how I might I begin to align the vision and the reality more closely?

I have no answer to this question that I ask, which is a little bit about how to live lightly, but very much about how to exist productively within tensions and contradictions? For me, one of those tensions is how to reconcile the need for comfort and delight that things can provide with my need to feel free and light. We all exist within webs of such interlocking tensions, whatever they may be. I would love to hear your insights on how to flourish in this very human space…*

Friday Link Fest…*

 

READ

7 Design Principles, Inspired By Zen Wisdom ~  Primer outlining the main tenets of Zen Design. via FastCo.Design, published April 12, 2013.

Bruce Nussbaum: Creative Innovation Through Meaningful Design ~ Setting up design in terms of the existential takes you to a different set of concepts, like aura and engagement. via PSFK, published April 12, 2013.

The Next Big UI Idea: Gadgets That Adapt To Your Skill ~ How designers can use the fundamentals of video games and the psychological principles of flow to design enhanced user experiences. via FastCo.Design, published March 26, 2013.

Black Men’s College Success Depends on Grit, Not Just Grades, Study Finds ~ via Education Week, published April 12, 2013.

Your Phone vs. Your Heart ~ When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health. via New York Times, published March 23, 2013.

Go Ahead, Take a Failure Bow ~ via Harvard Business Review, published April 17, 2013.

The Joke’s on Louis C.K. ~ via New York Times, published April 4, 2013.

How to Be a Citizen Placemaker: Think Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper ~ via Project for Public Spaces, published April 7, 2013.

How Reframing A Problem Unlocks Innovation ~ Taking a different perspective can lead to stunning breakthroughs in any industry, writes Tina Seelig in inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity. via FastCo.Design, published April 19, 2013.

What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art ~ via New York Times, published April 12, 2013.

Why We Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow ~ Embodied cognition or how we make sense of abstract ideas by matching them to physical sensations and things our body knows. via Business Week, published April 17, 2013.

Transforming Education According to the Needs of the Human Soul ~ The most interesting questions do not happen under the rubric of literature, or indeed, of history.  It’s time to rearrange departments and academic teaching according to the issues that they are dealing with. via Big Think, published April 11, 2013.

Creativity in Schools: What Countries Do (Or Could Do) ~ via Education Week, published April 11, 2013.

WATCH

How to Create a Workplace People Never Want to Leave, by Google’s Christopher Coleman via Business Week, published April 11, 2013.

 

LOOK

Designer Creates The Idea Alphabet, An Idea In An Alphabet ~ via Design Taxi, published April 14, 2013.

The Imagination of Playgrounds ~ via Design Observer, published April 14, 2013.

Document Deep Dive: What Was on the First SAT? ~ via Smithsonian Magazine, published April 12, 2013.

Forensic Artist Proves Women Literally Don’t Know Their Own Beauty ~ via FastCo.Create, published April 16, 2013.

HMI Create a Framework for Embodied Curiosity in my Everyday Life? {rethinked * annex | Integrative Thinking}

Those of you who kept up with my rethinked*annex project in the fall, in which I attempted to translate the tools, processes and frames of reference of design thinking to my everyday life, might have been wondering what happened to the next phase of the project: integrative thinking. I had originally intended to post each week of the challenge (December-March) about various thought experiments that I would do in an attempt to assimilate the cognitive discipline into my daily life. I soon found out however, that the nature of integrative thinking did not lend itself to quick reflection, so I rethought…* my original plan, and decided instead to steep in integrative thinking, think/work it out for myself and allow some time for ‘digestion’ before trying to organize my thoughts about the experience. This is the first article in a series of posts synthesizing my insights and observations from these past three months spent attempting to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday life.

THE ONTOLOGICAL CONSTRAINTS OF BEING HUMAN
The problem when one attempts to think about one’s own thinking, let alone try to change that thinking, is that one runs into myriad cognitive hurdles designed and implemented to keep us from questioning the equilibrium and understanding that we create for ourselves in our daily lives. I’m not talking about politics or culture but about the core ontological constraints of being human: our inability to process the constant influx of reality and our perceptual and cognitive need to parcel it into salient bits, which we craft into overarching frameworks and models through which to experience our subjectivity and every day encounters. Because of the infinite malleability of our appraisal of reality, we have the ability and the need to fashion our own understanding of it. The issue with this is that, as Roger Martin put it in his terrific book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking,

“this tendency makes it difficult to know what to do with opposing and seemingly incommensurable models. Our first impulse is to determine which one represents reality and which one is unreal and wrong, and then we campaign against the idea we reject. But in rejecting one model as unreal, we miss out on all the value that can be realized by holding in mind two opposing models at the same time.” (55)

INTEGRATIVE THINKING
Integrative thinking is an effective method for countering this human tendency to simplify and reduce our understanding of reality to opposing binaries. Martin offers the following working definition of integrative thinking: “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.” (15) Integrative thinking, according to Martin, stems from our inherent capacity to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in mind, a concept he explores through the metaphor of the ‘opposable mind’, which:

“we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension. We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea. Were we able to hold only one thought or idea in our heads at a time, we wouldn’t have access to the insights that the opposable mind can produce. And just as we can develop and refine the skills with which we employ our opposable thumbs to perform tasks that once seemed impossible, I’m convinced we can also, with patient practice, develop the ability to use our opposable minds to unlock solutions to problems that seem to resist every effort to solve them.” (7)

After rereading Martin’s book, which is filled with keen observations and insights on the mental patterns of effective integrative thinkers, I decided that the first step in my attempt to practice integrative thinking on a daily basis should be to take an honest and in-depth look at my personal knowledge.

PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE | STANCE, TOOLS & EXPERIENCES

Martin defines personal knowledge as a tripartite coalition of stance, which “is your most broad-based knowledge domain in which you define who you are in your world and what you are trying to accomplish in it.” (93); tools, which, “range from formal theories to established processes to rules of thumb.” (97) And experiences that “form your most practical and tangible knowledge. The experiences you accumulate are the product of your stance and tools, which guide you toward some experiences and away from others.” (99) A thoughtful balance of the three elements of this cognitive coalition is key to effective integrative thinking.

“Operating at their best, the three elements of the personal knowledge system will reinforce each other to produce an ever-increasing capacity for integrative thinking. By the same token, though, stance, tools, and experience can conspire to trap perfectly intelligent and capable people in a world where problems seem too hard to solve and mere survival is the only goal.” (104)

Before I could start thinking about integrating components of conflicting models or ideas with my own, I had to gain a solid understanding of what my model was. But how to break past the blind spots and recognize my own assumptions to take an honest look at my stance, tools and experiences?

CREATING DISRUPTIONS

The first few weeks of December, I created all sorts of disruptive thought experiments for myself, which I hoped would allow me to experience the ordinary, common sensical and taken for granted dimensions of my life as unknown. I decided to write down 100 assumptions I had. I walked up and down my street taking pictures of each building from various angles. I went on a scavenger hunt around my apartment looking for ‘unexpected typographies.’ I tried to photograph and catalog every color and shade I could find in my home. I attempted to count how many different logos were scattered in my immediate surroundings. I was looking for a way to disrupt my perceptual routine.

Many of these little exercises proved to be fun and engaging, and the results were at times astonishing. Noticing the discrepancy between what I think I see and what I actually notice (and the vast amounts of things I don’t) was, forgive the dreadful pun, eye-opening. But at the end of the day, I found that all of these exercises provided little more than isolated disruptions and I was left frustrated, unable to understand how to take this to the next level.

If I was to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday, I needed to find a hypodermic way of creating ongoing disruptions in my noticing and thinking practices. Tools and exercises would not be enough, what I needed was a paradigm shift. To go beyond isolated disruptions to a sustainable, adaptive and iterative process of integrative thinking, I would have to approach this challenge as a design project and consider the wider landscape of interrelated terms and concepts within which integrative thinking is embedded.

NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

Any time we talk about a paradigm shift, what we are really talking about is a moment in time and thought, in which ideas and concepts open up, become tangibly more malleable, and beg for new connections and definitions. Before I could move forward, I had to formulate in my own terms a synthesis of the drives and assumptions underlying the discipline, to refine my understanding of what it was I was after when seeking to ‘do’ integrative thinking. I had identified the constraints, which could all be summed up as ‘being human’—need for order and meaning, inability to process reality as is, uncomfortable with ambiguity, etc. Now I needed to identify the frame through which I would explore integrative thinking and make it mine.

Integrative thinking is the ability to suspend your framework—the core model through which you make sense of the world and your place within it—and to willingly place yourself in a space of unknowing, ambiguity and uncertainty. It is the ability to separate yourself from your ideas and the organizing narrative of your life, the willingness to look at all the things you have explained to yourself and admit that perhaps none of them are true. Of course, this is not the goal of integrative thinking. In its ideal form, integrative thinking is not about subtraction or substitution, it’s about remix and enhancement. But being able to entertain the notion that your model of reality is ‘wrong’ (not in an absolute sense, but in terms of it not being optimized to your life and practice) is an essential prerequisite to integrative thinking. If your ideas are too precious to you, and if you are unwilling to “kill your darlings” you will never be able to practice integrative thinking effectively.

Integrative thinking stems from our capacity for cognitive empathy, the ability to place yourself in someone else’s mental framework and view the world from their perspective. In my understanding of it, empathy starts with curiosity. The goal of my integrative design challenge, therefore, was to move past creating isolated events to creating a process by which to induce, nurture and maintain a cognitive state of hyperawareness and receptivity or ‘beginner’s mind’ in myself.

SHOSHIN | BEGINNER’S MIND

Martin alludes to the powerful possibilities of beginner’s mind and the hyperawareness it creates:

“When we learn something new, we’re acutely aware of features that more experienced practitioners take for granted. Think of your self-consciousness when you learned a new sport or took your first driving lesson. This hyperawareness of yourself and the skills you’re learning does not last long. Over time, practice transforms conscious acts into automatic habits characteristic of mastery. Think of your anxiety at stoplights when you first learned to drive using a standard shift, and the unthinking ease with which you now put the car into first and drive off. The better we get, the faster we forget about what we are doing. Our awareness of what we are doing and how we are accomplishing it quickly becomes as intuitive and inaccessible as the knowledge we use to tie our shoes or ride a bike.” (100)

Famed Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, summed this up beautifully with the remark, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” Shoshin is a Zen Buddhist term, which translates to beginner’s mind and is characterized by a very open attitude, free of preconceptions and fueled by genuine curiosity and eagerness. Shoshin does not describe a temporal event (the first time one does something) but rather an emotional and cognitive state of openness, optimism, creativity, curiosity and zeal. Shoshin can (and should) be achieved at all levels of practice.

EMBODIED CURIOSITY

It seemed that no matter how I went about trying to break down integrative thinking for myself, I kept zeroing in and coming back to this concept of ‘embodied curiosity.’ A term that, at this stage, was little more than a vague contour overflowing with possibility. I had finally found my entry point into integrative thinking. And so, the formulation of the challenge went from the general and unhelpful “how might I practice integrative thinking” to the more focused: How Might I create a framework for embodied curiosity in my everyday life?

 

Look for part II next Thursday.

Design Thinking & The Individual ~ Reflections…*

Disclaimer: the views expressed below are my own and are not representative of Rethinked…* as an organization or of the other team members.

It seems hard to believe that three months have passed since I first set out on my quest to integrate the tools and resources of Design Thinking into my everyday life. Yet here we are in the reflection phase of the challenge. The past three months comprised a steep learning curve and I feel I come away from the experience with tangible benefits and a positive new mind frame. I’m also very ready to change the conversation. Here’s why.

 

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EMBRACING  VULNERABILITY & THE UNFINISHED

I am allergic to mediocrity and have spent most of my life holding on to the highly unhelpful belief that if something cannot be done perfectly, there is no point in attempting to do it at all. The emphasis on quick and cheap prototypes that is a cornerstone of design thinking has proved immensely helpful in beginning to change that paradigm for me. I have witnessed and experienced first hand the value of process and ‘unfinishedness’, and I have realized that putting things out of my head and into the world, in their flawed and unfinished form, helped me achieve an end result that was usually stronger and better than if I had hoarded the ideas in my head until I felt that they were ready to be shared.

 

NEW SENSE OF AGENCY

My three months of design thinking have also helped me feel much more empowered to address and change issues and problems that arise in my daily life. If you’ve been keeping up with the rethinked*annex project, you will be aware that I have been using design thinking to rethink…* my eating/cooking experience and reframe my perception and experience of winter. These two areas of my life are both incredibly complex because they operate on so many different levels (emotional, physiological, mental, etc.). I’ve always hated winter and had just come to accept that I will be cold, wet and miserable for four months out of the year. Design thinking is a very empowering tool, which gave me the push I needed to take charge and realize that I can rethink and redesign experiences for myself. Just because I cannot control the weather, doesn’t mean I can’t design my experience and response to it.  I had bought one of those ‘happy lamps’ for people affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, and after sitting under it twice, had decided it didn’t work and resolved to give up once and for all on winter. Design thinking made me realize that addressing my issues with winter were not about getting more light (although, that would help) or about wearing thicker, waterproof clothing, it was about rethinking…* and redesigning an entire ecosystem of experiences. Rather than seeing this as a barrier to change and being overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, my exposure to design thinking helped me to feel not only up to the task but also excited about the challenge.

 

GRADUATING TO THE REAL WORLD

Three months after my college graduation, I started missing school desperately. My passion for reading, writing and thinking (usually very slowly) were not translating to the business world. When speaking with some of my friends who had decided to go straight to graduate school from undergrad, and hearing them talk about all of the reading and papers they had to turn in, I felt a strange pang of jealousy. I passionately love engaging with ideas but I had been taught only one way of engaging deeply and when I left the walls of academia, I realized that this one way did not necessarily translate in the ‘real’ world. Design thinking has given me a new approach to engage deeply with ideas; an approach that is much more urgent and relevant to the world outside of school than ‘academic thinking’.

 

 

I’M A HUMAN ~ COMPLEX, MESSY, ORGANIC, DECAYING & NEUROTIC
This is both a positive and a negative. One of the things that I most appreciate about design thinking is the holistic outlook on problems and systems inherent to the discipline. Whether using design thinking to rethink an entire organization or a hairbrush, the design{er/thinker} is always conscious of the many variables at play in a single experience or product. Design thinking is a profoundly human outlook on life; it is a conscious effort to place the human being at the center of our lives and experiences. And design thinking has been immensely helpful and successful in making businesses, products and services more empathetic and human-centered. The problem is that I, as a human being, am infinitely more complex than any objective system, be it an organization or service could ever be. Having to be the designer and the user adds myriad other moving parts to the equation. I struggled to define the challenges I wanted to address by using design thinking because these challenges operate on so many different human levels. It is incredibly difficult to pinpoint the deep issues in one’s life because of the many strategies we all have in place to avoid and ignore our own fears and dysfunctions. So while a designer can observe people’s behaviors and ‘thoughtless’ acts (all those little things we do to make things work for us, like the folded paper napkin under the wobbly table), it suddenly becomes a lot harder when the person under observation is your self. This disconnect was unsettling. At each of the design thinking workshops I attended, I had a blast. I learned a lot, witnessed some great ideas and got to use some very early prototypes, but the most memorable aspect of these workshops was the childlike joy I experienced throughout the process. Design thinking is fast and fun and sometimes silly but it leads to great ideas and effortless collaboration with complete strangers. However, once I started trying to apply the discipline to myself and my own life, a lot of the fun and joy were taken out of the process. The process started to feel stressful as I was forced to take an honest look at my behaviors and the underlying causes of the problems and dysfunctions of my every day.

 

LEARNING ABOUT DESIGN THINKING YIELDS DIMINISHING RETURNS OVER TIME

There once was a time when design thinking was nameless. Like breathing, it was taken for granted, it was designer’s worldviews and the way they thought about problems and solutions. But in the past decade or so design thinking has been exploding in the business world as leading management and innovation experts like Roger Martin and legendary design firm Ideo, have been extoling the value of applying the design studio methodology to the design and creation of not only products and services but also businesses and organizations. This push to bring design thinking to the boardroom has been highly positive in many ways. I have spent enough time researching the discipline and its outcomes to believe that the design process and mindset add tangible value on a host of levels (emotional, mental, physical) to a wide range of solutions. The problem comes at the individual level. When I set off on my design thinking cycle, if I had been asked if I considered myself a designer, I would have laughed at the thought and answered, no. Participating in several design thinking workshops with Ideo and the Parson’s New School of Design was tremendously helpful in helping me realize that we are all designers and that design thinking is just another form of human thinking. I learned about the process–discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, evolution—and I learned a lot of new terms, concepts and methodologies such as (Ideo’s brainstorming rules) that were immensely valuable, but I feel that after a certain point, trying to learn more about design thinking (through reading about it) proved to be alienating. Which leads me to my next point…

 

THE DESIGN THINKING CONVERSATION IS TOO NAROW

I did not find a single book with Design Thinking in the title that was not explicitly about business or leadership and management. Reading about design thinking became boring after a while because it was all the same: case study after case study of how the discipline had revolutionized businesses and organizations, services and products. To learn more about design thinking as it applies to the human individual in the everyday, I had to broaden my search and read about design. I read Kenya Hara’s Designing Design (which I cannot recommend enough), and Imagine, Design, Create: How Designers, Architects and Engineers Are Changing our World, and it was through those books that I really learned about the power of design to optimize human experience at the individual level. I think it is a shame that the mainstream conversation about design thinking is so heavily centered on businesses rather than people. Design and design thinking are profoundly human; to engage in design thinking is to think as a human and to place the human at the center of experience. I found the fact that most of the conversations about design thinking center around businesses and organizations to be alienating. This is not to say that there isn’t anything written about design thinking and the individual, there is. In Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations And Inspires Innovation,Tim Brown observes that we are all involved in designing our own lives:

Above all, think of life as a prototype. We can conduct experiments, make discoveries, and change our perspectives. We can look for opportunities to turn processes into projects that have tangible outcomes. We can learn how to take joy in the things we create whether they take the form of a fleeting experience or an heirloom that will last for generations. We can learn that reward comes in creation and re-creation, not just in the consumption of the world around us. Active participation in the process of creation is our right and our privilege. We can learn to measure the success of our ideas not by our bank accounts but by their impact on the world. (241)

My issue is that I find that there is not enough on this specifically; that in the face of all the talk about design thinking and business, we need to hear more about how the discipline applies to communities and individuals.

 

THINGS I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

To be fair, some of the issues that I encountered with design thinking were of my own doing. I have some regrets, best summarized as—I avoided discomfort too much.

 

EXCHANGE

My attempts to translate design thinking to the everyday were based exclusively on my own experience, which is how I had planned the project, but I do think I should have talked about this with more people and been more proactive in seeking out different perspectives on the notions underlying design thinking. I should have talked with more people, gotten their feedback on what I was doing, and seen how we might have helped each other refine our thinking about the discipline. My boyfriend was a trooper and happily went along with the design thinking dates I planned, and the myriad post-its that took over our apartment these past three months, but other than him, I feel I did not really engage in any meaningful one on one conversations about design thinking. I wish I had been more proactive about nurturing that conversation.

 

DO vs THINK {DON’T FREEZE}

I wanted to make cheat sheets and break down the main things I have learned along each phase of the project but found myself distracted by the constant tension I felt between thinking and doing. As I mentioned above, I have a very difficult time doing until I feel I have reached a certain level with my thinking. I know that I did not make the prototypes as quickly as I should have. A lot of thought went into most of them. A few weeks ago, Dominic expressed his concern that I was spending too much time thinking rather than doing and he was right. That has always been one of my weaknesses and I think I didn’t push myself as much as I should have in terms of doing quickly, and without too much thinking. I was aware of this tension and it was the cause of some anxiety and a great deal of paralysis in terms of doing.

 

SO…*

I believe design thinking has tremendous value in the business world as well as in the world of the individual’s everyday. I think there is a real need to broaden the conversation about design thinking. Too much is made of design thinking’s potential for businesses and organizations and not enough of its benefits to the individual. This is an exciting time for design thinking as some people swear it is the thing to revolutionize 21st century living, while others deride it or claim its imminent demise. The moment is ripe with possibility to broaden the scope and depth of the conversation and there are people trying to make it more about individuals and communities. I was pleased to see Frog Design’s Collective Action Toolkit published November 15th.

The Collective Action Toolkit (CAT) is a package of resources and activities that enable groups of people anywhere to organize, build trust, and collaboratively create solutions for problems impacting their community. The toolkit provides a dynamic framework that integrates knowledge and action to solve challenges. Designed to harness the benefits of group action and the power of open sharing, the activities draw on each participant’s strengths and perspectives as the group works to accomplish a common goal.

The toolkit brilliantly broadens the scope and reach of the design thinking conversation and gives people the tools of the discipline in layman’s terms. I hope to see more of this.

What Is Design?

“You can think of the tacit knowledge that’s harnessed by design and process—the learning by doing part of it—as a little bit like an iceberg. And if you think about the human mind, most of what we do is subconscious. The power that we learn to be explicit with, in academic environments in particular—the conscious mind—is a very small proportion of what we really can use: our intuition, our ability to feel, our ability to understand without being able to explain—all of those things are relatively subjective and subconscious. And what design does is to harness those attributes in the process. It’s a little like the bit of the iceberg that sticks out of the water being the conscious mind, whereas that huge mass underneath the water is the equivalent of the subconscious mind. And we want to use the whole thing.”  – Bill Moggridge

The late Bill Moggridge speaking to K-12 Educators from New York and across the country, addresses the question of ‘What is Design?’


(via CooperHewitt on YouTube, published Aug 4, 2010)

 

 

 

Continue your exploration of design with this new, open-source, design thinking (although you won’t see it described as such) toolkit, made available today by Frog DesignThe Collective Action Toolkit (CAT) ~ A resource for Changemakers:

“The Collective Action Toolkit (CAT) is a package of resources and activities that enable groups of people anywhere to organize, build trust, and collaboratively create solutions for problems impacting their community. The toolkit provides a dynamic framework that integrates knowledge and action to solve challenges. Designed to harness the benefits of group action and the power of open sharing, the activities draw on each participant’s strengths and perspectives as the group works to accomplish a common goal.”

The 72 page toolkit can be downloaded free of charge here.

On Looking: Roland Barthes on the Difficulties of Naming the Essence of Photography

Roland Barthes‘ last book, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, published posthumously, was born out of his grieving the death of his mother. It was while sorting and looking at pictures of his mother, that this touching rumination on the essence of photography, affect, the self, perception and memory emerged. Barthes’ reflections on photography and perception are thought-provoking and essential to our understanding and appreciation of making the familiar unknown. Celebrate what would have been Barthes’ 97th birthday today with these excerpts from Camera Lucida.

  

(Roland Barthes, via TracesOfTheReal.com)

 

First of all, I did not escape, or try to escape, from a paradox: on the one hand the desire to give a name to Photography’s essence and then to sketch an eidetic science of the Photograph; and on the other the intractable feeling that Photography is essentially (a contradiction in terms) only contingency, singularity, risk: my photographs would always participate, as Lyotard says, in “something or other”: is it not the very weakness of Photography, this difficulty in existing which we call banality? Next, my phenomenology agreed to compromise with a power, affect; affect was what I didn’t want to reduce, being irreducible, it was thereby what I wanted, what I ought to reduce the Photograph to; but could I retain an affective intentionality, a view of the objects which was immediately steeped in desire, repulsion, nostalgia, euphoria? Classical phenomenology, the kind I had known in my adolescence (and there has not been any other since), had never, so far as I could remember, spoken of desire or of mourning. Of course I could make out in Photography, in a very orthodox manner, a whole network of essences: material essences (necessitating the physical, chemical, optical study of the Photograph), and regional essences (deriving, for instance, from aesthetics, from History, from sociology); but at the moment of reaching the essence of Photography in general, I branched off; instead of following the path of a formal ontology (of a Logic), I stopped, keeping with me, like a treasure, my desire or my grief, the anticipated essence of the Photograph could not, in my mind, be separated from the “pathos” of which, from the first glance, it consists. I was like that friend who had turned to Photography only because it allowed him to photograph his son. As Spectator I was interested in Photography only for “sentimental” reasons; I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.

 

(Photograph by Koen Wessing: Nicaragua. 1979 via Stanford.edu )

 

My rule was plausible enough for me to try to name (as I would need to do) these two elements whose co-presence established, it seemed, the particular interest I took in these photographs.

The first, obviously, is an extent, it has the extension of a field, which I perceive quite familiarly as a consequence of my knowledge, my culture; this field can be more or less stylized, more or less successful, depending on the photographer’s skill or luck, but it always refers to a classical body of information: rebellion, Nicaragua, and all the signs of both: wretched uniformed soldiers, ruined streets, corpses, grief, the sun, and the heavy-lidded Indian eyes. Thousands of photographs consist of this field, and in these photographs I can, of course, take a kind of general interest, one that is even stirred sometimes, but in regard to them my emotion requires the rational intermediary of an ethical and political culture. What I feel about these photographs derives from an average affect, almost from a certain training. I did not know a French word which might account for this kind of human interest, but I believe this word exists in Latin: it is studium, which doesn’t mean, at least not immediately “study,” but application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity. It is by studium that I am interested in so many photographs, whether I receive them as political testimony or enjoy them as good historical scenes: for it is culturally (this connotation is present in studium) that I participate in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.

The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is not I who seeks it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points. This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole—and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).

 

Since the Photograph is pure contingency and can be nothing else (it is always something that is represented)–contrary to the text which, by the sudden action of a single word, can shift a sentence from description to reflection–it immediately yields up to those “details” which constitute the very raw material of ethnological knowledge.

 

What I can name cannot really prick me. The incapacity to name is a good symptom of disturbance.

 

Nothing surprising, then, if sometimes, despite its clarity, the punctum should be revealed only after the fact, when the photograph is no longer in front of me and I think back on it. I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly,  engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss its point of effect, the punctum.

 

Ultimately–or at the limit–in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. “The necessary condition for an image is sight,” Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” The photograph must be silent (there are blustering photographs, and I don’t like them): this is not a question of discretion but of music. Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort, of silence (shutting your eyes is to make the image speak in silence). The photograph touches me if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah: “Technique,” “Reality,” “Reportage,” “Art,” etc.: to say nothing, to shut my eyes, to allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness.

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For the Roland Barthes buffs among you, head on over to UBU web for audio recordings of his lectures: Comment vivre ensemble” (“How to live together“), Lectures at the Collège de France, (1977); “Le Neutre” (“The Neutral“), Lectures at the Collège de France, (1978) and a free version of Barthes’ 1967 essay, The Death of the Author. Enjoy & Rethink…

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