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Buzzwords Can Be Dangerous If They Don’t Promote Sustainable Changes In Thinking, Doing & Shared Understanding …*

Buzzwords Can Be Dangerous If They Don’t Promote Sustainable Changes In Thinking, Doing & Shared Understanding ...* | rethinked.org

You may find the confession I’m about to make a bit strange given how central design thinking is to our team’s work as well as my rethinked*annex side project. But here it goes: I am sick and tired of talking about design thinking. As you know, design thinking is a huge buzzword right now in innovation and management circles. Unfortunately, most conversations and articles about the discipline center on either embracing it as a cure-all methodology for every single one of our innovation and creativity woes or decrying it as a depthless, overhyped, passing fad. I find these two binary views to critically miss the point about what design thinking is and what it can offer.

Just yesterday, browsing LinkedIn’s “Management Consulting” news tab, I found two separate articles detailing the woes of design thinking. In “Design Thinking” Destroyed Us, Brian de Haaff  writes:

The problem is when this approach is fervently adopted as the only approach to solving challenges and delivering great customer experiences. And this is where it all went wrong. Everything looked like a problem that we could “design think” our way out of to the UX teams.

Even problems that no one on the product team thought were customer or business problems became ripe for long design-centered studies by people who never previously spoke with customers and definitely did not grok our product.

I see three big problems with the above passage. First, nothing about design thinking mandates that it should be embraced as a step by step recipe. “When this approach is fervently adopted as the only approach to solving challenges” –who is doing the fervent, exclusive, adoption? That is a result of the company’s culture and management, not the discipline of design thinking itself. The second issue is the “long design-centered studies” that he describes. As IDEO’s Kelley brothers like to say, “Fail faster, succeed sooner.” Design thinking is about rapid prototyping and iteration, not months of market research. Also, and perhaps more worryingly, why are these studies being conducted by people who are not at all plugged in to the environment of the challenge they are trying to solve–those “people who never previously spoke with customers and definitely did not grok our product”? If there were a design thinking mandate it would be to empathize. Design thinking is, above all, human-centered–meaning the solutions focus on the actual perspective and experience of the people invested in the challenge, not on unexplored assumptions of what that experience might be.

The third big issue here is “everything looked like a problem that we could “design think”.” I think this statement reflects a serious misunderstanding of the design thinking process. It is not simply a list of steps to problem solve, it’s a way to explore and redefine the problem landscape to uncover more holistic and potent solutions. One of the major benefits of design thinking is how richly it allows one to explore and reframe the problem one is trying to solve. In design thinking, teams use an initial definition of the challenge at hand as a springboard for further exploration. I have never participated in a design thinking challenge where the initial statement of the problem wasn’t later reframed and recrafted.

de Haaff goes on to list some of the specific reasons why his company’s “application of design thinking destroyed progress and fractured the UX groups from the product and engineering teams“:

“The core issue was that design thinking fundamentally requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions must be created for consideration and testing.” 

Again, design thinking doesn’t fundamentally require anything–it’s a tool. If you had to mow your lawn and you had at your disposal a lawn mower and a pair of scissors and decided to use the scissors, when you found yourself exhausted and discouraged at having wasted your afternoon cutting only a small patch of grass with your scissors instead of finishing the job in an hour with the lawn mower, you wouldn’t blame your scissors for the poor outcome, would you? Tools are just tools, their impact and effectiveness depends on how we choose to use them.

I do not mean to pick on Mr. de Haaff, but I think his article illustrates a lot of the problematic ways in which design thinking is being framed and experienced. Design thinking is a human-centered problem solving methodology–it gives us a framework and a set of tools to problem solve. It is neither a miracle nor a curse, it is what we make it. Which is what makes Tamara Christensen‘s interview on think jar collective about Demystifying Design Thinking such a refreshing and important read:

Buzzwords can be dangerous if they don’t promote sustainable changes in thinking and doing, and shared understanding. They can be easily dismissed. Ironically, I find that most designers have trouble clarifying exactly how they think and making their own process explicit for others. The most simple definition of design that I use is by Herbert Simon, from Sciences of the Artificial (MIT Press, 1969) where he describes design as “transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones”. Design thinking, therefore, is basically about the kind of mental activity that facilitates this transformation. Fortunately IDEO and the d.school at Stanford (among others) have done a great job of promoting the process and providing a wealth of information about how it’s done and why it’s valuable.

I think the biggest obstacle to understanding Design Thinking is to treat it as a rigid process, a series of steps that must be followed in a particular sequence. I have seen this happen time and again when a team tries to apply Design Thinking with questionable success and then decides “Design Thinking doesn’t work.” In reality, what doesn’t work is treating Design Thinking like a recipe that must be adhered to. It is more like a mindset, multiple modes of thinking and doing that are iteratively utilized as the project requires. Design Thinking is first and foremost about people and keeping them at the center of the process.

The most common modes are Empathize (with humans), Frame (an opportunity from the perspective of a human), Ideate (about how to address the opportunity), Prototype (possible solutions) and Test (your ideas with people using the prototypes).

IN MY EXPERIENCE THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL THINGS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT DESIGN THINKING (AS A PROCESS AND A MINDSET) ARE:

  1. It is human-centered and people-powered, keep stakeholders engaged as much as possible.
  2. Empathy is an essential and transformational experience for fueling creativity.
  3. Prototyping is about building to think and test ideas. The faster we fail, the better.

Source: Demystifying Design Thinking: Interview With Tamara Christensen via Think Jar Collective

{ rethinkers …* unite } Jesse Thorn’s Make Your Thing Manifesto & Conference

Make Your Thing is a conference for independent creators October 17th-19th in Los Angeles.

Make Your Thing will help you navigate the future of small-scale independent creation with speakers, exhibitions, and the Make Your Thing Bazaar, along with other exclusive entertainment. Whether you’re a creative person just starting out or a seasoned veteran, you can come to Make Your Thing to meet other like-minded people, share stories, and be inspired. Hear how some of the best & brightest have made their own way. Learn from and connect with your creative peers. Join us!

The Make Your Thing conference was inspired by Jesse Thorn‘s lovely Transom Make Your Thing Manifesto. If you don’t have time to get through the whole piece just yet, here are some highlights:

{ S T A R T  N O W }

You will never accomplish anything unless you start making stuff now.

Plans are great, but making stuff is how you build an audience, get better, and most importantly, get closer to making a living.

Most important, though, was that she started. She actually made stuff, regularly. Not just a one-off thing. She started, refined, got better, and made more of what made sense to make more of.

{  M A K E   A   D E A D L I N E  }

You can’t afford to be too precious about your work. Caring is important, but preciousness is the opposite of making stuff. There is no room on the internet for Special Snowflakes who want to procrastinate all day and then drink themselves to sleep and dream about their unwritten novel. To build an audience, you have to be consistently good and often surprising.

{  K E E P   Y O U R   L E G S   M O V I N G  }

The essential lesson seems to be that there is no such thing as an insurmountable adversity. When you have children to feed, you have to find a way to feed them.

{ D O N ‘ T   C O N F U S E   M E D I U M   &  C O N T E N T  } 

 in the digital world, it pays to be medium-agnostic.

Rather than defining yourself by the medium you create, define yourself by what you offer to your audience.

{ B E  A U T H E N T I C } 

 

{ F O L L O W   Y O U R    P A S S I O N } 

 

{ F O C U S   O N   G R E A T   W O R K  } 

Sometimes not doing something shitty is the only way to do something good.

{ C O N N E C T   W I T H   P E O P L E   Y O U   L I K E  }

You don’t have to have an agenda. When you find someone whose work you like, tell them. When you meet someone you think is interesting, meet them again. The internet is built on community and conversation. That is expected. Engage that back-and-forth. Offer someone a hand, and expect nothing in return. Do something cool with someone you think is cool because the thing will end up cool. You never know what you might end up with.

{ O W N   W H A T   Y O U   C R E A T E } 

Ultimately, when you own your work, you are always building equity. When you work for hire, you’re building equity for someone else.

{ F I N D   T H E   M O N E Y } 

One of the odd things about the new way of doing business is that the money doesn’t always come where you expect it. Blog advertising might not pan out, but speaker’s fees do. Your notoriety as a podcaster might get you a gig as a television host (it happened to me). One of my best friends owes his entire career not to the iPhone app he created, but to the video he made to promote the iPhone app he created. If you keep your eyes open and do great work, you can find places to make money.

{  B U I L D   A   C O M M U N I T Y  } 

No matter what you make, it will become part of someone’s identity, and if you can help them share that identity with others, that identity will become a community. And connecting with other people is the most important thing we can do. It’s where babies come from! People will gladly pay you for that service.

{ D O   A   G O O D   J O B } 

I don’t really think that most of what you need is born into you, though. Mostly, you just need to care, and try. You need to make something, and then make it again, a little better. You need to look around for money. You need to reach your hand out to meet someone when it would be easier to keep to yourself. You need to make something for you when it would be easier just do what someone else tells you to. All of these things are hard, but none of them require anything more than gumption. Which I bet you have.

So: make your thing.

Source: Jesse Thorn: Make Your Thing Manifesto via Transom.org, published April 11, 2012.

Barbara Kruger On How We Define “Artist” & How That Affects Who Considers Becoming One …*

 

“I think one of the reasons that I thought about art is that I was one of the few kids in my class–there are always a few–who knew how to draw. And of course it had to do with this replication of the real–that if you had that talent, then you were an artist, which of course is a very simplified way of being an artist. It’s a skill set but it’s not necessarily an art. 

I didn’t think I’d be an artist because I didn’t know anything about art and came from a very poor working class family in Newark, New Jersey. And no one in my family had really gone to college and I certainly didn’t know about the art world or what it might mean to have the luxury of objectifying my experience of the world, stuff like that.”  – Barbara Kruger

How might we reframe the definition of the artist so that all students– not just the few that possess a specific skill set or parents who can afford the time and resources to take them to galleries and museums–may consider and embrace their artistic potential?

How might schools democratize creative confidence?

Source: Barbara Kruger – Design Matters with Debbie Milman Archive: 2005-2009 via Design Observer, published April 13, 2007

Debbie Millman on Taking Risks, Chance Encounters, Failure, Design & Avoiding Compulsively Making Things Worse…*

This past Tuesday, the online journal The Great Discontent published a deeply inspiring interview with the great Debbie Millman. Millman, a Renaissance-woman if ever there was one, is President Emeritus of AIGA, a contributing editor at Print Magazine, and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She also hosts the fantastic (seriously, check it out) podcast, Design Matters, the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet and has authored five books on design, including Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design (HOW Books, 2009). Below are some of my favorite insights from the interview, which I strongly urge you to read in its entirety over on The Great Discontent.

Enjoy & rethink…*

“My first ten years after college were experiments in rejection and despair. I knew that I wanted to do something special but, frankly, I didn’t have the guts to do anything special. When I graduated, I didn’t feel confident enough, optimistic enough, or hopeful enough to believe that I could get what I really wanted. I wasn’t living what I would consider to be my highest self—in fact, I was probably living my most fearful self.”

{…}

“My whole life has been one thing leading to another, leading to another, and then another. It has been completely circuitous and mostly unplanned. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about these chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives. But what if one of those defining experiences never occurred? What if something wonderful, something that we have come to depend on, that serendipitous bit of luck that provided us with a big break or a big deal or the Big Time never happened? One of those “if I hadn’t been eating a gigantic McDonald’s breakfast on the 7am flight to Vancouver in the middle seat, I wouldn’t have apologized to the beautiful, elegant woman sitting next to me on the plane; we wouldn’t have started talking and I wouldn’t have found out she was an important editor of a cool design magazine; we wouldn’t have become friends and so on and so on” type of moments. I call this “six degrees of serendipity”—the quintessential recognition that if this didn’t happen, then that wouldn’t have happened, and we wouldn’t have ended up right here, right now, in this way.”

{…}

“A moment that I thought was a complete and total failure—this takedown of everything I’d done to date—ended up turning into the foundation of everything I’ve done since. I’ve just created a lecture titled “How the Worst Moments of Your Life Can Turn Out to Be the Best” because the worst professional experience I ever experienced turned out to be one of the most important professional experiences of my life.
I was really ashamed of all my failures for a long time. Now, I feel it’s important to share these experiences. I am hopeful that it can give other people hope and context to see things a bit differently. It’s not a failure until you stop trying.”

{…}

“Honestly, I feel like everything I’ve done has required some risk. I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?

The first ten years of my career were very much organized around avoiding failure, but my inadequacies were completely self-constructed. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do something; nobody told me that I couldn’t succeed; I had convinced myself and lived in that self-imposed reality. I think a lot of people do this. They self-sabotage and create all sorts of reasons for not doing things under the misguided assumption that, at some point, they might feel better about themselves and that will finally allow them to take that risk. I don’t think that ever happens. You have to push through it and do it as if you have no other choice—because you don’t. You just don’t.”

{…}

“I want very badly to make a difference with my life. I’d like to make a difference by contributing to the world conversation about design.”

{…}

If you could give a piece of advice to a young person starting out, what would you say?
“I would provide five bits of advice:

Do not be afraid to want a lot.

Things take a long time; practice patience.

Avoid compulsively making things worse.

Finish what you start.

Often people start out by thinking about all the things that they can’t do. Once you take that path, it’s very hard to get off of it. Shoot high and shoot often.

{…}

“I feel happier and more a part of the world when I feel connected to others through likeminded communities. I feel really, really happy being part of a design tribe.”

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.

 

+

 

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.

Rethinking the 17th century salon

How might we rethink the idea of the 17th century salon to fit the lifestyles and technologies of our contemporaries?

From the Agora to the Salon to the rethinkedLab

Since ancient times people have gathered together physically to discuss, share and collectively analyze and rethink ideas. This concept of a collective space in which to gather and deeply examine, and reimagine the human condition has been poignantly absent from our own experience of modern urban life. We live in a world saturated by data. We have unprecedented access to all sorts of information through myriad media: Internet, books, movies, television, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards, text messages, phone calls etc. Yet as our ability to acquire and share data has expanded, it appears we have increasingly lost the spaces and time to collectively reflect on what all this information means and how it applies to our lives.

Where are the Agoras and salons of today? Where can we go to surround ourselves with other people who are aware of their need to discover, imagine, create and experience a meaningful life; a human centered life that provides value and a sense of inherent and authentic purpose and drive. How might we re-imagine those ancient spaces to fit the needs and lifestyles of our contemporaries? How might we structure that space so that it infuses all of its occupants with the inclinations of a particular shared mindset based on seeking wonder and connections between ideas; a mindset that respects and celebrates the human condition and aims to design behaviors and concepts that optimize it.

This is where rethinkedLab comes in. It is an experiment in rethinking and designing that space and special sense of time to optimize it to our contemporary lifestyles.

We are particularly drawn to the concept of the 17th century salon as a source of inspiration for our re-design of that collective space. We want to rethink and reimagine the salon, trim it of all its history of Marxist, feminist, cultural and other –ist studies that have been used to define its meaning and critique its aims, structures and politics. We want to take the salon back to its fundamentals and reimagine it from there.

What is the concept of the salon in its most minimalist form? It is a special place in time and space, which imbues a sense of wonder, and influences and fosters in its occupants an openness to the world of ideas, to others and to themselves. It induces a sort of ‘existential trance’ where participants can shed their daily worries, take a step back from the immediacy of their daily reality to reflect and observe what and how their lives are and how they might be.

The main participants in a salon are its guests and its host. The host is responsible for ensuring the quality, depth, and diversity of the conversation and the guests are responsible for bringing fresh and unique perspectives to various themes and ideas pertaining to culture and existence. While the host contributes her own ideas and perspective to the conversation, her true art lays in curating both her guests and the topics of conversation. The host is a master curator–the more imaginative, deep and unexpected the ideas and people she brings together, the better her salon.

We believe that curation is its own act of creation and we reject the opposing interpretation that it is the mere sharing and propagating of others’ ideas. We find the notion sophomoric and believe it is a result of a confusion between the relationship of originality and authenticity. Not all creations need to start by being original to be authentic. Assembling diverse ideas dispersed across all fields of thoughts and interpreted from a wide range of perspectives can lead to the emergence of truly imaginative, original, fruitful and useful new concepts and questions.

So how do we take the basic elements of a salon and reimagine them to better suit our contemporary lifestyles, technologies and other constraints on our time and attention?

We decided to start as simply as possible, with a blog. We think of it as a public and collective space, to which we invite people of all backgrounds, across disciplines and continents to read, write, share and participate. Like the salonnière of the 17th century, we aim to promote an authentic exchange of ideas across disciplines, hierarchies, systems, structures, cultures, geographies and theories. We aim to create a special space that imbues our visitors with a sense of wonder and a renewed and fostered appreciation, respect and awareness of the human condition and all the potential that it holds. Our blog is a palimpsest in which to record fragments of existence as it is and as it might be. It is a collage of ideas from books, movies, dreams, hopes, memories, discoveries, quotes, images, interviews, questions, doubts and obsessions. It is an attempt to record the potential and occurrences of compassion, authenticity, well-being, beauty, glory, design and humanity embedded in our every day.

The advantage of the blog as a virtual space—being able to access it from anywhere and at any time—can also become its weakness. Perhaps in the future we can try to make the blog analog and host physical public salons, but for now, the immediacy of our conversation is limited by the fact that we have to wait for people to join in to the conversation at different times. This constraint, like most, is actually a possibility, one for us to take a moment, breathe, reflect and have the time to really engage and analyze our ideas at our own pace before responding to other people’s ideas and perspectives.

We hope you will join in the conversation, help us collect and reflect on our shared experiences and re-envision, design and imagine what tomorrow may be like. At the very least we hope you leave our blog with a smile on your face and a renewed sense of wonder and possibility.

If you see anything that you think should be featured on rethinkedLab…* please email Elsa – elsa@rethinked.org No spam please.

brainstorming rules…

DEFER JUDGMENT Don’t dismiss any ideas.
BUILD ON THE IDEAS OF OTHERS No “buts,” only “ands”.
ENCOURAGE WILD IDEAS Embrace the most out-of-the-box notions because they can be the key to solutions.
GO FOR QUANTITY Aim for as many new ideas as possible.
BE VISUAL
STAY FOCUSED ON THE TOPIC Always keep the discussion on target.
ONE CONVERSATION AT A TIME No interrupting, no dismissing, no disrespect, no rudeness.

taken from IDEO’s brainstorming rules

…contrary to what one might imagine there are rules for brainstorming…and yet, how difficult is it to follow these rules…

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