A campire has been a beacon for human life for centuries and may provide the ideal analogy and literal tool to engaging people in creating new things. The opportunities for it to shape our thinking and actions is enormous.
The campfire is a place where we go for warmth, intimacy, safety, light, food and inspiration. As camping season comes upon us in the Northern part of the Americas, it seems fitting to consider the ways that the campfire might be used to stoke the sparks of imagination and flames of passion (pun firmly intended).
Metaphors and analogies are commonly used in systems thinking and complexity science to illustrate concepts that are, on their own, relatively complex and awkward to describe literally. A campfire provides both a metaphor for bringing people together, but also a literal tool that could be used more effectively in work with groups struggling to innovate, collaborate and contemplate together. From a design perspective, campfires and the social system that they create around them provide an opportunity to enhance intimacy quickly, allowing for the potential to explore issues in ways that are more difficult to do in other settings.
Consider some of the following properties of the campfire.
Lighting has been found to have a strong environmental effect on many behaviours and moods, and the type of inconsistent light that is thrown by a campfire is similar to that which induces relaxation and intimacy (PDF).
It can be argued that storytelling has been our most powerful vehicle for sharing what we know throughout human history. Research on narrative effectiveness has found that emulating the environments created by a campfire (PDF), the close-in, small-group, open dialogue sharing kinds of spaces, leads to more effective communication in business contexts.
The sensory richness of a campfire — the smell of wood and smoke, the crackle, the sight of sparks and flame, the feeling of heat — all create an environment that differs from much of what we are used to, provoking psychophysiological stimulation that has been associated with learning outcomes. Research linking environmental design and architecture has explored the phenomenon of sensory richness and how modern designed environments reduce this and (potentially) limit learning. (See program example here).
Another quality of a campfire is that it creates space for meditative inquiry. Anthropologists and psychologists have speculated that it was the campfire and the meditative rituals that it created that led modern humans to separate from Neanderthals. The focus on something like a fire draws attention away from the chaos of the world and channels into a circle that is generated through the campfire.
One of the benefits of a campfire is the circle that it creates. Leadership scholar Meg Wheatley, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea reflected on their use of the circle and how it has been used historically as a means of creating a common space where participants are on more equal footing with one another as a means of leadership promotion. In a circle, everyone can (usually) see everyone else and no position is held as more important than others, which privileges all participants and not just some.
Lastly, the campfire creates not just internal peace, but social intimacy as well. Indeed,modern social media has been compared to the campfire (PDF) in its ability to potentially replicate the focused, shared space that a campfire occupied for much of human life. For the reasons listed above, the social media effect is likely limited, but nonetheless the metaphor may partly hold in light of a lack of alternatives.
In practice, lighting a chord of wood in the middle of an urban setting might be problematic, but it is worth considering for those of us looking to create those social spaces where people can gather. Taking a break and leaving town might be worth doing as well. Failing that, what are the campfire-like spaces that we can create with what we have.
Designers, health promoters or anyone seeking to bring together ideas while working in complex spaces may wish to give this more thought — or meditate on it, which might (as it has done before) spark a new evolutionary shift attributed to the campfire.
Yesterday I attended the Cure4Kids Global Health Summit at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The three day event (continuing for the next two days) aims to bring together researchers, practitioners, and clinicians working on issues of importance to child and youth health — including an emphasis on the role of engaging young people. Of the many presentations and conversations that were had on the first day of the event, the ones that struck me the most were on the potential of games and gaming to engage people and promote literacy.
Games are entered into voluntarily and allow for natural collaboration, creative exploration, and constant, developmental learning.
Developing serious games for health often requires artists, designers, users, engineers, social scientists, educators and health professionals working collaboratively so it provides a natural laboratory for design research and studies on participatory engagement on health issues.
But what excited me the most was seeing how games were being developed through games themselves. Small competitions, limited budgets and compressed timelines along with mentorship produced some amazing results (which will be discussed in a later post).
Watching it all, it opened my eyes to how gaming — the games and the process of creating the game itself – could offer so much to learning about innovation, discovery and collaboration.
Of the many persistent myths about innovation, the lone genius is about the most sticky. Continued research shows how untrue this is.
When we consider achievement in science, we think of individuals. The Nobel Prize might be awarded to small groups of individuals, but they are not awarded to teams. Indeed, team science is not something recognized in the same way that we recognize individual achievement.
There is a persistent myth that discovery is best achieved through individual genius applied to a problem. The “eureka!” moment is played up in science fiction stories and films from Frankenstein to Back to the Future.
It is a myth because research on creativity and innovation consistently shows that hard work and persistence beats out raw skill (which is a myth in itself) . Indeed, people become skilled through some natural talent, but mostly hard work, concentration and consistent practice.
Yesterday, Keith Sawyer, a psychologist and researcher of innovation and creativity, asked that the lone genius myth to be put to rest. I wish that luck and support the idea, but don’t suspect it will come true. He writes (on artists):
The Wall Street Journal of June 3, 2011 reports that many contemporary artists use an equally collaborative studio system. The article (by Stan Stesser) reports that Jeff Koons has 150 people on his payroll and readily admits that he never paints himself. A long list of expensive, widely collected artists are named in the article; apparently, it is not a secret that the “artist” doesn’t actually execute the work himself. There’s no misreprentation here; gallery owners and dealers tell potential buyers the actual story, and buyers still collect the works.
The earliest return to a collaborative studio model was probably Andy Warhol in the 1960s, who called his studio “The Factory” and famously said “I want to be a machine.” So the “lone genius” model of the painter has been fading for several decades already. In the greater scheme of history, the Romantic era belief that the painter was an inspired solitary genius has been a small blip: slightly over 100 years. Painter as lone genius: Rest In Peace.
The notion that creativity is an individual thing might have to do with the uniqueness in which we all experience creativity. While each of us might create a idea from different things — ideas, feelings, abstract experience — we put such sensory stimuli together in manners that must make coherent sense to understand them. To communicate them, we need to make sure that these ideas are coherent beyond ourselves to others and the best way to do that is to get the input of others in the process. It means, collaboration.
Whether it is science or art, the notion of teams, collaboration, sharing, and co-creating is something too often denied or left unexplored in daily practice. In its place, the myths of the lone genius. It is why faculty are rewarded for being the first author on a paper or grant rather than being part of a team or collaboratory. It is why we do individual performance appraisals for most people. It is also why students are graded on their own work, with little attention to how they brought that work to others to share.
Dr. Sawyer’s declaration of the lone genius as dead is optimistic. What is needed now is something to make it realistic.
Interested in learning more about this topic? Visit the library section of Censemaking.
IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown recently observed a renewed interest in design within science, but is that same feeling reciprocated and, if so, what does that mean for both fields?
Tim Brown, author and CEO of the renowned design firm IDEO, recently posted on the firm’s blog some observations he had on the relationship between design and science.
In that post, he asks some important questions of both designers and scientists.
I wonder how much might be gained if designers had a deeper understanding of the science behind synthetic biology and genomics? Or nanotechnology? Or robotics? Could designers help scientists better see the implications and opportunities of the technologies they are creating? Might better educated and aware designers be in a position to challenge the assumptions of the science or reinterpret them in innovative ways? Might they do a better job of fitting the new science into our lives so that we can gain more benefit?
The question of the relationship between designers and the science used to inform the materials or products they us is one that will play out differently depending on the person and context. However, I would welcome the opportunity for designers to challenge much of what science — and I use that term broadly — does, particularly with regards to the application or translation of scientific research into policies and practices. Indeed, this is a frontier where designers have tremendous opportunities to contribute as I’ve discussed elsewhere.
Knowledge translation and translational research are two of the most vexing problem domains in science, particularly with health. Despite years of efforts, scientists haven’t been able to advance the integration of what is learned into what is done at a rate that is acceptable to policy makers, practitioners and the public alike. The problem isn’t just with scientists, but the way the scientific enterprise has been engineered.
Scientists haven’t had to consider design before. Tim Brown asks further questions about what it might be like if they did:
If scientists were more comfortable with intuitive nature of design might they ask more interesting questions? The best scientists often show great leaps of intuition as they develop new hypotheses and yet so much modern science seems to be a dreary methodical process that answers ever more incremental questions. If scientists had some of the skills of designers might they be better able to communicate their new discoveries to the public?
In this case, it might be the chance for designers to step up and consider ways to work with those in science to create better institutional policies, laboratories, and collaborative environments to foster the kind of linkages necessary for effective knowledge translation.
Knowledge translation models, such as the widely cited one conceived of by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, are both process and outcome oriented; ideal for designers. KT is a designed process and the more it is approached through the lens of design thinking, the greater likelihood we’ll get a system that reflects its intentions better than what we currently have.
Clowning might seem either silly or scary to some, but the art of non-verbal communication is just that: an art. And like art, it opens the door to myriad interpretations, but also to greater empathy and that only benefits design.
Tonight I attended my first of what I hope will be many monthly meetings of the Design With Dialogue community of practice being held at OCAD University in Toronto. The topic of the evening was What do clowns know that you don’t ? The hosts were an international clown troupe comprised of Patricia Kambitsch, Heidi Madsen, and Elsa Lam. The answer to the question posed by the evening is: a lot.
The night began with a series of exercises done first in pairs, then pairs of pairs, and then as teams of four. What struck me was that, prior to this evening and a few Twitter follows, I didn’t know a single person at this event. Yet, after the course of two and a half hours, I felt I had a room full of new “peeps”. I was thrilled to find an interesting, engaged and dynamic group of people who could perform for each other without the safety net provided by familiarity.
So what brought this about and what does it have to do with clowns? Actually, the clowns were not made up nor was there even mention of clowning beyond the introduction of the hosts. In the case of tonight’s activity, the clowning was due more to physical performance, and particularly the use of non-verbal communication. Over the course of two hours we went through four sets of activities:
1. In pairs, determined by how tall you were (which isn’t relevant, it just allows for a creative way of splitting the room up), introduce yourself using gestures — particularly exaggerated ones — and then mirror that response back to your partner with no words expressed between you.
2. As a pair, join with another pair and use the non-verbal communication rapport generated from the first exercise to work together to non-verbally communicate a particular emotion (including some tough ones like passed over and pity — try acting these out, you’ll see how hard that can be).
3. Working with both pairs together as a foursome, the new group of four is asked to act out a particular phrase. They are to do this while walking across the room where the rest of the participants are asked to guess the phrase. There is little communication between the four people in this new group.
4. The four individuals sit on four chairs and acts out a skit called “four clowns on a bench” where one person is whispered a scenario and the other three are asked to follow along, not knowing what the actually phrase is.
What happens after all of these is remarkable. I found myself acting in a group on something I didn’t know, yet perceived because of the empathy that I developed over the course of two short hours of working non-verbally. As a result, my group — team — and all the others put on performances that were funny, coherent, and creative with little to no verbal sharing of information.
This stoking of empathy and the insight it produced demonstrated enormous potential for design and teamwork. Building on work that Keith Sawyer has done looking at improv and creativity, this session demonstrated just how powerful non-verbal, emergent communication can be and how us designers — in whatever situation we inhabit — dismiss such opportunities for learning, creative expression and community building at our peril.
I wasn’t really a fan of clowns before tonight; now, I am.
** Photo by Peter Pearson under Creative Commons License from the Flickr pool
Collaboration is everywhere. It’s fast becoming one of the highest virtues to strive for in media, health sciences, business. Whether it is crowdsourcing, groundswells, public engagement, participatory research, or e-democracy, collaboration is hot.
Why? One of the main reasons has to do with the mere fact that we are facing an increasing array of complex problems that have multiple sources, where no one person/group has the all the answers, and where large-scale social action is required if there is any hope of addressing them. The proposed solution is collaboration.
Collaboration is defined as:
collaboration |kəˌlabəˈrā sh ən|
1 the action of working with someone to produce or create something : he wrote on art and architecture in collaboration with John Betjeman.
• something produced or created in this way : his recent opera was a collaboration with Lessing.
2 traitorous cooperation with an enemy : he faces charges of collaboration.
collaborationist |-nist| noun & adjective (sense 2).
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Latin collaboratio(n-), from collaborare ‘work together.’
At the root of the term is (from the Latin): co-labour — working together. That sounds great in theory and indeed, if we are working in a social environment (physical or electronic) we are very likely collaborating in some manner. Social media for instance is built upon collaboration. The picture posted along with this blog was courtesy of psd on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons Licence (thank you!), which encourages collaboration and remixing. Knowledge translation is a another concept that has collaboration at its very foundation. It’s commonplace to see it and, in the world of academic heath sciences, it is considered to be an important part of the work we do.
On the surface of things, my colleagues and I collaborate a lot. But a second glance suggests that this might be overstating things — a lot. The reason has to do with collaboration’s precondition: openness.
Openness is defined (selectively) as:
1 allowing access, passage, or a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked up : it was a warm evening and the window was open | the door was wide open.
• free from obstructions : the pass is kept open all year by snowplows.
2 [ attrib. ] exposed to the air or to view; not covered : an open fire burned in the grate.
3 [ predic. ] (of a store, place of entertainment, etc.) officially admitting customers or visitors; available for business : the store stays open until 9 p.m.
4 (of a person) frank and communicative; not given to deception or concealment : she was open and naive | I was quite open about my views.
• not concealed; manifest : his eyes showed open admiration.
Let’s consider these definitions for a moment within the context of health and social services, the area I’m most familiar with.
Allowing access refers to having the ability to gain entry to something — physical or otherwise. That might be simple if collaboration is with members of the same team — but what about when you have people from other teams? Other disciplines? Having worked on a project that focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration between teams of researchers I can vouch that it is not something to be taken for granted. Developing a collaborative approach to research, particularly in teams, is something that takes a long time to foster. Then there is confidentiality, rules and regulations about whom has access to what. Even in teams that are open to true collaboration, sometimes the rules that govern institutions don’t allow researchers to engage across settings to access data.
Having something “not blocked up” sounds good, but anyone looking for collaboration knows that there are a lot of preconceived ideas about what that means in practice. For example, are certain people expected to get credit even if they don’t offer anything substantive ? There are conventions for authorship that often grant those who lead the lab a prime authorship position with little attention to the amount of effort on a paper.
What about being “exposed to the air or to view; not covered”? This could mean open to new ideas or ways of working. Sure, it sounds nice to say that you’re open to ideas and suggestions, but what about real practice? Resistance to new ideas is how innovation is thwarted, but it also protects interests within an organization and with individuals. As the saying goes:
The only people who welcome change are wet babies
Lastly, frank and communicative action is a part of openness and if there is anything that represents the converse of that it is academic publishing. It probably should strike people as surprising how often scientists report positive results in the academic literature, but it doesn’t. Why? There is a well-known publication bias — whether real in terms of editorial bias or in terms of self-selection away from publishing negative trials. Another issue is that collaboration is hard, it’s not well funded (that is, the collaboration part — the science itself sometimes is), and it takes a long time to produce something of value. The reason is that it is based on normal human relationships and they don’t fit a timeline that’s particularly ‘efficient’. It’s also hard to be frank when your reputation and funding is on the line.
So collaboration will continue to soar as an idea, yet until we acknowledge the challenges in an open, frank manner (as the term suggests) we are going to see a marginal benefit for science, health and innovation.
Team science could easily be viewed as an oxymoron by those who work in the scientific enterprise. Scientists are trained from the outset to be independent thinkers and the culture of academia is one based on the individual as the centre of knowledge activities. For us professors, nothing reminds us more of this than completing the annual PTR (progress through the ranks) report that comes this time of year. In this report we are asked to justify why we should be eligible for a raise, a promotion, a bonus, or simply be allowed to keep our job by highlighting all of the things that we did the past year. However, by “we” I am referring, in my case, to “me” because what goes on that CV are things that have my name on it and, preferably, my name at the front of the list.
Not all things are equal in this report. For example, on a manuscript with five authors it pays to be the first author much more than the second and far more than the fourth. In some settings, the fifth is a good place to be, but not everywhere.
There is no i in team
This well-worn aphorism used in management courses points to the notion that teams are, by the their very nature, collaborations and oriented towards promoting the good of the group, not just the individuals in it. To this end, it is worth referring to the work of Patricia Rosenfield on multi- inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration.
But going through this, it might be worth considering what kind of team you want to create. Sports provide us with the most obvious examples of teams and points of comparison. If you are playing some type of pick-up team game (basketball, football, hockey…) you are generally coach-less and probably each thinking about your immediate neighbours as team members more than you are the team as a whole. The product (that is, your goals/baskets etc..) is determined largely by a contribution of you and your most immediate neighbour on the pitch and that’s about it. The focus of everyone is on the problem, not so much on the team. In terms familiar to team science, this might be considered multidisciplinary collaboration (see Figure).
Another way to conceive of this is that you have a coach and bring together a team that is organized, and for whom some might have worked together or can relate as individuals, but a little less as a whole. For example, the Olympic hockey or basketball teams are now made up of professional all-stars who come together from other teams to compete as a unit for two-three weeks every four years. Depending on how they are coached, this might be considered akin to an interdisciplinary team.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
The last example is one more akin to a systems approach whereby the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and the product comes from the interaction between individuals in a manner that transcends individual expertise into some new, novel form. Using our sports analogy, this is more like the team that was formed by drafting players who had the right mix, worked together to create a unit where there might be few superstars, but a strong connection between players.
An example in the past has been the New England Patriots football team or the New Jersey Devils hockey team in their championship years. On these teams, the players themselves function as a unit so well that it transcends the talent of the individual players. All one has to do is look at the 2004 Olympics to see how the USA Basketball team, with arguably one of the best lineups in history, wound up with a bronze medal behind Argentina and Italy, two teams that may have had lesser talent on a player-by-player basis, but were better as teams.
Whether one views an ‘i’ in team might depend on whether the team is viewed through the lens of a multidisciplinary framework where individuals make their own unique contributions into a whole, an interdisciplinary framework where there is collaboration, or a transdisciplinary framework where there is integration.
Special thanks to my longtime collaborator and friend, Dr. Tim Huerta who originally developed these diagrams.