Messiness is generative

I’m going to write for a bit on innovation and design and research and a few other topics. It fits with some work I’m doing on innovation in complex learning organizations, but I won’t focus on the specifics much at all in these entries. These are just sketches of some ideas I’m enjoying reading about.

For instance, I’ve been reading about ethnographic studies of graphic designers. One item that struck a note is the idea that they work in teams, and the social nature of the design practice is a big part of what makes for success. The groups brief each other in open studios where people can hear and see conversations, often carried out in open conflict. The detritus of design is left scattered about the room – drawing boards, sketches, all kinds of papers. Nothing is hidden – things carved in foam are jumbled together on desks along with forgotten prototypes.

The point is that messiness is generative. Seeing a forgotten prototype for an early stage in a project may remind a designer of an important tradeoff made at that point; maybe it even helps get around a newly-discovered juncture.

What if research was carried out in the same environment? If we left our solo offices to sit in bullpens surrounded by other researchers and grad students? If we published (if only electronically, as a working paper on a server like the arXiv) every failed analysis? Every conjecture or hypothesis we considered worth extended consideration?

Certainly it would be messy. It would open us up to enhanced criticism. But it would also be generative.

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