Epstein reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell, who he mentions in the book, but his ur-disciplines are sports and psychology rather than social science. Epstein’s thesis is that broad minded thinking and doing is just as likely a route, if not more, to exceptional performance as hyper-specialization in a singular, narrow silo.
The book drew me in with a comparative case study of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, fascinated me with the lost history of Venice’s orphan female multi-instrumentalist virtuosos and the story of Nintendo’s evolution through finding innovative ways to entertain with obselete technology. Endless summaries of experimental psychology grew tiresome, but Epstein’s vivid retelling of Van Gogh’s tortured artistic journey and incisive summaries of the organizational failures at NASA that led to the Space Shuttles Challenger and Discovery disasters make for a truly enjoyable read. There was even an bit about how assemblages of chess-playing AI and humans can outperform both human teams and AIs. In sum, great brain candy.
Grab a copy for the brainy mid-career creative in your life to read over the holidays.
At an end-of-school party with other Grade 1 parents at my daughters’ school in June, I was struck by how anxious other parents were about approaches to teaching and learning that focus on play, curiosity, collaboration, and inquiry. Many parents want their children to be schooled in academic fundamentals and for them to excel at reading, writing, and performance. But too much emphasis on schooling, particularly when children are young, foregoes opportunities to practice approaches to learning that enable children to learn over their lifetimes. Over the summer, I’ve been reading about creativity and I came across a wonderful memoir and scholarly argument for social and creative learning with technology.
Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten makes for worthwhile back-to-school reading for parents wanting to better understand why we should support learners to cultivate curiosity, passion and skills through playful, creative projects relevant and meaningful to learners themselves.
“I am convinced the kindergarten-style learning is exactly what’s needed to help people of all ages develop the creative capacities needed to thrive in today’s rapidly changing society.” (p.7)
Resnick’s perspective on creativity and learning is individual, social and constructivist in comparison to the radical socio-cultural view I explored in my last post about the work of Reijo Miettinen. Lifelong Kindergarten is in part a history of Resnick’s research agenda at the MIT Media Lab and community interventions through the Computer Clubhouse Network. The book unpacks the key principles of learning that inform Resnick’s work: projects, passions, peers, and play. Although much of Resnick’s work focuses on fostering creativity for children and youth through technology, he demonstrates that principles equally apply in adult and higher education. Below, I share some compelling ideas from the book for parents.
Wider Walls and Lower Ceilings
Resnick shares an accessible set of educational principles that teachers and parents can use to think about learning, drawing on the work of Seymour Papert. Places of learning offer:
“easy ways for novices to get started (low floors)”
“ways for them to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time (high ceilings)
“support and suggest a wide range of different types of projects, and multiple pathways” (wide walls) (p.139)
Although Resnick equates wider walls with accommodating different learning styles, a problematic concept that parents and educators should reject, I agree with his point that learning must tap into the passions and interests of individual learners and that the aims of learning must be facilitated and negotiated by learners and their educators.
Offer Examples but Throw Away the Instructions
Resnick views teachers as facilitators of learning. He argues learners should be offered examples of different kinds of projects that are possible rather than detailed sets of instructions. Ultimately, the learner should have agency to decide whether or not to participate.
For example, Resnick suggests than children should aim to use LEGO to build their own creations rather than to build the thing shipped in the box. I decided to test out his approach and asked my daughters to use Lego to share the highlight of their day camp at the Aquarium during the summer holidays. Claire chose to represent a squid dissection:
This open-ended project approach is appealing in light of the teleological, closed approach of following the instructions to build a figure in the box or prescribed teacher-assigned exercises with right answers.
I witnessed an excellent example of how to embrace toys as a creative medium at “The Art of the Brick”, a special exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology in OttAwa featuring the work of Nathan Sawaya. Sawaya’s art was demonstrated the flexibility of LEGO bricks as an , particularly his multimedia collaboration with Australian photographer Dean West.
The most powerful part of the exhibition was the learning space at the end where inspired visitors were allowed to take up a set of challenges. The space featured a range of age-appropriate challenges and examples to inspire the builders. Claire and Megan took up the challenges each in their own way.
Let them tinker and play
“Tinkerers understand how to improvise, adapt, and iterate, so they are never hung up on old plans as new situations arise. Tinkering breeds creativity.” (p.136)
Empowering others to create begins by letting them tinker and learn through experience and error. Calls to let people learn through tinkering with materials and task is as old as apprenticeship, yet in the last 20 years, we have witnessed the democratization of making and and doing. There is the rise of the Maker Movement, design thinking, and Lego Serious Play.
Tinkering is at the root of prototyping and artistic endeavors. People must represent concepts through sketches and prototypes before they can make them a reality. Tinkering is at the core of agile business methodologies. I think people are predisposed to tinkering. My brother is a tinkerer with mechanical things. I am a tinkerer with ingredients. Maybe the point is that we each have our preferred material to tinker with. Malfoudis, in How Things Shape the Mind, argues that cognition is the dynamic interaction between mind, material and social context, so the meaning of a child’s LEGO creation is inextricable interwoven with the socio-cultural history of the blocks, and the socio-cultural context in which the assemblage is happening including the stimulus that is near by and the facilitate knowledge and guidance by the others who are in the space.
Resnick’s chapter on play is a highlight of Lifelong Kindergarten because it also make the argument that children vary in how the approach learning tasks. He summarizes academic studies of play. Resnick cites Harold Gardner’s distinction that some children approach play as drama and others approach play as a challenge of finding patterns. This is not some either-or psychological binary, and I suspect that a given person’s approach will vary depending on the task, but Resnick makes the point that learning environments are likely set up to privilege one approach over the other, and, as a result, put one part of the population at a disadvantage. This is one reason why innovative approaches to K-12 education, like British Columbia’s new curriculum, which empowers teachers to combine aspects of education more easily to address a limited number of intended learning outcomes, creates opportunities for more children to achieve the results expected of them by making it easier for embedding serious learning in playful work.
This is a book for practitioners who want to understand key service design approaches and methods in greater depth. It offers workshop templates and copious visual examples of artifacts from Risdon and Quattlebaum’s past projects.
What is lacking for me so far is any mention of design for services theory or evidence-based insights. Andrea Resmini and David Benyon are doing remarkable research on mapping and blending cross-channel ecosystems, and scholars like Christopher Le Dantec are writing remarkable critical books on designing services for local communities, but Orchestrating Experiences, like Service Design for Business, is weakened, at least from my perspective, by the lack of engagement with insights from business and design academics and the overemphasis of an inside-out organizaitonal frame. My hopes are a bit higher for This is Service Design Doing because Marc Stickdorn and colleagues’ weighty tomb included a microscopic footnote to service-dominant logic within the first couple of pages of the book. But I will wait and see once I get to it.
Chapter 3 of Orchestrating Experiences, “Exploring Ecosystems” is a highlight because Risdon and Quattlebaum offer valuable details that I don’t recall reading in previous books like Polaine, Reason, and Lovlie’s Service Design. Specifically, Risdon and Quattlebaum emphasize the value of defining the different types of relationships between actors, artifacts, places in an ecosystem. And they encourage readers to model the ecosystem from multiple vantage points.
As a literature graduate student in the late 1990s, I participated in a baffling seminar discussion on Lacanian semiotics. I didn’t get it, but an amazing tutorial video from EPIC 2016 prompted me to take another look at the power of visual and verbal cultural analysis.
In April and May, I participated in an online workshop on applied semiotics analysis organized by EPIC and led by Cato Hunt from Space Doctors.
During the workshop, we leaned basics tasks of semiotic analysis, including:
Exploring gaps between intended meaning and experienced meaning
Analyzing cultural assets to create codes
Analyzing tensions to create semiotic squares
Using a residual-dominent-emergent framework to analyze codes
Field work to collect data to inform semiotic analysis
Culture Map of Mobile Learning
Since the workshop, I have been using what I learned to develop a semiotic map of residual, dominant, and emergent codes for mobile learning.
To develop this map, I conducted a visual analysis of many images on Google Images related to mobile learning. I used mobile learning and other broad key terms like “augmented reality” and “virtual reality” and “robots”. I explored a range of geographic markets as well. It was far from a scientific sample, but it was fun.
I used Pinterest to gather the images and Mural as a platform to group and cluster the images.
10 Mobile Learning Codes
Learn Alone Together (Residual)
Access the World From Anywhere (Residual)
Gather Around a Screen (Residual)
Augment how You Live (Dominant)
Simulate a Situation (Dominant)
Augment your Experience of Here (Dominant)
Try Immersive Learning (Emergent)
Wear Your Learning (Emergent)
Integrate Learning into Yourself (Emergent)
Interact with Robots (Emergent)
4 Mobile Learning Spaces
I created the culture map by iteratively positioning the codes on semiotic squares constructed using cultural tensions that emerged through exploring the visual data. These tensions included:
Familiar / Unfamiliar
Augment / Integrate
Create / Consume
Ready at Hand / Present to Hand
Private / Public
From playing with the coded and tensions, I developed the following four quadrants on my semiotic square:
Become a Cyborg (Unfamiliar / Private)
Engage with the Machines (Unfamiliar / Public)
Use the Data (Familiar / Private)
Mediate Together (Familiar /Public)
This thought experiment has been a fun way to apply my learning. Since doing the initial semiotic exploration, a couple of additional ideas occurred to me:
Semiotics aimed at settings has great potential as a tool for analyzing learning settings. I am intrigued by Bonnie Shapiro’s work on analyzing sustainability in learning settings. Laura Oswald‘s case studies on analyzing retailscapes with semiotics points to the potential for using semiotics to analyze learning settings (e.g. programs and learning spaces) in comparison to competitive and aspirational programs.
Where do emergent products like smart speakers, particularly niche products like the Amazon Echo Look, fit on within the frame of mobile learning. They are likely somewhere between dominant and emergent because they are still relatively unfamiliar and sit somewhere on the boundary between public or private?
What might happen if I took an explicitly critical frame and asked how these products vary on their representation of domestication vs. liberation. Most images promise a dream of endless open knowledge, and most images represent scenes of social control (students being disciplined by lessons in formal learning settings or people being domesticated by new technological forms). I recognize my initial sample had scant examples of mobile learning in the context of non-formal learning settings beyond the cliched coffee shop or non-spaces of everyday life (e.g commuting).
The workshop has prompted me to start reading more in the domain of semiotic marketing analysis and qualitative marketing analysis. I have been diving into the work of Laura Oswald, The Handbook of Qualitative Marketing Research, and Tim Stock‘s culture mapping.
If you are interesting in applying semiotics to analyze a learning setting, I would love to hear from you.
What I valued most about the book is the organizational model and metaphors that Kegan et al. use to explore the dimensions of development: edge, groove, and home. We individually and collectively have a professional edge that is always developing and changing, we get into the groove when we have individual and shared practices that sustain and support the advancement of our personal learning and shared organizational culture.
I am not as persuaded by Kegan et. al’s arguments about adult development and personal psychology as I once was. But I appreciated that the authors acknowledge the psychological bias that informs their work, and they use an integral framework from Ken Wilber to explore the individual, social, psychological, organizational dynamics of culture and change at work. More compelling were the chapters on the many distinct social practices that the three organizations enact to as they use a developmental approach to work and organizational change.
For example, what might be different if everyone at work were assigned to a job that would stretch them personally and professionally? What if organizations embrace personal social learning practices so people don’t have to hide their weaknesses, can address continuous constructive feedback from colleagues, and continuously challenge themselves with increasingly complex tasks? Next Jump, Bridgewater, and Decurion demonstrate that learning and development can be a key competitive advantage.
Organizational development consultants, coaches, and other people leading change processes in organizations will find Kegan et al. a useful summer read.
The book is build around concise descriptions of projects that the Designing Out Crime Research Centre at University Technology Sydney has undertaken over the last decade and brief reflections on design principles and practices that underlie the projects.
If Frame Innovation presents Dorst’s current thinking on public sector and public space design practice for an academic audience, Designing for the Common Good, which is co-written by Dorst and many professional and student collaborators, addresses for a much broader interdisciplinary audience of designers, practitioners, and change makers.
If This is Service Design Thinking is the book that launched the practical service design movement (as evidenced in a metanalysis as the most cited text at the ServDes conference , then I see Designing for the Common Good as a positive sign that the field of design for service and social innovation is evolving. It compliments Lucy Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook, which offers a bricolage of theory, methods and cases. It bests Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie and Melvin Brand Flu’s Service Design for Business because it does more than share abstract advice and approaches for business professionals with scant examples. Dorst and his co-writers foreground authentic, varied case studies and back them up with evidence-based reflections and methods. Like Kimbell, Dorst and his collaborators offer newcomers to design for public innovation rich, authentic cases and methods to consider, and unlike any design for the public good text I have read yet, Dorst et. al are able to address the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature of public design projects whereas most of the books on design for public project still are constrained by a narrow focus on corporate and business design.
What I appreciate most about the work this work is how it offer practical pragmatic design methods that are informed by solid and intentional design research while also being written to inform practitioners. The authenticity and richness of the cases, reflections and methods distinguish this book from those that are overly theoretical and academic (for example, Making Futures), narrowly focussed on business and management lens (e.g. Service Design for Business). It complements the emerging bodies of work that address design for public sector innovation (e.g Leading Public Service Innovation) and work on design for services at the local or regional level (e.g. Design for Services or Design, where Everybody Designs). An interesting question for the future might be how might frame innovation inform or complement transition design towards particular environmental or social futures?
What I find most compelling about Design for the Common Good is that the authors explicitly address the limitations of their approach and call for the need to augment design with substantive organizational development. Successful projects are bounded by time, space and geography. What might work at Kings Cross in Sydney will likely not work on the Granville Entertainment strip in Vancouver. Having read Frame Innovation and Design for the Common Good, I am itching to design and facilitate a frame innovation project.
Have you ever considered how and why a kimchi refrigerator offers users more autonomy than conventional refrigerators might, what constitutes an ideal trip to and through an airport, or why a sophisticated golf simulator might offer a peak form of entertainment? Jin Woo Kim’s Design for Experience: Where technology meets design and strategy, which I discovered in Fjord’s slide deck on design trends for 2016, seeks to dymytisfy the thinking and requirements behind designing powerful product and service experiences.
Kim’s book is useful on multiple levels. I have been so immersed in the North American and European literature on design for service and experience design that it was refreshing to read a leading Korean HCI scholar on experience design. I appreciate how Kim integrated ideas from Confucius, John Dewey and Vitruvius to underlie his exploration of experience design. Lucy Kimbell extolls Vitruvius in her handbook on service innovation, and Dewey is oft-cited in Benz’s edited collection on Experience Design, but I was delighted to read more about how Confucius’s ideas on harmony inform experience design. I also enjoyed how Kim blends detailed technical explanations of design features with supporting narration of his experiences in Seoul, and detailed analyzed a range of Korean and Western products and services as UX examples.
At its core, the book presents a detailed framework of threads, levers, UX factors, and design features involved in designing product and service experiences. Kim breaks down meaningful, valuable and harmonious experience into three interrelated dimensions with associated key conceptual controls:
Kim’s framework is similar to the product experience framework introduced by Desmet and Hekkert and adapted by Silvia Grimaldi, which I discussed in my review of Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies. What distinguishes Kim’s monograph from either this previous work or a text like Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy is Kim’s detailed analysis and explanation of underlying UX factors and design features. The detailed, careful analysis of case studies and exposition associated UX factors and design features will prove useful to design students and practitioners. If you haven’t thought what vividness or presence or autonomy and automation might mean in relation to an experience or if you having considered which type of information architecture is best suited to the product or service experience you hope to offer, this text explicates these ideas in detail and offers concrete useful examples from both products and services.
What I found most challenging about the book was its focus only on designing corporate or commercial products and services although the principles and concepts will be equally useful for those designing for social innovations or community experiences. I was hoping that Kim might address to the scope of design challenges that Kees Dorst addresses in Frame Innovation (e.g. the experience in a Sydney entertainment district) or the contributors to Benz’s collection do (festivals, public spaces), but Kim situates his framework squarely in traditional commercial product and service design. Nor does Kim address aspects of power, social justice, or sustainability..
Kim ends Design for Experience with a process description to apply the three dimension framework to the example of designing a companion product or service. What surprised me most about this section of the book was that Kim also emphasizes the organizational requirements needed to offer a harmonious, successful project. What I most appreciated about Kim’s text was his case in favour of interdisciplinary design practices informed by research and theory from the humanities and social sciences. Kim advocates for partnership between industry and academia. He calls for not only social science informed design research but also careful analysis of humanities research on relevant concepts like play or companionship depending on the particular design challenge.
Design for Experience makes a valuable contribution to the experience design literature. It offers a solid conceptual framework for user experience designers, information architects, and practitioners to work with as they collaborate.
The protagonists of Tsing’s study are matsutake mushrooms and the human and non-human assemblages that arise with them in forests and rural hinterlands across the Northern hemisphere.
“The thrill of private ownership is the fruit of an underground common.” (p.274)
What I appreciated most about Tsing’s book was its exploration of the cultural practices that arise with matsutake. These communities include the complex camps of pickers who descend upon the Eastern Cascades in Oregon each fall, Satoyama restoration groups in Japan, and emerging Matsutake entrepreneurs in Yunnan, China.
The thread of the book I found most challenging was Tsing’s tracing of matsutake from relational, biological object, to representation of individual freedom, to object of economic exchange, to alienated commodity, to highly-valued gift. Much of story Tsing tells explores how humans, fungi, pine trees thrive and live in times of ruin or precarity. But her narrative about supply chains, salvage accumulation and economic livelihoods — without resorting to stories of progress or development — offers an interesting perspective on capitalism. It helped me to appreciate why the Academy of Management and scholars I know are interested in management “after capitalism”, the circle economy, and systemic approaches to corporate social responsibility.
Transition and service design scholars, particularly those interested in participatory design and design for social innovation can seek inspiration in Tsing’s examples of assemblages of scientists, communities, and scholars working together to learn and relearn ways of intervening and tending forests for the benefit on human and non-human inhabitants. Tsing’s vocabulary of “patches”, spores might offer those interested in the challenges of scalability and diffusion new analogies and tools for thinking through next steps.
“Precarity means not being able to plan. But it also stimulates noticing as one works with what is available. To live well with others, we need to use all our senses, even if it means feeling around in the duff.” (p.278)
This book will appeal to adult educators and social innovation change agents because it offers many examples of coalitions of workers, retirees, scientists and students working together to relearn how to tend to forests and unlearn the alienated anomie of urbanized life.
“Rather than redemption matsutake-forest revitalization picks through the heap of alienation. In the process, volunteers acquire the patience to mix with multi species others without knowing where the world-in-process is going. (p.264)
Speaking of transition design, Cameron Tonkinwise’s tweet and link to a New York Times article on a new segment of organizations that redirect returned gifts from landfills strikes me as a retail sector example of salvage capitalism that profits from the byproducts of consumerism.
Tsing challenges readers to question taken for granted concepts like species, immigrant, and forest. She demonstrates the heterogeneity of scientific communities and the patchy sometime incommensurable nature of the knowledge they create. Her focus is on the variation in forest science and the question of whether human intervention adds or diminishes the forest. The answer it seems depends on the pine.
The text is interdisciplinary and multimedia in the best sense. Each chapter begins with an evocative photograph, and I was delighted by the traditional Japanese poems about Matsutake. Tsing blended ethnographic accounts, first person narratives, academic analyses and Michael Pollan-style histories of forests told from the perspective of the forests themselves. She even gives science fiction writer Ursula Leguin the last word.
All in all, The Mushroom at the End of the World was a great book to follow reading Bruno Latour and it reminded me of the value of scavaging for ideas outside of the fields of design, learning and service.
What have you been reading over the holidays that has you inspired?
When I was floundering about in graduate school, I read “Aramis or the love of technology” cover to cover. At the time, I was obsessed by the then state-of-the-art ASRS automated materials storage system that had just been installed at the heart of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Now, of course you can find automated, miniature sorting and retrieval systems at public libraries, and Amazon’s warehousing and delivery systems are Things of public legend:
My first steps into ANT were to ponder mediation, affordances, and the classic Engstrom activity theory model with Mary Bryson.
That led me to think about the assemblage of scholars, librarians, research knowledge artefacts, research libraries, giant climate-controlled storage environments, retrieval robots, computer networks, and the software that connects them. I even delved into the military-industrial history of the development of automated storage by the RAND corporation in the glorious, Modern 50s.
Which brings me to “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory“. The book presents Latour’s explanation of the basic premises and implications of Actor-Network Theory. Its object is social science in general, and sociology in particular. Latour presents a methodology of activity-network theory. It is a history of ANT and a history of the Science Wars from the 1990s. Strangely, reading Latour brought be back to sitting at my parents’ kitchen table in 1996 as an English undergraduate, listening to an “As it Happens” interview about the Sokal Affair and those long-ago attacks on postmodernism.
I am struck by the sorts questions that Latour offers as a heuristic for courageous analysts to follow:
What controversies? What actants? Where do they lead?
“Where are the structural effects actually being produced” (p.174)
“in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is […The Big Picture…] shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? (p.187)
“In which room? In which panorama? Through which medium? With which stage manager? How much?” (p.189)
“How is the local itself being generated?” (p.192)
“Where are the other vehicles that transport individuality, subjectivity, personhood, and interiority?” (p.206)
What form “allows something else to be transported from on site to another?” (p.222)
What happens upstream and downstream of the situation where subject and object arise? (p.237)
I doubt many people outside of academia will want to read this book but it offers a masterclass in how to question the most basic assumptions that most people take for granted, particularly society, culture, nature, science and politics.
Students of higher education will enjoy how Latour uses the example of a university professor lecturing in a lecture hall to explore how cognitive abilities assemble and are shaped by the scripts, forms, capabilities, and materials.
Despondent graduate students wrestling with theses can take solace from Latour’s perspective on academic writing. In a nutshell, write the 40,000 words and move on to the next challenge. One text does not a career make. Academics can also learn a lot from Latour about writing. Even though his text is complex, Latour is also entertaining, self-aware and humorous.
Thoughtful designers may want to consider Latour’s analysis of the relation between local, global and context in connection with the recent practical scholarship on context for post-thing design. For example, part of me wants to reconsider Andrew Hinton’s “Understanding Context“, Resmini and Rosati’s “Pervasive Information Architecture” and Thomas Wendt’s “Design for Dasein” with Latour in mind. If the aim of service and strategic design is to co-create pervasive information architectures and meaningful assemblages of digital and embodied experiences, then should one deploy, stabilize, and compose the social in the context of design before designing solutions or platforms. Furthermore, reading Latour made me wonder what ANT might offer design for social innovation. social innovation should embrace concepts like cosmopolitan-localism and rely on “sociologists of the social”, as Ezio Manzini suggests.
If the aim of service and strategic design is to co-create pervasive information architectures and meaningful assemblages of digital and embodied experiences, then should one deploy, stabilize, and compose the social present the context of design before designing solutions or platforms?