On Range

I recommend David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a SpecialIzed World.

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.

Why we all should embrace lifelong kindergarten

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:

Claire’s representation of a squid dissection at the Vancouver Acquarium

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.

Want to be more creative? Seek out collaborative encounters and complementary knowledge

Embed from Getty Images

Note: This post marks my first effort to address creativity as a topic, which I have long been interested in. I can remember checking Flow  out of the library around the time it was originally published.  Never content to take an orthodox route, I’ve started by reading socio-cultural perspectives on creativity, which are very different than the typical, psychological premises. I am more interested in dynamic, emergent and depersonalized approaches to creativity, which makes it much more difficult to write about because creativity is an emergent feature of a context and system rather than an attribute or a capability that individuals possess. I will strive to express myself more clearly as work with this material. — David

When you are ready to experiment with being more creative at work, consider Reijo Meittinen’s model of creative collaborative agency, which looks at creativity as a socio-cultural phenomenon that emerges as individuals and organizations interact rather than as an attribute some people possess and others don’t. You can read more about Meittinen’s work in “Creative Encounters, Collaborative Agency, and the Extraodinary Act of Meeting a Need with an Object” (Meittinen, 2014).

Miettinen offers a rich conceptual framework  from creativity studies and the history of science and technology to explain how collaborative creative agency emerges. He bolsters his analysis with classic examples from the history of technology like the emergence of the steam engine in England, the development of transcontinental telephone, and  two in-depth case studies from the development of medical diagnostic tests..

Miettinen’s model of collaborative creative agency is based on three ideas:

  1. Pay attention to areas of your current activity that are dissatisfying and consider what underlying contradictions may be causing the dissatisfaction.
  2. Find potential partners with relevant knowledge and experience related  to the contradiction, explore your complementarity knowledge, resources and interests and discover shared motives.
  3. Launch a shared project, ideate solutions that addresses the contradiction together, work together to bring the product or service into being


Name what feels wrong in the current situation and face the“contradictions”

One of the hardest parts of change, at least in my experience,  is setting a direction. What I appreciate about Meittinen’s model  is his focus on contradictions in current activity.

Meittinen’s research is based in cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) and innovation studies so contradictions have a particular meanings. They:

  • “evolve historically, … become recognized and defined only gradually” (p.161) …
  • “a source of development” (p. 163)  …
  • “the driving force of development and learning in human activities” (p.163)….
  • “between use value and exchange value” (p.163) …
  • “contrasts between the means (instrumentalities) and the object of activity, constantly emerge” (p.163) …
  • “explain change” (p.163) …
  • “… compatible with breakdowns and disharmonies  of practices” (p.163) ….
  • “main source of technological change” (p.163)

Contradictions are dialectal, foundational, complex oppositions within practices. In one of the medical cases, for example, a diagnostic method was effective but required radioactive elements so the testing could only be performed in certified labs, and the process producd radioactive waste. Now that is what I call a contradiction. Look forthe reverse salient, “the weakest point in an expanding technological system” (p.163), and you will likely find the contradictions.

Unpacking and naming contradictions is challenging collaborative work, but is a key component of many design and change facilitation processes. For example, Kees Dorst’s frame innovation process include a step of naming and dealing with paradoxes within the current practice. Without unpacking the problem space and finding the internal contradictions, you risk engaging in superficial, rational technical problem solving.

Embrace “anticipatory directionality”

Meittinen offers Fogel’s concept of “anticipatory directionality” as a way to describe what it means to sense a possible direction to address fundamental contradictions in the present without being able to definitively describe it. Here are some of the ways that Meittinen explains anticipatory directionality, drawing on concepts from creativity and innovation studies:

  • “A gradual recognition of a contradiction cannot be analyzed as rational decision making. Rather, it is expressed as what has been called anticipatory directionality (Fogel, 1993) and precedes the full articulation of an object of activity.” (p.161) …
  • “A preliminary orientation looking for a solution” (p.162) …,
  • “a nonspecific dissatisfaction with and concern about what is happening and a preliminary orientation of where to look for solutions”( (p.167) …
  • “an extended “gestation period” during which the need for change is gradually recognized as the result of multiple coincidental events” (p.168) …
  • “a bridge between the deepening contraction and and the full articulation of a new object” (p.171-172).

I am struck by the temporality of the concept, the incompleteness of perception of the present and future, the contingency of “multiple coincidental events”, and the intuitive, non-rational approach. This concept supports the entrepreneurship credo of “just start”, but Meittinen is careful to emphasize that collaborative, creative agency is rarely a short-term process. Most of the examples he discusses were years in the making. What I like about these ideas is that Meittinen goes beyond the generic advice of just starting  by sharing examples that emphasize the value of research, evidence, intuition and curiosity.

Pursue “creative encounters” with people and organizations who share your interests

Most people participate in professional groups and organizations that interest them, but Meittinen argues that collective creative learning emerges  from informal “creative encounters” between people and organizations who share relevant but complementary interests in a particular situation. For example, scientists interested in temperature-sensitive medical instrumentation met geoscientists with expertise in hotspring bacteria. Together,  they engaged in research and collaboration to create a new category of instrumentation. These encounters can be serendipitous and can take time.

Meittinen’s chapter offers a persuasive argument for exploring at the boundaries of your interests or in a slightly different context that what you normally would. As he says in the conclusion:

“In addition to traditional spaces such as conferences, professional meetings, associations, and trade fairs—new types of spaces, such as regional meetings, may foster encounters between heterogeneous agents, user-producer seminars, and living labs.”  (p.172)

In other words, hanging out within your network will not address a contradiction, you need to look for complementary knowledge in the logic sense – different but relevant.

Harness complementary knowledge and skills to create things that address the contradiction

Miettinen’s main point is that once collaborators identify a shared need, that need will drive shared action, and prompt them to work together on projects until they develop an object that successfully addressed the original contradiction. It is this shared action that defines learning.

Creativity beyond Psychology

Ultimately, psychological conceptions of creativity that privilege individual imagination and innovation obscure the possibility that individuals and organizations can cultivate creativity and innovation through interaction and collaboration. Through collaborative, motivated learning, coalitions or interested agents can create the conditions for positive change to emerge.

Just as Jay Hasbrouck has challenged researchers to convene stakeholders around research and innovation projects and Chris Le Dantec has proposed that designers must create publics around shared issues of concern, Meittinen shows that creativity is the outcome of social interactions and collaborations between individual and organizations.


Meittinen, R. (2013). Creative encounters, collaborative agency, and the extraordinary act of the meeting of a need and an object. In Learning and Collective Creativity: Activity-theoretical and sociocultural studies. Eds. Annalisa Sannino and Viv Ellis. Routledge: 158-176



Adventures in Semiotics

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

  1. Learn Alone Together (Residual)
  2. Access the World From Anywhere (Residual)
  3. Gather Around a Screen (Residual)
  4. Augment how You Live (Dominant)
  5. Simulate a Situation (Dominant)
  6. Augment your Experience of Here (Dominant)
  7. Try Immersive Learning (Emergent)
  8. Wear Your Learning (Emergent)
  9. Integrate Learning into Yourself (Emergent)
  10. 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:

  1. Become a Cyborg (Unfamiliar / Private)
  2. Engage with the Machines (Unfamiliar / Public)
  3. Use the Data (Familiar / Private)
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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).

Next Steps

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.

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

3 Deliberately Developmental Organizations

Robert Kegan has always been one of my favourite authorities on adult learning and development. In Over our Heads was deeply inspiring when I was studying Higher Education at UBC. Kegan’s later collaborations with Lisa Lahey in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work and Immunity to Change influenced my early thinking on organizational development and change work.

Kegan and Lahey’s new work with several coauthors , An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, offers in depth cases studies of Next Jump, Decurion, and Bridgewater,  three organizations that incorporate professional development and learning as an essential part of their organizational culture and approach to business.

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.



Designing with my iPhone

For fun, I am participating in Design1o1 Redux, a MOOC that introduces basics of contemporary design. I’ve never been that successful as a student in MOOCs before because of the implicit time commitment they demand and, to be blunt, the poor quality of instructional design.

What I like about Design 1o1 is that the MOOC is playful, creative, and almost entirely based on the open Internet and through social media, mostly on Instagram but also on Twitter.  One of the challenges we have in British Columbia is that the Freedom of Information and Privacy laws are particularly strict about sharing personal information across borders, so I it would be challenging for a BC university to pursue such an open approach without wrestling with informed consent and forms.

What I am learning in Design1o1 Redux so far is how to use my iPhone as an instrument for creative expression and design research. I can see how this will be useful not only as I continue to take countless pictures of Megan and Claire but also as I dive more deeply into design research. One of the assignments I had last week prompted me to start thinking how I might use my phone and a few APPS to document service walkthrough and user journeys easily.

I will have more to say about my learning experience as time goes by. You can follow my progress on Instagram.


What is your take on MOOCs? What have you learned by participating in them? How have you learned to persist?

On “The Mushroom at the End of the World”

“Tricholoma matsutake” by casper s

After reading Reassembling the Social, I decided that I should read a contemporary example of an actor-network theory study. I chose Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. 

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?

On “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory”

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:

  1. What controversies? What actants? Where do they lead?
  2. “Where are the structural effects actually being produced” (p.174)
  3. “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)
  4. “In which room? In which panorama? Through which medium? With which stage manager? How much?” (p.189)
  5. “How is the local itself being generated?” (p.192)
  6. “Where are the other vehicles that transport individuality, subjectivity, personhood, and interiority?” (p.206)
  7. What form “allows something else to be transported from on site to another?” (p.222)
  8. 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?

On The Experience Economy

What does street theatre look like in your workplace? (Photo: July Pasterello)
What does street theatre look like in your workplace? (Photo: July Pasterello)

I decided to read Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy (1999/2011) because it was frequently cited in Peter Benz’s recent collection on Experience Design.

Here,  Joseph  Pine introducing the concept of economic progression, which is at the heart of the The Experience Economy:

This theory makes for an entertaining business anecdote — the other famous one in the book is the fact that people are very happy to pay €17 for an expresso to sit amidst  St. Mark’s Square in Venice —  but I question the underlying model of economic development. (Thank you, Mary Bryson and Erica McWilliam for helping me to learning to question taken for granted concepts like development.) Only towards the end of the text do Pine and Gilmore point to business models that are social- or value-driven rather than simply capitalist in focus.

Pine and Gilmore’s text has lots to offer service and experience designers who are developing service- and experience-based business models. In fact, in the later parts of the book, the authors present the idea of transformation-focused business. Orginally written at the turn of the 21st century, this book resonates with transformative learning theory, which was at the peak of its popularity around the same time.

Pine and Gilmore have a penchant for models built around 2×2 matrices,  and they devote an early chapter to aspects of effective experience. Personally, I prefer Grimaldi’s adaptation of Desmet and Hekkert’s experience design framework because it is more flexible . Overall this book now seems a bit dated, having been surpassed by social innovation and the Internet of Things. What is lacking for me is serious critique. I found myself pining  for Ian Bogost’s amazing essay “Welcome to Dataland” as I read Pine and Gilmore’s retelling of the history of Disney experience design.

The chapter I like the most is entitled “Performing to Form”, which makes the argument that workers can draw on four classic forms of theatre to craft and hone authentic workplace performances:

  1. Improv Theatre
  2. Platform Theatre
  3. Matching Theatre
  4. Street Theatre

Pine and Gilmore spend a lot of time looking at improv and street theatre. There is no question that improv remains a popular method for business to respond to dynamic and emergent conditions. I’ve toyed with reading some of the more recent popular titles like Yes, And.. or Do Improvise, but would rather play with it as an experimental method to prototype service experiences. The most fascinating sections  of the chapter were Pine and Gilmore’s analysis of street theatre, drawing extensively on Sallly Harrison-Pepper’s study of street performers in Washington Square,  Drawing a Circle in the Square. The point they make is that regardless of where you work and what you do, we can all strive to  cultivate performances adaptable yet thoroughly rehearsed.

What do street theatre or improv look like in you workplace?