Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

May 2020

Invaluable Tools for New Thinking

Looking back over 20+ years of various entrepreneurial and employee pursuits, a common theme of innovation and inventiveness comes through. At various stops, a way of thinking or method has been taken from inside the head into something applicable for others to employ. From a thought to a tool if you will.

One could go their entire career using tools created by others. But, when given the opportunity or the challenge to create tools from their own experience or expertise, they fall flat. This might be because the way many of us were educated, we were taught how to use tools, but not really given a sense of how to create them. Hence, a wonder about this post-pandemic phase of productivity for knowledge workers:

will new thinking and activity/behaviors come from the sense-making and tool-making which is imagined by only those who are able to create them?

This gets into the crux of a few projects currently and past. In one endeavor, it took seven years of trial and error, sense-making and obstruction, and a few bold statements which can never be taken back, before a sound methodology and usable tool could be created and utilized. Truth be told, it was a painful process. Anyone who has created a theory goes through several rounds of trying to validate whether the theory has legs. And then when they validate it, there are even more series of validation which comes from others who have interest in (positively and negatively) the success of that validation. For that endeavor, it made a lot of sense. But it took more than seven years for it to validate such that it added energy to a movement.

Many companies do not have that kind of time to wait for validation and application. Design thinking, as one example of a field, has many theories and methodologies. But, very few tools which are usable by those who are unfamiliar with the space. Even more disparagingly, the tools which are available still require more friction than they enable application. One design tool is simply a collection of sticky notes along a spatial plane. And yes, this works. It also requires a level of cognitive gymnastics many groups do not have the time (or do not value the time) in understanding. Therefore, this collection of sticky notes, grouped on a board, gets several remixes. Each one claiming to solve the friction in thinking that the original said it offered.

For Avanceé projects, there is an attempt to overly simplify applicable methods. That is, accessing tools which distill the most important points into a traceable map or matrix the client can own the interpretation and application of. Because of this approach, the client is invited to think along side the solutioning. Meaning, they do not just take the methodology and slap it on top of their organization. They are invited to take the methodology and reshape the tool — a remix. In a few instances, the use of maps, matrixes, and forms combine to be a tool themselves to make a better analogy of the methodology. Skillfully applied, these allow an organization to make sense of what they are making. Or, to say it more directly: reengineer complexity.

Unfortunately, an unsolved part of creating new tools is what happens when the tool maker is no longer present? In every instance, the tool was only useful when its creator was there to facilitate. A hope for current tool in development is the tool’s creator is only needed for the first generation of learners. Afterwards, the tool becomes only a reference point. For this first generation, the methodology becomes embedded or infused into the very character of that first generation. They are empowered to create new tools themselves, but tools based on their reformed imaginations. If successful, reengineering complexity also means reigniting imagination. If not successful, this does not mean a failure in the methodology with the tool, but it does mean a misapplication of energy.

This is the key point about new tools. Every tool that is valuable expands the energy of its wielder. Every invaluable tool doesn’t just expand the energy of its wielder, it creates new energy for those to whom the tool was applied. This is why it takes so long to move from methodology to an applicable tool. Its possible much of the work happening in knowledge-based fields is not actually an energy enabler. Yet, if the tools for thinking were applied differently, there might be less aversion to imagination. Less inhibitors to maturely developing resiliency.