Design – the heart of effective and sustainable solutions

I grew up with a very narrow understanding of the word ‘design’. To me, design was something distant and related to fashion or the arts. It was only after coming to Helsinki that I begin to understand its power. Design is not just an industry or a field of study; it is a lifestyle and a way of thinking.

In her TEDx talk ‘What nature can teach us about design’, Jane Fulton Suri reminded me about some of the lessons that I have observed at different parts of my life, and I realized that at the heart of it all lies just one word – design.

 

Design and environment

I was privileged to have spent some time with the passionate team of Kampung Temasek in the initial stages of the project’s development. In gathering inspirations for the school’s building and for potential programs, we were invited to spend the weekend at Mawai Eco Camp where we were introduced to the underground sewage system and structure of the buildings. It was actually more fun than work! We spent the day having lessons from the forests and tackling the pond’s obstacle challenge course; the night, rowing in the river beside fireflies and chatting in the open-air canteen over a cup of hot milo and a guitar.

It was during this weekend that I first realized how nature has all the answers to our design of buildings and activities for team-building or conflict resolution etc., if we would only look and listen hard enough.

Design and learning

Halfway through my professional career in the field of training and facilitating, it became evident that the design of programs and learning experiences was more important than the skills of the trainer himself. A program that is heavily reliant on the trainer is often empty or motivational at best. The age of the ‘guru’ is over, much of today’s learning seem to point to a more dynamic structure of exchange and collaboration.

How can we design for learning experiences that provide deep and sustainable transformations, and is not dependent on a single teacher?

Design and social systems

In the video, Jane pointed out some lessons on restructuring organisations and leadership gained from a project with a large US council. Through observing the success of nature, the team designed a new system that replaces top-down directive orders with bottom-up cohesive actions.

I am reminded of leaders who display characteristics of the higher stages in the Tribal Leadership model (get your free audiobook if you haven’t already done so!). Both point to similar things – the need to move away from a controlling style in leading and communicating, towards a more facilitative style of encouraging networks and connections.

Why design?

Because to design is to leverage. It is setting the context and system for success to happen. Dr. Edwards Deming pointed out that 94 percent of all problems and improvements could be attributed to the system, not to the incompetence of a worker or person. If we don’t know leverage and system, we work too hard. We will be spending our lives filling and refilling a jug which has a leaking crack.

By the way, Helsinki is World Design Capital 2012. Tervetuloa!

Now that we know all these in theory, how can we apply it in our daily lives?

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