"Design Thinking" by Tim Brown

About 45 minutes from my house is the Henry Ford Greenfield Village museum in Dearborn, MI. My mom worked at the headquarters of Ford in Dearborn, so we frequently went to the museum,. For those who are unfamiliar, Greenfield Village is a a town made up of historical buildings, both recreated and some that were transported to the sight. There is Robert Frost’s home, George Washington Carver’s cabin, The Wright Brothers Cycle shop, and more. One of my favorite buildings in the village is Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Complex. The inside is amazing and just looks like a sight that would breed inventions. Edison, as stated by Tim Brown, was one of the first inventors to break the stigma of the sole inventor working alone. He had quite a team of builders, workers, and craftsmen at his side. I truly believe this is one of the reasons he was so successful.

The example of the work done at Kaiser Permanente is another example of this collaboration. Right now in my basement, I am sure I could think of an idea for a nurse shift change program. But what good would that do? I have no nursing experience, no friends who are nurses that explain their job to me, and I have only been in a hospital for a couple surgeries. Without the experience and knowledge of the nurses working at a specific hospital and a team of designers and innovators by my side, my idea would not be “Human-Centered” at all. The input of the people most affected by a design are crucial to the design process.

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Hi Emmett, awesome anecdote! I don’t know if this adds anything to the readings, but in my field (History of Science and Technology) and in Science and Technology Studies (STS) much work has been done in the past decades to deconstruct narratives of ‘lone geniuses’ and other hero stories about scientists, inventors, and engineers. A general consensus has emerged around the idea that knowledge/science/innovation is an inherently collective endeavor; that knowledge/science/innovation must be seen as the product of a network of actors, not of individuals with eureka moments. Very generally speaking, narratives about ‘lone geniuses’ are often rhetorical devices that serve to sustain certain power dynamics in knowledge/innovation enterprises.

This is a very jargony way of saying that it is sometimes in people’s self-interest to present themselves as geniuses, but that in reality new ideas are usually produced gradually by groups of actors who encounter lots of failures along the way, and who have to explore many paths before they find an arbitrary one that works.

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Emmett and Douwe, I’m interesting in your discussion of science and innovation as a collective effort. In my mind I always pictured Edison hunched over his worktable, hair sticking up like a mad scientist. But as the article points out, he had a team working with him. I dug a little deeper and learned that even Nikola Tesla worked at Edison’s factory for a year. This reminds me of Brother Eric’s constant insistence that there is no individual. He stresses that the smallest unit of society is a relationship not a person. No one could possibly solve the design problems we’re discussing on their own. It will take a collective effort, not just within ourselves, but between the community and other stakeholders as well.

This is really fascinating. In physics, we always think of major contributions as being done by individuals. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton were always thought of as lone radical scientists fighting against the (Catholic Church) establishment to advance our understanding of the universe. Even Einstein’s annus miraablis which saw the publication of four papers that changed our understanding of the world was attributed solely to him. I’m really curious to know how this is viewed in your field.

More broadly speaking I would agree that the today most meaningful contributions are made by teams of people working to slowly advance one specific goal. But my understanding of the contribution of some historical ‘geniuses,’ makes me wary of prescribing a one-size-fits-all design approach. I’d imagine that, if the design task its well defined, working alone allows for more circumvention of team bureaucracy, and a certain freedom, flexibility, creativity that working with others inherently constrains.