Complexity

David Orban: Manifesto Ibridi as an integration of US and European approach to radical technological change

David Orban is an entrepreneur, and is the CEO of Dotsub, Advisor to the Singularity University, Scientific Advisory Board Member for the Lifeboat Foundation, also a Founder of the Open Government Data working group and he was the Chairman of the Board of Humanity+.

David expressed his opinion about the necessity of a better integration of US approach and European continental approach to front the complex changes of society. If in one side the US pragmatic culture has created efficient practices to select solutions in the other side there is the risk to transform pragmatic practices in a pragmatic ideology that tend to reduce complexity of reality.

The Manifesto Ibridi isn’t just a general suggestion to integrate different knowledges in a transdisciplinary “horizontal” way but also a model of constant “upright” personal and collective evolution about our approaches and visions of life and “reality”.

It isn’t just a matter of high-context and low-context cultures because often in US we can see a better social integration of different culture than in Europe, but the necessity to go beyond the traditional and implicit cultural dichotomy analytic and continental. Too philosophical?
We have always as human a philosophical vision behind our ideas, choices and behaviors the point is: how are we aware of our own prejudices and beliefs?

We need pre-judices isn’t a bad word, beliefs are cognitive and social necessary to live but we need a constant process of auto-analysis and make them explicit.

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Complexity

Data: how it will give you confidence, then fail you.

Big data also exacerbates a very old problem: relying on the numbers when they are far more fallible than we think.
— Cukier and Mayer-Schönberger (2013) The Dictatorship of Data

The article is well written and comes at a moment in history when we need to highlight these topics. It’s also very relevant because data here isn’t really the subject. People are. And how people interpret the data.

“They were grossly exaggerated by many units primarily because of the incredible interest shown by people like McNamara,” said a third.

This is a comment about the effort in gathering the data for data’s sake. This isn’t a problem with data, this is an issue of objectives. In other term, this is a common management fallacy of mistaking the incentive for the final objective. When the incentive is at the same time simpler and more directly beneficial to the person, it takes over the final objective.

There are a lot of examples about this, and you might be able to find a lot yourself. The pattern is simple: someone sees an interesting objective, and defines some kind of metric to measure the progress to that objective. The measurement is, by definition, something simple to understand and simple to grasp. It seems working. What happens however after some time is that people start focusing on the metric itself, and forget the data. The metric in this context is a form of incentive because shows you in a simple way your next target, your +1, your record to beat.

An example are sales people motivated by a percentage over the number of items sold. That is a simple metric and a simple incentive. The issue however is that in the long term people will start caring more about the incentive and forget about the final objective: delivering a product to the people that need it. So they oversell, push too much, lower prices to get the sale, and so on, in the end harming the brand of the company.

Another example is the school system and standardized scores. At its foundation, school should prepare for life and work, and standardized scores seem a good way to point in the right direction: they measure how good the students are in learning. However, what happens is that many students start responding to the system, the scores and the results and forget the end goal: learn to learn. Because life doesn’t set the objectives for you, you have to set them. No school system, no metric, can define that because it’s not a zero-sum game. In life if you don’t like the rules you can change: market, profession, work, place, and yourself as well.

Big data is poised to transform society […] measuring and optimizing everything possible.

One interesting aspect of data again is that it’s often used to optimize, instead of using it to get insights. Optimization and insights can be seen as similar but in reality the first means taking what exists and making it more efficient, while the second can trigger an entirely new approach, smarter, groundbreaking.

Data is data. Information is interpreted data in context. And what you want is information, not data. This means that there’s no truth in the data by itself, but it’s helpful because it helps providing a bigger picture to figure out the information you need.

Data should be used to validate questions, to spot new things, to find improvements to a pre-existing task. When you conduct a scientific experiment you don’t gather all the possible data and then try to see if it validates your theory. You start with a hypothesis and then you check the existing data and new data to see if it’s true. And you’re open to throw your hypothesis away.

But in the end, I can quote Damasio again here: we are all humans. Without emotions, decisions can’t be made and that’s already known.

The key question here is: do you use data to validate decisions you already made, or do you let the data change your opinion?

This is a very human question. Data is just a tool.

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Interview

Interview with Donald Norman: Design Skills in a Complex World

Donald Norman is an Electrical Engineering and Cognitive Psychologist. He’s co-founder and principal of the User Experience/Usability consulting firm, the Nielsen Norman group.

He’s an Hybrid Guru in the transdisciplinary fields of Usability, Interaction Design and User Experience Design with an amazing career.

We think that in the design of the last 20 years, as a profession, there are interesting emerging balances and combinations of competencies to front a more complex world. So we proposed to Norman for questions about the main skills of the future designers.

We asked him a few questions:

  1. What are the necessary skills for a designer to face the future challenges of a more complex world?
  2. Could the transdisciplinary attitude and skills of brilliant designers be a model useful to be adopted in other fields?
  3. Do you think that the future of user experience design will need a different level of competence on the several psychological and social layers of the users?
  4. Reading the Manifesto Ibridi, what is the most important concept that captured your attention since you are working in the same direction?

To which he answered:

“The skills of the traditional designer are not adequate to cope with the requirements of today’s world, especially not adequate for the new areas in which design is asked to play a role.

Traditional design education is still, well, tradition: craft based. The undergraduate education is all about craft skills and the professional graduate degree is simply more refinement of those skills.

Today the designer must know more about the world, about art and science, technology and engineering, social and behavioral sciences, political science and economics. Business.   But very few designers receive the broad kind of education necessary to work on the problems that are so desperate in need of good design skills.

The problem is made worse by the fact that most academic disciplines are very narrow and abstract. Academics focus upon academic, deep knowledge. Designers work in the real world: they need to knowhow to apply the knowledge of the other disciplines, but the university is perhaps the worst place to learn the practical implication of the necessary other disciplines.

 Although I think it is time for design education to change, I believe that the larger and more important problem is that it is necessary for all education to change. Instead of narrow, theoretical disciplines, we should have problem-based areas of focus, where theory and practice share the issues, where people with different backgrounds add their knowledge and experience.  We need to reward practical applications, not just theoretical ones. we need to reward people with wide, generalist knowledge at the same level we know reward people with deep, narrow knowledge. Designers need the knowledge within the other disciplines: the other disciplines can use the unifying vision of great designers. But today, neither knows quite how to work with the  other – the broad, generalist knowledge of the designer who wishes to build and accomplish things versus the deep, narrow knowledge of the academic scholar who wishes to understand things.  Both are needed. We need a way to make them work well together, for each to respect the skills of the other.

Design has to move away from its base as a skill-based discipline. People who design services and communities need not have craft skills. But they are still designers. Different kinds of designers need very different skills.

Why do I support the Manifesto Ibridi: because it is making an argument quite compatible with the one I just wrote, to live and understand complexity, to deal with the rapid acceleration of knowledge and technology, to understand the interaction of humans and technology (cognition and artifacts) – except cognition must include emotion and action – the body as well as the mind.”

— Don Norman

(Image courtesy of John Knox)

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