Tinkering and the Art of Problem Solving

When solving problems, it seems to be a widely accepted idea that you should have a well defined plan in place. Design and problem solving frameworks typically include deep planning stages where research, insight, design and testing activities are agreed upon, ordered and then executed. In one of his few interviews, the rather reclusive Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters explained an alternative approach to problem solving, which he called  ‘pushing.’ In short form, it’s where you simply start with action directed at solving your problem and then react based on what you learn. It’s essentially what many of us call “tinkering.”

The Revenge of the Board Game

What do we lose when move into the digital realm to connect socially or to play? When trying to work together to play an analogue board game we are exposed to each other physically in a way that an online experience can’t replicate. These rich interactions bring us closer together by exposing our deeper selves. Luckily it appears board games are having their revenge, growing beyond any previous expectation of their demise. Christopher Roosen Explores. 

How We Designed Microplastics into our Diet

Disposable plastic and mesh bags both tick all the boxes when it comes to meeting business and consumer needs, from economic and functional standpoints. But when we look at their entire life cycle, we see that plastic and mesh bags are not a good choice, but a terrible one. It’s a reminder of a question we need to ask ourselves before designing or producing anything: have we really considered the wider system impact? If design choice got us into the plastic problem we now face, then we need to think carefully about how to more responsibly design our future to avoid making the same mistakes.

Human Universe by Brian Cox

Human Universe, presented by Brian Cox, reminds us that we are an insignificant speck in the universe. Rather than depress us, it should only give us the motivation to embrace higher ideals of kindness, knowledge and the power of reason. Christopher Roosen Explores.

Victorian Visions of the Future Say a lot about the Power of our Assumptions

Victorian visions of the future, in artists like Jean-Marc Côté and writers like Jules Verne, we see the tension between peering into the future, while embracing assumptions about how behaviour in our present will continue onward in time. If psychological research suggests that our imagination for the future is anchored in the same mechanisms that provide our memories of the past, perhaps we unable to escape the assumptions of our time. In the end, we may find the most interesting visions of the future by deeply understanding our past and present, in order to project forward how current behaviour might evolve and change over time. Thus, it is out of the seeds of the past and present that the futures emerges. Christopher Roosen Explores. 

Be Creative, But Colour Within the Lines

I found a sample of a school report card that highlights a stark dichotomy in how we try to teach the next generation to be creative. On one hand, we grade creativity using rigid criteria. On the other hand, rigidity is a direct contradiction to the very essence of creativity, which is about being able to flip perspectives and find the right rules to break. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand the next generation should embrace creative thinking, then demand they ‘colour within the lines’. Whether they are working in art, engineering, business or policy, their ability to creatively break out of existing assumptions will be the key to a better future. 

Problem Solving is Complicated. Design is not the Panacea

George Washington died from an unknown malady in 1799. It probably didn’t help that profuse bloodletting was used to cure his fever. After all, bloodletting was a two thousand year old cure-all; a panacea used for many ailments. We have a history of turning ideas into panaceas. We’re probably doing it again with the practice of design. Design isn’t a panacea. To wrestle with the challenges of today we need to draw from everything we’ve learned as a species. Philosophy, science, history, geography, engineering, arts and economics (to name a few) all offer a powerful ways of engaging with our world. We need to be comfortable with the discomfort and ambiguity of mixing and matching many ways of thinking to suit our challenges. Lest we risk metaphorically draining the lifeblood with the single minded application of design as the only way of thinking about our problems. 

1,300 years of Entrenched Anatomical Thinking - Habit versus Creativity

It took 1,300 years for the anatomist Andreas Vesalius to challenge the ideas of the ancient Greek physician Galen. We hope that new creative ideas will make an instant impact on those around us. That they will sweep away ideas that don’t work or haven’t been validated. However, the reality is that we are creatures of habit. Both cognitively and socially, we build edifices around our ideas; to elevate, preserve and protect them. Creative thinking is therefore a challenge to the status quo. It breaks habitual assumptions and quests for change. 

The Bystander Effect. Remembering Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed in 1964. Though later investigation has shown that reporting exaggerated the number of bystanders, her story remains the trigger point for an exploration of the bystander effect in psychology. Having read about recent attacks in Sydney and had my own bystander moment, I wonder what sort of world we are building with culture and technology that encourages us to glaze our eyes to the world, bury our faces in our devices and detune ourselves from those around us? Though recent research shows at least one person out of a large crowd will help someone in distress, maybe there is some truth in the bystander effect after all.

The Five Principles of Good Systems

It’s hard to know if something we make is good, yet it’s an important question. We keep building systems with parasitical business models, addictive personalities and long-term side effects. Classic performance measures, like business growth, make economic sense, but there are deeper social, environmental and cultural issues at stake. Instead, I propose a set of five principles, curated from the best of philosophy, history, economics, science and design. By evaluating the things we make according to a set of concrete principles we can create products, services and systems that are in balance with the world.

Excellent Experiences Built on Lies?

We are in the age of experiences. Of seamless services. Where vast infrastructures move in the deeps beneath a thin layer of experiences to deliver us what we want, when we want it, at a low price. But what if it’s based on a lie? A lie that we can have these wonderful experiences without any cost to the people, economies or environments that make up the delivery chain? Christopher Roosen explores. 

Cholera and the Power of Data Driven Insights

In 1854, John Snow demonstrated the revolutionary power of data driven insight when trying to understand and prove the cause of Cholera. His investigation is a powerful reminder that a thoughtful exploration of data can yield confronting new insights. Insights may need powerful narratives to explain them, but without the data, they are just rhetoric. 

Knowledge Doesn’t Have A Price Tag

One of the risks of binding everything we do to a price tag is that we began to attach money to everything, including basic science. Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but I think there are things that don’t neccesarily have an obvious or immediate financial return. We do them to understand our world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the long and expensive particle collider experiments that are trying to understand the very fabric of our universe. Deeper insight may be our ultimate reward. 

Long-Term Plastic Pollution for Short-Term Profits

With our growing knowledge about plastic in the environment, it astounds me that we are still using plastic toy based promotions. These sort of promotions product temporary profits that wear off, leaving everyone with a plastic hangover. Meanwhile, our focus on short-term thinking creates long-term problems that we will deal with for generations to come. Christopher Roosen explores.

Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age

In Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age, historian Bruce Watson, weaves a masterful story of our changing relationship to light - from the mystical to the quantum. In the end though, it is our hunger to  understand one of the most complex aspects of our universe, that drives us forward to even stranger insights. A reminder that even the most omnipresent natural forces has many secrets yet to reveal. 

Buy More By Design

We’ve built a global economy based on the consumption of products, services and experiences. To make it work, in the last fifty years, we’ve intentionally designed many socio-cultural frameworks that encourage mass consumption at an unprecedented scale. This is ecologically unsustainable and it’s time to design a different way to live. If we really want to be human centred, then we should start from the most enriched view of human experience, one where we live in equilibrium in our ecology. Then we should work backwards to figure out business models that make it work. 

Long Term Thinking

The Notre Dame cathedral is a perfect example of a generational project, taking many human lifetimes to complete. Its partial destruction reminds us of the importance of fortitude for long term projects. Many of the greatest science, art and engineering projects took decades to see outcomes. This is especially pertinent in our age of instant gratification. Christopher Roosen explores. 

Why Write?

In these times, when there is no shortage of information, why bother to write? Put simply, writing is a time capsule. The only way that two people can communicate if separated by time and space. Every single one of us should write deeply, meaningfully and clearly about what it is like to be alive in our time. Christopher Roosen explores.