Reflection on Reshaping Boundary: Art, Design, and Management Workshop

Last two days were quite exciting. I was facilitating Reshaping Boundary Workshop, together with Lucy Kimbell who was the primary designer of the workshop. The idea was originally conceived by Fred Collopy as an on-going design inquiry of new way of new way of engaging design and management. While we were somewhat nervous the day before the workshop, it turned out to be better than anyone of us expected. Detailed design and careful preparation of materials and space paid off. What bound participants together, however, I believe was a certain sense of shared purpose, destiny, and urgency.

The idea behind the workshop was the movement between stakeholder experience and the invisible structure that generates that experience. The participants were given a persona of a stakeholder and asked to start from the reflection of their current image to the imagination of the future. The first day ended with a 2D sketch of the future experience and structure.

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(How does a 7-year old boy sees an art museum?)

The most exciting part of the workshop was the Day 2. Participants worked to construct 3D representation of the ecology of future. There were given space in an empty classroom along with many props. As you see in the videoclip below, they started working independently. There was no grand plan nor central coordinator. Each group was simply working on their own ecology.

What happened next was quite remarkable. One of the groups decided to hang strings overhead to represent “connectivity” and started making a web of strings. Few people begin to notice. But it was somewhat meaningless strings overhead.

However, toward the end, groups start making “connections” to the web. As different groups make connections, the web grew more complex, creating more opportunities for others to connect. Groups start making their own interpretations of “the meaning” of the web. What was remarkable was how many times these groups went back to the web again and again, each time making new and different connections.

Here are some images from the final ecology that emerged from the exercise.

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The exercise shows the power “incomplete” design as a platform. The web of string provided incomplete, yet powerful platform for others to complete. People make sense of the web as they were slowly making sense of themselves and neighbors. The outcome was neither eloquent nor elegant. It was clumsy and messy. Yet, it was beautiful. This is how the internet came about and became the engine of unbounded innovations.
Managers never have a “clean” slate. They are always thrown into a situation — messy and clumsy. The world is a heap of accidents and the task of managers is to make sense of them and do something about it to make it a better place. The future generations will find these strings too cumbersome. Somebody will then have to cut it through to breakdown the barriers and build new connections among these organizations. Some will try to centralize the planning and re-start the whole thing again with a careful planning — just like we have done so many times with the internet, only to fail.
In a short span of two hour, I was able to see the hope and despair of management all at once.

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