All posts by anomalogue

Lazy activism

Why would anyone demand a ceasefire from Israel instead of surrender from Hamas? Israel, after all, is the only liberal-democratic state in the middle east — the only place in the region where it is safe to voice liberal and progressive ideals — while Hamas is a terrorist organization with the primary goal of elimination of the state of Israel, who has demonstrated willingness to immiserate and sacrifice the lives of its own population to achieve that goal?

The same reason progressivists endlessly harass liberals about their unconscious racial biases instead of confronting explicit racists: Convenience.

It is much easier and more gratifying to poke at people who share your values and actually feel the sting of your criticism and the force of your reason than to deal with the real problem of evil. 

Reflecting on enworldment

In the business world, the default attitude toward thought is that thought is a means to an end. We think in order to figure out how best to change the world.

This is true to a degree, but not nearly true enough.

First, the process of thinking is not that clean.

Often that process of uncovering and clarifying the ways the world could be changed, the reasons why it should be changed in one way rather than another, and working through the ways it can be changed changes our own selves in ways inconceivable prior to the actual doing of world-changing work.

In transforming the world we transform ourselves. Susan’s teacher, Rabbi Jeff Roth taught her a tiny blessing, “May your wanting be wiser.” The reflective practice of design is one effective way to realize this beautiful blessing.

But that’s not the end of it. The transformation continues rippling out into the world. The transformed world transforms those who participate in it. Our transformations of the world are only start out materially, “out there”. Much of it is spiritual, “in here”, changing people’s spontaneous perceptions and intuitions of reality.

What Churchill said of architecture — “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” — is true of all significant technological advances. Think about how the world as a whole seemed to those before and after the printing press, steam power, air travel, radio, television, computers, the internet, mobile phones, social media. And now, artificial intelligence.

Working to change our intuited sense of reality for the better through transforming the world, our relationship to the world, and ourselves — all together as a whole — as a single personal, interpersonal, material, linguistic, informational, practical, institutional, aesthetic hybrid system — is what I mean when I talk about enworldment.

It would be a terrible mistake, a “fatal conceit”, in fact, to think we can approach enworldment as a linear industrial process of conceiving, planning, and executing. This is a radically iterative process, where iteration is the rule, not an embarrassing exception. And it would be totalitarian to see it as something one elite group does on behalf of a nation or the world.

Enworldment is an approach to living our own lives together, making changes to what is around us. It is a style of taking responsibility, of responding, and of noticing the effects of our responses, on the world, on ourselves and on each other.

Please don’t disassemble my philosophy

I got curious about how many times on this site I’ve repeated my favorite Wittgenstein quote “A philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about.’” The answer is: a lot.

Too many times I’ve called this quote my favorite definition of philosophy, or my favorite articulation of philosophy’s purpose. But this is only true if we take philosophy to be the solving of philosophical problems. And while a lot of what we call philosophy is precisely this, I think it is not the best way to understand philosophy. The best philosophies are completely unproblematic and render our experiences of the world and our beliefs about the world unproblematic.

Wilfrid Sellars definition is much closer: “The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” When our philosophy fails to perform this function, we then have a philosophical problem, and no longer know our way about. Then we “do philosophy” in order to reestablish a persuasive understanding of how things hang together.

But it must be persuasive. For this, it is necessary that it be logically compelling, but this alone is not sufficient. It must somehow link up with out intuitions of the world, most of which are purely practical and tacit and derived from myriad interactions with the myriad beings of the world– people, things, environments, experiences, ideas — some successful, some unsuccessful. We know more than we know, and our persuasion is subject to these unknown knowns of that swarm of unknown knowers who are the citizens of our soul.

This background of practical activity, of response, of intuitive belief is what I call faith. Our faith is not static. It responds to the world and changes in response to what it undergoes and overcomes.

Each person’s faith responds to different things to different degrees. Some of us respond most to relationships. Some respond most to emotions. Some respond most to beauty. Some respond most to mystery. Some respond most to participation in rituals. Some respond most to practical problems. Some of us respond most to ideas.

Those of us who respond strongly to ideas find philosophy fascinating, inspiring and sometimes life-changing.

Many others want philosophy to work unobtrusively, like a household utility. If it is already working, they aren’t too happy to see someone try to fix what isn’t broken. I don’t know about you but if a neighbor comes over to my house and starts disassembling my old, rattly, but mostly-still-functioning air conditioner to see if he can get it to work better, I’m kicking him off my property.

It is more than reasonable to not want to examine our own beliefs. When time travel is invented, I’ll be heading back to 2003 to explain truth this to my self.

I’ll also tell myself to avoid the company of people who don’t know or don’t care about the verdicts of faith — only what can be argued or defended. Our faiths deserve respect, and we show respect by taking persuasion seriously, and not just hectoring faith with argument. Arguments should be offered, not imposed.

A case for business philosophy

I just found a post from a baker’s dozen years ago that does a good job of articulating my views on radical creativity, perplexity and philosophy. Confusingly, I called it “pro-lifer” probably a pun on being a lifer in the professional world. It is a bad title.

I like it, but I want to edit it and use some of it in this damn book I’ve been wanting to write. I’m trying again in April. So here it is in slightly edited form.


Sometimes, when we press ourselves to think through difficult problems, we come to a point where how we think imposes limits on what we can think.

A problem is recognized — felt — but when we try to think it out, we arrive at the edge of thinkability. We cannot resolve this problem with the intellectual moves that ordinarily work to resolve our problems.

If we are precise and honest with ourselves, we will realize something disturbing: at this point what we most painfully lack is not an answer, but a clear question. We cannot even articulate the problem.

Our minds do not know what to do with such a situation. We don’t even know how to talk about this experience. We are completely oriented by metaphors of objects existing positively in a negative space that’s given: and this space is reality itself.

But here, the very space for the problem is lacking. Our minds boggle at this, just as it boggles when we try to contemplate what stands beyond the limits of space, or what occurs beyond the limits of time. It is literally inconceivable.

Such situations are not uncommon, even in the intellectual flatlands of business. It might be helpful to develop some vocabulary for such situations:

  • An inarticulate problem that remains inarticulate because it stands outside the current limits of thinkability is a perplexity.
  • When we intuit that something problematic might conceal a perplexity and if we attempt to comprehend it we might get sucked into a perplexity and trapped there we feel apprehension. We are tempted to hold the problem at arm’s length, or ignore it, or treat it as a more familiar problem that we do know how to think and respond to.
  • The distinctive, painful feeling we are caught inside a perplexity is anxiety. This feeling is always intensely uncomfortable, but when it is accepted as the birth pangs of genuinely new idea it becomes a far more acceptable part of the labor and delivery of innovations.
  • The limits of thinkability in a particular approach to a problem is an intellectual horizon.
  • Perplexities are resolvable by the peculiar and perpetually misunderstood activity known as philosophy.

*

What? Philosophy useful in business?

Ask a dozen people to list the ten most useless things any person can do, and philosophy will top the list. When an exasperated project manager exclaims “We don’t have time to philosophize!” nobody questions the wisdom of such practical thinking.

However, it is precisely here, when a group faces situations it does not know how to think out — where people become most anxious and most impatient and most inclined to just pick something and go with it — that philosophy is most useful and is in fact the very cornerstone of eventual success.

According to Wittgenstein: “A philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about.’” Is this not exactly when a company goes outside and hires someone to help it find its way out of a problem it doesn’t understand? When it doesn’t know its way about?

Yet, even consultancies — companies whose very purpose is to help other companies in this situation — are stuffed with anti-philosophical “pragmatists” whose life purpose is to simply get things done. Under the stress of anxiety such people reject the very thing that will bring them success. They stop thinking, stop listening and put their noses to the millstone.

This is how most of their projects go. Most of their projects turn out pretty unspectacular, but since they’ve never experienced a spectacular outcome, and because spectacular outcomes are uncommon, anyway, nobody blames them, nobody blames their client for their unspectacular, unlovable, unexceptional non-success, and nobody gets fired — so good enough. And emails go out calling the bunt a home run, and an assemblage of best practices an innovation, etc., etc. etc. and this is what makes corporations so damn corporate. They didn’t confront anxiety, and, so, realistically, this is the most that can be hoped for.

“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.” — Wittgenstein

*

The reason few companies innovate is not that they lack intelligence or ingenuity or ideas — it’s that they are organizationally unprepared to face the perplexities and the anxiety intrinsic to innovation.

They misdiagnose the painful feelings of things going right as something going dreadfully wrong, and inadvertently abort the innovation process.

*

Most people, most of the time will try to make the absence of a clear question go away by making up things that resemble answers, that seem more or less related to what the question could be or ought to be. As long as the answer fits the standards of the culture to which it is addressed (that is, it has a truthy mouth-feel) and does not offend or impinge on anyone (inconsequentiality is the surest strategy for accomplishing this), it is generally accepted as an answer.

Learning service design backwards and forwards

I’ve found two ways of helping people understand service design.

The first way, which I began developing almost two years ago and described on this blog late last year, is helping people learn to notice the kinds of problems service design is good at solving. I’m calling this “Six Sensibilities of Service Design”.

The second way is to show the typical final deliverables of a service design project. These deliverables comprise both comprehensive surveys of the service as a whole as well as specific itineraries documenting key paths through the service.

Surveys include:

  • Service flows — Service flows map all primary paths through a service, from one touchpoint to the next. Normally the perspective mapped is that of the receiver of the service, but ideally those delivering and supporting the service would also be mapped.
  • Value exchanges — Every service can be described as a value exchange between different participants (actors), each investing things of value (time, effort, money, information, etc.) in order to get something of value in return. This exchange is conducted in smaller installments that take place over a span of time, and each installment must motivate the next installment if the service is to progress toward its fulfillment.
  • Experience strategy — The experience strategy answers the question of “What should it be like to participate in this service?” One popular way to express the experience strategy is experience principles, a list of characteristics of the service that will experientially differentiate the service from its alternatives.

Itineraries include:

  • Service stories — Service stories convey an ideal service experience, usually, but not necessarily, from the perspective of the receiver of the service. Each experience story traces out one path through the service flow, and relates what one service actor (and other actors who appear in their story) experience along the way, investing and receiving value. These stories are the backbone of service design, because they put, in the most concrete and universally-relatable terms, what all development efforts across all disciplines are contributing to bring to actuality. Service design, unlike other disciplines, operationalizes omnichannel, multi-actor experiences, starting from the experience itself. Other approaches, if they consider experience at all, often do so after most operational work was done (normally with no consideration of experience) and with exclusive focus on “the customer” receiving the service.
  • Service blueprints — Service blueprints are outlines of operationalization of one service story. It outlines what happens in the “front stage” of the service, experienced by the receiver of the service, as well as processes that occur in the “back stage” to support the service.

In an ideal world, every possible itinerary in a service flow would be related as a service story and blueprinted. In reality, designers must prioritize paths, with the understanding that the work will continue in perpetuity.


I am aware this is incomplete and still pretty inadequate. Nobody unfamiliar with service design will understand service design from what I have just outlined. However, I believe once the outline is fleshed-out with more description and examples, it will be quite effective — especially if it is supplemented with “Six Sensibilities of Service Design”.

Once this foundation is established, the approaches of service design will make much more sense. That is my hole and aspiration, anyway.

Design is the supersystem

This article is incomplete, and likely significantly incorrect. But I’m posting it, anyway, just to spur me to keep working on it. It is flawed but there is important truth in it. If you are an engineer, please pay especially close attention to my reckless claims about regression testing, because I suspect I may be speaking about obsolete ideas that I never adequately understood. Let’s fight.


Once you understand that design is concerned with the development of hybrid systems comprising both voluntary participants (humans) and automatic components (nonhumans), and that such systems are incomplete until the human participants are actually participating several truths become obvious:

  • The human participants must be taken as one of the essential parts of the system. Designers seek understanding of how human participants will behave within a system for exactly the same reason engineer seek understanding of how material or technological components will behave in an engineered system: To the degree a part of a system is poorly understood, it is likely to behave unpredictably and cause the system to perform poorly or fail.
  • When we view systems that people are eventually expected to use or to participate in, as already complete without the people using it — when we try to evaluate that as-yet humanless system, without including the users or participants, we are mistaking a mere part for the whole. Almost all engineered systems are mere subsystems of larger designed supersystems, and the superstystem is the proper unit of evaluation.
  • When we make changes to engineered systems, we are often making changes to the larger design system and how humans will participate in it. No competent engineer would dream of releasing a change to a system without performing regression testing, to ensure no unintended effects emerge from the system, but, because they misconceive design systems as mere engineered systems that will eventually be used by people, they fail to include usability testing in their protocols.

UXers and HCDers have always known it was foolish to speculate on how people will use or participate in a system. But few actually thought of people as voluntary participants in a supersystem that could be treated as a testable unit. Service design — our first human-nonhuman hybrid system development methodology — has made the advantages of this conception of design more obvious, but it was actually true from the start.

Personal brand

I remember back in the 90s we explained brands to people as the personality of an organization.

Today the idea of branding is more immediate to us than the reality of souls. We talk about selfhood using the language brand strategy.

It is strange to me how so many children who fancy themselves anti-capitalist have internalized marketing so deeply that they understand themselves as examples of marketing segments of a political party.

Eubigotry

I’m going to fully and publicly adopt the terminology of eubigotry and disbigotry as two species of bigotry, which I define broadly as any reduction of an individual person to a category or identity and relating to the individual person primarily as an example or instance or manifestation of the category.

Most of what we call bigotry is disbigotry. We deduce that a person has certain negative characteristics or we respond negatively because we have assigned them a negative category. But, according to this view, if we deduce that a person must have positive characteristics or we respond more positively to them because we have assigned them a positive category, we are also succumbing to bigotry — eubigotry.

We can also be bigoted toward ourselves. Whether our self-bigotry is disbigoted or eubigoted, we are still objectifying ourselves and succumbing to what existentialists call “bad faith”.  In this weird time, we are suffering mass bad faith. It appears to be the default faith for most college educated young people.

Deeply bigoted people sometimes try to overcome their bigotry by reversing disbigotry into eubigotry. The purpose of coining the word “eubigotry” is to show that even if the felt valuation has actually reversed (which is questionable) this makes no progress toward seeing the other as fully human.

Note: I stole this linguistic move from the field of psychology, which identifies both distress and eustress as varieties of stress.

Annual disorientation

Every year around this time I lose my curriculum. I pick up books and abandon them.

This year I’ve picked up and dropped several books about the formation of worldviews. I started at Worldview and Mind by Eugene Webb. Then I switched over to Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking. Then I spent a few days in Cassirer revivalist Sebastian Luft’s The Space of Culture. Now I am tentatively rereading Bruno Latour’s weird and semi-neglected magnum opus, An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence.

All this came after a half-year dive into hermeticist literature, focusing on Kabbalah and Tarot, and approached from my own heretically practical angle.

Susan has booked a mountain cabin for a week-long writing retreat in early spring. I’ve noticed that everything I am doing is now preparation for that week.

My project is the same as it has been for the last decade, and both the hermeticist and the worldview investigations are components of it, and, of course, design remains at the heart of it as well. The project is enworldment. If we are displeased with the world as we experience it, what do we have at our disposal to change our experience of the world — by materially changing the world, by changing own being-in-the-world, by changing our own social participation? My prescription is to approach things as a designer — always as a designer — and most of all when we think we should approach them as a political or “ethical” actor.

Boring or anxious?

As we all know, “there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two kinds and those who don’t.”

And as anyone who knows me knows, I’m of the former camp, though do I believe there are innumerable interesting or useful ways to bifurcate our species, so I can easily come across as the latter.

Today my favored bifurcation is 1) those who prefer anxiety to boredom, and 2) those who prefer boredom to anxiety.

In this bifurcation, too, I am of the former camp, though I can go on about anxiety so extensively, that I often seem to belong to the latter.

How to close the theory-practice gap

I have never once just thought up a truly new practice and then executed it afterwards.

Every new thing I’ve ever conceived emerged from intuitive, nonverbal doing — from groping in the dark, from muddling through, usually under conditions of considerable perplexity and stress.

Only after, if it worked, can I go back and reflect on what made it work, and produce a theory.

I’ve never seen things go the opposite direction.

As far as I know, the only way to close the theory-practice gap is to theorize from practice. And it is less like a closing of a gap than it is paving something substantial but rough and poorly lit.

There is only a gap if theory has been sketched into a vacuum. I don’t think those gaps ever close.

And trying to practice from theory leads to mechanical sterility. It leads to execution of memorized dance steps, or the recitation of syllables from an alien language.

Every important thing I’ve ever conceived has come came to me this way. And every important thing I’ve ever learned has come to me first as a new practical capacity, a new ability to perceive or respond first — tacit know-how — and only much later has it become something I can actually explain.

Maybe a Sartrean formula would be helpful: Practice precedes theory.

What emerges from practice-forged theory is praxis — articulate practice.


I am excited about design as an alternative mode of practical life.

It is a new living tradition, a way of working, self-consciously developed by many diverse practitioners, solving a vast and growing array of real-world problems in every conceivable material (matter, space, time, information, imagination, feeling), for (arguably) the last 60-so years.

It is a tradition that must be appropriated and internalized before it becomes productive in the head, hearts and hands of a participant.

It is the appropriate mode of practice for anyone who works in systems in which humans participate. If you think about it at any depth at all, this category embraces just about all human activity, most of all the governing of people at every scale.

Design is the way we should be approaching life together, but its methods and even more, its core sensibilities, its conceptive capacities, are still largely confined to specialists. In my own life, I’ve found that disciplining myself to behave as a designer has made intractable, incorrigible problems soluble.

Almost anything I do, I do better if I do it in a designerly way.

But what is this designerly way? It is not methods. It is what animates these methods. It is a faith.


More and more, I am realizing that the purpose of my life is to illuminate and activate the esoteric underpinnings of design practice.

Like all faiths, design has a visible outward form that can be looked at — an exoteric expression — and an inward, esoteric being that cannot be looked at, but rather is seen from.

The reason I have been so quiet lately is I am returning to the sophia perennis. I want to do for design what esoterists have done with traditional religions — illuminate their transcendent unity. To this end, I am focusing on the esoteric depths of my own faith, and studying Kabbalah.

But just to preemptively address on obvious and important objection:  I am not in the slightest interested in making design into a religion. I am just trying to invest our practical lives with religious energy. We cannot continue on with this vacuous, stressful, tedious slogging. Our oil-dependent economy depends even more on another rapidly depleting fuel source, will-power. Our will-power tanks have been sucked dry are emptied even of vapors.

We sit before our screens, commanding our hands to move and type out words, but they refuse to do what we say.

We need an alternative, renewable psychic energy source. But we cannot tap into this source as long as we continue to insist that all new sources conform to our current sacred theories of power. These theories possess us and will not release us until we pay the price of our redemption.

Polycentricity

Every citizen today seems to have a non-negotiable issue. “I will play by the liberal-democracy game on any issue except this one issue, which, to me, is more important than liberal-democracy itself.” Here, one is entitled — no, one is obligated! — to use force if persuasion fails.

But what if your fellow citizen takes precisely the opposite position as yours? This, in fact, is not hypothetical. Your non-negotiable opposes their non-negotiable.

You, however, actually know what is true and good. You can explain why your contemptible enemy is deluded and morally perverse.

Your enemy, however, also knows what is true and good and has explanations for your deluded and perverse morality.

What makes you so sure you are right about being right, when your enemy is wrong about being right? Is it your justification of your judgment? Well, that is only meta-judgment, and it is just as fallible as judgment.

For instance, you think you’ve addressed your biases? What if you are biased about your biases? You look for them some places and not others. Hell, some of your worst biases are against people who challenge your biases, but you give those prejudices pretty moral names.

Our very worst biases, our most incorrigibly vicious prejudices, live in the holy of holies, at the sacred center of our moralities.

And here is the root reason that you so sure of your rightness. It is nothing other than the fact that you are you. And this makes good sense. You were born into the center of the universe, and you have never left it. Never for one second has the universe not orbited about its heart, who is none other than you.

But you are not the only center of the universe. I, for instance, was born into the heart of the universe. My wife was, too, as were both of my daughters.

We are all centers of the universe.

Nobody has the right to ask another person to decenter themselves, no matter how brilliant our arguments and no matter how sound our theories. When we do so, we are invariably asking them to center ourselves as the true center of the universe, even if we pretend it is for other people. We want to impose our own morality, or own prejudices, our own biases, so we can better mistake them for Truth.

Instead, we can polycenter ourselves. In this act, we each go first and invite others to join us.

When we polycenter ourselves we acknowledge our fellow-centers by seeking to persuade and cultivating our own persuadability.

For us, the only non-negotiable is that everything must be negotiable.

The invitation looks and sounds like respect — gassho or dap or “shalom”or “namaste”, etc. It changes the air around you. We become who we are, organs of the distributed God.

Six sensibilities of service

I’ve decided to experiment with making my course “Introduction to Service Design” an exercise in hermetics. I am going to re-title the course “Initiation Into Service Design”, and I am going to re-title the central module of the course “Six Sensibilities of Service”.

I’m using “hermetics” to mean applications of esoteric insights in the domain of mundane life — applied hermeticism. I’ve been working this way for decades, and have struggled for language to explain my approach to design and how it differs from the technique-driven approach of most professional designers.

The esoteric language, including the designation “hermetic”, however, is not for the public. It is just for me and my own clarity, and for the handful of weirdos who also respond to this kind of thing and find it clarifying, rather than mystifying. At this point, I do not plan to run around billing myself as a “hermetic designer”. My outward practice and language will and must stay compatible and cooperative with the exoteric practices and norms of the design industry and the business world to which it belongs.

This kind of skillful selective semi-concealment, by the way, is part and parcel of esoterism, which always remains in communion with the exoteric facets of its tradition — while serving it by investing it with life, or “vivifying” it, to use Valentin Tomberg’s words.

I’ve intuited this idea often, but I think it is time to say it explicitly: Design is a tradition equipped with exoteric theories and practices, rooted in esoteric understandings into which designers are initiated, or of which they are oblivious.

Merely learning the lingo, theory and methods of design does not fully equip a would-be practitioner to actually design. Nor does expertise in executing the techniques designers use. There is something else required if one hopes to “really know what they’re doing” as designers, or even “knowing where designers are coming from”.

The new goal of the course is to accelerate the acquision of this “something else”, which consists of activating a set of enceptions — what hermeticists call arcana — each a different capacity to perceive, recognize and interact with a certain species of given, without which the given is missed. The given is either not noticed, submerged in oblivion, or it is meaningless, or perplexing.

For the sake of sounding minimally sane, sober and non-exotic, I will call these enceptions “sensibilities”. After all, each is an ability to make sense of some particular species of given. Also, the word “sensibilities” is common in the world of art and design, and my use of it is, though novel, completely compatible with current usage. It is a very gentle repurposing of the word.

The six sensibilities are what one must activate and cultivate in oneself, in order to recognize, understand and resolve problems with services.

Think of the six sensibilities as parts of a mental hand — five fingers and a palm. All six are needed to grasp the complexity of any service as a simple whole. All six are needed to articulate this clear understanding of service and communicate it to others. All six are used to grip the tools of service design in shaping new services or reshaping existing ones. They are the background of any clear understanding, any effective communication or any skillful response to a service design problem.

These six sensibilities differentiate  inspired, insightful service designers who work naturally and intuitively from designers who work formulaically and mechanically with tools and techniques they understand mostly theoretically. Before the sensibilities are active, a designer is like an aspiring dancer who must recall and execute each step of the dance they are performing. After the sensibilities are developed, the dance moves the dancer’s body with spontaneous, musical grace.

But this course is not only — or even primarily — for designers. It is for people who might hire and/or collaborate with service designers. But why would they need a course? After all, don’t we hire professionals to spare us the need to become experts?

Here is why: One of the challenging peculiarities of service design is that an organization cannot hire service designers to do service design work for them. They must hire service designers to work with them.

Service design work changes the way organizations operate, and even how they organize themselves around the delivery of services.

Every design discipline works with a particular material, and with service design the material is the organization.

For service design to work, an organization itself must, and cannot avoid, participating directly in the service design process.

That participation requires a significant degree of understanding of service design, and that understanding is hollow, ineffective and overwhelming without the six sensibilities.

That is why this course is needed.


So what are the sensibilities and how do we activate them?

I will list the sensibilities, and offer a quick and barely adequate description for each one:

  • Temporal sensibility – Services are experienced in a series of Now points, each with a past and future. At each point in the experience, one remembers what happened before and tries to anticipate what comes next, and this shapes and colors what is happening in the present. When the service experience ends, it is remembered as a story with memorable ups and downs, and an overall impression of how it went. Designing an experience that unfolds over a significant duration of time requires a different mentality from designing an object experienced momentarily — it requires a temporal sensibility.
  • Omnichannel sensibility – Services happen across multiple touchpoints delivered through different service channels. A typical service zigzags across locations (home, car, store, service centers) and physical objects (computer, phone, product packaging, product interfaces) and virtual objects (websites, apps, messages, social media platforms). But they are perceived as part of something, and that is a service. Designing an experience that unfolds across multiple channels of a person’s free choosing requires a different mentality than designing an experience confined to a single channel — it requires an omnichannel sensibility.
  • Polycentric sensibility – Services are experienced by different actors playing different roles in the service, often interacting with one another. For instance in a retail scenario, a customer is an actor who receives the service, a cashier is an actor who helps delivers the service, while backstage in the stockroom another actor supports the service. Service design tries to make each actor’s experience a good one. Each actor is considered a different center of a common experience with multiple centers. Designing for multiple actors simultaneously requires a different mentality from designing for one actor at a time — it requires a polycentric sensibility.
  • Reciprocity sensibility – At every point in a service, in order for the service to unfold as intended, one or more actors must be motivated to participate in the service. The actor wishes to get some kind of value from their participation, and if they see no value they are unlikely to play their part. They invest something valuable — effort, time, information, money, comfort, etc. — in order to get something valuable in return. This is as true for those delivering and supporting services as those receiving them. And it becomes exponentially true when participation is voluntary and non-hierarchical, for instance when partners cooperate to provide jointly-delivered services to shared customers. To the degree that a service provides a win-win value exchange for all who participate in it at every point, the service will flourish. Wherever it does not, the service will be weak or even broken, and actors will opt out (refuse to buy; quit their job) or choose services with a value exchange (buy from a competitor; find a better job somewhere else). Designing win-wins for everyone who participates in a service requires a different mentality from designing around the needs of only one actor — it requires a reciprocity sensibility.
  • Operational sensibility – In the practical world, ideas are worthless unless they can be implemented and made real. Service design is radically practical, and to ensure ideas can work in practice enlists experts from throughout the organization to contribute their knowledge and disciplinary know-how, and to collaborate with other experts to push the boundaries of what is concretely possible. To guide collaboration among diverse experts each of whom has insights and knowledge required to ensure practicability of innovative ideas requires a different mentality from pie-in-the-sky “big idea” concepting — it requires an operational sensibility.
  • Staging sensibility – It is a truism that some of the best designs are invisible. But at the same time it is also true that some of the best designs are delightful and memorable. The best services are an orchestration of both. Services design pays close attention to what elements or moments of a service should be unobtrusive or even concealed backstage, and which elements should be brought frontstage to be experienced, appreciated or remembered. To coordinate a service that appears the right way at the right time and conceals what should not be noticed requires a different mentality from something designed to only be invisible or only to delight: it requires a staging sensibility.

In the course itself, I will introduce each sensibility with a more extensive description, provide some examples to be viewed through the lens of the sensibility and outline some criteria and earmarks to keep in mind when.

After we have been introduced to each sensibility individually, and learn to exercise the sensibility to detect the kind of service problem that sensibility perceives, we will use all six sensibilities together to assess real services and clearly communicate our assessment.

Concept and synthesis

(Below is a post I wrote in June 2022. I didn’t publish it for some reason, but reading it now, it seems interesting enough to release.)


In December 2005, I posted a philosophical typology on LiveJournal:

A philosophical typology

  • What is its principle of organization? Is it systematic or organic? In other words, does articulation or construction predominate, and to what degree?

  • What is its scope? How much does it admit as relevant, and how much must it prune out as irrelevant, in order to close its horizon?

  • What is its range of action? Is it analytical (destructive), synthetic (constructive), or both?

  • What is its terminus of meaning? In other words, where does it ground its assertions? In the perceptions of primary experience, in the assumptions of science, or does it avoid grounding and merely posit in circles?

  • What is its attitude toward existence? Negating, neutral, affirming?

  • What kind of resolution to problems is sought? An articulation, a proof, an application, something else?

I look for some other qualities, too, but they are mostly just earmarks to help settle the questions listed above. The most important earmark: is the philosophy monodualist, and if so, what is the nature of the duality (or dualities) the philosophy selects as significant?

That is the earliest use of the concept-synthesis dichotomy I can find. It appears I was reading S. L. Frank at the time. I need to go back and see if I got it from him.

This dichotomy was a resolution of a perplexity at the heart of the worst design project (and the worst year) of my life. I found myself completely unable to talk about or argue for some existential necessities for doing design work — necessities that are apparently felt as real by some — but, for others, are not experienced at all. For them, talk about these necessities is talk about nothing, about imaginary nonsense. Sadly, these “others” seem to thrive in business and get promoted to positions of authority, especially in technology. For me, though, nothing is more real than these existential necessities. Being forced to work without it, in a milieu where they were not even real enough to deny, sucked me into the deepest, most hopeless state of despair I’ve ever felt.

Around 2011 I designed a framework to explain how design methods move teams from relative unclarity to greater clarity. It showed a kind of interplay between conceptual and synthetic development. Ever since, I’ve had reservations about some of the claims I made, especially concerning design methods and movements along the proposed path to clarity. But the framework remains as relevant now as it was then. In 2013, when I started a design studio with a friend, we named the company after the form of the path to clarity: Outspiral.

This framework was also inspired by despair — the second worst of my life. The theme here was a continuation of the first.

1-4-3-1

Susan and I were trying to find a simple way to explain reconciliation among equals.

“When conflict breaks out, we are shaken out of unity, and fall into the four-sidedness of conflict. There is [1] what I believe, there is [2] what you believe, there is [3] what I think you believe and there is [4] what you think I believe.

(Naive egocentricity, of course, sees only two sides: what I believe and what I know you believe. Until one overcomes naive egocentricity and learns to see conflict as four-sided, progress is impossible.)

To begin reconciliation we try to go from four-sided conflict to three-sided disagreement, where there is [1] what I believe, and there is [2] what you believe and there is [3] our shared understanding of our disagreement.

But sometimes when we reach a shared understanding of the disagreement we realize that this shared understanding has transcended and absorbed our old conflicting beliefs. This new understanding is no longer an agreement about a disagreement, but [1] a new shared belief. The three-sided disagreement is now a more expansive and accommodating unity.

So it’s one to four to three and then back to one. Repeat, ad infinitum.”

At this point Susan reached over and picked up a book from a pile of hermetic books next to her chair. “What is this?”

The Tool-Using Animal

Note: I wrote this post a few days ago, and sort of abandoned it. Then I had a conversation with my favorite expat gringoid, who said a bunch of stuff that I’d said in parallel in this post. I’m posting it now mainly for his amusement. It’s unfinished, but there’s some gold flakes mixed in with the silt, if you don’t mind doing some light sifting.


We humans are tool-using beings.

We are such profound tool-users that the boundary between our own being and the being of the tool is blurry. A good tool in use becomes an extension of our mind, our body, our attention, our intention. We do not know where we stop and where the tool begins. And the better the tool, the less we perceive it.

The very best tool, the one that extends us best, the one least distinguishable from our own being is language. Some of us identify with our language so thoroughly that when we have a question, and ask it and answer it with language, we think the language itself asked and answered it.

Most of our life is lived beneath language, beside language, and beyond language.

But to language all life is words, and it is language who says what is and is not real and true.

A bad tool, including bad language, requires us to use language in order to operate the tool. We have to ask ourselves questions and answer them before we can do the next step. Or we have to recall instructions to execute. It is this that makes a sharp boundary between me and the thing I am trying to use. But on this side of “me” is a set of language tools, that seem part of my own being. But they are not really me. They are only my favored tools — so favored that I forgot there is a self beneath them who could use other language and interact differently with the real beings around me, if only I could “open the hand of thought” and let these old interceding words drop away.

This is what we do when we meditate. We let being be. And we let language chatter alongside the being, or we let it stop chattering. We do not let language absorb our being, or we at least allow being to notice its accidental absorption. No, Language: Shhhh… the point of meditation is not (as you assume) to give us a nonverbal experience that we can know about. No, we cannot read books on meditation and get the same knowledge about meditation that we get from doing it. It is not for that.

But it cannot occur to our language-using being to stop using language to think about being. Language uses language to keep using language to use other language. Many of us — most of us — are trapped inside a linguistic machine that moves us more than we move it. When we try to understand ourselves we use words to think thoughts about the object of our thought, Me, what makes me identical to other subjective objects (“Others”) and what makes Me and Others identical to one another (“Identity”). The transcendental subject who uses and cannot stop using its words to do all its understanding cannot comprehend the word-using, word-used transcendental subject behind the word use, because understanding is its words.

If you know what I mean here, this will be, at best, a redescription of a truth you know well.

If you do not know what I mean here, this will be, at best, a redescription of a truth you understand differently and better. You prefer a third-person scientific mode of explaining mystical, existential truths, but beneath all the descriptions we refer to the same deeply mysterious object underpinning all reality. We are all referring to the same Tao, the same Ein Sof.

But this is not about referring — or not only about it. It isn’t even mainly about it.

It is about participating in what transcends our being and what transcends our language.

Some happy weirdness

I’m reading flaky stuff these days. The exact material is nobody’s business, but it’s even more shocking than you’d guess. It inspired the following spew.


I just found a parallel between two of the books I’m poking around in and my own sacred pamphlet, which is more or less visualized enceptions of my personal faith. (It was not easy to find my genre.) …

In the first book, it is suggested that our worldviews naturally close in on themselves and form vicious logical and interpretive circles. To open the the circle is to form a holy spiral. The opening of that circle is Shabbat. In my tradition it is understood that Shabbat punches a 24-hour diameter hole in time, through which flows Eternity and the Shekhinah (a feminine facet of the Divine), and establishing, for those with the senses to perceive it, Malchut, the Kingdom of Heaven. In this space we are invited to suspend the cranking of our automatic thoughts and behaviors and to open out to the world in its glorious profusion of overlapping orders.

In the second book, a figure is presented, a triangle with a center point. Each point is a letter of the Tetragrammaton. Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. Yod is the active principle, the potential to do. The first Heh is the material upon which Yod may act. Vav is the result of the action upon the material, the child of the Yod-Heh intercourse. The second Heh is the center of the triangle , the entirety of the triangle rooted from the center, which I am inclined to understand as the transcendent being of the triad. This transcendent being of the second Heh then becomes the Yod of another triangle. I am inclined to understand Yod as a transcendental subject whose being is only manifested when it acts upon the first Heh. But the action of Yod and its result ultimately produces the second Heh, which is a transcendent subject. In my understanding then, the triangles are linked by transcendent subjects who found new transcendental subjects.

Some old insights that feel feel alive to me today: Opening the circle into a spiral not only allows it to open onto what transcends its outer limits — to extend outwardly to embrace more and more reality — that  same opening permits the spiral to intend inwardly and enter into its own heart, at the center of which lives the divine spark. But some of this reality is the reality of other people. Two spirals can coil together as a double spiral, as can three, four … myriad. A closed circle implies the question, who contains whom? Spirals are egalitarian.

A new Jewish thought. Torah famously ends open-endedly. Moses never enters the land. The Torah is several essential loops of the spiraling story of the Israelites. Past Torah, beyond Deuteronomy, outspirals Talmud, the application of Torah to practical and communal life. But the inward coiling of Torah beneath Genesis, further into the weird heart of the faith inspirals Zohar.


The opposite spirality, who self-referentially thinks about thinking about thinking, and experiences the experiences of our experiencing, is the self choking beast, the Gorging Ouroboros.

Bite!

A young shepherd I saw, writhing, gagging, in spasms, his face distorted, and a heavy black snake hung out of his mouth. Had I ever seen so much nausea and pale dread on one face? He seemed to have been asleep when the snake crawled into his throat, and there bit itself fast. My hand tore at the snake and tore in vain; it did not tear the snake out of his throat. Then it cried out of me: “Bite! Bite its head off! Bite!” Thus it cried out of me — my dread, my hatred, my nausea, my pity, all that is good and wicked in me cried out of me with a single cry. … The shepherd, however, bit as my cry counseled him; be bit with a good bite. Far away he spewed the head of the snake — and he jumped up. No longer shepherd, no longer human — one changed, radiant, laughing! Never yet on earth has a human being laughed as he laughed!

 

 

Pragmatic Opportunity Cost

I explained the Pragmatic Maxim to Susan this morning. I explained how Pragmatism provides an alternative to correspondence epistemologies. The meaning of any assertion or belief is the sum total of practical consequences of its being the case — the Golden Therefore — or as William James so crassly and Americanly put it, the pragmatic “cash value” of that truth. She thought for a second and asked whether for each assertion there was also a set of practical consequences left unconsidered.

She called it the Pragmatic Opportunity Cost.

Dang.