All posts by anomalogue

Haloed words

Some words belong to understandings beyond that of the above-average person. Such words are enveloped in a halo.

Watch closely how a person responds to a halo, and you will witness something of that soul’s relationship with transcendence.

Some call the halo a nonsense indicator — a symptom of bullshit. Whatever bears a halo is worse than nothing.

Some see a halo and smell brimstone.

Some try to explain halos away. A haloed thing cannot be seen clearly until the halo is clarified into perfect invisibility and stops existing.

Some try to abduct the word, dominate it, own it. The halo makes a thing precious, and worth possessing.

Some try to squeeze in under the halo in order to become haloed themselves. They associate themselves with the mysterious and try to be identified with mystery.

Some worship a haloed apparition, and use worship to keep their distance from whatever shows itself in the appearing.

Some try to learn something inconceivable and incomprehensible.

Haloed words are not misunderstood because the words are inadequate. Any word adequate to the meaning will also be misunderstood.

Haloed words are not misunderstood because they are essentially inconceivable, and pious refusal to attempt to understand them does not honor them in the least. Much mysticism is aestheticized laziness.

I’m doing a lot of rewriting.

Critical thinking on critical theory

Critical thought, being thought, necessarily has an object of thought. There is no such thing as thinking that is not thinking about something. This is the phenomenological principle of intentionality, and it is inescapable.

With critical thought, however, the focus of the thinking is not on the various objects of thought. The focus of critical thought is on the thinking subject, the very subject doing the thinking. Critical thought tries to understand the relationship between how a thinking subject does its thinking and the kind of objectivity such thinking generates, with the understanding that the critical thoughts themselves are also subject to critical thought.

Critical thought is a practical attitude. No amount of knowledge about critical theory can substitute for the practice of critical thinking. But only critical thinking prevents this substitution from happening automatically. Because critical thinking is the art of freedom from automatic thought.


My way of understanding the world is a two-edged sword. On one hand, what I understand, I understand deeply, clearly and practically. But, on the other hand, that which I do not understand with depth, clarity and practicality, I am unable to deal with at all.

And since most of what goes on in the practical world ranges between one-quarter and three-quarters nonsense, much of what goes on around me leaves me baffled, anxious and paralyzed.

In these cases, my only hope is to investigate whatever reality it is that people are semi-comprehending and to uncover the kinds of intuitive meaning participants in these realities are making of it. These varying intuitive meanings are what animate (literally) the measurable behaviors that distant data-mongers scrupulously gather and unscrupulously interpret into that soup of industry wisdom, consisting tough objective facts floating in a germy broth of subjective nonsense.

Until I do design research and root what I know in actuality, I know pretty much nothing.

Most people I know consider something half-known known. They can say words and move their faces and bodies in ways that suggest they understand. I’d do this, too, if I had more talent for playacting. But I don’t, so I denigrate it.

I hate design literature

Reading the writing of designers is almost always excruciatingly tedious and needlessly complicated.

It appears to occur to very few designers that they should design their concepts and then the communication of their concepts.

Also, I suspect the field is hobbled by its allegiance to the popular philosophy of professional class, which is alienated and alienating, and conceals both its meaning and vapidity under ungainly gowns of academic lingo.

My instinct is not to respond to design scholarship and professional writing, but rather to disregard it all and replace it with something simpler, more practical and attractive.

Categorical coimperative

Where some conceive principles as unconditional rules of behavior, I am conceiving principles as unconditional rules of relationship with those who share them. One must conduct oneself liberally with liberals, peacefully with the peaceful, respectfully with the respectful.

And the best way to know who shares your principles is to go first. Approach others as liberal, peaceful and respectful and offer them the chance to reciprocate.

If they do not reciprocate, different principles are appropriate — for instance, passive resistance, which is not at all the same as unconditionally peaceful behavior.


From Emerson’s essay, “The American Scholar”:

If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be covetous of action. Life is our dictionary. Years are well spent in country labors; in town; in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with many men and women; in science; in art; to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions. I learn immediately from any speaker how much he has already lived, through the poverty or the splendor of his speech. Life lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get tiles and copestones for the masonry of to-day. This is the way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.

If I hadn’t worked as a designer, and suffered and overcome so many perplexities in an effort to both do my design work, and to intuitively understand what I am doing, and hardest of all, to articulate my intuitive understanding, my philosophical work never would have traveled this trajectory and taken me where I now am.

If design hadn’t become so collaborative, and therefore so social, and therefore so political I never would have needed to philosophize about design. I could have just absorbed myself in wordless dialogue with my materials — in craft. But when your materials include people — as it turns out all design does, when understood properly — there is no way to avoid wordful dialogue.

And, my God! — when multiple dozens of people are directly involved in the process of collaboration, as they are in service design, you will find yourself in highly wordful meta-dialogue about dialogue (for instance the meaning of what research participants said in an interview, or whether multiple different interview participants were saying the same thing, and if so, in what sense was it the same, and why…). With each meta-level of conversations about conversations, of understandings of understandings, things get weirder and harder to navigate. This shadowy hades region — this Sartrean Hell that is other people thinking about other people thinking about other people — is the terrain I’ve learned to navigate. I’m a professional Hell sherpa.

Most people I know do not care to think about this region. If only they would suspend speculating on it, too. Because when I hear people talk about their own loves and hopes and commitments they all seem reasonable. But when they start talking about their enemies who oppose, obstruct or interfere with these good things, they sound like angry, egocentric children. And this is especially true of altruists whose loves and hopes and commitments are all about others they wish to help, who cannot imagine that these moral fantasies could ever be egocentric.

So for me “mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions” would be a final vocabulary useful for navigating the terrain of personal and social perplexity and to emerge on the other side with better enworldments.



Experimancy is a more alchemical expression for laboratory science: the divination of truth by inviting materials to speak to us in their own sign language.

This is how Bruno Latour taught me to see science, and design, and finally, all knowledge.

And I will say it again: If the practice of engineering helps us craft systems of nonpersonal algorithmic elements — elements whose behaviors can be controlled, which are understood as objects…

…the practice of design helps us craft what Latour called “hybrid systems” composed of both nonpersonal engineered subsystems and persons who must be persuaded to participate in the design system.

If we exclude the question of persuasion, we are engineering. If we include it, we are designing.

And if we engineer systems that involve persons — which most of the time is exactly what we do — we are failing to use the best methods for achieving our aims, or worse, using the wrong methods that drive us to failure.

Perhaps we just don’t think about the “people part”. It doesn’t occur to us to wonder whether people use our systems as intended. We fixate on the Thing.

Perhaps we assume others will behave like we will, either out of naivety (we assume we are all alike) or out of moralism (we assume we all ought to be like ourselves). They won’t. This is childish egocentricity.

Perhaps we think we understand the rules of human behavior. We think we’re masters of psychology or of design “best practices”, never mind the fact that for decades now design best practice have been to involve real people, not to discover “the best” design patterns. You can’t argue with an omniscient, because the less they know, the more they know better than you.

Perhaps we think we can just deprive people of choice. The two most popular strategies for that are monopoly — destroy all alternatives to what we engineer, so people have no choice but to cooperate in our designs — and tyranny, directly command people to cooperate how we wish.

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. But the post itself is good. 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 pause and reflect, we might 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.