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Nussbaum: The Essential Optimism of Design

While America’s political system is fast declining, there is enormous creativity and progress taking place just below the surface.

Nussbaum: The Essential Optimism of Design

The horrors of the November election still hang heavy upon us, and I’ve been pondering how separate political culture has become from the society that I inhabit. In the past few weeks, I’ve attended the National Design Awards, the Masters of Design party thrown by Fast Company, the LOOT exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design and the Design Management Institute annual conference — an intense immersion in what can only be described as “Design Optimism.”

The truth is that while America’s political system is fast declining into a corrupt, incompetent, archaic form of governance, there is enormous creativity and progress taking place just below the surface of the polity. Companies as diverse as method and Johnson & Johnson are making sustainable economic growth happen. An entire generation — Gen Y — is shifting from consuming values to sustaining values and from engorging on imported stuff to making stuff locally. Here’s one of my favorites quotes from method‘s Josh Handy at the DMI conference in Providence, RI: “We live in a state of make.” Make less, make it last, make it here.

Call it design thinking, innovation, scenario planning, gaming, or simply creativity.

I think the food culture revolution is perhaps the most transformative force in America today. Forget Tea Parties and check out the farmers markets. The message is outstanding — grow good things locally, eat seasonally, cut energy, be sustainable. This way of living is moving out from food into the wider American culture, up from the bottom, out of sight from the politicians.

Thanks to social media technology, we can for the first time make our own cultures easily and cheaply and turn to trusted friends for information, help and the making of things. I look to Twitter in the morning for my social algorithm to tell me what’s important to read. People are connecting to their farmers to see what food is available to eat. Dads and moms are talking to each other about raising babies and kids are collaborating on learning — and taking tests (just what is “plagiarism” these days anyhow?). It’s all good. We’re “co-imagining the future,” as Uday Davandate, founder of SonicRim, put it at DMI. We’re co-creating it.

It may be a VUCA world — Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous — as Lisa K. Solomon put it in Providence, but we have the tools, methods and framework to navigate it. Call it design thinking, innovation, scenario planning, gaming or simply creativity. We have the processes to imagine different futures, various possibilities — the key “as-ifs” to get us through these difficult times. In most ways, we don’t need the dysfunctional politicians to make our world — we are already making it for ourselves. We are already off their grid and onto grids of our own making. Joel Towers, dean of Parsons The New School for Design, said it best at the conference when he quoted Roberto Unger: “Design is the redirection of flow.”

[Photo by Zara J]

About the author

Bruce Nussbaum is the author of Creative Intelligence (HarperBusiness, March 2013). He is "Mentor-In-Residence" at NEW INC, the art/technology incubator of New Museum.



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