S04 Ep. 18 Design in the 2020s: More Agency, Less Control with Christian Bason

S04 Ep. 18 Design in the 2020s: More Agency, Less Control with Christian Bason

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Dr. Christian Bason We are increasingly dropping titles and positions and instead of looking into the roles we play in projects. So this is the kind of radically distributed and decentralized organization for just about 35 people that we've done for the last three years. And when we speak with, for instance, corporates, they say: “Well, that's very nice, but that's not possible at a bigger scale”.

And then we say: “Well, there's no reason from a coordination standpoint, or from a technology standpoint, to not have a distributed organization with tens of 1000s of staff”. It's just a question of, are we trapped in a 20th century conception - probably even a 19th century conception - that as an organization grows, its organization layers must grow, its hierarchy must grow. And this need for control must be exercised through sort of top down command and for that matter, surveillance. Because I think there is a risk that, and we've seen that the last 30 years, since the dawn of the modern internet, that just because technology potentially allows us to be free, that does not mean we will become free.

Stina Heikkila Hello everybody. Welcome to the Boundaryless Conversations podcast where we meet with pioneers, thinkers, doers and entrepreneurs and speak about the future of business models, organizations, markets and society in the rapidly changing world we live in. I'm Stina Heikkila.

I'm co-host of the show alongside Simone Cicero. Hello Simone. Simone Cicero Ciao. Good evening. Stina Heikkila And today, or maybe I should say tonight, we are also joined by Dr. Christian Bason.

Christian is the CEO and leads the Danish Design Center, a nonprofit foundation backed by the Danish government. And previously Christian was Director of MindLab, the Danish Government's Innovation team and business Manager with Ramboll Management Consulting. Christian is also the author of eight books on innovation, design and leadership, including the latest one that we will talk a little bit about today called Expand: Stretching the Future By Design, published last year in 2022.

Dr. Christian Bason Hello. Good evening. Thanks for having me. Stina Heikkila I mentioned your latest book that you co-authored with Jens Martin Skibstead last year and reading about it and different interviews and so on around the book, we realized that actually the book didn't end up as you were imagining it because you ended up having some big discussions on the role of design and design thinking and human centered design in solving some of the big challenges of our time.

So we would love to just open with that. You can take our listeners on this journey that you had and maybe also reflect on where you are now one year after the publishing of the book. Dr. Christian Bason Ian Smart, my co-author, comes from entrepreneurship. He's an award winning designer, also in industrial design and runs today as a partner with a design company called Manyone. And I of course come with a background more in political science, public policy and designing for sort of larger societal issues.

So we each had our perspective on the world of design, but also some overlaps. And we've been working together in various boards, including both of us, in the World Economic Forum for many years. And when we started the conversation on a new book on design, the starting point was really around sort of Denmark's unique position or Danish design and where that's heading. But very quickly we realized that we were both passionate about the bigger questions in design at a more global scale, even though Denmark is our home country.

And so it became a quite wide ranging set of dialogues we had with each other as we started on the writing process of what does the future hold for design. Or even more importantly, what should the future hold for design as this broad, wide ranging discipline that we believe both of us holds a lot of the answers to what the world needs, what humanity needs, but also what the planet needs. And that became the starting point.

And then we sort of dare say it expanded it from there. Stina Heikkila Can you also explain it for those who are not familiar with the thesis that you present in the book? So the ways of expanded thinking? Dr. Christian Bason Yes.

So our premise is very much, I think, captured in an ancient quote by the American designer Charles Eames, who was asked in an interview in the early 1970s by a journalist, what are the boundaries of design? And the reason she asked Eames what are the boundaries of design was essentially that he was in the interview sharing a very wide, very open perspective on the discipline of design, which I think is very much like the one I or we embrace today. And to the question he answered, what are the boundaries of problems? And signifying that as problems and challenges expand, so must the discipline of design? And so what better podcast to discuss this in a podcast named Boundaryless. The notion that we have to expand our thinking and our conception of design as problems are accelerating, morphing, expanding.

Today we talk about the holy crisis, right? That we have this interlocking set of quite complex emerging crises on our hands, the climate crisis. We've had our occasional pandemic, we have our armed conflict, we have accelerating health care challenges, not least around mental health. We have big questions around digitization and the role of technology in society, including AI. So all of these interlocking shifts happening around us and the transitions happening around us, the question becomes how can we start thinking differently? And when you look at the history of design thinking as the, you could say, popular version of design that corporations and for that matter startups have embraced. Quite extensively, there's really a heavy focus on method and tools and ways of doing and some would say there's a design thinking process and so on. But there's really not a lot of consideration within the field, or within the literature for that matter, around how we think in design thinking or how we broadly think in design in design activity.

And so we wanted to catch on to that question of how do we expand our thinking and in what dimensions to better address the types of challenges we're seeing. So we propose in the book six different sets of expansions. And each theme, or each expansion, is in itself a set of ideas that is maybe not a single idea, but could actually be more ideas. So for instance, number one is time, where we're exploring how do we think differently around time and put questions of time or time horizon into design work in a much more ambitious and explicit way than we normally do whether that is very, very long term thinking up to hundreds of years or even thousands of years, or whether that is even ultra short term thinking, but simply having a conception of the timescale on which we design and also different timescales depending on the actors in an ecosystem we're designing with or for. Secondly, we're looking into the idea of proximity, which means how close do we feel or do we perceive of being to a problem. And we argue that a lack of proximity to a problem or lack of proximity to actors in a problem field means we don't care and we don't act.

So we need to enhance our feeling of proximity, our sense of empathy, our sense of creating value for something or someone. And we can use design and the approaches in design to start feeling closer to, for example, a challenge like climate change by allowing us at an experiential level, a tactile level, to feel, to touch, to experience the implications of a change like climate change, or implications of, for example, what it's like to live in a refugee camp, or similar. The third expansion in the book is focusing on life and the big question is whether design should still be concerned with humans, or should design and designers, in a relatively massive way, expand their perspective to include all living forms and care for everything living, all species and all of nature in a much more coherent way? And so shifting in a way from, or essentially shifting from human centered to life centered design.

The fourth expansion we propose in the book is around value and the notion of measuring value and appreciating value in business and for that matter, in other endeavors in government and civic society and questioning whether financial and economic value is really still the standard we should work for. Whether we should not expand our perspective to broader sets of impacts, net positive impacts around social and green and climate and biodiversity and impact. So that's kind of connected to the live question and really rethinking and also just putting thinking about value into design work. The fifth and second to last expansion is around what we call dimensions, which is really asking some of the more difficult questions around human machine interaction and the scale, the digital scales. Digital to human scales we work on, but also dimensions on a more physical scale.

As we see people or enterprises going to Mars, we see architects and designers very much concerned with some extraterrestrial work. What's the relevance of that to humanity and to the planet we are on? And how do we think in a positive way around using different dimensions and scales to become better at addressing problems at home. And then finally, number six is sectors which again fits quite well with the idea of ecosystems and networks and platforms saying that we see sectors needed to be maybe not expanded, but in a way maybe seeing sectors actually imploding on each other, where we see governments becoming much more self-aware of their role in innovation. We see the private sector becoming aware of its role in societal impact and we're seeing other sectors understanding that they have to blend and mesh with each other to be relevant and to create long term change.

So sectors becoming sort of maybe a redundant term that should be really both shift towards more circular practices around resource flows, but actually too much more networked conceptions of how we create value between actors. So those are the six expansions, and the experience we have with the book so far is that they seem quite relevant as ways of entry points into a creative process or into viewing problems differently, or even into prototyping solutions. Because the six expansions can be used to really test your thinking and test the ambition with which you're designing. Simone Cicero First of all, this first question kind of messed up my note. Dr. Christian Bason

Sorry about that. Simone Cicero Already. I just repeat for the listeners, right, you spoke about six dimensions, so dimensions of time, proximity, life, so diversity of life, diversity of value, various dimensions including for example, how we relate with technology and what I noted down as the end of sectors.

So end of these six points. We're talking about a much wider scope. So if you think about scope as wheat, can we also talk about the transformation in terms of modes, modalities, methods? Because we're pretty much used to the design thinking process but we have seen different ways to research emerging like from big data analysis, from other types of approaches. So in terms of mode, what do you think is happening and what should we be thinking about? Dr. Christian Bason Yeah, we could talk about mode or modality and I do think that we've had an era golden age of design thinking and of methods and process and toolkits which I and we both at MindLab and certainly at the DDC, have taken happy part in. And that will continue, obviously, because we need good frameworks, we need good processes.

We need ways of addressing things. We also need to bring those frameworks and methods and toolkits to the appropriate level. And I think that's happening increasingly in work around sort of much more systematic ways of viewing change and viewing organizations and so on. And so that shift where we're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater but we are maybe moving the different frameworks, we apply to a different sort of a systems level that's in a way also where the book is heading right? But we are not doing it in a way where we say, here's a model. We're more saying, here are a set of considerations, a set of what we call expansive thinking, which might be useful or helpful in informing the way you work with these matters.

The way you work with collaboration across sectors, or the way you work with the concept of value creation, or the way you work with the fact that we very rarely make explicit. What time horizon are we actually working on? We implicitly assume that everybody is on a five year, three year, or ten year whatever horizon. But as a matter of fact, most actors have very different conceptions of time and that can have implications for their ability to mobilize, the ability to collaborate, the ability to find common ground in moving forward. So we are offering a framework that's in a way very flexible and very open and is not very prescriptive, but is in a way saying, have you thought about this? Simone Cicero Wow.

So what I was thinking here is you spoke about the end of sectors. For example, we are talking about new technical approaches that can extend and integrate a design, for example, with every day. We talk about the blockchain, for example, or data driven decisions, AI and so on. So if I think about these two things, I end up with China basically.

Right. So for me, the chain of thinking brings up the idea that we're moving away from the washing of consensus into a multipolar world where essentially the lostness of design is the lostness of modernity, basically. Right. So what do you think about that? Dr. Christian Bason No, I think the analysis is correct that we are moving towards a multipolar world. Again, politically, militarily, we are seeing a regionalization rather than a globalization.

In the book, we suggest that when it comes to a multipolar world, from an innovation or technology standpoint, that's probably a good thing because we for too long expected and gotten used to Silicon Valley producing not only the technology or the software or the customer experiences, but basically the visions for the future that we can all then gravitate towards. And now we're realizing that with the tech lash and with some, I think, deeply problematic results of that sort of dominance or hegemony, that we need to take a broader view of where technology innovation can happen and in a way, taking a designer's perspective, which is that we, as humans can decide our fate and we can choose how we want to leverage technology in different ways. Now that then has different expressions and the way in which, let's say, autocratic regimes have both historically and today, are using technology for purposes of suppression versus how other societies might ask very deep questions around using technology for good. That gives us a very uneven playing field.

We are saying that technology is not ideology. Right? So technology and innovations and approaches. We even argued that in the Soviet Union there were examples of technology that was, if not better than Western technology, at least an alternative that could also be valuable, that was forgotten because it was sort of considered socialist technology, but actually it could have been useful if we adopted it. So we must take a bit more of an agnostic perspective on innovation at the same time as we, of course, are very clear-eyed around the political developments as an example. Right now, I think we are accepting and seeing that technology innovation in AI is happening at a rapid pace at multiple points around the world. Some regions, of course, lead more than others.

Now the big question becomes how do we then adopt and use AI in the interest of humans, in the interest of citizens and interest of societies? And that's a conversation that is just starting in a new way because of the rapid access now to Generative AI. It's a dialogue we had just last week with folks in Tokyo at the World Economic Forum and where the question will become: what's the future of democracy in the context of AI? So I think we have these multiple movements happening where we on the one wide need to distinguish between the technology and innovation on the one side, and then the political and the policy implications on the other side. But it's clearly quite a messy field we're seeing.

And in a way, our book is sort of giving a framework for which to look at it, although it's probably not giving ultimate answers on it. Simone Cicero I felt that we got very fast to the kind of core points that modernity is finished. We are looking at the multiple awards, we are looking into existential risks. So the interesting question is what do you do after this acknowledgment? Right, so kind of rebasing yourself into this new dimension what happens? Dr. Christian Bason

Just maybe just a quick reflection that it's, in a way, all about agency. It's about taking agency and saying that we design, in business, in government. Society still can and should shape the world we want to live in. And that human imagination and ideas around what is good need to dominate no matter what technology we have at our disposal.

We are quoting David Graeber, the Utopian anthropologist, for saying that the secret of the world is that we can shape it and make it in ways we want to. We just kind of forget and we then become slaves of whether that's technology or it's particular. Ideologies. I think ultimately our suggestion and our vision and our hope is that we humans will remain relevant and have agency. But we need to have agency in a way that is sustainable and that's also something we forgot.

Right. So sustainability at a planetary level is core to the way in which we are going to have to innovate in the future. Stina Heikkila Yeah, I love this idea with agency. And at the same time sometimes it seems so daunting to think that we have agency in light of many of these enormously scaling forces. Right, so we have on the one hand, I mean, climate change that has these exponential dynamics and tipping points and planetary boundaries and on the other hand we also have the big tech.

You were mentioning a bit before I was fascinated by your book when you mentioned this point that actually countries are sending tech diplomats to Silicon Valley and not the other way around and it's a kind of fact that makes you, oh, that's kind of the world we live in. So it's kind of difficult sometimes to feel like that is not inevitable, that it's not happening to us and that we are actually part of it. I'm curious, where do we start to build that agency? And at the same time, don't you think that we also at the same time have to focus on some kind of adaptive capacity? Dr. Christian Bason Yeah, that's a really good reflection. It makes me think that design is agency or designing is agency. And that's in a way the attraction of design to me, I mean, coming from political science, originally writing my doctoral in design, why was that interesting? Well, it was interesting because I could see not just a way of thinking.

But of course also a way of doing that could assist us originally in policy making, but increasingly, I think actually in driving the transitions we need to drive. And so the agency is not anymore about the individual designer, however brilliant he or she may be. That's still great, but it's all about collective action. And you could say collective agency.

How do we move together towards something that is better, that brings us back into the safe planetary zones we need to be in, that keeps us within the donut boundaries? And one thing that fascinates me, and that is obvious to me in design, is that we must simply find ways of stimulating our collective imagination. We're not the only ones arguing that. I mean, Geoff Mulgan's recent book On Another World is Possible, I think is an excellent contribution to that discussion on the power of human imagination and the need for us together to make proposals around how the future could be better. That's also why we at the Design Center in my daily work are focusing quite heavily on more of a mission oriented approach to transitions and to change and actually to bring design and designers into that space.

Because that is at least one framework that is giving us some way of working with both emergent action, but also with intentional directionality. I think coming back to the fundamental point that designing is all about agency. And that yes, we must be adapted, that's also some form of agency. But just adapting to forces around us is just not going to cut it because those forces are so powerful that we need to shift the way systems work. We need to shift the way we work with these transitions.

Otherwise the figures are already daunting. I mean, the 1.5 degree climate or temperature increase is something that most people that know anything are well aware it's not going to happen.

I mean, we are way beyond 1.5%, right, 1.5 degrees. So I think there's a need to embrace agency more. Stina Heikkila This actually maybe neatly leads us into another kind of topic because we are working a lot on looking at emerging technologies and software development software products and how new software project can enable new ways of organizing essentially platforms from the beginning but now expanding into more thinking about modularity and building modular organizations helped by smart contracts and so on. It kind of made me think that, yes, developers have great agency, actually, because they build and they do design directly and they can really see their impact in the digital world, which is technology being so pervasive is also so much influencing our, let's say, analog world. So what do you think about that? Dr. Christian Bason Well, first I grew up with microcomputers at a very, very young age and my first books were actually in software or computer programming.

So I've always been on the side that sees technology as fundamentally a positive force for change and been fascinated by developments in the field, even though I haven't worked as directly with it as such. However, you're working with design today and working with government digital and technology is a huge part of that. Now, I do think that designers in the digital space have incredible power today, right? I mean, as you say, the ability to scale fast and have a huge impact is there. That also means that those that are deeply involved in technology design have an incredible responsibility that I'm not so sure they're always aware of in asking the question just because we can, should we? And that's why both in the book but certainly, especially the chapter on proximity, but also in the work at the Danger Science Center, we are focusing quite heavily on digital ethics or design ethics in technology. And these more fundamental questions that we must ask ourselves about just because we're able to do something, should we do it? Is it actually good? And that's of course, just been accentuated massively the last three, four, five months with ChatGPT and what's going on there, causing even some governments to temporarily make it illegal and all kinds of other interesting things.

So I think there's incredible power there. I mean, I mentioned this in a keynote address last week to digital leaders in the Danish local governments that the glass is half full or half empty on digital. I still think it's half full, I still think it's more positive.

But we have seen the tech lash. There is a reason why Denmark was the first country in the world to have a tech ambassador as a formal ambassador to the tech giants. It's because it's become as influential or even more influential than any nation state. And I'm not so sure that our governance mechanisms, our policy mechanisms, and for that matter, our cultures of development and innovation are on par with the forces that are at play. Right.

So you could say again, back to agency kind of need to bring a designerly perspective to the forefront, which is to ask good, deep human questions and also planetary questions to technology, and not just leaning back and saying, oh, but it's just coming, and it's the way it is, and we're just going to have to adapt to it. Simone Cicero It's super interesting because at the end of the day I have a question. You kind of brought up this continuous, I would say, clash between the more complexity friendly mindset, like the dense with systems, and on the other hand, maybe the approach that, for example, I recognize in a person like Indie Jord that I'm pretty sure you know very well that works to distribute agency into trees and rivers or whatever, right? The idea that we can approach this transition, at least we can try to approach it from an analytical and policy driven perspective that kind of makes things work. The end of the day, between these two things, there is one thing that puts everybody on the same page, which is we have to build at the end. We have to build.

So what is building essentially? Right? So recently we have been talking to Chase Chapman. She spoke about the web3. She spoke about two major layers, right? One what she calls socialware and one that she calls trustwear.

You can think of social wear as how we organize, take decisions and the actual practice of it. And the trustwear is more like the rules that we set that can self execute on a digital ledger, for example. And I think in this we lack at least two or three more layers, which is for sure. We have software, which is what we build in terms of interacting with technology. We also have resourceware because it's also about the resources we use in these processes. And maybe somewhere we also have some hardware because we also need trees and rivers and ecosystems.

So when you have to build, you have to be able to describe it, you have to be able to prototype it and so on. So maybe the questions around design are kind of twofold, three. So one is more like the technical aspects, which is always more imbued with technology and then there is more like an epistemic aspect which is maybe also accepting conflict. Dr. Christian Bason Yeah, no, sure, accepting conflict or friction and increasingly, I mean, the big questions that you're also kind of raising is whether we are going the regulatory routes and you know, the European Union is definitely more on that track or are we going sort of a more of a code of conduct or more of a self-regulation route. Right.

In between that, of course, we have all kinds of hybrid models of combining different approaches. And I definitely agree that we have these multiple systems that are sort of interlocking in different ways. Natural systems, human systems, physical systems, dark matter systems, if you will, on rules and regulations and policies and understanding how all of those systems can work together for creating a sort of a forward movement towards something better, I think is the big design question. Because if there's one discipline we have as humans that allows many, many different professions and perspectives on the world to start seeing some of the same elements to have a common language, to have common processes, it's designed so at that kind of scale. I don't see any other discipline or profession again in the broadest of senses that can help us work together because of the increasing complexity and the depth of knowledge and knowledge domains.

It's really going to be so critical just to give you a very simple example, right now we are involved in a project exploring the social domain, which crudely speaking, is simply we would call it social infrastructure, which is how people live. And the other one is physical infrastructure, which is what kind of pipes and physical resources are we putting into the ground to drive the green transition? Wind power, solar, new mobility forms, new types of buildings and so on, new types of energy, transportation systems and whatnot. There's a very, very clear danger that we will be, again, forgetting life, human life, but also the natural domain as we make these massive, massive infrastructure investments. Just an example I heard yesterday, one Danish town, it's not even a city, it's more of a town they are now hosting 80% of all solar panels in the country in their landscape, which means that they're citizens, that they're not benefiting any more than anyone else, but they'll be living in a world where they can look anywhere in their region without seeing solar panels reflecting the sun. Now, some would say that's beautiful, others would say it's not so beautiful, but it's the fact that their physical world has changed and nobody's thought about what about the social world.

And so I think there are some and this is, again, quite crudely put, but there are these different systems that need to interconnect and we need to ask ourselves how do we design for a transition that is also social and that could also be mean in terms of diversity and equity and trust and justice and so on. Simone Cicero What should a designer design then? So if you are left with this responsibility of choosing what to design, so let's not dive too deep, let's say, to assess if this responsibility is objective because the world is not stable anymore. Okay, but what should that designer design? Dr. Christian Bason Well, so, first and foremost, design is all about making decisions. Yeah? So of course there's responsibility when you make decisions and there needs to be a level of awareness when you make decisions. Now, I'm sure we agree that design takes place and its focus or emphasis or even disciplinary ability or craft at very different scales and levels, right? From visual communications to products to services to systems and to I dare I say it more sort of large scale transitions.

And I think being aware at what scale we are working and what sort of systems level. Are we designing is one part of it. The responsibility at a very high level of design, I think, is to be aware and have a sensibility for the tactility and for the concreteness and for the level of interaction that needs to take place, if any big scale transition should become a reality. Right? And the other way around if you're working on branding, visual communications on product design, being aware of what are the systems, what are the big societal mechanisms that we are working into here, and what is our responsibility in contributing to the forward going momentum around a net positive impact, even though we are working at a quite tactile level, is also there. So I think that, again, a level of awareness of how we position a particular piece of design activity and what kind of responsibilities follow with that? And how are we then embedded into something even bigger than what we're doing? Or how do we need to take care of and understand something that is at a more granular level than what we're doing? If you remember, the Amazing Powers of Ten film by the Eames design office, I think was a collaboration with IBM back in the 1970s that zoomed from a picnic in a park in Chicago up to the universe through the solar. Systems up out of the solar system and out of the Milky Way into the universe and then zoomed back into the hand of a person sitting in that picnic blanket in the park.

And then into a subatomic level. That kind of zooming in and zooming out is what we need to do conceptually in design work. And we need to zoom in and zoom out, not just on physical scales like Powers of Ten, but we need to zoom in and zoom out on values, on time horizon, on entities we work with, on actors in the network. So I think the application of design is really to be able to work in a very, very flexible way and with a very high level of awareness of what kinds of responsibilities go with the territory in which we are designing. Stina Heikkila I still wanted to see if we could come back to the question. We also said that developers have agency and they have a lot of power potentially, right? But then if we go to the more micro level of an organization, what have you seen in that sense? Because we have witnessed, because we have been talking obviously with a lot of people from Web3 and people really focusing on the software architecture and design, seeing how software development is influencing organizational shape and how the organization is structured, allowing much more flat organizations that we already talked about this kind of decision making protocols and so on.

Dr. Christian Bason Yes. So in fact, The Expand is only my second to last book because two weeks ago I published the most recent one, which is called In Danish the organization was set free and the leadership must have to be rediscovered. That's literally the title, a very long one.

It's kind of the format from the publisher. Now the point in that book is kind of the experiment we ran in the Danish Design Center on a radically decentralized organization that in a way certainly is powered by, enabled by technology in the sense that without the types of ambient communications tools we have at our fingertips today, it would kind of be much much harder to realize. In some ways you could say that what we are doing with our organization is sort of just taking the consequence of what technology allows us to do, namely distributed leadership. So every colleague chooses his or her own leader. Every colleague can offer him or herself as a leader for others. Everyone votes with their feet in terms of what tasks and what jobs to take on.

We are increasingly dropping titles and positions instead of looking into the roles we play in projects. And so this is the kind of radically distributed and decentralized organization for just about 35 people that we've done over the last three years. And when we speak with, for instance, corporates, they say, well, that's very nice, but that's not possible at a bigger scale. And then we say, well, there's no reason from a coordination standpoint or from a technology standpoint to not have a distributed organization with tens of thousands of staff. It's just a question of whether we are trapped in a 20th century conception, if that's probably even a 19th century conception that as an organization grows, its organizational layers must grow, its hierarchy must grow. And this need for control must be exercised through sort of top down command and also, of course, measurement and KPIs and for that matter, surveillance because I think there is a risk that and we've seen that the last 30 years, right, since the dawn of the modern Internet, that just because technology potentially allows us to be free, that does not mean we will become free.

In fact, the world is less free today than 30 years ago, fewer democracies today than 30 years ago, and much more autocratic regimes in some parts of the world than 30 years ago. And the use of technology in the hands of those regimes, also some that are quite close to Europe being used for suppression, surveillance, for exercising power, also not regarding necessarily people's rights. So I would say that when it boils down to it, we have to understand what technology enables us to do. But you have to make choices from a leadership or management perspective, from an organizational perspective, on what kind of organization you want, on what values you want to base it on.

And what we chose at the Danish Design Center, my colleagues and I were to say we are going to ground this organization in what we fundamentally believe about human nature, right? Sort of drawing on Rutger Bregman and Humankind in that kind of vein, saying we fundamentally choose to believe and we also think the evidence is there to make. It is also a scientific fact that humans are good and want to do good and want to do their best and want to help others and will take responsibility under the right circumstances. Will take leadership and take leadership in the right circumstances. If that is true, then we must just design an organization that allows that technology to be an enabler of that. But it does not start with technology. It starts with what we believe in about people.

Stina Heikkila Thank you. Very fascinating to know how you have organized yourself as well. But do leaders now absolutely have to be very tech savvy, in your opinion and know a minimum about how software works? Dr. Christian Bason I think it's a dilemma, right? Because just a piece of software like Slack enables us to be this kind of much more ambient and collaborative organization that we otherwise could have been. Does that mean I need to understand the software in-depth or the programming or the code? I don't think so.

I think we can definitely operate at a very different level now. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't understand that if the internet breaks down, then the connectivity is gone, then the software is not available anymore. There's a vulnerability to technology as well. We need to be aware that there's a question of to what extent is software still inhibiting us from doing things? I mean, I don't know how many times I worked in organizations where we say, oh, it would be really, really helpful if the software could do that. And then somebody looks at us and says, well, that may be possible, but that would require all this coding and cost as much money and three months down the road, then maybe it'll be possible.

And so clearly there's a need to understand how software and technology is also limiting our possibilities. And I very much embrace sort of a much more app driven or modular approach to a technology where we can shift in and out and take on new, better products as soon as they're available and mix them with what else we've got and then, of course, have sort of the relevant APIs and the ability to share data. So there's a big piece of that, definitely, that being said, again, I think fundamentally that the best organizations on the planet, those that are most successful and also some that are maybe not doing that much good for the world but are still very, very successful. They are the organizations that are able to unleash the creative power of people, the intellect of people, those organizations that are extremely good at experimentation, rapid experimentation, rapid learning, and then, as you say, building, doing things based on that learning that are better than what they had before. And so that's a very, very human thing. Even though of course, obviously those organizations also leverage technology for their experiments, for their learning.

And some of it can definitely be automated. But still, I think ultimately it's about building a culture in an organization. Simone Cicero So you said something's extremely important, right? There are less democracies than a few years ago, more autocrats. And I was reflecting that maybe the situation in the world is requiring autocracies. I was reading this article that I really encourage everybody to read. Our author is Wilderness.

He wrote this piece called The Future is Fast Shift. There are many that are kind of bringing up this idea that more, I would say direct ways are needed in the future right, to control the situation. So, for example, you spoke about humans being intrinsically good, they will take responsibility if needed, but I'm skeptical. For example, we are taking responsibility for migrants. That's not going to happen. At the end of the day, I think keeping with this narrative of success on the market, it's good creativity, whatever.

I don't know. I feel like we should be thinking about something different and really facing these kinds of existential questions and this multiple crisis, more heads on, especially as designers, right? What do you think? Dr. Christian Bason - 00:43:12: No, we should and again, I'm back to the point around the agency that we know that just to paraphrase an anthropologist, that the only thing that's ever changed anything in the world is actually a small group of citizens that are dedicated to change. That's what changes things. It's groups of people together deciding to make a change. Right.

It's the only thing that's ever changed the world. That also means going against the fascism, against the autocrats when that is needed. I think at a fundamental level, we need to ask ourselves, as one of my colleagues actually said recently when discussing organizational design and how we are in the world, are we driven by fear? Are we driven by love? That's a pretty big question to ask in an organization.

But if you think about the implications for that, I mean, if we were driven by love, not fear, then maybe the way we dealt with migrants would be different. If we were driven by love, not fear in terms of our planet, our nature, our all living things, then the way we relate to nature would probably be different. If we fundamentally believed in organizations that humans want to do their best and that they want to help each other.

Again, the proximity point is that we mostly want to help people that are close to us, that we feel or perceive are close to us and more like us. There's clearly some biases in there that I don't want to diminish. But if we do fundamentally believe that people are good, want to do their best, and want to help, then we would not design most of the organizations we have on the planet today that way. We just wouldn't because most organizations are still designed, including those deleveraging technology for control from the premise that probably someone is trying to cheat, that probably someone is not being active on their computer, working from home, that they're probably not online that they are probably not being responsible that they are probably thinking about how to work the least possible and so on, which I fundamentally reject that notion. Right? If that is the case, then it's because we have actually created that culture.

We have instilled that culture and that perception in people through fear and through control. So those are some of the big questions we have to ask. And given that we all can agree on the crises, not only meeting the world from that vantage point, but also meeting the world with hope and with the vision and imagination for a better future is absolutely critical. Someone like Jeff Morgan has more or less, I think, directly said that the biggest crisis we have today are probably none of those crises. It's a crisis of imagination. And we see by surveys that none of us, neither the older generation nor the young generation, believe that the future will be better than the past.

And that's a horrible thing from a design perspective because if we don't can't see a better future, how can we design for it? Stina Heikkila Yeah, definitely. We also had Mulgan on the show in this season, actually. Dr. Christian Bason He might have said something similar then. Stina Heikkila Exactly.

We have a hard time to imagine, like you said. And still what do you imagine, like kind of as we move into the end of the conversation with the Danish Design Center, you have done some work on mission oriented innovation which will require sort of new forms of collaborations. And I don't know if we want to go as far as to say new organizational form, we can do that, or new institutions. But what do you imagine in that space in the positive scenario? Dr. Christian Bason Well, I do think we have to invent and innovate new types of organizational forms and structures that are more humanly, sustainable and also able to work in complexity, work in ecosystems, and work with directionality and work with visions and work with designerly approaches to experimentation and to change. I do think we need to do that.

I think the notion that the institutions we've inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries will serve us well in the 21st century with the types of challenges we're experiencing and we've made for ourselves is pretty hopeless. So there's a huge task of organizational innovation in front of us that we, in our own small way, are trying to work on in the DDC. I think a lot of others are doing something similar at the same time that needs to be informed by how we create long term impact in society and in our world. And of course, that's something that we all can see. We must do in and with ecosystems of actors so that sort of outer boundary or the outer world of ecosystems, of actors that need to work together and function in ways that drive the needed transitions and then organizational innovations that allows us to build the types of institutions and the types of ways in which people collaborate and work together.

They need to go hand in hand. I think we see in the cusp sort of seeing what that might look like I think some of the work you're doing, some of the work, many of those probably in this podcast are doing some of the work in leadership and organization and reinventing organizations is all sort of pointing in some of the same directions. But I think what strikes me is what we have a level of urgency. We don't have a generation to trial and error this we need to accelerate these developments. We have to move fast because the pace of the destructive forces is quite high and so we need to sort of get ahead of that.

And that urgency, I'm not so sure I see that. Maybe we see it entrepreneurship, maybe we see it in the tech world, but we're definitely not seeing the agency sufficiently unpacked in government, for example, or in corporates, which many of the corporates in the world that employ a lot of people and have incredible resources at their hands are in many ways stuck and don't know how to move forward. They don't know how to connect their technology capabilities, their ID capabilities on the one side with societal impact on the other side. Stina Heikkila Thank you so much. I wish we had more time to stay and chat about all these things where I'm covering new topics. Before we close the episode, we wanted to ask you to leave some breadcrumbs for our listeners as our tradition.

Dr. Christian Bason Yes, one thing that I'll leave you with is that a few years ago there was a Harvard Business Review article that said why managers must read more science fiction and whether it's science fiction or whether it's literature. But I think diving into fiction is one approach we need to embrace more to stimulate our imagination and also deal with some of the complexities and the ethical dilemmas of being human in the world. Personally, I'm looking forward to the next season, that's upcoming of Black Mirror because that's probably one of the pieces of fiction, science fiction in popular culture that has been most sort of provoking and maybe in some way influential in our thinking around technology and being human and what society might look like in the future.

So that might be a breadcrumb that not only read more science fiction but also join me in watching when Black Mirror appears on your screen again. Simone Cicero I think it was an amazing conversation. There's so much that I have in my notebook that I couldn't directly throw into the conversation. But I think we really touched, I would say, the hardness of the context, this kind of fatigue that it's involved in looking for new ways. Because the frames are fairly solid and it's really hard to break them.

If you think about all these systemic lock-ins that basically prevent us to imagine something different. Thank you so much. I mean, it was a pleasure to have you and I am very much looking forward to your upcoming writings and more podcasts.

Dr. Christian Bason Yeah, I'll be looking forward to publishing the next book, in a way. It's about the 7th Expansion, right, about the future of organization and leadership. We'll publish that in English, most likely next year. So happy to share that with you at that point. And from my side, just say this has been a quite wide ranging conversation, very much driven by your great questions and reflections.

So thanks for the opportunity and I really look forward to continuing the work and keeping up hope because I think that's fundamentally what we need. Stina Heikkila Thank you, Christian. Again, as you have seen, we are not shying away from any topic, any any hard questions, and I think that's important to also put all the possible questions on the table and unpack them like you have done so beautifully. Very nice values that you embed in your organization and in your work as well.

We hope that the listeners enjoyed this episode. If you want to follow Christian's work and check more about the Danish Design Center and other collaborations that he has and what he's up to, you will find all the information in the show notes of this episode. If you go to boundaryless.io/resources.podcast, you will find the episode there and all the links that you need. Thank you also, Simone, for this evening. Simone Cicero Thank you so thank you so much.

Great to be here with you. Stina Heikkila And to our listeners. Until you hear us again, remember to think Boundaryless.

2023-06-18 21:51

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