Second-Order Guts

Posted on June 4, 2009

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In a recent conversation with a fellow PhD student and Erik Stolterman, it occurred to me that many of us who are working within the field of design, especially within a technical field, face a unique challenge.  The challenge is that we need to develop “Second Order Guts.”

First Order Guts
In case the meaning is not immediately obvious, here it is: It takes a great deal of guts (First Order Guts) for me to accept, in my own work and life, the premise embedded within design philosophy that it is necessary, and even good, to act in the world without access to all of the information which would make it possible for me to lay out a perfect, solid, long-term plan and then to execute that plan.  This takes guts because i and the people around me live in a world which, for many reasons, still want to believe in the concept of the “long-range plan” and the notion that there really are solid, right answers to everything if we just look hard enough.

Second Order Guts
Second Order Guts are even more difficult to develop.  Second Order Guts provide us with the ability to recommend to other friends, family members, clients, students, organizations etc. that it is necessary, and even good, for them to act in a world without access to all of the answers.  I have experienced this many times now in conversations with leaders of small and large organizations who have asked for the “answers” to how they should use social media in their organization.  When my Second Order Guts have been firmly in-place, i’ve been able to persuade them to take a design approach by beginning to use social media based on a loose strategy, learning as they go (which is the best way to make sense of most complex situations).  At times when i’ve lacked the guts, though, i have wavered and stammered wanting to pretend that there are “right” answers and a “right” method.

I’ve noticed an increase in my second-order guts as i continue my research and as i talk to more and more people who are seeking answers, but i am quite sure it will be an ongoing challenge.

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Posted in: design, systems