Back in September, we opened this blog series on the Aesthetics of Change with an homage to David Bowie—for who better embodies the idea that something strange may change you? Of course, we had no idea that by the time we wrapped up the series, we would be saying goodbye to Bowie for good. He dedicated his 69 years to the aesthetics of change, and he still had more to give: the final track on his final album is, after all, entitled “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” We’ve dedicated merely the last 4 months to the aesthetics of change, so, of course, as we conclude, we too must confess that there is so much that we’ve left unsaid.
As a way of drawing the series to a close, we asked members of the Collective Next community to reflect on the themes in the aesthetics of ch-ch-ch-ch-change that resonated most profoundly with them. We spoke with Solution Designers Kristen Bailey and Geoff Amidei, Senior Manager Mary Choi Smith, and Senior Art Director Brett Saiia:
Marsha Dunn: In this series, we introduced William James’ concept of the inherent conservatism of mind, which is a way of describing the mind’s adherence to the status quo. Did this idea resonate with you?
Kristen Bailey: The idea that people are naturally suspicious of change and innovation struck a chord with me. We see this all the time when new people are introduced to our process. They say, “You want us to bring together 50 people and reveal that we don’t have an answer? And you are going to draw and play. No way.”
Geoff Amidei: Repetition, doing what you know, categorizing things. These are emblematic of our inherent conservatism of mind. These are habitual responses. They are safer, seemingly more efficient. Part of what we do is to lead clients through processes that push beyond the habitual and into the realm of an “unnatural” response: the explosive leap of faith, the startling juxtaposition of ideas. Such responses require seeking out the challenge, the unknown, asking a lot of questions. This is what we try to bring about.
Marsha: The series also focused on art’s productive disruptiveness, its unique ability to unsettle our static concepts and prefabbed categories in order to help us attain unique insights. Do you see this in your own own work?
Mary Choi Smith: A lot of the principles of the work we do are designed very specifically and intentionally to foster creativity. They are designed to take people outside of their day-to-day patterns, to model the possibility of something different. We try to create an environment in which this can happen—through creative visuals, integration of different viewpoints, and unexpected assignments.
Geoff: Creative visuals are central to the way we operate. One of the very tactical ways that using visuals helps people is it creates a palette of ideas that they can draw from… visual recording allows you to see how some seemingly opposed ideas might fit together. They allow one to be surprised by new and different connections.
Kristen: Here’s an example: a session sponsor brought a global group together for the first time to create a vision of the future. For the first activity, we planned to invite all of the participants to come to the front of the room to collectively create a visual of their past, present, and future. On the night before the event, the sponsor became very anxious about this plan—to the extent that I had to pull the trust me card. When the event started, within a minute people were lined up to get up there and draw pictures, and the content was amazing and there was this highly productive dialogue. I watched the sponsor’s body language go from tense to elated. By the end of the session, he said that this was the first time that he really felt that his organization had been able to live the new culture they had been talking about for an entire year.
Marsha: Another central theme in our series was the Play-Drive, our capacity to enter into a state in which all of our apparently opposing faculties of passion and reason combine into an energy that can create new things, new concepts, new interventions. Did this resonate with you?
Brett Saiia: Play is where it’s at! It is something that people often overlook when entering into any kind of new endeavor, whether a project or a conversation. They immediately aim at “getting something done” versus taking the time to explore and experiment and see what might be done.
Mary: The openness to enter into something that has an unknown outcome is part of a playful mindset. Play means entering into something with an attitude of curiosity, imagination, expansiveness, and the expectation that something good will come out of it.
Brett: When you allow yourself to get into the play space you have to leave yourself open, vulnerable and maybe even experience some discomfort, but it is worth it. In my work, I want to set up the conditions earlier on in projects to have that time to play and explore.
Geoff: And visuals are key here again. We use the multi-sensory experience of color and line and the juxtaposition of ideas to enable the set of conditions that approaches play and releases the stress of “getting the job done.”
Marsha: Harvard professor Doris Sommer introduced our series to the idea that pleasure is a by-product of play and so is essential if we want to create sustainable change.
Kristen: This idea hit home for me. There is this dominant notion that we have to suffer to do well at work—that we have to be very serious all the time, no more laughing, no more fun…But I subscribe to the idea that play and pleasure create better outcomes. Our clients get to enter into the state of play, engage their imaginations, and enjoy the process. Ultimately they get better work done by having a more human experience.
Mixing work with art, play, imagination and pleasure is our routine, but it is often new to our clients—its stretches them. And I think we also need to be sure we are always stretching ourselves. How can we take the collision of art and facilitation even further and make it even bigger?
That concludes our Series on the Aesthetics of Change. Our next series is the Narrative Universe. It is about how we humans construct our world, even our professional world through stories, myths and narratives.