How to Design a Solution for this Wicked Isolation Problem.


Week Seven of our Big Pause: limited human contact, limited outdoor time, ever-changing protocol and depressing news. Oh my.

My emotions are switching uncontrollably from hot to cold like the water in my first, shabby-chic NYC cold-water flat. I started the Pause feeling totally in charge of my emotions trying to turn on the happy and intentionality while working on the next task only to be blasted with feelings of hopelessness and loss. What the …

Thankfully, I’m a Designer. I’ve been reclaiming my focus by reframing the current events as a Design Project. This reframe has really helped maintain, for the most part, my focus. Like my first apartment — it’s not perfect but it’s home and I’m adapting to the challenges and learning to laugh at my failures.

The reframe is starting to work and the similarities are growing clearer. When I take on a big Design challenge, I have no hunch on how the situation will resolve. I don’t know what the future entails but I can work with a future focused attitude toward a solution.

Luckily, Designers are comfortable working with problems that are ever-changing. To gain clarity we have to design and build our way toward a solution. We try things, collect data, evaluate and move on from that not-finished place to clarity, acceptance, understanding and finally a workable solution.

This process makes Design great for solving wicked problems.

(A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and the changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.) Sound familiar?

Design is adaptive and generative. It’s living, multi-dimensional, and non-binary. Design thinking has the power to change more than how we solve problems. The way we think effects how we see ourselves, our relationships with others, and our role in the world.

There are many valid and purposeful ways of thinking. But just like the plumbing in my first NYC apartment — it’s best to know your expectations before you jump into the shower.
Let’s look at a few different kinds of thinking, and problem solving:

1. Engineering thinking accepts a known solution and solves towards it. Often
overused in society, but a very valid form of cognitive thinking.

2. Business thinking is about optimization. How do I make the most of from as little as possible?

3. Scientific thinking is social in nature, rather than a phenomenon that occurs inside an individual’s head. Consequentially, scientific thinking is something people do, rather than something they have.

4. Legal thinking finds resolution by following a given set of rules. It doesn’t always produce the actual truth.

5. Artistic thinking is beyond the boundaries of the intellect. Here, feelings are perceived equal
to intellect.

6. Critical thinking picks things apart to understand why they exist, not necessarily to
enlighten or educate. It doesn’t construct a solution.
See a pattern? All are binary. They move from problem to solution. Each promotes theory and over-thinking, which in can turn promotes rumination. Design promotes action and works towards a solution.

My current situation calls for a Design Solution. Why? I don’t want to slip down that rabbit hole of black and white, binary thinking, over thinking or rumination. I can’t solve the global situation but I can work on Designing a solution and work towards a positive outcome for my isolation, environment and work.

The main benefit of focusing on a Design solution is the adjustment to my mindset and actualization of my autonomy. I’m also reminded of my favorite part of being a Designer, collaboration. During this time of self-imposed isolation — collaboration has to be deliberate, focused, scheduled and designed.

Here’s a few hacks I’ve Designed that have really helped maintain my focus and aid collaboration. I hope they help you and I’d love to hear about your processes. Creative Collaboration still exists.

Baby Yourself. Set up a schedule for sleeping, waking, resting, eating, exercising and playing — stick to it! Routines help regulate our mood, appetite and focus.

Design Your Environment. Establish areas by function: work, exercise and living. Try not to mix functions — don’t work on your laptop in bed. No calls in the bathroom — please.

Office Manager/Janitor– Embrace your new responsibilities. Allocate time each day to keep your work area cleared of distractions. If you’re working in the Dining Room — return the space to a Dining Room when not working. Do this every day. Every Day.

Gratitude lists are great. You know you should be doing it. Are you?

Reframe It. Give yourself time to Reframe problems into solutions. Not handling a Zoom presentation like a Pro. Reframe this problem into a growth opportunity — With Practice you’ll be a Zoom Pro. And just think — When we return to normal work conditions you will literally be able to work from anywhere!

Shine Refine and Redesign. Focus on the task in front of you, the progress and practice creating a quality outcome. Remember, we all deserve a quality life. Let’s work in that direction.
I hope these suggestions help.

This wicked problem won’t destroy us. A Design-based solution, at its core, has two very important things: A response to context, and an ability to be vulnerable in starting something without seeing

the endpoint. Designers practice and build these skills by creating bold plans and solutions that are relevant, nonlinear, responsive to the immediate environment, and push beyond what we already know.

Let’s design a better way and collaborate on a solution. Until we meet again.

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