If we look a little bit into the history of the world we may realize we have far too often punished diversity. We judge and segregate, always pushing away from those who were different from us. Today things are changing, we are realizing that what makes us different might be the the very thing that makes us special and valuable. Biology, on the other hand, has always favored diversity and we are finally catching on, in a social sense. The idea of beneficial diversity in biology differs from beneficial diversity in the social sciences and design. How could we categorize the social and skill based areas in which we differ? Scott Page, in his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies proposes 4 main areas: Perspectives or how we see, heuristics or our tricks to solve problems, interpretations or our categorizations and predictions or what we think will happen next. Now let’s focus in the heuristics area where the most important aspect is the unique skills and knowledge you are bringing to the problem. In this chapter he uses a mathematical model to prove that 1+1=3. If you combine 1 heuristic, a tool or skill, with another heuristic, you have in fact created a 3rd heuristics, consisting of the combination of the first two. In other words, when one person brings a skill to a project and another person contributes a different skill, as a result a third completely new skill emerges from the combination of the two.
So we are different, yet how exactly do we use this “uniqueness” in multidisciplinary groups? Scott Page proposes two particular areas where this diversity can be beneficial. The first refers to problem solving, where the skills of every individual in the group can be accumulated or utilized to solve a specific issue. When the group is diverse each individual contributes with differing sets of tools. The same success would not be the case for a more homogeneous group of problem solvers, due to the fact that their skill sets may overlap more, reducing the probability that the right tool or the right combination of tools is present to solve the problem. By having more available tools, the chances of finding the best possible solution increases. Another area where diversity proves beneficial is prediction. In this case, the more information contributed the more accurate the prediction will be.
Scott Page is not the only one arguing in favor of diversity’s benefical aspects beyond the biological. Tim Brown’s ideas on collaboration, design, and design thinking overlap with those stated in The Difference. In Change by Design, Tim Brown supports the notion that it is possible to create an entire culture of design thinkers ready to solve challenges that we previously would have thought impossible. Design Thinking is all about the process of solving large scale systemic issues. The more variety of skills involved in this process the more resilient, adaptable, and resourceful the solution is. “Its all about the “tools” you bring to the table.”- Scott Page.
Now what happens when this thinking is applied to a program like Transdisciplinary Design? Scott Page poses the idea that although diversity is beneficial, in order for it to work optimally, the people in the group have to be smart in relevance to the problem. Consequently, if Tim Brown is correct in his assumption that we can create an entire culture of design thinkers, then we must understand how to utilize diversity to prove its benefits. It seems that a combination of Page’s and Brown’s idea may create a completely new idea all together. (did we just re-prove 1+1 =3 ?) Together, these ideas say that people must employ design thinking, while working collaboratively, in diverse groups, on problems with others also relatively smart to the particular topic at hand.
The process of taking advantage of all available options in collaborative design work can lead to a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. In other worlds, a group of designers with diverse backgrounds would be able to come up with a solution for a certain problem, such as system failures or service improvements, but they wouldn’t be able to come up with a cure for cancer because their knowledge is not relevant to medicine.
In conclusion diversity is beneficial when the group’s knowledge is relevant to the problem and when the process (such as design thinking) enables each member to apply their strongest skills. In the case of Trans Design these two conditions become crucial in solving issues that the two of us, as graphic designers, wouldn’t be able to tackle ourselves.
Fer + Bridge