.: 21 March 2017 :.

Identifying Design Opportunities and Strategies to design for Wisdom

This week I’ve been trying to pivot my project from research more towards design. I’ve narrowed my scope and reframed my research into “How might we..” questions that I will be focusing on. Then I defined some strategies on how to answer these questions which might inform some design concepts.

Somehow this really felt like an unproductive week, because I wasn’t making that much. Anyways I do feel I have more clarity now and understand where my current work fits in.

Right now I see these three questions as three pillars, running parallel. I’m currently still exploring the three simultaneously, but hope to focus on one in the upcoming two weeks.

1. How might we trigger perspective shifts so a window to our existing wisdom will open?

During my research I learned that if we are presented with a perspective that’s different from our own, something interesting happens. Firstly we realize that our perspective is just one in many. Secondly, if we are open to this, we start to reflect on our own perspective. This allows us to get in a better position to make a wiser decision.

I think that wise people are really good at seeking different perspectives to question their own. It’s a skill, which I believe can be trained.

This design opportunity builds on the hypothesis that most of the wisdom is already inside of us, we just need to give it room to move. I think this represents the nature of what wisdom is. We need to find it within ourselves, although the outside world can help us find it.

I think there are a couple of ways to trigger different perspectives which encourage us to find our inner wisdom through reflection. Let me outline the ones I worked with.

Getting advice from other people.
One of the most obvious ways to get a different perspective is through another person. All people are unique, so inherently all people will provide a different perspective. I think this is one of the beautiful things about wisdom, it can transcend race, background and social classes.

I think this is one of the beautiful things about wisdom, it can transcend race, background and social classes.

One expression of this strategy is the experiment I did in the first week of my project in which I asked people to anonymously give advice on things others were struggling with. It was really inspiring to see how much value people got from this, with such a minimal effort. I can imagine that this strategy could end up in some platform on which people encourage each other to shift perspectives by sharing their own.

Force fitting a different time, location and person on a struggle.
This week I did a little exercise which was about forcing perspective shifts. First I asked people to write down a current struggle they are having. Then, I challenged this by forcing perspective shifts, such as:

If you would ask advice from Barack Obama, what would you imagine he would say?
Imagine you are living in the Roman empire, would this struggle still exists? How would you deal with it?
Imagine you would be the last person on earth, would this struggle still exist? How would you deal with it?

One participant took the freedom to visualize her struggle as well, which what about dealing with other people’s expectation. Interviewing her gave me some nice insights.

The day after the exercise I realized that the visualization of my struggle was actually too short sighted. I realized that there isn’t just one summit of expectations, but there are multiple ones. So I redid my drawing the next day.

Participant of perspective shift exercise

I think this clearly shows that the participant really broadened her perspective on her struggle, even a day after the exercise. It could be interesting to dig deeper into this.

I think this clearly shows that the participant really broadened her perspective, even a day after the exercise.

Fictional and nonfictional storytelling
Did you ever feel wiser after reading a novel or watching a movie? I’m sure you did. You did because stories provide a different perspective. Especially because stories have characters. Once we are able to look at the world through the eyes of a character, we get a unique opportunity to learn about ourselves. That’s powerful.

This week I wrote a little story for kids, trying to explore how I might use storytelling to communicate certain messages about wisdom. It’s quick and imperfect, but it’s a start I guess.

“With his backpack full of schoolbooks and his red cap Jesse walks through the harbor. A fisherman catches his eye. Why are you here young man, shouldn’t you go to school is what the fisherman asks. No, I’ve walked away from school this morning. I wasn’t learning anything new so I decided not to go anymore. The fisherman looks at Jesse.

You see this fishtank young man? Jesse nods his head. All of the fish you see, were born in this one fishtank. They have never ever moved out so they don’t know anything about the world outside their fishtank. Until one day, a purple fish from the sea loses its way and accidentally enters the fishtank. The fish from the fishtanks are surprised. What do you do here purple fish? I didn’t have any intentions to come here, is what the purple fish says. I am from the sea and I have lost my way. The fish in the fishtanks want to know more about the purple fish. So you are from the sea. What is it? How big is it? Is it as big as our fishtank? The purple fish starts laughing. How do you compare this little fishtank with the sea? It is many thousands times bigger than this fishtank. The fish can’t tolerate this answer. They thought that their fishtanks was the biggest of all so they respond with anger. You are a liar purple fish! You think too much of yourself. We don’t believe you.
That’s because you haven’t seen the sea before. Come with me and I will take you to the sea. The fish in the fishtanks reject the offer. You just want to get us out of this fishtank so you can live here yourself! The purple fish realizes that staying here is useless and decides to leave the fishtank and goes back to the sea.

The fisherman stops talking and continues catching fish. Jesse stares in front of him, hoping that the fisherman would cheer him up. He didn’t. This doesn’t help me fisherman, is what Jesse says. The fisherman has already walked away. From frustration, Jesse throws his can of soda on the ground. When the can hits the ground, it bursts into two pieces. To Jesse’s surprise, the drink spreads on the clean marble floor. Quickly a dustman rushes to the floor and starts cleaning. Thank you young man, is what the dustman says. Why are you so happy having more work to do, is what Jesse asks? I’m doing a competition with my colleague. Whoever can clean his part of the pier the fastest wins fish at the end of the day. Yesterday I didn’t win so today I am extra motivated.

Jesse walks away and sits on a bench to look at the sea. The sea is calm. He thinks back of the fisherman and dustman. He sees a girl about his age sitting against a front door, crying. Jesse gets annoyed by the sound. Could you please stop crying, he asks. I am trying to relax. The girls look at Jesse with the tears in his eyes and starts to cry even harder. I like your bag she says, it’s a bag I’ve always wanted myself. Jesse realizes that the girl didn’t mean to do harm, and wonders how he could help her. Why are you crying girl? My parents don’t have enough money to pay for my school she says. I want to become a nurse when I grow old but now I can’t.

When Jesse hears the story he thinks for a second. I’m sure you will become a nurse, he says. Then Jesse runs home. He passes the harbor and waves to the fisherman. He leaves an empty bottle for for the dustman.

During the endless run, Jesse suddenly opens his eyes, and sees his schoolbag and his red cap standing in front of his bed. He smiles and continues to dream, excited to go to school tomorrow.”

Getting people to read this I realized that sometimes these stories are effective and sometimes they are not. It’s hard to predict. However I noticed the power of stories is that they may trigger some sort of subconscious reflection. As a reader you have to work for it. You have to find the moral of the story yourself, so once you do, you might think you found this wisdom inside yourself. While in reality, it was just in the story.

You have to find the moral of the story yourself, so once you do, you might think you found this wisdom inside yourself.

2. How might we decrease the gap between what people think is the wisest thing to do and what they actually do?

Through my research I came up with an explanation why and when some people act wisely. I called this the “gap” framework. This framework shows that the problem of being unwise isn’t so much because people don’t know what’s the wisest thing to do, it’s that people don’t act accordingly.

By studying traumatic experiences I realized that this gap exists when people haven’t really internalized their knowledge. For example a near death experience makes people internalize that they can die and only then they start to act accordingly. Before the experience, people knew for a fact they would die, but somehow they hadn’t really internalized what this meant. They didn’t understand the deeper meaning behind it.


Make people internalize their existing knowledge
Next week I will be doing ethnographic studies with people to understand what it takes to internalize knowledge. What are some factors that prevent this from happening? I hope to find out more.

Make people control their emotions
Emotions can cause people to make unwise, impulsive decisions. According to wisdom science, at least. If people could somehow hit the pause button before acting, I think people could act wiser.

Give people bad experiences
Okay this is a little provocative, but if bad experiences lead to wisdom, is there some way we can design for it?

3. How might we demystify wisdom?

My last design opportunity is about the way our current society looks at wisdom. Wisdom isn’t a sexy word, let’s face it. Googling the word wisdom, brings me these image results.

I think wisdom it sort of going through an identity crisis, but this can fixed. If there is one discipline that can work with this slippery and complex topic of wisdom, I think it might be design.

If there is one discipline that can work with this slippery and complex topic of wisdom, I think it might be design.


Change the language
The premise of getting wiser might not be appealing to most people, so maybe I should avoid the word wisdom altogether. Otherwise I’ve noticed that the type of wisdom I’m working with is currently being called “practical wisdom”. Adding the practical could make it sound more appealing and could better represent what it is.

Make it discussable
I think one interesting strategy would be to provide tools that enable people to discuss what wisdom is. This could open up the conversation.

Come up with design principles
Coming up with principles, on how to design for wisdom could be an interesting outcome for my thesis. I really hope that my project isn’t the last design project about wisdom.

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