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It is Rocket Science!

As a scholar practitioner advising people in businesses, governmental agencies and even universities, it is too often the case that the refrain: “this is too abstract”, “this is too academic”, “this is too complicated”, “this is too hard”…is heard when the reality of what is required to actually change complex systems by design begins to sink in. The implied judgment is that 'thinking' gets in the way of practical 'doing' and doing should be simple and easy—i.e. ‘keep it simple stupid’. People want to claim the competencies of change agents but they hope to gain that competence through ‘edutainment’ or by learning the ‘tricks of the trade” or some other minimally demanding means.

The famous pragmatic nature of Americans has led to the rise and nurture of prideful anti-intellectualism, which has reinforced the historic split between thinking and doing inherited from centuries of Western tradition. However the best designers have learned how to reintegrate thinking and acting—to be aware of why they do what they do and how best to do what they want done for those they wish to serve. They have learned that it is indeed ‘rocket science’ and avoiding the commitment and investment of time and energy required to become a true master of the craft does not work.

Even science has not escaped the common belief that significant new ideas can occur almost magically—that great science occurs through sudden painless insights. The truth is that significant scientific breakthroughs occur over extended periods of preparation and commitment. Good science is the result of hard work over extended periods of time.

The same is true of creative insights associated with design. Ah ha breakthrough insights come after long periods of intense commitment skillfully guided through immersive and divergent exploration of a focused question of intention. Good designing takes hard work over extended periods of time. Learning to be a good designer takes hard work and commitment over time—whether as a professional or a student.

The real world is complex, unpredictable and dangerous. Acting as if things were simple, straightforward and easy to deal with does not mean that the world will obligingly change to accommodate those beliefs. The desire or necessity to change reality requires a set of skills, a mind set and a depth of knowledge that can match the challenge. Failure to meet the challenge can have serious consequences or, at minimum, result in a swarm of irritating compromises.

Change can be triggered by impulsive, impatient or simplistic actions but there is more to the challenge of change than simply causing change. Change can occur by accident or necessity. Change can occur as a result of actions that are neither skillful nor prudent. However, desired change with concomitant desired outcomes demands thoughtfulness, skill, and prudence in order to be successfully realized. The level of competence required is not easily or quickly achieved. It is rocket science. Learning how to become a design 'rocket scientist' is the intension of The Design Flight School and The Advanced Design Institute.


  1. This one caught my eye as my first real job, post PhD, was as a research scientist working on on solid rocket propellants!


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