Friday Thread: For ‘trial and error’ you have to first try something (then not be afraid to fail)

YouTube video

There’s a part of the conventional stage which the dramaturg Stephen Joseph used to frame as the ‘God Wall’. That’s the bit at the back which in perspective terms is the origin of the actors complete authority over his audience.

In the TED talk above, Tim Harford takes a similar idea and transposes it into conventional design, planning and politics. He calls it the God Complex. Here’s the very core of his argument:

…the complexity of the world that surrounds us… perhaps is why we find the God complex so tempting. We tend to retreat and say, “We can draw a picture, we can post some graphs, we get it, we understand how this works.” And we don’t. We never do.

Now I’m not trying to deliver a nihilistic message here. I’m not trying to say we can’t solve complicated problems in a complicated world. We clearly can. But the way we solve them is with humility — to abandon the God complex and to actually use a problem-solving technique that works.

And we have a problem-solving technique that works. Now you show me a successful complex system, and I will show you a system that has evolved through trial and error.

This interests me, partly because I’m currently writing up an analysis of the Social Innovation series I did last year for the Building Change Trust, but also because of the unease created by large capital projects like Casement Park, Irish Water and, I suspect, the Waterfront Hall

For further reading, see Dave Grays series on ‘agile design’


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