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ucsd design lab Ann Pendleton-Jullian John Seely Brown

Abstract

Agency in a White Water World

In a conference on “Systems Perspectives in Design,” held in Banff, Canada, October 2015, Don Norman presented probably the best description so far of the characteristics that define “wicked” problems. He also initiated a meme that ran throughout the conference when he referenced Charles Lindblom’s complex problem solving mechanism of “muddling through.” This was an approach to public policy formulation which recognized that when dealing with complex socio-technical problems one could not plan definitively, but instead, must just muddle through – “doing well the little things that come up” to make progress. This is a tactical heuristic approach with merit in its bottom up humility and its desire for moving forward through action. And small things, done well, do scale. For Lindblom, ‘muddling through’ was “not a failure or method for which administrators ought to apologize,” but a step-by- step system of successive limited comparisons that aimed for incremental sequential change. It was prescient in that it recognized that contexts change as you do anything to them.

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