Design thinking?

(Estimated reading time: just over 1 minute)

On Saturday we travelled across the new Queensferry Crossing.

It’s a lovely looking bridge (see Modern can be beautiful). And, it will last for more than 100 years.

Also, it’s claimed that it will be able to withstand winds and stay open in situations that would have closed the Forth Road Bridge.

So that all sounds good. Maybe even great.


The design of the roads to the bridge doesn’t seem to have been addressed. The queues that plagued the old bridge are impacting on the new one. Four lanes of traffic still reduce to two at the entrance to the bridge.

This seems like a lost opportunity.  Shouldn’t an iconic project have created a better solution to multiple problems? Presumably, the project objective was achieved – build a more robust bridge.

But what limited the vision?I know that more work = more cost. But is that the real – or only – reason?

The Scottish Government has been criticised whenever the Forth Road Bridge was closed to traffic. Yet, complaints about regular, daily delays for drivers barely register at a national level. Is the problem the difference between FUBAR and SNAFU?

Lack of vision, economy, oversight or cynical approach? Whatever the reason, it’s not great, and it takes the shine off an impressive piece of infrastructure.

Modern can be beautiful

(Estimated reading time: less than 2 minutes)

I was intrigued, and delighted, to learn that the Aviva building in Perth has been awarded A-list status. This recognises it as an iconic building. I don’t know how many people in Perth would name it as a favourite building; I don’t know how much resistance – if any – there was when it was built in 1983. 

It is essentially a series of concrete blocks. However, it was built into the hill in a sympathetic way. And it incorporated landscape gardens from the outset. I’m sure that the development of the trees and shrubs has helped to soften the edges.  I refer to it as ‘The hanging gardens of Aviva’. (See picture below.)

For me there is an important lesson here. This building is a functional office. It is not elaborate or ornate. Yet, it fits with its environment. It is comfortable in its location.

Fit for purpose, and fit to preserve. That’s not a bad model for architectural design, and for the design of systems and institutions in our modern world.

The importance of doubt

The importance of doubt

(Estimated reading time: just over 1 minute)

In matters of theology, doubt is an essential ingredient of a healthy faith. Unswerving certainty leads to entrenched thinking and, ultimately, to bigotry.

But the idea behind this entry was associated with our working environments.

It is my view that whenever we have a big decision to make, we should look for the doubt; seek the uncertainty. We need to pause to allow the questions to surface.


The benefit of doubt is an open mind.

Dan Rockwell (@leadership freak)

We need to explore the options fully. Not discounting anything at first glance.

Is this a recipe for procrastination? Almost certainly! But procrastination can be beneficial. Rushing to a quick, bad decision is much worse than move purposefully to a good one.

Maybe we should spend more time deciding and less time regretting/reworking or mistakes. There’s also a cost to any organsiation of ‘car park’ grumbling about decisions. That is, people agree to the decision in a meeting, then cluster together afterwards to belly ache about it. It’s really a question of where to invest the organisation’s time and energy.

Of course, there comes a point when a decision must be made. How long will depend on the complexity of the issue. But I’d also like to suggest that the more certain we are at the start, the longer we should pause to see what emerges.

And, at that point, I’ll pause to see what emerges.

Habits > tasks

Habits > tasks

(Estimated reading time: less than a minute)

Last week I let a few of my habits slip. This is quite unusual for me, but it’s not unheard of. Flicking through my journal I noticed that when I get myself into a ‘funk’, it’s often linked to changes in my routines. This includes irregular entries in my journal.

I know that things like exercise can have a direct bearing on productivity and creativity. But why would a dip in my photography practice be associated with reduced performance?

The best answer that I can come up with is:- regular habits create a rhythm that helps with juggling demands. I’d be intrigued if anyone has other ideas or is aware of any research in this area.

Jagged edges

(Estimated reading time: 1 minute 30 seconds)

I’ve watched the recent events in Charlottesville with a mixture of fascination and horror. As I’ve been doing so, two quotations have strayed across my path.


No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin…

Nelson Mandela

HT: Amy Cuddy

If accurate (and I believe that it is), this means that our preferences, biases and obsessions are based on culture. So, we must choose to pick up a flag with a swastika; carrying a burning torch; wear a white hood. But why would you?

Then I came across this quotation:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

 George Bernard Shaw

HT: Shane Parrish @ Farnam Street

Clearly, I don’t condone the ugly face of white supremacy that is evident in Charlottesville. But from the comfort of my liberal, privileged, white life on the other side of the Atlantic I’m puzzled and intrigued. What triggers this reaction in the modern day United States? What are the threats (real or perceived) to white people? Do they see the echoes of history in their actions?

But most of all… why do they choose a path of hatred? And, why is it not condemned in the clearest possible terms by the President?

And, why is it not condemned in the clearest possible terms by the President?

I feel that these events have exposed something about the human condition. And, as we look into the jagged edges of unreason, I am left with the outrage and questions. But mostly, I’m left with outrage.

A puzzle in a picture

A puzzle in a picture

(Estimated reading time = 2 minutes)

The idea for this entry came from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I was listening to the episode about ‘The Foot Soldier of Birmingham‘ and half-formed questions were occupying my brain. I’m still not clear about the questions, so it’s not surprising that I don’t have any answers.

What’s the story?

This photograph became an iconic symbol for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was taken in 1963, when Martin Luther King visited Birmingham, Alabama. In the photo, it seems like the police officer is setting his dog on a ‘foot soldier’ of the civil rights movement. In fact, the young man – later identified as Walter Gadsen – was an onlooker. He was not part of the civil rights movement. The police officer – Dick Middleton – was restraining the dog.

But the photo – taken by Bill Hudson – was used to show police brutality. Some say that it had a major impact in changing views about the civil rights movement. This seems like a good outcome. But do the ends justify the means? By all accounts, Bill Middleton was a good police officer who treated people equally. Is it right that he should be portrayed as a villain?

Is it right that an incident that was distinct from the protest should be used to illustrate it? What are the responsibilities of the photographer and his editor? Is this an example of fake news?

The art

Much later, this incident was depicted in a sculpture. the details have been changed quite significantly to make a point. The young man is much smaller, the dog more vicious, the police officer more menacing.

Somehow, I feel happier with these changes. For me, the passing of time and the abstract nature of the sculpture lets me know that I’m looking at something that is conveying a message more than showing a specific act.

Is that right? Is my position ethically sustainable? Can my questions about the photo be swept aside when I look at the statue?

Let me know what you think. or what questions this generates for you.

(I also referred to ‘On the wrong side of history‘  while writing this entry.)

Behold … and consider

Behold … and consider

These photos are two sides of the same piece of stone/installation. (I recommend clicking on them to see them more clearly.)

I stumbled on them a couple of months ago. Fittingly, they’ve been on my mind since then.

I’m a big fan of the concept of pausing.

Behold – spot an idea; capture it; then wait.

Let your brain process it in the background – making connections; teasing it out; adding insight.

Then – and only then – consider. Make the decision; initiate the activity; set the wheels in motion.

In my experience, the best decisions are made in this way; and the worst when there is no pause.

How long to pause? That depends. Sometimes pausing to ask that question might be enough time! But, usually, the pause should give you time to listen to other voices – including the ones in your head.

Be gentle with yourself

Be gentle with yourself

Sometimes we fall short of the standards that we set ourselves. Learn to be gentle with yourself… unless it’s a moral failing or a criminal act!

Acknowledge the setback; examine the reasons for it; adjust your plan or your process; start again.

Beating yourself up might be your instinctive reaction. But how does it help?

Your greatest hits

Your greatest hits

Recently, I heard the photographer Joe McNally talking on the Chase Jarvis podcast. Joe was describing an annual event that he attended regularly. He and the other participants were asked to bring 5 photos to introduce themselves. Joe decided that he would bring his 5 best shots from the previous year – rather than a lifetime portfolio.

(I intend to adapt (or steal) this is idea for my own photoblog. Essentially, I plan to do an end of year ‘highlights reel’.)

This concept bubbled to the top of my mind during a conversation this week. I was having a chat with a colleague who was feeling a bit flat. They were (in my words) in the doldrums. They were struggling to find any positives in their work. Everything seemed mundane or sub-standard. As I teased out a couple of the examples highlighted, it became clear that:

  • they were being unduly hard on themself;
  • there were elements of good work in the midst of their gloominess;
  • they were able to recall other, recent examples of great work.

As I reflected on our conversation later, I asked myself, “What are my ‘greatest hits’?” “When did I last do some great work?”

Then I realised that too often we focus our thoughts on what goes wrong, rather than what goes well. Yes, we learn from errors and experimentation, but we need to stay motivated and maintain a degree of confidence.

So, the next time you’re feeling a bit down, or when you’re talking to someone in that mindset, ask about your greatest hits and see where the conversation leads.