by Humberto Schwab
Philosopher, Owner, Humberto Schwab Filosofia SL, former Director, Club of Amsterdam
May 20, 2014
You can only design when you now from where, towards what and for what reasons.
Socratic Design is a radical way of changing our paradigms, the way we think and the way we live. We need a radical approach because the soft, step by step, way does not bring us further. We are still heading full speed towards different crises. At the same time there is a lot of innovative intelligence, why are we so powerless?
The simple answer is, because we are looking in the wrong corner and in the wrong way. It is not the world we have to change; we have to transform our way of thinking, acting and feeling. We are addicted to old ideas, old thoughts and old feelings. Our mind is not a free sweeping rational engine, nor is the world around us a fixed entity of stable facts. Both are deep fallacies. So if we innovate with our old mind still intact, we will just reproduce more of the same in a different format! You can dress it up but that does not change the content.
Socratic Design is a program of awareness and of an action transformation for business, organizations and individuals. It makes us aware that everything around us (all that is touched by men), is designed. The world is designed according to assumptions, a world view and paradigms. In the Socratic practice we identify these and analyze them with scrutiny. In Socratic philosophy we have the tools to execute this analysis consequently and consistently.
The objects, the buildings, and the very infrastructure of our society are based on assumptions. For example, the house is built on the assumption that we want to live privately, that we want to separate sleeping and eating, that we want to protect ourselves and our possessions with doors, locks, gates etc. Each of these assumptions leans on deeper assumptions. That we lock the doors, assumes that people will probably act as thieves, this assumes that people are selfish or ego oriented. The world around us is built on this assumption, all the design that surrounds us is suffused with this approach. All governmental programs will be based on the assumption that this is the true nature of man.
In Socratic practice we can de-construct even the most hidden assumptions. An example is the assumption that all that is abstract has more truth than what is concrete and personal. The more something is distanced from you, the more objective it is. What you experience is just your opinion – what really is true is the generalization, abstracted from personal experience.
Even small things like pencils, or chairs or clothes are designed and thus contain the same assumptions. Cultural fallacies (false assumptions) are stored away hidden in our things that surround us. But here comes the devil: the surroundings determine our inner way of thinking, conditioning our thoughts and our feelings. If you as a child, were to walk around in a school full of cameras, security doors, bullet proof glass and permanent monitoring, you would start to think, feel and act as a criminal.
If you enter a hotel where they offer free drinking from the minibar as much as you like, most of us (not all) will feel very responsible and act moderately. If I approach pupils as managers of their learning process, giving them all the responsibility, they will act accordingly.
So we are not independent, rational agents (cultural fallacy): we are dependent on the environment we design ourselves. How best then, to break out of this vicious circle of reproducing new thoughts that will only perpetuate old assumptions?
Even more disturbing is the fact that we think that we are thinking, but most of the time we are rehearsing the same thoughts over and over again. It would be better to use the word “thought” as the past tense of “to think” instead of the present tense, because that is what we mostly do!
The endorphin brain system gives us a release of nice “feeling”, when we have these same old thoughts over and over again. Thanks to this reward we get the impression that we really are thinking while the thoughts “run us”.
Socratic Design establishes a sensitive environment to engage in “deep listening” by Socratic dialog. These Socratic dialogs transform us from ego and ratio oriented atoms into a collective sensitive mind that is capable of “listening” to the deepest human values and needs. This method guarantees a higher level of thinking. It frees us from the old addictive neuron-circuits, because each individual mind is “forced” to leave that behind.
This sensitive collective organ is the producer of instantaneous wisdom, capable of creating genuinely real knowledge. This knowledge is concrete, personal and built on questions about our values, our authentic needs and on our vision of a good life.
It is astonishing how many great minds, CEOs, leaders and politicians decrease their thinking quality-once they’ve reached their chosen field: they just retreat in to rehearsing admittedly very clever thoughts that got them there in the first place.
It is not their fault; the top has to broadcast messages that fit in the paradigm of the organization. So we absorb, like the kid in the school, the narrative of the company, and begin to live in it in a subconscious way.
The exciting thing about Socratic dialog is that we have to create knowledge each time again from scratch. Knowledge is the way we create the world around us every second. There are no facts; you see what you are focused on. So if we could start really thinking with these clever minds we would really be free of old “coal and steel” thoughts and get into “grafeen design”!
Real thinking is the state-of-the-art creative process. As such, we should only design things and practices when we are at our sharpest that means when we are in this super collaborative state of practical wisdom.
Socratic Design uses the deepest thoughts of the participants; they bear a lot of tacit knowledge, by making this explicit to the group, we leave procedures knowledge (which often does not match reality) behind and show what we really do; the teacher telling what teaching really is about, instead of using a didactic model, the furniture maker showing how to use the tools. Tacit knowledge contains values, practices, feelings that cannot be gathered by abstract information management or so called knowledge management!
Socratic Design does two things: It gets people in a listening mode out of their own circular thoughts by strong moderation AND creates knowledge which starts from universal basic questions. At the end of the day everything boils down to the question “How do we want to live?” or “What is a good life?”
A product, a service or an application is always related to this question (Undoubtedly, kids would answer the question about a good life: with the Lego game).
For a company to create good stuff, the leader has to be a multiplier in creative thinking, enabling communication and freeing the company from bigotry and fear of leaving the comfort zone. We rigorously analyze the assumptions and narratives of a person or organization, we bring out tacit knowledge, and we create a landscape of values. Within this moral and aesthetic landscape, we design and fashion new assumptions and best practices into a new paradigm. Thanks to Socratic dialog, we can leave old assumptions and thoughts behind. This paradigm contains designed narratives about human beings and their lives. The vision or paradigms include new forms of language (words create our factual world), good organization based on narratives, strong procedures and continuous organized intelligence through dialog.
We ourselves can design our lives ourselves towards our biggest goals from deepest human values.