Why Science Fails us, the Truth on Innovation, and Forward-Thinking Design

We're documenting everything we're doing it seems.

We measure, quantify, and rely on best practices — sometimes even in the face of clear evidence that things are not getting better, they're actually getting worse by using "proven" methods and failure to consider changing contexts.

Lists are not the only way to defy death.

Together with new found enthusiasm for data-driven decision-making, the faith we place in science alone lulls us into a false sense of security — that we can find all the answers without formulating better questions.

Why Science Fails us, the Truth on Innovation, and Forward-Thinking Design

Perception reigns supreme as our mental shortcuts and stories forever entertain us and hold us captive in an effort to explain what we have a hard time proving. Where there is no formula, we do our best with common threads.


The three stories that caught my eye this week are:


1Jonah Lehrer writes about trials and errors and why science is failing us at Wired. It's a case of correlation and causion being a poor match. As Leher says, this mistake has broader implications than the pharmaceutical industry:

Pfizer invested more than $1 billion in the development of the drug and $90 million to expand the factory that would manufacture the compound. Because scientists understood the individual steps of the cholesterol pathway at such a precise level, they assumed they also understood how it worked as a whole.

This assumption—that understanding a system’s constituent parts means we also understand the causes within the system—is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry or even to biology. It defines modern science. In general, we believe that the so-called problem of causation can be cured by more information, by our ceaseless accumulation of facts.

The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental shortcuts, says Lehrer. Science is getting harder because in the complex networks at the center of life we deal with systems in which the variables cannot be isolated.


2Frog's Fabio Sergio says there's no real formula to innovation — creativity comes from blending dissonant goals into radical harmony at FastCo Design. How do we see those common threads?

I don’t think there is an archetype for the people or processes that foster innovative thinking, or even what type of physical working environment can best support a creative culture. That view of the world is too polarized. In my experience, there is no single specific behavioral trait, methodological approach, or carefully selected set of contextual factors that guarantees success in the ability to think differently and translate that thinking into success in the market.

That said, there is indeed a common trait in the typical way creative thinkers approach challenges: They can comfortably hold opposing thoughts in their heads and get to work.

[…] Successful creative thinkers see opposites and apparently contradicting goals not just as a potential for dissonance, but as an opportunity for dynamic harmony.

As popular wisdom reinforces, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, harnessing the positive tension between the extremes, and fine-tuning it.


3Christopher Butler curates views on forward-thinking design by reaching out to 7 designers at How. What skills do designers need now and what does the future hold? My pick for highlight from Nick Disabato:

By far, the most important thing is the people skills needed to work with clients and other team members. I was completely blindsided by this when I entered the working world, and made some very public and unpleasant mistakes as a result.

I was also unprepared for the speed that was needed to execute and iterate on an idea. If you aren’t generating many different potential solutions, you’re probably going to end up running down the wrong path, and you’ll end up creating a well-polished idea that ends up sucking. Kill your darlings in the name of a better product.

Most agree that user experience for mobile and tablets as well as the ability to scale projects for multiple contexts are in the future as well as the present of design.


If the answers reside in better questions, how do we/do we need to stop looking for easy answers? Can design thinking help us see useful relationships?



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