We seem to be a verb.

August 9, 2008 in Notes from the Field

R. Buckminster Fuller used to answer the question of what he was and did by saying “I am not a noun, I seem to be a verb.” Bucky was a Design Scientist (architect, engineer, inventor) who treated himself as an experiment to see how much one person could do in his lifetime on behalf of humanity. He wanted his epitaph to read “Call me trimtab.” Both of these quotes give you a sense of his perspective on the world. The first is about taking action, building something, moving the game forward being a verb not a noun. His second is about the application of the right bit of resource and pressure at just the right time to make the most impact on a situation. His trimtab comment came from his observation that a giant ship like the Queen Mary has a rudder to help it change directions, but on that rudder is a small device known as a trimtab. By changing the angle of that little device a force is created that starts to move the rudder and soon the entire ship is moving in a different direction. This realization that he was just one small part of a very large system but that he could somehow change the world resonates deeply around the corridors of our lab.

He called his approach Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science and his largest aspiration was to provide life support to greater and greater percentages of humankind on this fragile Spaceship Earth.

Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science is a mouth full so we seldom tell our clients that it is foundational to our approach. Dissecting the phrase, and our perspective on its meaning, is valuable because each word highlights an important aspect of our philosophy.

The word Comprehensive is really about making sure that we are looking at the whole problem. Stepping back and seeing how all the elements interact. Effectively looking for the architecture of the problem space, the meta-structure.

The word Anticipatory is about thinking forward in time so that we not only try to solve today’s problem but also solve for what happens tomorrow and the day after. In effect future proofing the solution so that it can resiliently continue to work even if new aspects of the world come into play.

The word Design is about, as Herb Simon (another source of inspiration for MAYA) once said, “ devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Effectively the systematic attempt to change the future for the better.

Finally the word Science is about rigor and process and repeatability. The scientific method guides our efforts. It helps us build a theory of a given problem and test it to failure in order to try to discover the hidden patterns that often represent unvoiced or unmet needs at the intersection of people and information.

So there it is, one of the secret philosophical underpinnings of our own little experiment into how much one small company of fellow travelers can do to change the world.

A mouthful and a mindful. We seem to be a verb, moving towards trimtabbing the world into a place that’s a little better than when we arrived.

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