London-based design practice Pearson Lloyd shares how to thrive with agility in the age of uncertainty
In April, and the early weeks of the crisis, we wrote for onofficemagazine.com about ‘make shift’ – the instinct we have to improvise in the face of adversity and how new habits and rituals emerged in response to the shock of Covid-19.
Three months later, instability continues to hold. Regardless of second or third waves of infection, we are still in the earliest phases of our new world and the economic and social impact of the crisis is barely understood.
Key elements of our social fabric that are the foundations of society, such as the need to meet and share and congregate seem under existential threat. In discussion with clients, friends and colleagues, we realise that what we used to call the future, a place where society does not really know how things will be, is perhaps no more than six months away. Even our short-term futures therefore remain unclear. So how can we learn to live and thrive in a new age of uncertainty?
Chaos theory has long been used to understand and map not only the complex patterns of the natural world, but also diverse subjects such as road traffic patterns, and now the progress and outcomes of the pandemic itself. Research connecting chaos theory to modes of working may reinforce the relevance of agile thinking in how we might address the challenges that surround us.
So, is it possible to acknowledge and embrace the unpredictability and endemic nature of change and learn to benefit from it? To engage in the idea that we cannot know the future and understand that this may actually enhance our creativity? What can we learn from jazz? It is built on the premise of improvisation layered over structure in the search for different grades of harmonic, where there is a confidence to experiment and not know the answers. Great jazz music thrives within a mode that values both ambiguity and uncertainty.
With the paradoxical guarantee of ‘black swan’ events such as Covid-19, we know that the path of history is both non-linear and unknown. Perhaps right now, the best way to view the world, to solve problems, to plan our future and respond to our new reality is less about experience and more about the ability to think freely and respond to change.
Design has always been a risk-rich enterprise. We observe and identify both opportunities and challenges to model possible futures. At its best design thinking is a process of continual learning, reimagining and reframing the world at both micro and macro scales. Like great conversation, design thinking also benefits from the gathering of many voices in the development of an idea or proposition. So right now, we can only work together, embracing uncertainty, sure in the knowledge that no one has the answer but together – through the process of design – we can help shape the future.
As featured in OnOffice 152, The Now Issue