How to scale your startup DNA

Organizational DNA

How to scale your startup DNA

Since we know that design thinking was created for problem-solving and is meant to be a process preoccupied with narrowing concerns, we need to zoom out of this bubble and see what is beyond that. Before this, in the 1960s companies were not thinking of innovation the way we do. They were thinking of inventing things which is much bigger than innovating.

Picture source:

The startup bubble started in the 1957s in the US when employees of Shockley Semiconductor disputed their employer and some left to start what we now know as “Silicon startups” in Stanford Industrial Park. These entrepreneurs had knowledge of the semiconductor sector and began the expansion of the industry to what we now know as the 4th industrial revolution, from product hardware manufacturing to software and services.

When The Economist said in the 1980s that 75% of companies that are listed on the stock market ( IPO companies nowadays) are public companies because they have intellectual property over a certain problem and its specific solution for solving it, it became clear what the future of business looks like. Standford started documenting the growth path of the companies starting in the “Valley” and from here the history of design thinking as we know it was born. This new way of thinking helped these companies build fast. Having the foundation of protected knowledge, the new patents that detail to flow levels how a problem is solved would help companies differentiate how they choose to solve a problem. That’s what made competition fierce in the US.

Exploring what’s beyond design thinking goes into system design problems and that means being able to handle complexity.

For this reason, the aim of this article is to focus on 2 things that give humans the ability to go in a natural way beyond problem-solving and into the complexity of systems and their design structure :

  • craftmanship and its role in giving us purpose through its inherited complexity
  • newness and its role of giving us motivation and curiosity to continue discovering and filling in the gaps

How does craftmanship and newness for discovery connect to what’s needed to go beyond design thinking? That’s a straightforward answer in fact: it’s human nature! Our human nature rejects processes that are not aligned with our biology and for the past 50–60 years of technological development, we’ve seen how we laid the foundations of a robust 4th industrial revolution in the software applications which enable humans to be more productive, live more creatively and have more time to develop themselves. But while part of humanity is enjoying the benefits of the new technologies, the other becomes the modern slave of a way of working that is completely destroying our human bodies. Our bodies need to adapt to working styles that destroy our health and we comply with corporate entities that dictate our way of living our lives more than we even get to control our lives. As a result, there’s an urgent need to reconsider the role of designers and technology and recall them back to the drawing board and think beyond their function. We need to think of the ecosystems they are introduced as part of our daily life and as such to make them more human-friendly ( human-centric). That’s why what’s beyond problem-solving is about thinking of the system that created those problems without getting ourselves dragged down a rabbit hole of abstract corporate problems of governance. The nature of human beings is much more intrinsically connected to problems we can solve with empirical knowledge rather than robust and heavy entry barriers into a complex educational system that fulfills the need of educating us into problems so far from our embodied knowledge. Going back to our routes ( essence or intuitions) doesn’t have to be about exaggerated ways to dismiss the science we’ve built until now, as much as it has to be about going back to the philosophy of science and understanding why we needed it in the first place.

Embodied knowledge

The amazing thing about our brain is that it’s not a single process system. It’s a system of systems that run at the same time and of course influence each other through its intrinsic nature. The intimacy through which these systems are linked and work together is formed by our ability to recognize and prioritize which process fits best with our survival needs. As those needs are satisfied, more processes are enabled to allow us to capture a better and more intimate knowledge of our environment. The ability to develop that relationship with things outside our own body will gain us the embodied knowledge of those things and processes. That’s how we can achieve mastery in something. The more time we spend perfecting that embodied knowledge executed on external objects, the closer to being the experts.

When we think of becoming experts this way, it’s no longer about problem-solving anymore, is it?

The idea that an expert is a person who is an expert on solving only problems is a very new concept. That’s why my invitation is to see design as a process to create systems that have a self transformative ability embedded at their core or a transformational theology as Stacey Griffin and Patricia Shawn see it in the book about Complexity and management.

Design, as a natural bridge-builder between technology and humanity, is ideally positioned to contribute.- Kees Dorst

How do we become knowledge-driven organizations?

Organizations that are flexible and transformational and resilient in time come from a long history of embodied knowledge passed on just like craftmanship and traditions. It’s not knowledge you acquire cognitively!

This framework I developed is based on 2 famous organizations which I respect deeply, both having a long history of innovation and transformation:

  • Disney
  • Philips

Disney is a company that started with Walt’s drawing knowledge. From that, you can see the way their business expanded in the timeline below according to McKinsey research.

Source: McKinsey 1998

However, my own research and mapping of their evolution look like this:

Disney evolution framework according to the principle of systems design — Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

In the same way, Philips presents itself as a company with a transformative capacity in the following way:

Philips evolution framework according to the principle of systems design — Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

How would the model be applicable to your company? Here’s the cheat sheet to understanding how Philips and Disney did it:

Framework for scaling design systems in organizations from startup to corporate level — Irina Damascan 2020

As such, we can narrow down how we go about the 4 steps in the pillars of my framework like this:

1. Embodied knowledge — we take what we know through our DNA and at the core of our organization and make it a movement

2. Framework of usage- we take that knowledge and make it a process that is scalable and repeatable

3. Asset — we create a sales mechanism for our packed process in the form of an asset from a particular industry

4. Network — we create the bridges to reach the people that would buy, promote and develop our asset

Copyright Irina Damascan 2020 – Scaling DNA from embodied knowledge to broader domain overview

This was a short reframing of the history of design thinking, and with a phenomenological and philosophical perspective, I explained the connection to craftsmanship and our human biology of the brain. These aspects are complemented now from an abstract framework to a concrete sample of organisational behaviours that we can build to create holistic design systems for companies that scale sustainably.

Copyright Irina Damascan 2020- Embodied knowledge framework

Our brain structures are already predetermining us to a certain way of perceiving the world. The trouble with having hard wiring of the brain that is inflexible to the different circumstances you are exposed to daily in the workplace is that it leaves some people out of the conversation. The outcasting model is probably the first symptoms you can determine in an organization bounded to face misalignments once they scale. That’s why many companies never pass the 26FTE level. But even when they do pass the 26FTE and scale to 50FTE, the problems don’t get any easier. The wisdom of the embodiment model offers us a short glimpse into the model that scaling organizations have.

Scaling organizations manage to:

  1. Tackle complexity by including every stakeholder in the conversation and taking them along the journey with a firm emotional buy-in. We can never perform in any environment without being emotionally motivated.
  2. Get the root cause of the problem and work at the system, not fixing the symptoms. Organizations that work on the holistic picture rather than in a vacuum will thrive to connect with their users in a much more sustainable way.
  3. Take people along rather than leave people out. The inclusion model is often seen as the way to go about this but it’s much broader than inclusion and diversity if the voice of one person doesn’t weigh equally with the others. It’s more than accepting and tolerating differences, it’s about the integration of those differences in a more robust system.
  4. The hierarchical system doesn’t dissolve the voices but supports growth in a structured manner. When a hierarchy is only used for performance and reporting, the real growth of people is confined within the parameters of the box they are in. However, real growth happens by exposing yourself to challenging situations and risk that alters the boundaries of your box and makes you free float in the areas of your challenges. If in time, someone from the lower level of the hierarchy is exposed more than someone from the top, then growth for the lower level is limited by its hierarchical leader. The exposure needs to be equally challenging even if it’s on different paths. A company that invests in its people will understand to invest both in the managers to challenge their leadership and personal limiting beliefs as much as they develop the skills of the execution workforce. That way, the voice of the expert with a lower level in the hierarchy will not be forced into silence because the manager is not able to see why that issue is important for the organization.

How is this process supported by matters that start with design thinking but go beyond it?

The first answer to this is that these matters come from a complexity rather than a single-rooted problem. One of those immense resources of knowledge still unexplored about complex systems as an asset rather than a challenge is found in philosophy. Jacque Derrida was an Algerian-born French philosopher who brought up “deconstruction as an attempt to expose and undermine the metaphysics of hierarchized binary oppositions”. That sort of perspective over the world allows us to add more color and complexity without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information that doesn’t settle strictly in one “box” or another. By not wanting to judge so quickly and rush into a decision about a context and problem you’re facing, you let even more empathy into the “design thinking” process.

In design thinking, we often rush to the stages of creating desired outcomes. We want to focus so we can sharpen our value proposition and quickly launch so we can later iterate.

But this type of thinking comes from the same eagerness for industrialization, fast deployment of infrastructure, and leaving people who can’t keep up with the rapid developments out of the system. However, the system cannot function in isolation from the rest of the world who doesn’t come from this right brain development. Due to many problems created by industrialization, our mental health became an underlining issue because we lack the proper balance between how we use the two hemispheres. In order to succeed in the society created by industrialization, you had to use mainly the left side of the brain which is analytical and focused on functionality which ultimately leads to progress. However, this type of mentality over success also created problems for the more creative people making them feel like outcasts because they don’t fit traditional organizations. By eliminating much of the manual or creative work and automating as many of the processes as we could, the workplace quickly became a dry, emotionless environment which causes many mental health issues to workers that felt symptoms of something they couldn’t quite put their finger on. That’s how we’ve moved from a well-balanced experience of our work environments to something that produces abstract new problems disconnecting more and more from the traditional human-centric values. In fact, it’s disconnect comes more from the alienation of the natural elements, the ones connected most to our human nature.

Many of the B2B SaaS companies out there solving “problems” of organizations are “not sticky” enough for the users even if they are on a positive cash flow because they lack the human-centric values. They solve human-made problems which ultimately leads to a tool that works in a vacuum.

Design thinking limitations become clear in this context. What served us to progress will not serve us to scale. At this point, complexity needs to step in and design the ethics of the system we have made with the technological developments deployed in the last century. The new industrial revolution is about human enablement through technology and seeing technology as a means to an end rather than the purpose itself.

This type of repurposing needs to take place starting with our educational models. That’s why we see so many leadership schools or MBA’s addressing this need.
Copyright THNK School of Creative Leadership

The fundamental difference they make in how they look as the world is that they rebalance the forces between our left and right side of the brain. While many D-schools are focused on craft and design, B-schools are focused on business and analytics and C-schools focus on combined creativity from the best of both worlds. This ultimately results in a different economic model based on what we are learning to use from our brain capacity.


Joe Pine, the famous author of the experience economy concept makes a very valid point in his research about the key attribute of each economical model.

We’ve been stepping away from the natural to the standardized, and now on to customized and personalized attribution of the problem. That’s why design thinking no longer serves us as it addresses the customization problems, not personalization.

In the personalization attribution model, we will talk more about the complexities rather than the outliers. Outliers are dealt with in isolation from the system, but as many economists see realized in their research, they never produce isolated effects. They are interconnected and ultimately generate “black swans”.


In the example of Taleb for potential outliers that through cumulative effects lead to black swans, he talks about agents. These agents are the forces that influence the system and are maybe outside of our business context.

The design thinking limitations help us focus on predictable events.

That’s why one of the biggest hurdles for companies today is to move away from big data and go into personalization using granular data modeling.


Lastly, if you think that design thinking is a fad, think again more thoroughly at the reason why this way of working came about instead of simply making it redundant in time. It might be insightful to look beyond its implicit limitations.

How is knowledge organized in your company?

There are many conceptualizations of the horizons of service design evolving from design thinking to ecosystem design which is the more complex and holistic approach, but the real difference is in the details beyond tactics.

The details beyond tactics go beyond facts and step into the realm of perceptions.

As Yuval Harari says in Homo Deus, the human brain is made to have 2 parallel structures for aligning the passing of time: facts and perceptions. Our experiences then also split into 2 categories: the perceived and the experienced. And in more economical terms, John Stagl, a colleague of Geary Sikich adds the following regarding value:

Value = the perception of the receiver regarding the product or service that is being posited. Value is, therefore, never absolute. Value is set by the receiver. — John Stagl

It is clear from these statements that dealing with complexity has an underlining human factor of how we perceive something in a given context. If you modify the context, the same thing will have a different value. So how can companies make money while minimizing the risk of their products/ services becoming redundant once they’re a bit out of the context designed by design thinking processes?

Minimizing risk is a business of its own, but the thinking of the model in which we produce goods can be from the very beginning designed to withhold these turbulences and the lack of meaning in some contexts. As Geary summarizes the work of Taleb on complexity in the revised 2nd edition, of ‘The Black Swan’ with a question:

“How much more difficult is it to recreate and ice cube from a puddle than it is to forecast the shape of the puddle from the ice cube?” — Taleb

Geary emphasizes that the way to solve a difficult problem can come from solving it at the end of the experience we want to manage or on the system that created the problem in the first place. The same way I mentioned in the first article on this topic:

As problems become more artificial and far from their initial natural problem we need to go back to the natural problem and find a different way to solve that one with the new acquired knowledge of the initial outcome.

How to follow problem sources

We can follow the nature of problems and give them a diagnosis so we can tackle them one by one and evaluate the nature of the intervention we need to make. There’s a really useful model developed by Cynefin that you can use to make a diagnosis.

The Samsara model

And then there’s an adapted version of the Cynefin model, the Samsara model that says the circles above actually intersect.

But the nature of disorder can’t be tackled by intersecting the circles in my opinion. The reason for that is that even when they theoretically overlap, the nature of the problem can only the consequence of clear relationship status of the elements of the system:

  • Simple — Sense- Categorize- Respond
  • Complicated — Sense- Analyse -Respond
  • Complex — Probe- Sense- Respond
  • Chaotic — Act- Sense- Respond

And again, in my opinion, connected to the psychology of attachment by Bowlby, and that is documented in an article I wrote on the nature of developing the sense of “we” in life as humans. The whole concept of embodiment relies on reconnecting the problems we face in business with the biology of our human nature.

Looking at the interactions between our human biology and the system dynamics we categorized earlier to follow the nature of the problem, we can easily say that in reality, complexity doesn’t really exist. Harold van Garderen, an organizational consultant helping companies manage their knowledge through storytelling and connected narratives talks about this state of perception from an empirical perspective. That way of following information through narratives resonated with me when I made the reference to our organizational problems is merely a symptom of our human systems of reference to relate to others around us. If we manage to mitigate the conflict and tension between our predisposition/ condition given by our hardwiring of the brain, we can manage relationships with others in a more agile way.

What is the new agile?

The new agile is about being able to reference the “problem category” you are in and mitigate the risks of shifting the dynamic of that problem source.

Let’s look at a visual example of that:


What happens in this situation is that not risking to see more problems might be the end of the organizational growth path. As Bill Campbell used to say if companies “don’t continue to innovate, they’re going to die — and I didn’t say iterate, I said innovate.” So being able to innovate relies heavily on risk-taking of listening to more and more of the people in your organization even if that means you will lose some of the agility. Because one thing that companies got wrong is that agility doesn’t mean less input from people who create “noise” in the organization. Instead, agility means the ability to self organize in taking decisions for the organization at every level of the organizational structure. That sort of empowerment comes from the leadership being open to a different sort of reporting and a different approach to knowledge sharing. As companies become more customer-centric, they listen more to consumers, but they still dismiss their own staff in the process.

Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

In this visual I connected the 2 activities that correspond to all types of problems:

  • Sensing
  • Responding

The ability to do these things according to a framework of knowledge belonging to the organization will depend greatly on how knowledge is passed on in the organization. The idea that knowledge is transferred from the top to the bottom of the organization made sense in the past when the sensing of the problems was based on salient information and once embodied the response structure, that became a habit intuitively developed by new members, but the nature of complex or chaotic situations requires action before that sensing part which is no longer salient knowledge. That’s why it’s important to discuss how we do problem-solving in our organization and how we cultivate the relationship to our knowledge base.

How is knowledge passed on?

In some organizations, knowledge has become the central piece of what they keep as IP and many of those are high growth organizations. Many times though, organizing the knowledge library becomes an operational component itself. However, the problem with knowledge transfer is that it depends on a few factors that are beyond the power of the organization to structure. That’s why the HR recruitment process needs to think of these aspects too when adding people to a team.


How can companies manage the relationships between transferor and receiver so as to assure smooth effective communication as a salient knowledge for the members of the organization? The answer to that is by creating a company culture where people of the same learning style are brought together. That’s not to say that you need to bring only men with other men, women with other women, and so on. It just means that the way they look for their information is similar and serves the goal of the organization. Diversity though in other ways is a desired part of the same process of forming culture. We think that culture can only be formed between people with the same characteristics ( physical ones being the easiest to start with) but the new cultures are mixed race, mixed languages, and a melting pot of different opinions. However, they share one thing in common: how they search for information and how they build their knowledge repositories. That comes from a few shared experiences in their initial dynamics with their early learning environments and it’s enough to bring very different people together and form a company culture based on knowledge creation and development.

Source: AQAL model —

On the other hand, how do you transfer tacit knowledge? How do you transfer from the “I” ( individual and interior) to the “we” ( collective and interior to an organization)? That’s what organizational structures solve. While leadership seemed to be more of a management role in the past, it becomes an inspirational business. And the teaching of problem-solving skill moves from tacit to explicit. If you’re wondering how problem-solving can be improved and passed on as knowledge of the organization, think of how much time you spend identifying problems before you jump to solutions. Leadership needs to take a step back in impulsively taking all decisions and allow more space between them and the daily operations so they can properly oversee the ecosystem and the dynamics. That sort of emotional intelligence requires an emotional inner balance to master before they can teach someone else how to own their power of slowing down. The way design thinking came about is a radical new way of helping people in execution and operational functions to slow down in their race to respond to even while having a justification for their lack of fast response. Design thinking emphasizes the empathy process which requires a slower speed to react and more time to think. Having this disclaimer in front of their managers and boss will make them better at what they do and the organization will benefit from the impact of their work as it is closer to the real needs of the customers they serve. However, the time they are allowed to research and the resources they allocate is not the same everywhere. As such there are big discrepancies between companies who really invest in listening to the needs of their customers and thus do the walk and those who only do the talk about it. That’s why it’s important to look at how we plan to make further the transfer of knowledge between the transferor and receiver.

The relationships we can see are as follows:

  • Companies that do the talk and not the walk with their resources and research on users’ needs usually have a top-down approach to knowledge transfer. They focus on the manager passing on the rules and frameworks of the organization so as to assure that the client-facing people or operational people and don’t try to bring the knowledge from customers too high up the hierarchical chain.
  • Companies that do the walk as well will have a double way street communication where the employee who has the customer knowledge transfers knowledge to his managers and the manager negotiates higher up in chain how that knowledge is to be incorporated with the views and directions of the organization. Then, the response of the manager is to transfer a way of working with that newly acquired insight and help the employee sediment and categorize the different insights so it becomes easier to operate with that at scale without overwhelming either the employee or the leadership team. These companies learn to work with big data which is the focus of the next 4th part of my article on what’s beyond design thinking.

Organizational structures have also a big impact on knowledge creation. A system of knowledge sharing can become the backbone of relationships between members of an organization. For example, the more people you depend on to get through to information can become a bottleneck in the transfer and sharing of information. Nodes that stand in the way of knowledge being shared are management overkill. You can see below a set of very famous company structures that reflect their internal learning and development values. In Robert Kegan’s book on DDO’s, he clearly makes the difference between companies that empower that network of nodes to support each other rather than block each other. Developing people is the key to success in organizations that tackle complexity and even chaos in uncertain environments as their bottom-line is a solid foundation of interdependent people who contribute and co-create to the companies knowledge base instead of just consuming it.


If we look at the examples above, we clearly see that Google, Facebook, and Apple heavily rely on their people in order to develop the organization while Oracle, Microsoft, and Amazon have the old fashion model of organizational charts.

Getting real value from the “boring revolution” of bodywork

These practices of embodiment and how we can come down from cerebral thinking to the bodywork and sensations connected to being grounded at all times are the key to get real value into companies. This is probably a “boring revolution” for businesses because it doesn’t focus on pursuing commercial interests as much as it focused on bringing real value to the user. However, that doesn’t mean that one way contradicts the other. By all means, the scope is not to create further polarization but instead to reconcile the mind with the body through a practice that is sustainable for both society and businesses.


What we see in the image above is the fundamental shift that knowledge organizations are making to create a sustainable balance between value creation for the organization outside and inside the organization. As employees of an organization feel they have a contribution of their own to the products and services they put into the world, their role will be more than merely an executant of tasks to lead product roadmaps. As such, they would embed new components that make them better people at an identity level.

The premises on which this shift is going to happen are located at the paradigm level.

In the process of acquiring and transferring knowledge, there’s a fundamental step we need to look at: the identity incorporation or activation illustrated in the picture below.


When individuals go from “I” to “we” as mentioned in the previous article, they are much more willing to transfer and disclose information with their peers. As such, the basic ingredient to create trust is their own sense of gaining meaning from it.

When we ask people in an organization to solve a problem, we usually don’t think of all the factors that influence their way to take action on that problem. That’s why the knowledge transfer is strictly related to the technique and procedure and it often fails to serve as a model for other team members who don’t possess the same level of skills in the context of the problem when encountered again.


The picture above shows the values and biases and the perspective that the person took being the main framework that an individual will take when making a statement on a problem. Of course, we don’t expect someone who doesn’t have that specific problem themselves to have the same level of empathy towards it as to frame it the same way. That’s why knowledge sharing is not happening at this level and very often it’s only a methodology of how to tackle the solution. That’s where companies use design thinking to bring more people together in the hope that they would all influence each other in becoming more empathetic to one another so they can actually represent from their own inner values the problem statement the same way across the organization. However, as I noticed in many such meetings of design sprints, very often teams lose the grip on the insight that matters most for their end-user as soon as they leave the room. That’s where we need to reconcile the zoomed out perspective and the zoomed in insight we just acquired.

In the previous article ( part 3) I spoked about the need to share knowledge across all levels of the organization and make sure the knowledge of specific departments is not left out of the bigger picture. However, what is often difficult is to align and cascade complex strategic goals into actionable chuncks that can be distributed to responsible experts in the organization.


An old model of leadership that allows companies to guide their competitive advantage strategies talks about the tacit knowledge as that knowledge found in individuals spread across the entire organization who are unable to share their ways of working with others because they don’t know how to. In some cases, that type of knowledge is what allows the company to have an inexplicable boom at some point concomitently to their voice becoming louder in the hierarchy. That sort of willful blindness is what makes companies stagnate and not tap into their full innovative potential.

Attributed to Chris Argyris — “Teaching smart people how to learn”. Harvard Business Review (May 1991)

People in such organizations don’t learn beyond a first loop causing them to have a limited knowledge development on the problem. That’s why I associated design thining with a limited methodology to reach a route cause.

Source: Josina Vink —

Josina Vink combined in her PhD thesis the idea of embodied knowledge and the field of service design making it the role of the service designer to help organizations structure how they respond to double loop problem solving scenarios. Her approach clearly summarizes some of the ideas I expressed in the last article and this one. Being able to cut down the chase and make the invisible knowledge visible makes up for a lot of knowledge becoming not just context specific but transferable as non-designers co-create how we use the information acquired throug the reveal of the invisible. This process is supported by a transformation of the leadership level to acces more reflexivity modes outside cognitivem cultural and relational. In fact, introducing corporeal is the way to go about embodied making.

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Spectrum of knowledge created

In the approaches seen illustrated above, Josien Vink summarizes the following notions that help leaders shift from a single loop problem-solving mindset to a double loop problem solving which introduces us to the complexity of design:


The most interesting finding from the Phd of this design researcher was exactly the notion of paradigm shift from cognitive to embodied. She seemed to be on the same track of expressing the need to embed more senses into the process of design and allowing the liberation of the body in the process of business design. Since our bodies are part of the ecosystem we design for business, the corporeal reflexivity needs to be more embedded in the knowledge of the company.

A framework for embodied making in scaling startups

Copyright Irina Damascan 2020

In my framework above I summarized my own thoughts on how companies can tap into complexity beyond design thinking methodologies. However, the limitation of my model at this point is given by the lack of context on the specific cascading of the goals based on the knowledge transfer system existing in a company.

*Should one be interested in a specific application of the model, I am available for consulting on the matter.

Since the model has 4 main pillars, I would start by explaning the logic behind it.

Pilar 1: Mindset -Activism by design

When we think of activist communities of sustainability, for example, the large set of choices this community influences is already a clear ecosystem and could influence economies already. The size of this “trend” no longer qualifies as an early model or a fade, it already shows signs that it’s here to stay. What drove this movement here? The power of systemic design!

Systemic design looks at things in a holistic way. It allows you to zoom in and out of a perspective to see what it is really all about from the embodied experience to the way your rationalize it and take it on in your meta cognitive model.

If you’ve learned as a student ( like I did) that you should unify your approach to design so you can simplify your work, even if it seems constrictive, it still meets one of your biggest needs: the need to feel you’re productive. While creativity and productivity might be at odds with one another, this clash doesn’t apply to systemic approaches. The simple reason being that these things don’t exist in isolation. They are always intertwined and interconnected and we just need to untangle how they work together and deconstruct that process.

While being an architect in school, I learned that in order to be productive I need to simplify my approach to the components of my drawings by making a system. As soon as I had a “system” of components, these items were becoming the smaller energy consumer in my process of designing a building which was my project goal with a higher stake than perfectly aligning all components in a random way. As such, the system of components was becoming a smaller part of my bigger model. By being able to focus on the big picture, I felt more productive but also more creative. So while creativity doesn’t come in the form of speed, being able to have more time to extend the creative process was a prerogative of the efficiency in this constricted process.

The activist mindset is connected to the learning process we’re passing from our mind to our hands and body. Because once I learned that it helps me be more productive and creative to work this way, it became my DNA to behave this way in any other system I would encounter. As such, I naturally promoted in an activist way that we should think holistically, zoom in and out of perspectives, and calibrate our efforts to the impact it has on the outcome. This was part of my training as an architect in my 10+ years of school in 2 different schools of thinking ( both in Romania and the Netherlands).

As such, the myth that design systems are narrowing down creativity is false. However, that doesn’t mean that our acts give us agency to become thought leaders over that domain of expertise. Even if we see activists who are convinced that the world is plane and they have the mental convincing discourse, it doesn’t mean they can prove it just because they never experienced the world as being round. We all need to look at activism with this grain of salt connected to mental models and biases. Even if a lot of people are convinced that what they experience is a conspiracy, that doesn’t prove there is one. We should stick to embodied knowledge in the constant check-in with how we perceive reality and the position we come from when repeating a behavior.

That’s why the systemic change process looks at what people do and nudges towards better behaviors when needed even if it’s role is not to confine to compliance design the user research.

Beyond equality is designing for equity

I heard about this concept in one of Brene Browns’ amazing podcasts and then once made aware of this term I started hearing it more often in service design podcasts and UX podcasts. Now I even read about it in the news of big organizations like Google struggling to form internal policies that favor this way of thinking. Designing for equity comes from a complex range of experiences embedded in the organizational DNA. It’s not the type of policy you can learn with your cognitive pathways. It has to be embodied knowledge from experiences you’ve exposed yourself to. Having this flexibility in your brain connections is the type of emotional intelligence that is nurtured by a healthy organization with fair and balanced relationships between its members. I wrote so much about love relationships that I probably don’t distinguish between the treatment you apply to a wounded lover and the one you apply to a selfish colleague that comes at you demanding things you shouldn’t feel responsible for. However, if you have that practice from your most intimate relationships, it’s going to be a natural extension to apply that treatment to your colleagues and patiently understands their wounds and need before jumping to judge. That’s what equity is also talking about.

Pilar 2: Tooling -Systems design and the role of big data

One of the biggest hurdles of human-centric design is that it takes into account what people believe they need and what they aspire to solve their problems. The other issue is that design thinking in human-centric design is still about the thinking and the metacognitive process of how we solve problems. However, my theory relies heavily on other research methods that are only recently developed due to new technologies and advanced data analysis.

Big data can really change this “thinking” part for the better. How? Big data provides us with massive evidence of how people behave. It’s like having a living lab with all your users in their natural environment and having a big brother to observe their every move. So what do we do then?

Instead of looking for evidence of how people think and what they say they want ( the metacognitive marketing research), we can start noticing what they do. This type of observed pattern of behaviors becomes then the basis of our intervention and we can decide to nudge for a better behavior or build on existing behavior and act as a compliance manager. The pillars of this new insight into user needs will be from an embodiment perspective because we analyze what they already do and how they use whatever product or service we want to research.

The influence of this new research will inform how the ecosystem of components in this new design system should be drafted. However hard it may be to redefine the way we form these systems, the difference is that they won’t be in any way commercially capturing users.

No more lock-in systems as we transition to an adopted system paradigm!

While we already see a lot of people being advocates of certain brands by choice, this model of thinking in an activist way. These activists are becoming a broader category of consumers with very well-formed opinions about specific topics. This is by no chance a new way of thinking. In the past, the same people would have been called negatively with titles like “brain-washed”, “hippies”, “religious groups” and so on. The idea that a large number of people of very different backgrounds might share very common values and beliefs about the world they live in is influencing the design “thinking” because it makes us create way too many approaches to incorporate all of them when in reality they all do the same thing with our product. That’s why we need to stop thinking about how they are different and look at what they have in common: the embodied knowledge of using that product or service.

What further changes in the approach of allowing big data to inform our design decisions are that we capture more than the thinking process, we capture the emotions of using the product and that’s what connects with people more in the same way a value they have will influence all further decisions.

Pilar 3: Knowledge transfer

Organizations meant to scale have a structure in place that allows the address the questions that make pivotal moments in the product or revenue streams of the company. Companies that have a structure in place for learning and developing individuals don’t hold on to ideas and products that might have a short lived success. Instead they focus on passing down or up the knowledge and developing people that understand and participate actively in the ecosystem they create within their industry. This means that a scaling organization will look more into the potential of the relationships between people than in the power of the innovative product they created. Most companies are afraid to “let go” of the control that technology gives them. That’s why they rely more on processes and technology than people. But truly open organizations will always rely on the emotions of people invested in the company and scale with the power they foster within the organization by sharing knowledge across teams.

Pilar 4: Organizational design

Designing an organization that scales depends on many factors that play a role in the beginning of the company when there’s little structure and understanding of the market you will play in. However, as the company grows, the design engine must start creating the links between departments and enable the previously explained pillars. This is probably the most misinterpreted pillar of all. You don’t need to have this only when you get to a new milestone or hit a plateau. You need to start this from day one and think of the different stages you will go through and plan your resources for ever stage. That means that you might have great founders that will no longer be fit to run the company as soon as you reach a new milestone of FTE’s they can’t handle anymore. And that’s fine! Companies grow and people outgrow companies the same way. However, someone needs to overlook the backbone of the company at all times. This does not mean that the founder should be an active founder at all times, but it does mean that stepping down is part of the process of maturing the company just as it is in laying its foundation in the beginning. Many founders overlook this aspect of organizational design and hang on too long to the reins of the company. We can see the consequences of that in companies like Oracle, Tesla or Apple where the image of the company is too much linked to the image of the founder and affects stock levels at some point. But more on Organizational design in this article.