Monday, January 09, 2006

Design Wisdom

In November 2005, the Center for Balance by Design facilitated a panel at a BuildBoston workshop titled Gender Synergy and Teamwork. This program consolidated some interesting reflections on the design process. The panel was composed of Frances Bronet, the female Dean of Architecture at the University of Oregon, Bob Knecht, Ph.D., Professor of Engineering Design at Colorado School of Mines, and Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., a social scientist and Associate Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women. There was agreement among our panelists and program attendees of the following:

 Design follows power (contrary to the popular belief that form follows function)..
 An unexamined design repeats itself.
 The design process, and the systems, structures and artifacts designed, can equalize power.

The capacity to envision and create processes, systems, structures and artifacts that equalize power has profound implications for design education, design leadership and the future of teamwork. My hypothesis, based on my research and observations of gender-specific strengths, is that men and women have varying approaches, preferences and capacities to inspire, own, share and transfer power. When structures supporting an equitable power distribution (versus traditional power-advantage structures) are clarified and made visible to all, most people will support the more equitable structure.

This is a lot to think about. If we could equalize the power equation, everyone could be free express thoughts, feelings and wisdom.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Our Center Elevator Speech

If you have ever read a book or attended a seminar about networking (the social kind) or marketing, rule number on is that everyone needs an elevator speech. This speech assumes that most people have an attention span of five seconds or less so when you are asked what you do, or what your business does, you can provide a quick response that is clear and interesting enough for people to want to learn more.

I am trained in marketing communications, and have been both a marketing and public relations consultant so you can imagine my embarrassment and frustration to not have an elevator speech! At one point in the early stages of Center for Balance by Design, we had a strategic planning meeting and one of the big questions was "What if we do not figure out what IT is?" (IT being what the Center does.) I kept saying IT was about creating an inclusive work culture...and people would just glaze over. The word "culture" obviously meant more to me than to most others because I have gotten a lot of blank stares.

A couple of weeks it just came to me. I was at a networking (the social kind) event in western Massachusetts. It was a program to attract engineers to ACEC (American Consulting Engineers Council) of Massachusetts. I am a member of the ACEC membership committee. I had a name tag on with my name and "Center for Balance by Design". One of the engineers came up to me and asked "What does Center for Balance by Design do?" I said (effortlessly, like rolling off a log) "We create structures to optimize teamwork." He said, "I completely understand. You hold forums for engineers to help them find common ground and communicate. We really need help in this area." I was speechless. He completely understood the essence of our work based on my one short sentence. I tried it out with some other people, and everyone liked it. Some people added their own emphasis because "structure" has many levels of meaning. For example, one architect thought I was speaking about physical space or objects, like the shape of a room or shape of a table...and our work includes physical space and a number of other "structures" like work processes, compensation systems and organizational structures (to name just a few). As our meaning of "structure" is broad and inclusive, everyone's interpretation is correct.