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02 JANUARY 2013

Facing ambiguity differently across design, business and technology

"team[s] of students of mixed disciplines worked together to understand and map a problem–space (identified by the client). They then defined a solution–space before focussing on a particular opportunity outcome. The range of projects included incremental innovation opportunities represented by the Lego and Hasbro projects through radical Philips work to truly disruptive work with Unilever. The studies confirmed stereotypical view points of how different disciplines may behave. They showed that design students were more (but not completely) comfortable with the ambiguous aspects associated with 'phase zero' problem–space exploration and early stage idea generation. They would only commit to a solution when time pressures dictated that this was essential in order to complete the project deliverables on time and they were happy to experiment with, and develop, new methods without a clear objective in mind. In contrast, the business students were uncomfortable with this ambiguity and were more readily able to come to terms with incremental innovation projects where a systematic approach could be directly linked to an end goal. The technologists, were more comfortable with the notion of the ambiguous approach leading to more radical innovation, but needed to wrap this in an analytical process that grounded experimentation. Meanwhile, the designers were unclear and unprepared to be precise when it came to committing to a business model. "

(Mark Bailey, 2010, p.42)

Bailey, M. (2010). "Working at the Edges". Networks, Art Design Media Subject Centre (ADM–HEA). Autumn 2010.

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TAGS

2007ADM-HEAambiguityambiguity and uncertainty • ambiguous approach • analytical processapproaches to ambiguitybusinessbusiness modelclear objectivesclient needscollaboration • core competency • Cox Reviewdecision making • design outcome • design teamsdesign thinkingdisciplinary culturesdisciplinary knowledge • disruptive work • Dorothy Leonard-Barton • end goal • grounded experimentation • Hasbro • idea generationincremental innovationinnovation practice skillsinterdisciplinarityinterpretive perspective • learning cultures • LEGO • multidisciplinary design • multidisciplinary teamsNorthumbria Universityopen-ended process • pedagogical cultures • phase zero • Philips Researchproblem-solvingproblem-solving • problem-space • project deliverablesproject teamsradical innovationrequirements gatheringsolution-space • sub-disciplinary specialisation • systematic approach • T-shaped individuals • T-shaped people • T-shaped skillsthinking stylesUnileverworking methodsworking practices

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
22 APRIL 2012

Cooperation and collaboration: problem solving and problem finding

"The economists Richard Lester and Michael Piore have studied the firms that sought to create the switching technology, finding that cooperation and collaboration within certain companies allowed them to make headway on the switching technology problem, whereas internal competition at other corporations diminished engineers' efforts to improve the quality of the switches. Motorola, a success story, developed what it called a 'technology shelf,' created by a small group of engineers, on which were placed possible technical solutions that other teams might use in the future; rather than trying to solve the problem outright, it developed tools whose immediate value was not clear. Nokia grappled with the problem in another collaborative way, creating an open–ended conversation among its engineers in which salespeople and designers were often included. The boundaries among business units in Nokia were deliberately ambiguous, because more than technical information was needed to get a feeling for the problem; lateral thinking was required. Lester and Piore describe the process of communication this entailed as 'fluid, context–dependent, undetermined.'[20]

By contrast, companies like Ericsson proceeded with more seeming clarity and discipline, dividing the problem into its parts. The birth of the new switch was intended to occur through 'the exchange of information' among offices 'rather than the cultivation of an interpretative community.'[21] Rigidly organized, Ericsson fell away. It did eventually solve the switching technology problem, but with greater difficulty; different offices protected their turf. In any organization, individuals or teams that compete and are rewarded for doing better than others will hoard information. In technology firms, hoarding information particularly disables good work.

The corporations that succeeded through cooperation shared with the Linux community that experimental mark of technological craftsmanship, the intimate, fluid join between problem solving and problem finding. Within the framework of competition, by contrast, clear standards of achievement and closure are needed to measure performance and to dole out rewards.

[20] Richard K. Lester and Michael J. Piore, Innovation, the Missing Dimension (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), 98.

[21] Ibid., 104."

(Richard Sennett, 2008, pp.32–33)

1). Sennett, R. (2008). "The Craftsman". New Haven & London, Yale University Press.

TAGS

2008boundaries • business units • clarity and discipline • closurecollaborationcommunicationcommunication processcompetitioncompetitive teams • context-dependent communication • cooperationcooperation and collaborationcorporationscraftsmanship • deliberately ambiguous • designers • dividing problems into parts • dole out rewards • engagementengineers • fluid communication • framework of competition • hoarding information • information exchangeinformation in context • internal competition • interpretative community • lateral thinkingLinux • Linux community • measure performance • Michael Piore • MotorolaNokia • open-ended conversation • participationperformanceperformativityproblem findingproblem solving and problem findingproblem-solvingreward • Richard Lester • Richard SennettsalespeopleshareSony Ericssonstandards of achievementsuccess • switching technology • technical information • technical solutions • technological craftsmanship • technology shelf • The Craftsman • undetermined communication • working methods

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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