Co-creating the Living Social Organism Design Disco

Over the past three years I have been involved in the co-creation of Design Disco. No, it is not a disco club. The “Disco” stands for Discovery, although we also like to have a good time. In this post I want to try and outline some of the lessons I have learned while being part of this experiment, and my vision for the future of what could come.

First off I should share a bit of what this whole disco things is about. We are a non profit organization with the mission to show people the world through the window of design. Meaning, we essentially want everyone to discover design, and how they can use design thinking in their everyday lives to “dissolve” problems they face.

Schools teach science, humanities, sports, arts, and many other disciplines of thought and activity, however design is largely left out of the curriculum. We believe this needs to change, and so we just started doing it ourselves. It all began as a group of friends in college, visiting high schools and sharing about design through a presentation and an exercise. It was really small, just a fragile idea that was planted like a seed.

Fast forward to the present moment and we have come a really long way. We have taught over 1,000 students with over 600 volunteer hours by our incredible instructors. We have spread to Norway and Turkey, with around 60 volunteers in total.

This is exciting and all, however what have I learned along the way?

1 Start small

This has been a big personal lesson. Often it is very fun to start new projects, and have new ideas. However, if you get hung up on large fantastical ideas, it becomes really overwhelming to bring it back down to earth and take real actions towards achieving all those ideas. So start small, don’t overwhelm yourself. If its meant to happen, it will take off in time. The worst thing to do is squish a good idea because of inpatients, or give up right before things were about to take off. Its a bit like gardening. If you plant a seed, you won’t see any activity for a few days and you might think it is dead. Then all of a sudden, it will sprout and then the growth will continue exponentially until you can hardly believe you thought it was dead.

2 Dream big

This may sound contrary to the previous lesson, however it can be in fact be symbiotic. When starting new projects, the greater part of motivation to bring the idea to life, comes from the big dream of it. The potential you see in that idea. This is really important to catalyze engagement and bring people together around the same vision. It is also important to have a north star, a guiding vision or goal which you can check your progress against. Just remember, the big dream is not a fixed mandate. It can evolve, and most likely will evolve naturally. This is a good thing, its how the team or “social living organism” will grow and evolve.

3 Organizations/teams are alive

As I mentioned the term social living organism. I have learned to see teams and our whole organization as a kind of living organism. Seeing through this lens is crucial to cultivating an adaptive innovative social organism. How we name the world, influences our perception of the world. As Goethe put it, “How we see people is how we treat them, and how we treat them is who they become.” I find this idea can be applied to communities of people. As soon as we see them as alive, we begin to treat them with life, and thus they become more alive. And what is the key characteristic of life? Well that is a much larger question, but in this situation I was thinking it is the capacity to evolve, adapt and collaborate. These are some of the key principles of a living system:

Divergent parts

Convergent whole

Dynamic relationships

Ongoing self organizing

Put succinctly: A living system integrates divergent parts, into a convergent whole, in dynamic relationship internally and externally, in an ongoing moment-by-moment process of self organizing and self creation.

4 The greatest human motivations are intrinsic not extrinsic

Being part of an all volunteer organization. I have come to realize that the greatest motivations for people are not extrinsic. Extrinsic motivations will certainly get people moving, but we don’t want to just move. If we are a social living organism, we want to feel, empathize and steer our movement collectively. In order to unlock passion and innovation, we need to help one another find our intrinsic motivations. That which we desire to fulfill in our lives, that which gives us energy and life when we partake in it. Namely, we want to find meaningful, purposeful activities which we can collectively and individually find intrinsic motivations in.

5 For all the intrinsic motivation and nice ideas about living social organisms. We are all human.

I have found it is important to always remember we are all human beings. This translates to many insights.

We all see the world from our own point of view.

We are all free to act from our values.

We all need to have shelter, food and community.

We all make mistakes.

We can all learn and change.

We miss understand one another sometimes.

We are not as perfect as our dreams.

But we are all alive (similar to lesson 3).

I am sure there are many more lessons and I may come to update this post in the future as they become apparent to me. However for now that feels complete.

We have also learned a lot as a living social organism (organization). Although this is a part time activity for all of us, it has begun to grow into more than that. So how do I see the future for this experiment?

The longer I spend thinking and experiencing. The more I can observe and deduce. However, until I step into action, I will never learn. If we are really going to explore and discover design and its meaningful potential in each persons life, I believe we need to understand the underlying architecture of impactful work. From my observations, this architecture is distributed, close to the edges, and on the ground. Making in person contact, learning through doing, sharing experience with many others and playing a dance of personal exploration and collective learning. Collective action, and personal fulfillment.

I am absolutely sure that design discovery will continue to grow in the world, and I believe that as a movement and as a catalyst, Design Disco will continue to be apart of that growth. We have a wide field of potential, we are in a space wholly outdated in its methods and practice: education. Our generation is an internet generation, we value experience over possession, networks over hierarchies, and intrinsic over extrinsic motivation.

When thinking of the design of this social organism, Design Disco. I envision a scaled ecosystem of many Design Discovery ventures across the world. Ranging from supplementary university courses, to high school workshops, summer programs, team design thinking workshops, conferences on design and design thinking and much more. I can see an ecosystem, of networks, of collective teams, sharing knowledge internally and externally to catalyze an exponential growth of access to and understanding of design thinking. Some very interesting new types of organizing patterns for distributed self organizing teams are being developed and shared openly by organizations such as, Ouishare, Enspiral, Gini, Crisp, and Valve.

There are a plethora of wonderful ideas that come to my mind which I believe will play into the future of Design Disco. Such as: creating new distributed crediting systems for courses so that the majority of learning which takes place outside of universities can be better valued and made visible. Being part of the maker and Fablab movements, bringing design thinking into this space of tinkering and making. Experimenting with new forms of social organizing using new forms of current-sees (symbol systems which make value visible) in order to empower our social living organism to steer itself collectively and in a highly agile fashion.

I could go on and on, but I should probably get to working on it already instead of just dreaming.

If you are curious about Design Disco and how you could get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via email or on social media. We are always looking for new passionate members, including those who have a background in something other than design.

If you want to stay up to date on our development follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Also check out our blog.

Thank you very much for reading! I hope that some of what I discussed may have sparked your interest.

Inspirations for this article:

Very geeky talk on new internet architectures by Arthur Brock.

Meta Currency talk on the future digital currencies and how they will allow us to form new social living organisms.

Great video from an Enspiral member about circles of harmless organizing.

Fablabs are something I am really excited about always so I’ll just through this in here.