That Feeling of Believing


For the past couple of years, Arun Maira has been an observer, participant, advisor and even patron, I suppose, of the Design Public process. At our last event at the National Museum in New Delhi, his comments seemed to cap and bring the entire day’s proceedings to a head somehow. I went to meet him at his offices in Yojana Bhawan recently to talk about this experience and how we should move forward with the Design Public process as a whole.

I began, for some reason, talking about the tiered theory of innovation that we have been developing at CKS: tactical coping mechanisms (jugaad) < cost optimizing (frugal innovation) < value creation through user-centered design. At present, I argued, there rages a wild confusion in India about how these three relate to one another, and decision makers are largely innocent of how design processes can be used to create kinds of value that have never existed before – new kinds of experiences that grow complexity in society and value in the economy.

Well so what, Mr. Maira suddenly said. How does is really matter what specific strategy people take? I was somewhat taken aback, and stared back in confusion.

How to make new products and services, he said again, is largely known. It is known somewhere. Maybe we don’t know it enough in India, but in California, in London, there is expertise there, we can tap it. You are also providing it, so you certainly know it — it is something known. It is something settled. Almost by definition it is not an area of innovation. It can bring about or accelerate innovation, but it’s not something we should focus on in a forum like Design Public.

What I have found most interesting about your forum, which is also why I got involved, is the way it brings people together from different sections of society to solve problems together. This is something rare and valuable. How do you get people out of their everyday rut, get them into a space where they can imagine something larger and more meaningful than they are currently involved with? How do you get them to stop distrusting one another, and bring them to a place where they build bridges together. Frankly, this is something not very well known.

Once people find ways of talking with each other about solving problems, they will automatically get to a point where they start asking where they can gain access to the strategy, product development, design and all the other inputs they require as they move forward towards a solution. But how to get people to a point where they believe that they can get to solutions in the first place? That’s what Design Public should continue to be about – a place for a particular kind of conversation, where that feeling is made to arise.

It follows that for your next event you’ll have to be very careful about the kinds of individuals you bring in, from the bureaucracy, from government, from private sector, from social sector, from media, from overseas. You don’t want people who will only say, well, that’s they way the system is, it can’t be changed. You want people who know the system, but are willing to think about how it can be changed.

You’ve shown that you can do this now, over three iterations, it’s time to take it to the next level.


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