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This post is based upon an email (with some expansions/deletions) to an industry colleague in the product design world.

Dear X

Recently, I have been trying to dig into the fundamental cognitive underpinnings of creativity/design via Chomskian grammar (e.g. see this paper:

My quest is really to understand and eventually document the axioms of innovation, more narrowly within the confines of product design, so that real work can be done without having to resort to fads – and dogmas – like “Lean.”

Much of what passes for product design, and even design thinking, is dogma or stupidity, often at the behest of managers with budgets and beliefs, mostly false ones. I fully suspect that most managers heading up “innovation projects” know that they are making it up as they go along and only pretending to follow logic lest it becomes obvious that a game is afoot.

When all is said and done about innovation, it is not really an empirical science and so a good deal of it has to be guided by some kind of overarching principles that are more rooted in metaphysics, culture and even morality, than empirical science.

However, it seems that such concerns are seldom discussed because the subject of product design is almost always couched within the unquestioned (and therefore hidden) dogmas of markets, a term we somehow still insist on using despite clear evidence that not a single economist, or product designer (or marketeer) has ever understood the concept (outside of theoretical and often dogmatic schools of thought, or, of course, management fads, assuming they amount to anything other than a bunch of buzzwords like “Red Ocean”).

This is assuming we can actually say what a market is, which I highly doubt. Indeed, it is hard to say what a product really is, if we’re honest. A coat is not a coat when it’s say, a Burberry coat.

Interestingly, if we cannot say what a market really is, then we might argue, at least metaphysically, that goals like product-market fit are illusory and can never be satisfied. There is an apparent paradox here, but it might well explain why so little products actually succeed – i.e. they “fit” exactly to nothing.

My argument is rather than optimize the chances of success within the narrow confines of idealized or essentialized markets, why not simply redefine what success means in more pragmatic terms and thereby make more productive use of so much human effort that is wasted on failed product ventures.

It would seem that the future of our planet is somewhat dependent upon creative thinkers doing useful work, whatever that is (but surely it isn’t creating useless products based upon dogmas). And I say that without any fear of hyperbole.

The future of the planet has always been dependent upon creative thinkers, and, unpopular as it is to say so in most “cultured” circles, the most useful creatives – and therefore culture creators – are engineers and scientists. You know, it’s the stuff that those spotty “STEM” kids do whilst their friends pursue, umm, “cultural” things.

This part of human culture is conveniently left out of so many polemics about culture, especially those who bemoan “multi” culture because they see it as some kind of dilutive threat to their they narrow vision of culture, which is something, apparently, to do with values.

If there is an undisputed universal value, then it is surely the value of science and engineering. After all, whilst we might all bicker about such trifles as the status of women (aka “Deformed Males“) no one argues about the value of clean water, chemotherapy, smart phones, airplanes or vaccines, all courtesy of scientists and engineers. (Actually, some of the culture freaks do – they refuse to adopt the simple Bayesian logic of protecting their kids from potentially disabling diseases.)

If what I say here has any resonance, I plan to convene the occasional virtual, and perhaps physical, meetings of like-minded (or not) individuals to dream of a new product design narrative that actually treats the oft-posed question of “What problem are we trying to solve?” with some appropriate urgency given the apparent plight of the species. At the very least we should aim to understand the axioms of innovation versus the faddish dogmas. Then the work of design can begin.

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