Why don't we embrace the curve?

By Cyndi Dawes.

Despite the world around me being comprised of elegant curves and whorls, much of my adult learning and work has reinforced linear thinking. There’s inherent strength built into curves; for instance curved and bendy trees and branches can flex with wind and rain, straight trees break. However, a part of my western culture and heritage I’ve been taught to look for causality, to use lines to divide things up: it’s this or that. But is that the best way to change the world, to make life better, to solve problems? I’m pretty sure actually that it isn’t.

How would we embrace curvature more in our design and problem solving? Imagine if we could hold dual ideas and possibilities in our minds at once… would that be enriching and powerful?

Let’s look at the concept of Yin and Yang. Derived from observations of the shady side of the hill, darkness, Yin, and the sunny side or brightness, Yang. There is no either/or here. The hill exists as a single entity; both sides exist and are interconnected. In our own problem solving and design we can incorporate this idea of the balance of opposing elements and happy co-existence. In my experience it allows a spaciousness for thinking, and expands possibility. It can help us to have a sense of comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. Recognising that all things are transient and change allows us to embrace ambiguity without substituting simplicity or certainty. It recognises design as a process, not an event. There’s a freedom in that.

At Huddle, when we start a new project with a client partner we often share the nature of the design journey; full of twists and curves and loops. We need to do this because standard teaching about project management or problem solving can be represented by gantt charts—a series of straight lines. Those of us who have worked on any project involving other people (i.e. every project) know that they can be characterised by loops and sweeping curves! There’s a certain freedom in exploring the non linear and circular nature - not only of process - but of the connections we can make between parts of systems. It opens us up to seeing more of the whole picture and enables us to think systemically. Using metaphors to help in this work can unlock some of this curvy power: untangling knots, creating ripples in water, seeing connected things as constellations, and following boats down rivers are all examples of these.

Unlearning our linear perception has the power to expand the potential of our work. Not only in our mindsets but in how we build our ways of working with client partners, and how we structure our projects to allow for emergent ideas and true insight to guide the work. Of course there are always time limitations, but it is possible to minimise our design constraints whilst keeping track of project milestones in order to further explore ideas. Keep these open curvy conversations with your team in mind when beginning on a new path.

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