Love and materials: fail gracefully

An interesting debate has broken out, touched on here and here, regarding the role of process in innovation. Monkeymagic has this take, which I found interesting for a couple of reasons. One, because Piers Young brings architecture into the discussion, and I love beautiful buildings and objects. Secondly, he's skeptical of process. Done badly it narrows choices without offering hope that what's left is better than what could have been.

Using the example of paper tube structures used by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, Young points out that good structures can be built with simple, modular materials and some perspective. These buildings can withstand earthquakes because they move with the earth. Moreover, a Guardian newspaper story on Shigeru Ban, referenced by Young, suggests we will use what we love:

The lifespan of a building has nothing to do with the materials. It depends on what people do with it. If a building is loved, then it becomes permanent. When it is not loved, even a concrete building can be temporary.

This resonates with me because I love stone walling and stone walls. Central Kentucky, where I live, is blessed with stone walls lining many rural roads and pasture. Built without mortar, or "dry laid," they're resilient. And properly built, they fail gradually and gracefully. One stone moving might pull another stone out of place, but not entire sections. A mortared wall, by contrast, can fail in large sections.

Young wonders how simple and modular processes can build longstanding structures:

I'm not sure yet what I think about all this. I know that focusing solely on Process (capital P) is blinkered, and to be fair, I think many organisational architects understand this (see e.g. McKinsey's 7S model or Burke-Litwin). What is harder, perhaps, is finding the equivalent of those little paper tubes, the strong (but not necessarily rigid) structures or processes (small p) and the materials to support people in organisations. "Love and resilience" is a bizarrely hard sell on its own.

Without failure, sustained creative processes are impossible. So the question I'm left with is this: how will I fail?

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