This week features a series of posts endeavoring to draw themes from the Delight Conference 2014 in Portland, as well as Design Week Portland. I shall each day post some thoughts collected in categories of creativity, curiosity, meaning, community, and empathy.


“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived”
– M. Scott Peck

To live it more fully, we should embrace curiosity. I thoroughly enjoyed Dave Gray’s day closing keynote at Delight 2014. One of his many succinct doodle diagrams illustrated how people like the familiar and, even with a yearning for little moments of surprise, typically come back to the predictable comfort of the known. That point book ended a conference day that had begun with Genevieve Bell making a similar observation. This innate human tendency towards the familiar may account to some degree for those designing user experiences merely to iterate their service or product experience, as any dramatic breakthrough enhancement would disrupt our preference for the predictable. This leaves us on the one hand pandering to the inhibitions of a status quo mindset while, on the other, hoping to create a paradigm-shifting concept (think Ford cars or smartphones, perhaps) that is a delightful surprise (and huge success, of course… ). We find ourselves perpetuating Ralph Waldo Emerson’s critique that “The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.”

Francis Bacon Instauratio Magna frontispiece 1620While certainty is a trait that we adhere to, it anesthetizes our zest for the unusual, and I would suggest that we do not do enough to create experiences that encourage our intrinsic curiosity. Indeed, if as Genevieve Bell asserts we naturally possess an urge to keep secrets and to tell lies, we need a mechanism such as curiosity to provide a subject desirous of piercing that veil of secrecy and deceit. Therefore, instead of trying to remedy uncertainty, provide the familiar or manifest a culture of disinterest, curiosity offer user experience consultants the methodology to spur us to new landscapes of experience. The challenge with curiosity is that it requires accepting that there are things we do not know, that we do not understand. As Brené Brown pointed out in her book, Daring Greatly, “Most people and most organizations can’t stand the uncertainty and the risk of real innovation. Learning and creativity are inherently vulnerable. There’s never enough certainty. People want guarantees.” Patricia Colley’s Serious Play workshop featured activities and approaches that may help us and our audience break through those challenges. The classic Improv rule that one should respond to another with “Yes, and… ” serves to slow our inner critic and empower our openness to possibilities.

“Dare to know!”
Immanuel Kant

An essential characteristic of conversational activity is that we approach it openly and with some curiosity. By approaching the world with curiosity, we allow ourselves to be seen more fully by the others and, indeed, allow for more honest self-awareness. Entering a conversation with no agenda, no intention to persuade, or manifesting a conscious or unconscious resistance to listen authentically lays the ground for our conversation to work on us a little, even to change us in some way. The famed eighteenth century essayist, Samuel Johnson, described curiosity as a “thirst of the soul.” We are inquisitive creatures. A motivation towards curiosity is a momentum into living.


Tomorrow: This post concludes the thematic series of reflections on Delight 2014, and I shall conclude shortly with some random observations…