Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cosmic Disruptive Design Thinking

Clayton Christensen is the smartest (and humblest) Legend You've Never Met.

He holds a B.A. with highest honors in economics from Brigham Young University, a Master of Philosophy in applied econometrics from Oxford, was a Rhodes Scholar, has a MBA with high distinction and a Doctor of Business Administration from Harvard. While at Oxford, Christensen, who's 6 foot 8, was also the starting center for the men's basketball team. In 2011, Forbes called him "one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years." He is best known for the theory of and series of books on Disruptive Innovation, which explores how and why businesses fail.

At its core, Disruptive Innovation asserts that businesses are created to fill needs )"do a job") and in order to survive they must adapt to constantly changing conditions or they will be displaced by more efficient delivery systems. 

Considered on a theoretical level Disruptive Innovation seems like pretty dry stuff. What is really interesting about Clay is that he is also a deeply spiritual individual with a very human-centered side - which takes us to the subject of this blog posting; Those who follow this blog will recall my previous posting about the influence of Rene Descartes, who laid the foundation for the modern method of Scientific Inquiry, which is probably how you and your children were taught to learn and solve problems.

If we take a step back and consider Scientific Inquiry in the context of Disruptive Innovation, an interesting question arises; Science and Religion as competing businesses models - will one Disruptively Innovate the other out of existence?

The Cosmic Battle of the Artists and Engineers

If you change the context of the question to consider essential elements of human nature, a fascinating point of commonality emerges; How do you deal with ambiguity?

It doesn't matter what the nature is of what you don't know. 
What matters is what you -  or your client - does in response to not knowing.

The Human Response to Ambiguity

Ambiguous choices are different from risky decisions. With an ambiguous choice you know neither the outcome nor the probability of success. "Psychologists would say ambiguity is the discomfort  you feel from knowing there is something you don't know and wish you did," says Colin Camerer, an economist at the California Institute of Technology.

Ambiguity is accompanied by activation of the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, two areas of the brain that are involved in the processing of emotions. In particular, the amygdala has been found to be closely associated with fear.

A correlation between aversion to ambiguous decisions and activation of emotional parts of the brain makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, Camerer says. "Freezing in the face of danger is an old, emotional response which probably was evolutionarily adaptive in our ancestral past." In the modern human brain, this translates into a reluctance to bet on or against an event if it seems at all ambiguous.

Both Science and Religion attempt to resolve the existential discomfort humans feel when confronted with ambiguity. This isn't their only purpose, but it is an area of significant overlap. What is very different, at least on the surface, are the rules and tools which are allowed. Science wants "hard facts" religion embraces feelings. Science is about what we observe outside ourselves and others Religion is about what goes on inside and this is where I think things are about to change.

Over the past few years Science's ability to literally look inside our heads and observe in real time what is happening neuro-chemically in the brain has pulled back the curtain on all sorts of human behavior. At the same time genetic science has begin to illuminate the characteristics of the neurons - which is like understanding the sensitivity of an analog circuit - so we can predict more accurately how the system will respond to an input (stimulus).

What comes next are longitudinal studies which will help to inform questions like; How long does it take to learn and integrate a change in human behavior? What are the limits of response, which influence the range of behaviors someone is capable of? What is learned or learnable and where are the limits of the system as currently "defined" by individual DNA?  In the Nature vs. Nurture Debate; Are how soft or hard are the boundaries, both in surface and location?

Perhaps the the core difference between preferring a faith based or scientific approach to problem solving is the result of how comfortable someone feels with the discomfort of ambiguity.

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