In-house Issues: In The Land Of the Blind The One-eyed Designer Is King

It’s a biological fact that human beings’ brains filter out information that doesn’t jive with their personal worldview – they simply can’t see it. This fact makes it practically impossible for corporate groupies, whose identities are rooted in their companies’ collective self, to engage in the kind of innovative thinking that would benefit their organizations. There is a solution, though, and it’s designers who play the pivotal role.

In a fascinating article in Wired magazine, “Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up”, Jonah Lehrer brings up the point that the status of being a marginalized outsider often overrides an individual’s reflexive censorship of ideas or observations that challenge the status quo. Enter in-house designers who often consider themselves to be foreigners in a corporate world where, frankly, many of their peers in other departments view them that way as well. This alien social position actually allows these creatives’ minds to perceive situations and behave in ways that their business colleagues’ brains literally cannot. They see problems and opportunities that seem to them to be so obvious that they can’t figure out why no one else can’t see them too.

I can recall dozens of times, in high-level meetings, wondering if I was missing something when my colleagues were approaching strategic challenges in ways that seemed to take no note of the realities of the problem they were trying to address. It was only after speaking with my design co-workers that I realized I wasn’t losing my mind and that there were real gaps in the logic my non-design peers were applying to a particular issue or initiative. It felt like the emperor’s new clothes, yet I now understand that this wasn’t a case of willful or self-serving ignorance. It was, or rather is, a psychological and biological roadblock.

So the next time you find yourself scratching your head and doubting your sanity and intellect, know that you know what you know and that, chances are, the rest of the group doesn’t. Then screw up your courage and see if you can apply some needed logic to the dialogue.