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Discomfort By Design

“Everyone had a very top-down approach, and it brought the same individuals as always to the table.” — Antionette Carroll

This quote, from the founder of the social justice nonprofit Creative Reaction Lab, struck me as astute and succinct.

Top-down approaches are easy. They’re controlled, predictable, and efficient. Those aren’t bad things, but they risk becoming the central values and vision of any enterprise if you exclusively rely on them.

The second part of her quote — bringing the same individuals as always to the table — is another simple, but overlooked truth.

I like to surround myself with familiar faces, familiar opinions, because then I don’t have to feel discomfort or even inconvenience. I don’t have to truly listen because the familiarity lets me know what’s going to be said. And the repeated invitations to the table also creates a kind of entitlement for those invited. I begin to feel special, begin to feel ownership of my “chair” and become invested in protecting my spot rather than solving problems.

How can I design my next meeting, my next class, my next interaction with this in mind? Who do I need to hear from that will challenge me? Whose voice needs to be part of the solutions I’m seeking?

These are my new design-thinking questions — especially as I consider the huge work of education.