DC Edu Diary #1 — Putting Context into Perspective

Let’s begin with some context. First, I was completely and 100% sober when I wrote this. Second, I have started a 4 week Design Thinking course with Mustefa Jo’shen of Design Cofounders. Third, My professional background has always been anchored in engineering and I decided it is time to add a different perspective. With an open mindset this 4 week exercise will be a step in that direction. This post will be the first of many documenting the journey I embark on with a dozen or so other students and Mustefa.


Day 1 was all about understanding context. Any kind of problem solving exercise must be grounded in some sort of context — or not? What does it mean to each of one of us? The first portion of the class was spent exploring this together. Everything starts with the obligatory Google search and the results are very interesting. Not so much the definition that was brought up, but the details around the Latin orgin. The word “context” originates from the combination of the Latin words con (together) and texere (to weave) resulting in the Latin origin contextus. That’s really cool.

Our context isn’t something we are each born with. It’s neither something we develop at a certain age or after a certain amount of time. If I were to define it based on the above Latin origin I think I would define it as:

the outcome of an ongoing process throughout our lives that weaves different layers on top of some layers, in between other layers, or discarding (completely or even partially) other layers, creating our current understanding of any idea, event, or situation.

During the class we start working on this diagram to try and explore this word “context”. What is our current context? Is it ourselves and our surroundings? Is it just the physical? or does it have emotional, psycholigical or other types of variables? In the class we decide that context is centered around ourselves. In the diagram that’s in the center of the pyramid where you see the written pronunciation of my name: “NAH-ILL” — which is now part of my context when meeting new people since I immigrated to Canada in 2000. Side note: my Starbucks name is hence “Sam”.

Outside our selves, we are surrounded by other people with their own contexts, physical and geographic locations also with their own contexts. Is there an end? Can we keep moving out of “contexts” into other “contexts” to infinity? Or does it end somewhere? I think it does. Eventually we reach facts and absolute truths that just don’t change.

I do think however, that the above diagram is too static and rigid. You can see we decided to leave that out of the picture with that arrow outwards representing time. But even that seemed 1 dimensional. I think context is more complex and we conciously or not move in between various contexts many times during a single day.

Context vs. Perspective

What is the difference between context and perspective? We usually say or hear stuff like “put things into perspective” and “put things into context”? These words appear to be used interchangeably sometimes. Or what about “put yourself in my shoes?” Is that about changing your context? or changing your perspective?

It’s easier to start with “perspective”. We can probably all agree that it is a point of view. Putting something into perspective then should mean shifting my point of view to include that. Right?

So now what? What is context? How do you put something into context? Or take something out of context?

I find the sphere above explains this — it doesn’t have to be a sphere. My current context is held in place by opposing external and internal forces. External forces can be things like location, family, colleagues, laws, neighbours, community, strangers or other actors. Internal forces are personal stuff. Things like background, race, religion, history, or other actors. I don’t control neither external nor internal influencers. I can exert force on surrounding contexts. So I am also an actor.

The red dot is me, and throughout time I am always in constant motion around this sphere, looking at different things and trying to make sense of my perspective. This starts to explain stuff, but we need to zoom out a bit; we need to put things into context.

The Big Picture

The big picture is a mess when you come to think about it. There’s so much going on. These spheres of context don’t exist in vacuum. They’re surrounded by others. They bump into each other and spin around. Some of them are moving, others are still. Some stick to certain areas of the space, others are trying to explore everywhere.

We’re all trying to influence each other, get each other to come together, or not, we form societies, organizations and companies, we attend schools and workshops, all to help us widen or deepen our perspective, or even extend or strengthen our influence.

The big realization for me thinking about this, is that although you don’t control your context, there is one moment when you might be able to influence it or change something. That moment is now. Right now any action you take may have an impact on your context as it’s bouncing around this space. Those actions you take in the moment may expand or shrink your sphere, they may widen, narrow, or deepen your perspective. You don’t know.

But…it’s much easier to change direction when you are moving.

In Diary #2 I will attempt to describe what I hope to achieve coming out of this 4 week program, and what goal I believe I have discovered during Day 1 at DC Edu.