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The Life Discovery Canvas (v1.0) — Part 3B: Concepts (SAY and DO)

A Set of Pairs of Themes for Life Discovery

The above picture is the Life Discovery Canvas. I am going to introduce the new canvas and its context with the following four parts:

The theoretical background of the canvas is the Project-centered approach. You can find six basic principles of the approach from Part 1. My design thoughts behind the canvas is a deep analogy between Thematic Space Canvas and Life Discovery Canvas. Both of them share the same spatial structure.

The Life Discovery Canvas is a meaningful whole that is formed by 16 pieces of blocks. Each block refers to a thematic space around a particular theme which is a concept in a general sense. The previous article introduces 8 themes which are located at the THINK area and the LEARN area.

Today I am going to introduce the rest of the themes about SAY and DO.

3.7 SAY: What Should I Say to others?

Life Discovery Canvas offers several spatial configurations for discovery. The most obvious spatial configuration is Four Significant Areas because it refers to the traditional 2x2 matrix. This should be the users’ starting point, so I started from it too. Other spatial configurations are hidden for exploration.

Each area contains one significant question and two pairs of themes. For example, the SAY area focuses on:

As mentioned before, the Life Discovery Canvas is divided into two subspaces:

For the SAY area, we see the following configurations:

The SAY area refers to the “Self — Other” relevance and the communication chain. Here the Inner Space is more about a person’s own properties and self-awareness while Outer Space refers to environments and social contexts.

I’d like to point out that the pair of themes “Resources — Opportunities” is about Objective and Object while the pair of themes “Results — Contributions” is about Outcome and Reward.

Now we can adopt the Anticipatory Activity System framework to expand the SAY area. The core of the framework is the “Self — Other” Relevance. The framework also adopts the notion of “Object — Outcome” from Activity Theory. See the diagram below.

The above diagram is the standard model of the Anticipatory Activity System framework. It was formed by the following pairs of concepts:

You can find more details from D as Diagramming: Strategy as Anticipatory Activity System. You can also read some related articles:

The Anticipatory Activity System framework uses the following model to discuss the “Self — Other” relationship.

The above diagram considers four units of analysis of the “Self — Other” relevance.

The core of the framework is three aspects of Other.

If a person doesn’t have direct interaction with real other people, he considers if his work or actions are relevant to predecessors or any other people. Then, this means Intrapersonal Relevance. Traditional Activity Theory doesn’t consider this unit of analysis. For Activity Theorists, an activity is social collaboration.

Interpersonal Relevance refers to direct interactions with others. In this situation, the Other is actual, but the “Self — Other” is not considered as a whole since they don’t share reciprocity of motives. How can a person get good feedback from others? It depends on Relevance from the Other’s perspective.

Transactional Relevance is about dependent relationships and interactions. The Other is actual, and the “Self — Other” is considered as a whole. and they share reciprocity of motives. In this situation, the person and Other share reciprocity of motives, challenges, background knowledge.

Collective Relevance considers the Other as a pervasive group, not a particular person or several people. The “Self — Other” relationship becomes the “Self — Group” relationship. You can find more details about Relevance in Mapping Thematic Space #5: The “Relevance” Thematic Space.

Why do I use “SAY” to name this area?

The Resources — Opportunities Mapping lead to Objective and Object while the Results — Contributions lead to Achievement and Reward. Both two processes are defined by communications and negotiations between Self and Others.

3.8 DO: What Should I Do for others?

The Life Discovery Canvas is guided by six basic principles of the Project-centered approach. The first principle is Being by Doing.

The above diagram is my intuitive idea about the slogan “Being by Doing”. It looks like this is a dialogue between Humanistic Psychology and Activity Theory/Ecological Psychology.

If a person wants to offer values to satisfy others’ demands, she or he should keep a good order for internal equilibrium in order to maintain the supply system.

The DO area contains the following two pairs of themes:

We can also see other configurations:

I have discussed the “Problem — Solution” issue in Life Discovery: The “Problem — Solution” Challenge and Response. However, the article focuses on our own problems in our life.

The Do area is about solving problems for others. It’s about designing projects, developing work processes, delivering final products such as content, services, tools, solutions, etc. It refers to creating values for others.

How to find problems and solutions? This is the significant question of design, strategy, and business in general. For Life Discovery Activity, I’d like to recommend the following diagram for connecting individual life experiences with social needs. It’s a heuristic tool called Career API:

I have introduced the Career APIs diagram in a previous article. The diagram is made with the Tripartness meta-diagram. The A (Agenda of the Times) is located at the “Organization — Community” zone, the P (Problems of Domain) is located at the “Person — Community” zone, the I (Personal Issues) is located at the “Person — Organization” zone.

The above diagram used my own experience of searching “Google Wifi” on the App Store. You can find more details from the original article. The purpose of the Career APIs is that we can detach from a cognitive domain and attach to another cognitive domain.

The pair of themes “Concepts — Ideas” refers to my 2021 book Project-oriented Activity Theory (draft). See the following diagram.

My book uses the above diagram to connect the following two theoretical approaches of Activity Theory together and offers a series of tools for practitioners in the age of projectification.

While Engeström’s model is perfect for dealing with traditional work projects, Blunden’s approach considers collaborative projects as the foundation of social movements and cultural innovation.

By curating the above two approaches together, my book offers a cross-boundary solution for achieving the balance between individual impact and collective impact. In this way, it could lead us to an innovative way of connecting personal life themes and cultural themes in order to build a sustainable society together.

Based on the book, I developed the Project Engagement Toolkit. You can find more details here.

From the perspective of Project-oriented Activity Theory, a Concept refers to a social movement. The formation of a concept is a collaborative project. Three are three phases of the formation of a concept: Initialization, Objectification, and Institutionalization. See the diagram below.

Since this is a dynamic long-term process, we can distinguish between the pre-concept status and the concept status. I define the pre-concept as the “Idea” process. There are many ideas for “problem-solution”, but not all ideas can generate a proposal of a new concept.

Project-oriented Activity Theory also offers a large view that connects Individual mind (Idea) and Collective theme (Zeitgeist) through Collective Projects (Concept). This view also suggests a new way of understanding “Culture”. See the diagram below:

While the pre-concept status (Idea) is associated with the individual mind, the Concept status is associated with collective collaboration. Here we have to think of the “project” as “formation of concept”, not a regular project such as work. The “its own logic” of the project is the logic of “formation of concept”.

Project-oriented Activity Theory can be adopted as a theory of radical innovation since the approach covers the whole developmental process of a brand new concept. Organizational scholars use “Radical innovation — Incremental innovation” to discuss organizational innovation. I’d like to use “Radical innovation — Incremental Innovation” in a broader sense.

From the perspective of Project-oriented Activity Theory, a “Radical Innovation” can be definitely defined as a project with a brand new concept while an “Incremental Innovation” can be understood as a project with a good idea that is not ready for proposing as a brand new concept.

Since Blunden’s approach focuses on “the formation of a project with a concept of the problem is an original and creative social act”, applying it to only the “Idea” process without considering other processes is just using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

For Life Discovery Activity, I’d like to suggest this large landscape view for creators. While we are working on the normal ideas for solving daily problems, we could generate some new ideas which could lead to some new concepts.

You can find more details about the “Concepts — Ideas” mapping here.

3.9 The Concept of Project

Finally, we should return to the center of Life Discovery Canvas: the Concept of Project.

The Project-centered approach consider the concept of “Project” as a multiple-dimension concept. This means we should adopt multiple perspectives to understand the concept of “Project” in different contexts.

For Life Discovery Activity, I’d like to recommend the following perspectives:

This perspective considers a person’s life as a Project which is a meaningful whole. We can call it a Super Project or a Mega Project. Under the Mega Project, there are many sub-projects that are normal projects.

If we adopt this view, then we use the Life Discovery Canvas with the historical-cognitive approach. We consider a person’s biographical life as an object and select several significant projects as content for discovering and discussing.

This perspective considers a person’s present situation as a project network which is a meaningful whole too. The project network is formed by several ongoing significant projects.

Under this view, we use the Life Discovery Canvas as a mapping tool to understand the connections between different projects and discover potential structural tensions and opportunities.

This perspective aims to design a Developmental Project for the next stage of life development.

In this way, we are going to use the Life Discovery Canvas as a tool for Developmental Service Design with other relevant frameworks and tools. The diagram below is about the notion of “Service Thinking”, you can find more details here.

From the perspective of adult development, I developed a framework called Developmental Project Model which is used for the Project Engagement Toolkit and the Platform for Development Toolkit.

For Life Discovery Activity, the Development Project Model is an essential tool for designing and developing new developmental projects. I’d like to recommend readers use it with Life Discovery Canvas together.

The model offers a special unit of analysis for social life from the perspective of individuals. I have developed a canvas for applying the Developmental Project model for practical situations. I also use my own experience with the Activity U project as an example. See the diagram below and the original article.

The difference between the Developmental Project model and other activity-theoretical frameworks is the Developmental Project model combines the collective perspective and the individual perspective and its focuses are Identity and Theme.

3.10 Engagement as Method

The Developmental Project model cares about the transformation of a person’s identity and life themes during the process of Project Engagement. We use the Cultural Projection Analysis method to study this issue.

Cultural Projection Analysis considers the development of Theme and Identity during the process of joining Projects. Inspired by Ecological Psychology, I coined a term called Projectivity which refers to potential action opportunities of forming a project or participating in a project for people to actualize their development with others. You can find more details here.

In a zoom-out view, a person’s life is a chain of projects which is a series of cultural projections.

Andy Blunden mentions that a project-oriented approach is both psychology and sociology, “A project is the focus for an individual’s motivation, the indispensable vehicle for the exercise of their will and thus the key determinant of their psychology and the process which produces and reproduces the social fabric. Projects therefore give direct expression to the identity of the sciences of the mind and the social sciences. Projects belong to both; a project is a concept of both psychology and sociology.” (2014, p.15)

The concept of Life can be understood as Collective Life and Individual Life. We can use the concept of Project to understand both of them. A person’s real life is a set of real actions. The concept of Project is a way of curating these actions. On the other hand, Collective Life can be curated with Projects too.

“Project Engagement” is not only a method for research. In fact, “Engage with Projects” is the essential action of Life Discovery Activity.

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Oliver Ding

Founder of CALL(Creative Action Learning Lab), information architect, knowledge curator.