What limits what we can imagine?

Sensibility & Passion

There are many things limiting our imagination. We have been ingrained with a set of varying beliefs and varying perspectives built on every experience we’ve ever had. In the game of innovation, evolution, moving society forward, what are the values to strive for?

Senseless passion is like a bull with a rope around his nuts trying to unseat the rider holding the rope.


The passionate person has blinders on in a way that makes her/him have tunnel vision. “I can only focus on the motive I have at this moment, this is all that I can believe in and I can see it all working over there in the future.” This person, often, forgets about all of the things along the way, the important details that will deter or support his/her initiative.

Passionless sense is like a professor that has been professing for too long. She/he can kill anyone’s dreams with their sense.


This is equally as dangerous as the bull because they have blinders on in the opposite way. Only able to see their periphery, based on what they have seen before, time and time again.  It is difficult for them to suspend disbelief long enough for a new idea to have a breath of fresh air and a chance.

““The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Health care, in its legacy form, is populated by noble, reasonable people trying their best to operate within the confines of an irrational system. To realize true progress, we need to adapt the world to our needs, to manipulate the system that surrounds us for our collective priorities. We need unreasonable revolutionists. Or maybe, just designers.” (-Stacey Chang, Health Care 2017)

We get stuck in a frame. Stuck in a way of thinking about a certain idea, thing, or system. It is often very difficult to move our “sense-liking” minds from this place. It needs to make even more sense, OR be vastly more enticing. Or both. While I agree with Chang’s statement of needing a radical view at the table, that view needs to be partnered with practicality. Whether that balance is inside of one person or collaboratively polarized, by members of the team, the bull and the professor need to work together to bring imagination into tangibility.


The Health Care System


Health: the state of being free from illness or injury.

Care: the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.

Americans are spending billions of dollars on alternative forms of well-being each year. Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas is in the middle of a paradigm shift in health care. They are trying to change the very definition of healthcare. They are trying to provide an entirely new frame to think about the health care system.

“Self-management has always existed. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on health foods and diet programs. A doctor reported, “20% to 30% of my patients are into some type of supplements or ‘nutraceuticals’”. Deloitte reported that 20 percent of consumers used alternative therapies. Kaiser reported that 33 percent of consumers had “relied on home remedies or over-the- counter drugs instead of seeing a doctor” in the past 12 months because of cost concerns. Several factors have begun the process of reframing health as self-management. The U.S. healthcare system is out of control; managing costs requires a focus on what the medical profession calls outcomes. The public has a growing awareness that well-being is more than healthcare.” (-ACM – Interactions – Volume XVII.3 – May + June 2010)

This is a blatant alarm that our health care system is not administering health. And, even more importantly, it is not thought of as a place that can assist in preventative measures. Healthcare has positioned itself as merely a curer of acute disease based on the tendency towards a transactional experience between practitioner and client. The push towards tests and exams using big ticket machines and technologies alienates those interested in a well-rounded healthy lifestyle. How to reconcile a familiarization like this?



To defamiliarize from a very entrenched ideology or pattern of thought takes 1 of 2 things. Either the purest of sincerity to do a better job and a team to back it up;

“the established structures make change very difficult. “What we’re trying to do here [at Dell Medical] is to collect innovative thought leaders who are themselves determined to do things differently. That’s liberating for the kind of person we’ve been recruiting.” He believes the opportunity to build a new model from the ground up has attracted faculty, staff, and doctors who have the same ambition, along with the dedication to use that model to serve the broad Central Texas population.” (-Michael King, Future of Health Care 2017)

or introducing a new attribute into an ecosystem that serves as the first stage in a theory of change towards a new paradigm of familiarity. This often comes through changing the meaning or frame of technologies that already exist. Making good ideas digestible for the masses is the difficult and important part.

“Apple, however, did not invent either multi-touch interfaces or gestural control. Multi-touch systems have been in computer and design laboratories for over 20 years and gestures also have a long history. Moreover, several other companies had products on the market using multi-touch before Apple (Buxton 2007). Although Apple’s ideas were not radical to the scientific community, they did come as a radical, major shift in the world of products and how people interact with them and give meaning to them. Similarly, Edison’s development of the electric light bulb resulted in a radical, major revolution in home and business, but he did not invent the light bulb. Edison improved the existing bulbs, extending bulb life, and equally importantly, recognized the importance of providing all of the necessary infrastructure: the entire system requirements of generation plants, distribution systems, and even indoor wiring and sockets to hold the bulbs. Thus, his efforts did revolutionize the product space and the living and working patterns of households and businesses.” (-Don Norman & Roberto Verganti, Incremental and Radical Innovation, 2012)


Immersion in the Problem

To be a problem solver (or designer) do we immerse ourselves in the problem or not? Some live and die by yes, some vow no. Some say you must get close to users and problems to understand the nuances that are present. This would increase the designer’s capability for sense. Some say this makes designers’ thinking constrained by what currently exists. I believe it all lies in the way you use the information you have at your disposal. If you are somewhat familiar with a system and can see gaps in it even when it is running “ok”, you have enough context to attempt impact through innovation, no need to get closer. If you have just lived with a tribe for 4 months to understand their malnutrition issues, you are not too close, this is also not a problem, IF you can temporally zoom out and abstract what you’ve found. This is the essential piece. It is the difference between reactive design and responsive design. Reactive design says x=2 in the equation 2+x=4. Here, take the 2, it’s the answer. The responsive, abstract way to observe the problem is to say something like well what if I housed this problem in a framework that can solve this problem and any other problems that are similar? Here, take this framework, now you can solve this problem yourself and hopefully all problems that are similar.

“Shelley Evenson and others talk about creating conditions in which users become designers—creating spaces in which people can learn and grow. That means professional designers become meta- designers, designing open-ended systems, languages, platforms, APIs, construction kits, or kits of parts, which others con gure or re-con gure to their own ends. Wooden blocks, Legos, and train sets are classic examples, kits of parts with which we may play—and design. Herman- Miller’s Action Office is a kit of parts designed for others to design offices. (Sadly, it gives little design control to the office’s occupants.) Programming languages and code libraries like Java and Flash are kits of parts for others to design software. (How much design control can the resulting applications give end-users?) Even simple services like restaurants offer a menu of choices from which patrons may design a dish or a meal.” (-ACM – Interactions – Volume XVII.3 – May + June 2010)


Togetherness in Variance

Not everyone is like us. The abnormal for you is very normal for someone else. And along the same thought thread, abnormalities can always, easily, become normal. With these constraints, how do we even approach design for such complexity? Here lies the battle between strategy and trust. Again, both are needed. Strategic use of imagination, trustful use of sensibility, and trust when sensibility is not useful or imagination is too outlandish.

The point is that balance is needed with all of the above. Where sense and passion merge is where new ideas are founded.

“1) Incremental innovation: Improvements within a given frame of solutions (“doing, better, what we already do”) 2) Radical innovation: a change of frame (“doing what we did not do before”)” (-Don Norman & Roberto Verganti, Incremental and Radical Innovation, 2012)

When sense and passion are operating in unison is when innovation can manifest.

“Maninder “Mini” Kahlon, Dell’s vice dean for strategy and partnerships, is a whirlwind of big-picture conversation about how all these Dell programs fit together in the very large project of transforming the “ecosystem of health care” in Central Texas – from prevention at the front end to finances at the other. Wearing her “strategy” hat, she reiterates the school’s primary goal of changing the structural emphasis from “care” to “health.”” (-Michael King, Future of Health Care 2017)

Falling too far on either side of sense and passion is where limits in imagination or execution occur. This is when newness can’t fully manifest as innovation.

“Radical innovation brings new domains, new paradigms, and creates a potential for major changes. Incremental innovation is how the value of that potential is captured. Without radical innovation, incremental innovation reaches a limit. Without incremental innovation, the potential enabled by a radical change is not captured.” (-Don Norman & Roberto Verganti, Incremental and Radical Innovation, 2012)

Balance yourself. Balance your team. Balance your methods.