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Ethos design for a good quality life: Building an innovation framework for individuals and organizations towards resilience and cognitive flexibility

Kumar, Gonga Naveen, Gupta, Itika, Ruchatz, Julia and Nahar, Prav (2018) Ethos design for a good quality life: Building an innovation framework for individuals and organizations towards resilience and cognitive flexibility. In: Proceedings of RSD7, Relating Systems Thinking and Design 7, 23-26 Oct 2018, Turin, Italy.


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The whole world is driving towards a utopia for a “faster, better, more” future. But ironically the more we have, the more discontent we’re becoming. The current epoch is probably the most complex and ambiguous time humanity has had to deal with. While we’re all designing for a better life, society, nation and world; we haven’t stopped to design and define the attributes that constitute a better quality life.
If we look at what the experts have to say about benchmarks of a utopian life: psychologists have one frame of reference to answer this question from, economists have another, spirituality yet another. The world right now is chasing quality of life through quantifiable parameters like better health, education, employment, GDP etc. and has been benchmarking nations on these parameters. But there is enough evidence to prove that these parameters have fallen short of their promise. Life in countries with the highest GDPs have problems of depression, suicides and obesity. Similarly there are poor countries with little resources resiliently fighting issues like child mortality rate and unemployment.

It’s evident that we experience life as human beings through parameters that are far more qualitative than economic indexes. Our experiences of happiness, flow, love and contentment come not from outside but from somewhere within us. So to improve quality of life of mankind, we need to reassess what Quality of Life universally means. Paraphrasing the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz: “What we measure informs what we do. And if we’re measuring the wrong thing, we’re going to do the wrong thing.”
With these dichotomies and questions about the current global narrative of a good life, we set out on a journey to define and quantify a “Good Quality Life” using the tools and methods of Systems Design.

Our research for this project started with extensive study of all global models and indexes[1] that define a good quality life, and identifying the gaps in them. We researched theories of multiple paradigms and reached out to various domain experts ranging from psychologists, economists, sociologists, environmentalists to philosophers, spiritual gurus, historians and fiction authors. We discovered a plethora of theories, some contextual and some more relevant, some old school and some contemporary. There was a lot of wisdom about man’s experience of good quality life that we got a chance to dig into.

We then started a more firsthand primary research of looking at places where no one was looking for a good quality life. As true designers, we started looking for deviant behaviors in the system, because that’s where the most relevant insights emerge. Doing this project sitting in India, we used the diversity and complexity of our nation as an advantage for the project.
We went to all sorts of places and people to understand people’s perception of life.
We went to the central jail and spoke with murderers and rapists.
We went to old age homes and heard stories of unwanted grandmothers.
We went to remote villages and immersed in their daily lifestyles.
We travelled with migrant workers to understand their daily routine and aspirations.
We spent time with experimental educationists teaching children without any curriculum; all of this to understand deviant behaviors.
And at each stage, having a culturally diverse team from Indian and Germany was a big boon. It helped us to be pragmatic and unbiased with the way we engaged with our research.

A month long process of synthesis and sense making of all these primary and secondary case studies brought us down to a list of universal insights. With numerous connections and patterns between the insights, we narrowed them down to three fundamental attributes that we believe account for a good quality life. These attributes are the lowest common denominators of what we as human beings are inherently wired to be, attributes that are at the core of who we are.
These attributes are fundamental to building a life of resilience and cognitive flexibility, and hence they are fundamental to evolution.

The three attributes of “Quality of Life” are :

• Attitude | Childlike Creative explorers, who find engagement and pleasure irrespective of what their surroundings are. Explore, learn and move ahead is the way of being. They neither hide their feelings nor hold on to them for very long.
• State of being | Love Love is a state of being where you accept yourself for who you are, accept everyone like you accept yourself, you live and care for others like you care for yourself, without expectations. You start feeling that you and others are alike. Eventually creating a feeling that we are all ONE.
• Ability to act | Creativity An ability to look at things and situations in varied perspectives, challenging rigidly formed assumptions and coming up with spontaneous acts or solutions.

These attributes are simple, holistic and universal. To make them more understandable and actionable we constructed a framework around them, which has been benchmarked and standardized using the Humantific Method by GK VanPatter [2].

The framework is intentionally designed to be simple, free of overbearing jargons or complexity and its open enough for interpretation and evolution. Our idea is to keep the framework in a state of perpetual beta, where it’s ever evolving as a model. We want to keep it dynamic enough so it can adapt as per the needs of an individuals or a culture it gets used in.
Being designers ourselves, we’re already on a journey to test and refine this framework by embedding it in our work of designing products, services and strategies.

We started with the design of an “Assumption busting toolkit” that allows people and organizations to use our framework and reassess their assumptions/hard wired beliefs that are holding them back from being more childlike-loving-creative. This toolkit has been successfully tested through a range “Designing your life” workshops with people of various ages and backgrounds. We used our learnings from the workshop to design a mobile application called Unblock, that gamifies this experience of assumption busting for people. Our application was shortlisted to be a finalist at the Global Hackathon by Aegon.

This framework played a key role in a project we took up with the national science center, to design workshops on creative leadership for school children. We’ve also used the fundamentals of the framework to reassess the current linear narrative of design thinking. Our modified approach of designing thinking 2.0 was shared in the form of a workshop at India’s biggest entrepreneurship summit. The workshop saw an overwhelming participation of 280 attendees.
It’s been quite a journey for us so far, but it’s far from complete.
One project at a time, we’re on a slow but steady journey to test and refine this framework and our approach for Quality of Life. We wish to reach a stage where we can design a world with its development paradigm aligned to childlikeness-love-creativity.
We want to use design to make this world a better place, but not through traditional prescriptive methods. Cultures are an open, adaptable and non-prescriptive tool that build societies and their value through habits and rituals. Thus, we’re now working on expanding our purview as designers from creating objects and services to creating ethos’. We’re working on using our design skills of interpreting systems, of influence behaviors; to create cultures of the future that define the spirit with which people live.
We’re a team Ethos Designers, well-armed with our framework, and all set to realign the paradigms of Quality of Life.

Item Type: Conference/Workshop Item (Poster)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social care for sustainable living, Universal wicked problem, Attributes of resilient systems, Designing for introspections, Sustainability through wellbeing, Designing for perpetual beta
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Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2019 15:33
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2021 19:37
URI: https://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2726

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