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Jim Bagnall


Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Dat a

Koberg , Don, 1930 The universal traveler : a soft - systems guide to
creativity , problem- solving , and the process of reaching goals I by Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall . - - 4th ed.
p. em .
Includes bibliographical references and index .
ISBN 1- 56052-679-3 (pbk . )
1. Problem solving. 2 . Creative ability. 3 . Go al
I. Bagnall, Jim. II. Title .
BF44l.K55 2003

Copyright 1972
2 0 0 3 Ax z o P
19 7 3 I 19 7 4 19 7 6
publicat;onress All rights ;ese I 19801 1981 1990
may be
rved No
written perm
reproduced in

part of this
of the
any form without
Previous edi t'
through 2003
13. 14 15 16
number at l e ast 1 6
i n the
10 9 8 7
Uni t e d Sta tes
o f ll..merica


The UNIVERSAL TRAVELER is more than a guide to creative problem solving and
clear thinking; it is your passport to success. The process described is
universally relevant; based on the premise that any problem, dream, or aspiration, no matter its size or degree of complexity, can benefit from the
same logical and orderly 'systematic' process employed to solve world-leve l
problems . Only the wording and methods vary and then, in appearance alone.
Systematic process, derived from the study of human control systems known
as Cybernetics, forms the basis for modeling most social, industrial, and
economic problem situations . To provide an everyday application of method
leading to a more orderly life process, we have translated the technical
terminology of systematic problem-solving into conversational language and
simplified techniques. The resulting 'user-friendly' approach to problemsol ving is called SOFT SYSTEMS . Once learned and internalized with practice, the Universal Traveler "soft systematic" approach will allow anyone
to deal more logically and orderly with all manner of problem situations or

Life is a continual sequence of encounters .
Some are unavoidable; to be enjoyed
suffered by choice. Others can be controlled
consciously. Creative problem-solving is a
process of dealing intelligently with those
situations that can be controlled. A creative ptcblem-solver is a 'designeL'; a per son intending to improve what exists or to
find clear paths through dilemmas or challenging situations and
at satisfying
solutions .
In genetal, in order to improve something
and do it creatively , it is necessary,
first, to identify what it is that actually
needs improving ; second, to understand the
interactive factors involved; and Lhild, to
develop the
skills and tools (methods) to manage the task .
Creative Behavior differs from normal behavi o r which is either primarily objective or
p1imar1ly subjective. Creativity requires a
willingness to join subjectivity with objec tivity. It involves learning to think and
behave "wholly" instead of one way or an
other; to alternate between what you sense
or feel, what you already know or think you
know, and what you might discover by trying
something new. The primarily OBJECTIVE per son, for example, knows everything by name.
Once named, no further examination of concent is required thereby eliminating the
potential for deeper understanding and ionovation . The primarily SUBJECTIVE person,
being a here-and-now sense-response mechanism, continually delights in sensory expe rience and cares little for names or other
fixed conclusions.
TO COMBINE THE TWO, thus creating a more
natural balance between the extremes of
sensing and !mewing, IS TO GAIN MORE THJI.J-J
BOTH. The combination allows you to deal
c mpl e t e ly with any encounter.

Creacive wholeness leads beyond the here and

now of sensory response and remembered e::perience and knowledge. It opens the gate co a
deeper understanding of the natural balance
between divergent and convergent chinking
and the freedom to control your behavior.
Allowing yourself to alternate between
thinking and feeling may be difficult at
first. Adults live in social virtual worlds
of words and symbols. It is only human to
become more objective a n d less subjective
with age. Knowing the names of things saves
you lots of time and stopping to smell the
roses or enjoy reality is considered a waste
of time . It may require frequent practice to
overcome the habits related to 'normal' behavior. It is far more 'normal ' to "think"
all day long and save "feeling" for "afcer
work" or the weekend. Because of being
unique, balanced behavior is often viewed as
careless or maladjusted and even at times
subversive to the institutions that normalcy
creates to perpetuate normalcy. Since conformity is the shortest route to accepcance
in a mass society, behaving uniquely is a
sure way to be come an outcast . But acceptable unique behavior is possible for anyone,
who by intention is adventurous, pride-less,
self disciplined and self believing, who has
interest in resolving problematic condi
tions, and who continually develops an ability to be "whole." When learned, the new
behavior will seem every bit as natural as
the old .
In brief, CREATIVITY doesn't come free. It
is not a gift or quirk of birth. Some people
don't "just have it" while others do not.
Nor does it come from luck or magic. Creativity is learnable behavior requiring
steady and determined effo rt. If you accept
the fact that the goal o f creat i v ity is in
novation, you should realize that creating
something "new" is NOT NORMAL but DIFFEPENT
from normal, perhaps even 'abnormal.'

CAUTION!! If you believe you are behaving

creat ively and your behavior is readily accepted in normal society, one of two conditions is probable: either you have conditioned society to accept your abnormal ac
tions or your input is really not as unique
as it seems .

Some keys to Creative


Practiced creative behavior breeds automatic

creative behavior. Said another way, creativity and consciousness of procedures
(process ) and methods go hand in hand . If
you become more aware of your position relative to what has gone before and what is yet
to come, your ability to decide from both
the broad view and the specific view is
increased allowing you to become more accurate in your predictions and choices
throughout evety journey .
Proven suggestions for developing consciousness of creative procedure and methodology





Pride, othet than as respect for quality or
achievement, is destructive counter-creative
behavior and detracts from the attainment of
goals. It is difficult to see clearly with
your nose in the air. PRIDE stands in the
way of creacivity by inhibiting you from
asking key questions, thus stifling the key
requisite for curiosity . It restricts a
change of mind 01 direction which thereby
fixes a preconceived and prejudicial course .
P.nd it runs counter to the true selflessness


required for the ngiving" of oneself to the

task! Pride joins che other "deadly sins" to
detract from improvement . SELF-DISCIPLINE,
i . e., nbeing true co your se l f" , on the
other hand, is a truth-reveali n g behavior.
It r equires courage of conv i ction and fearles s acceptance of the respon s i b ility for
being what you are , and t a k i n g s teps to in s ure improvemen t. Modi f yi ng beh avior t o mee t
s pe c i fic situa t ions need not l imit freedom
or work against the needs of others involved .


Be self-motivated! Belief in your ability to
succeed is necessary for both motivation and
the maintenance of creative inertia. If you
wait for someone else to move you , you might
find yourself headed in a wrong direction .
Ego-strength and leadership are closely related . Leaders with low self-belief are
rare . The norm is to subdue ego and become a
follower; to play the social game of selfdenial and make less of your abilicies and
potentials . Hiding your ego from
results in denying it to yourself . The deeper
you bury it , the less it serves you as part
of your behavior . Begin to be l ieve in your
own creative poten t i al and you will begin to
beh ave more creatively."


Discontent is as prerequisite to meaningful
problem solving as is dissent to being a
good citizen . Adolescence is usually all
that is required for achieving half of this
important attribute of creativity. A neontented" teen is rare indeed; discontent goes
with that time of life . To the young, everyth i ng needs improvement . Yet, it is usually
the lack of a constructive attitude that
wi ns out in the end, turning potentially
healthy ndiscontent" into nothing more than
moans and groans .
Constructive discontent is a necessity for
t h e creative problem-solver . With maturity,
your discontent wanes . Society teaches that
nfault-finders" disturb the status quo . It
soon seems ngood" not to nmake waves" or
nrock the boat" and nlet sleeping dogs lie"
and nbe seen but not heard . " Only a constructive attitude can maintain the once
dynamic condition .


It ._p .latuEveryone both senses nr.d kn
1 _i je.;.
ral to both feel and to thinl:
With age the more you
s you
tend to feel. It's faste r th l w f An >lmal
adult will smother sensitivi ... n favrn of
automatic judgment and moving on
knowledge . But remaining 2e' doesn't
mean re - learning the same Lhin51s 'v 1 and
over again . It simply allows f'.)l :t .ore
balanced whole. By alternatinl
feeling and knowing, between
i nq .J 1 deciding in a conscious way, you !lla int d n cC'nt 1o1
of your WHOLE potenti al .


Behavior in general is a.
habits. Habits simpl1fy l : f
from discoveries cu1neJ t
tions which, when 1epPat I u11t
1 .- i,
become automatic . Since t:.E n l
basic discoveries occu1 <iu1 in !.i ldh
most habits and resultan t beh ::. n: t r'TI
early and strengthen with age . hE
work for you, they can also '''Oll. 111jnst
you . The habit of believing y u la1.,.
thing so well that it
t .' a r
>Vv 1 y
always works against you i 1 +- P1 1 c
h >V
ing creatively.

In order to see th::.ngs di 1ft. r

t l} t 1 t t
come mo1e innovative, it is r.<-'(. . 1 tt h"-'
in control of habits ... uli:'lys rr l
an unknown path and to cllcill th
III r >VC:!l
by developing new, replacen r.r- 1J tL i +\Jh 11
the old ones get in the '"ay. :1.
only your value judgment: :'let-r>rt 1
h w
helpful or hindering you1 lnbi t s
terms of personal prob::..em-solvi.r.
t i 11


........,locks to creativ y
It is normal to hold bac k because of being
wary of making mistakes or asking ' dumb'
questions . Yet few errors carry stiff penalties and the asking of any question, no matter how innocent, suggests wi ll ingness to
learn. The most common barriers t o creative
behavior are self-generated pride, fear,
jealousy and competitiveness . The creatively
active person is not put off by such demons.
FEAR o f
FEAR o f

making miscakes
being seen as a fool
being e xposed as ignorant
being criticized for
offending othe1s
being "a lone"
making waves
b eing associated with taboos
losing the secutity of habit
losing the love of the group
taking a star,d and having tc defend
being unable to take Lhe heat


from lack of
and the
accompanying anxiety when dealing with the
Since creative problem-solving suggests diving head first into the unknown, fear might
be your most formidable enemy . Being afraid
is both natural and normal. Trying to be
fearless is risky business since fear evokes
caution which at times can be a life-saver.
But when caution deters progress and creativity through misdirecting your energy,
it is working against you.
It's unreasonable to imagine escaping fear
altogether . But by changing your focus from
"I'm afraid to be wrong" to "I'm trying to
be right," the
point of view can
help in ovetcoming this major block to a
more creative life .
Humans are social
and no healthy
person would enjoy being an outcast . But
behaving 'off the wall' 01 'out of the box'
you just that . Fear of being alone,
apart from the norm, stops most people from
even considering doing or saying something
thaL might be judged as unusual.
Then again, what if you do try something
unusual which turns out to be all wrong?
Will you be judged as a fool? The mere
thought of wearing a dunce cap is enough to
stop normal people in theiY tracks. It is
true thaL the plane could crash and the boat
could sink but the odds against either disastel happening keep air and sea lanes
busy. Only self-belief, the hope of being
right instead of wrong, can outweigh such


In essence logic helps us to understand how

all things are or can be organized and inter-related. It is a basis or foundation on
which to build. It is an ordering system
within which we can deal with pieces and not
lose sight o f the totality that contains
them. Logic is a way, an orderly way, to
include sensory response in a consc i ous p rocess .


- - - - - -- -

_ _)

(Organized knowing develops meaningful feeling . )
LOGIC is both basis and context for order.
LOGIC is a guide for mental activity.
LOGIC is devoid of everyday lingu i stic
content .. . It has no semantics.
LOGIC is syntax rather than definition.
LOGIC is a struct ure for reas on .
LOGIC is a series of operations or methodical transformations.
LOGIC is neither metaphysical nor phi lo sophical .
LOGIC is the basis of scientif i c
LOGIC provi d es an organizational framework.
LOGIC i s in flux.
LOGIC simpl ifi e s process .




is a Problem-Solving


Gym teachers and geologists, writers and

truck farmers, movie makers and motorcyclists, audiophiles and elevator operators,
xylophonists and sci-fi fans are all problem -so lvers . Everyone is a problem-solver.
Some just do it better than others, by design. By gene1ating unique and/or particulally satisfying solutions, a designer is
said to behave creatively . Since problem
solving is intertwined with living, you are
ever embarking on a problem-solving journey
of one sort or another. The more you understand .:::>ESIGN as being closely related to the
life process the bette1 you'll be as acreative problem - solver or 'designer'.
The c1eative problem-solving (design) pro cess is most easily understood as a sequence
of stages or stopovers on a journey to a
given destination . A full round-trip itinerary offers experience at each of those
places. Once internalized through experience, design process oriented travel in volves the conscious application of incentives, intentions, decisions, actions and
Note : The design process presented here is a
design in itself; developed by extracting
the essential charac teristics of many specific problem-solving processes, including
the works of Wallas, Dewey, Rossman,
Guilford, Osborn, Stanislawski, Barnes,
Gordon, Kepner-T1egoe , Arnold, Churchman,
Zwicky, General Electric, the Military, and
!?EPT (Pr.oqld n, Evaluation Review Technique).







Stating inilial intent ions ; accept the problem as a
allowing the problerr to
b-::come the ge:r:.::.rator of



with the ins ides and
outsides of the problem;
the """'Ol lcl of rh,:;: EHOblPm" contains .



f 2t ..... nnininq rhconr , u t 11 11 i;,:; 1 nu

d .

ic.; 'tlt::="


of t fl

l 1 i f'/ i ll.J
l .r}dt


'1 111,;

>blc->rn ;



I denll t ::i ng 1ll p':lssible way.' c1f

the goc=tls .


.:i ng

CH0 0 S Hl G FROI-l THE 0 P TI 0 Jl S

'()1[;1 "i l

ways u t
malc'h ( es J



t. h

1 -..., t. i



I ,q'


)il ,/1. l
L- l .. ' t 1...
dete1n11 n iltLJ tltt lH.=s:


" i ving fonn to

"realizing" intentions .


Reviewing the joun1""Y to deu>nninf:': t. h e de
gree of success ani i ts O'..Tclal: va:w; what
was le arned ? Ho't: c =m the e::pet i ence be used
to make future llavel mo1e nv;.-tningful and/or
e njoya bl e?


About AN.ALYSIS and

When comparing varied approaches to problemsolving it soon becomes clear that certain
common denominators exist which unite them
all . In pa1ticular, two "basic" stages
e:nerge . The fi1st is ANALYSIS or b1eaking
the whole into parts for closer examination .
The second is SYNTHESIS or resolving the
parts to fo1m a new whole .

The need to apply what is learned from

Analysis to form a Synthesis, a third con
nective link or bridge is often suggested.
When included, the basic process becomes

Fu1ther sub division becomes personal and

specific or dependent on the type of problem
considered . In general terms, Synthesis, for
example, breaks down into idea-finding,
idea-selecting and action-taking . If Acceptance is added at che beginning and Evalua
t ion ' onto the end, a sequence of
seven activicies evolves . That seven stage
presented in the following pages .

J.H analyze

[ si\'i:ton

If orderly thinking seems as if it might

hamper your creative freedom, try to realize
that most procedures can be viewed or applied in a variety of ways. How you see
something is largely up to you. Procedural
stages need not follow one anot h er linearly
like coaches of a train where moving forward
depends on passing through successive cars
one ac a time . There are other versions .


fe dback

You might view the stages of

back and forth action where yo. 11ev e.r --r-;
forward without always looping bacl: to checJ:
on yourself; where progress onlv
trs b:
looking backward before moving f

You might go on and on , never stcpp" 11cL

solving one p roblem after anothel 01 112rlling
with the same problem again and a--rain,
always getting a bit close r to pelf<->r icE.



/ tl' "deate] )


[ideate ))


You might regard the design P' u e ..

ope1ation whe re certain events
various stages det erm ine mo1e Lhctn on cun
n ect i o n and p rogress to a resolution is more
expansive than direct .

Of course the most nat ural way tc viPw plocess is as a scattering o f pieces l'li t h Pnch
stage progressing concur1ently 'JiLL
ul n
ers rather than as a connected c h'tu 1
events . . . mo:te like a horse LtCP ,,ith
stage competing f or at tenti cm-ll1dll 1 .. a
mule-train- which is st1aight
linear but more easily controlled .
In all cases , the important t!ung Lu r ea:lze
i s that a lthough o nly o n e horsP
bR out
front at any moment , t h e othclls
part of the race and that each
is always in process, i . e . , the problem
rarely relieved from d eal ing wi th a:l sLages
of accepting, analyzing, defin ing , idt:::at ing,
deciding, acting , and evaluating throughout
the process .
In reality the conscious solving of problems
and the PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESS does p1oceed
endlessly . Th e ultimate version would have
to be SPIRAL-a continuum of sequential
round-tr ip s p rogressing ad infinitum like
entwined atoms within a DNA molecule.


a word about
Because Lravel usually entails trying the
untried, it can at times be complex and
frustrating. Learning 'how to' travel
becomes a necessity. Much like selecting
the route, side roads, and overnight
stops for travel, choosing and tai
methods to fit both problem and problemsolver is a separate task within each
problem solving journey .
Along with their other supplies, experi
encecl travelers (creative problem-solv
ers) usually keep notes to
them of
the best ways to get from place to place.
Such information regarding technique or
approach is called ' method.'
DESIGN METHODS are practical ways for
getting from one design stage to another.
Creating your own design methods is easy
once you realize they need not be complex
01 formal. You already have favorites,
pe1haps not consciously named or con
trolled, but ways that are particularly
yours from previous use. Giving names to
methods is an ideal method in itself . It
is a way to improve remembering a par
ticular technique. There are as many different methods as there are people with
needs for methods. A universally common
method of making notes, for example, is
called by dozens of different names .
Observation suggests that complex problems may require complex techniques while
simple problems might be handled more
basically. Then again, in spite of logic,
the reverse might also be valid . In any
event, you should understand that just as
you wouldn't choose a moving van to go
get the groceries, you wouldn't choose
computerized techniques in order to make
a decision from a lunch menu ... but you
could if it became appropriate to a specific situation like selecting for chousands of delegates at a political convention.


ra s

1ntuition . It embodknowledge and is you1

data-bank . Being insightfu l
is to allow you1 past to serve as a guide to
your future ... but don't allow insight to
control every decision. Fresh anal ysis can
clnnge e"J<3lything you think .



TOO L UP IN ADVANCE. Don 't be caught with

out you1 came1a or oth er reco1d-keeping device such as a notebook, sketchbook, reCOlOPl, etc . Good
often eliminate
to re-discover experien ces over and
ove1. befo1 e
izing their importance.
about an experience is a
for learning its benefits and
sllo1 r.. 'utni nqs.

until you're half-way there to

y....>u've been missing much of the c1C, '1 . f... lE mn ing to
en t e experiPnce
,..,it bout "senso1.y notes" can cause you to
.tncl you'll inc1ea<e t he vnlue and eujoyment
of any process .
Lkir:' t

1 :1l1::


solving travelers need to rely o n
l, physical and mental health in o1dr 1. to
completely ancl
It's a
ci n .:ll tl!,L when you don't feel well, whethe1
subconsciously, y)u w1n't
, !. "l 1tt.. dt tul: potential .

TRY TO STAY CAU1 by self cont 1ol . Too much



tea wilJ only shat::ter ym.11 ne1..res.

CAUTI OU SL Y. A high-protein peanut

111clwich can help you stay the cot1se
1 n li 1 tlnn a high-ene1gy short-lasting
cmi..r 1 dl. .
RES T. When
take a break . Then p1oceed

:mn j om ney with renewed energy .



After the inertia is broken there is usually

much more traveling to do . Similarly , i f a
" firstu idea is not properly evaluated in
te r ms of overall objectives and ends up being your "only u idea , it can cause even more
trou ble . Remaining conscious of the ent ire
PROCESS at every stage allows you to cons ider new alternatives and to make your
limitations and your objectives as you go .


t ools for dealing with all contexts, large
or s mall . Seek the tools that fit the task.
A consciously-applied PROCESS-METHOD combina t ion can smooth out even the most unf riendly or unfamiliar appearing situation.


learn . You will only be "ac homeu with what
to be true yourself .
DON 'T BE HALF-IiiTTED . Knowledge
with age creates a tendency to cease explo
ration and to become a KNOW-IT-ALL or SENSEIT- NOT . Remember that wholeness requires
both sensitivity and knowledge . It helps to
enhance curiosity , uniqueness, doing the
unexpected and adventure . The older , more
educated and experienced you become , the
more you know and the less sense you imagine
to need .
TH INK BEFORE YOU LEA P. Quick solutions to
unstudied and undefined problems can be even
more problematic after the fact. When problem situations arise take some side trips to
Analysis and Definition before jumping to
answers and conclusions . Instead of asking
"What can I do about some apparent problemu
stop to question whether or not a true problem exists .



Basic Methods
In the world of ways-to-do-things there
seems to be an unlimited number of variations on two fundamental methods :
Perhaps you'll re cognize the following basic
'techn i q ues ' in your personal behavior .

Trial and Error

The most basic of scientific methods is
known by all as 'trial and error . ' If at
first you don't succeed, try and try again .
Trial and Error is the seed that breeds hundreds of simple and complex offspring.

List -making has many variations including
checklists , lists of components or parts,
lists of purposes and reasons, l i sts of options and possibilit ies , lis ts of cautions
and fears , lists of things to do, etc . , etc .
Brainstorming, possibly the most popular
among consciously applied d esign methods, is
a list-making technique .
Learn ing to make lists is fundamental t o
becoming more methodical and process-aware .
Shopping lists and other daily " to - do" lists
are good places to begin . Become a better
list - maker and you'll be on your way to more
successful (creative) problem - solving .


Specific Methods
Like Nature wich its dynamic changing seasons, nothing is stacic about creative problem-solving . The dynamic alternation between
convergenc and divergent thinking involved
in the following sequence of generic methods
is a 'natural' progression. Conscious 'focus' o n any detail of a 'big picture ' re
q uires tha t you first broaden your scop e to
see the whole , then nartow down to see the
parts .

The start of any eventually satisfying journey is a willingness co go. I ' LL BU Y THAT
is the basic mechol . Ic requires assigning a
percentage of you1 assets to a particular
activity; na1rowing (converging) choices
from everything potentially possible to the
few that are realisrically doable . How you
get started is a petsonal matter. Knowing
what drives you to accept a challenge and
become involved becomes all-important to
success. Reward moves some ; some depend on
t hreat . Which will it be - a carrot or a


Th e basic method
Before you can develop an understanding of
any situation, you need to gee the facts .
Often cloaked within the fuzzy issues of
initial problem
you'll need to
apply some variation of this method to un cover them.
Finding facts and
they interrelace requires sea1ching for relaced
information . .. questioning all sides of the
situation ... examining the
details .. . involvement in fair and impartial,
open-minded teseatch. (Divergence)


The basic method

This convergence method involves the digesting of information to reveal " essential"
guidelines . When boiled down to the impor
tant aspects or interrelationships , those
"essences" allow you to formulate a "concept" or basis f or furcher options, decisions and actions. Once identified, the essential ingredient(s) ptovides di1ection o
a successful conclusion. This key stage often requires forming an attitude or taking a


1 UtA I 1 U I'J

The next basic step, a

phase, is
IDEA -FIND I NG ; the search for all possible
"means" to translate definitions co reality . The task is to develop a
choices or " options . " Finding ideas depends
on you r a b il i ty to wi den your thinking from
the narrowed definitive stage that came
be f ore it . Deferring judgment until a suffic i e nt numb er of opt i ons is generated i s
all-import a n t at this phase .


method, THE BES T WAY.

The b a s ic
compar ing what you want with what you can
have . From a n alys i s you uncovered the
f acts . From facts you determined essence .
Wi th i d eation, a variety of ways (opt ions)
to real i ze that essence was revealed . Where
before , ideas were without clear purpose,
t h ey are now more or less meaningful in
terms of the 'definitions' stated . What
remains is t o decide (converge) which of
those "ways " will best do the job.


MAKE I T RE AL! . the next basic

method, is
another divergent experience. It evokes
action by formulating plans and translating
abstract ' virtual' thoughts and words into
con crete reality . It's a l most like return ing t o "Go " e x cept you now know where
yo u' re h ead ed and the path you plan to
take . Ma k i n g i t happen can entail many more
dec i s i ons . I t i s here where sub - problems
are most likely to occur and where beginning problem-solvers often lose sight of
the stages in the process chat led them
this far .. . almost to the end .

For the final convergent stage of the process, the basic method is HOvi'D I DO?
Since evaluation involves comparing aims
and inten tions with attainment and achievement, it is h ere where plans for improvement are formulated . But why wait until the
end to check on progress when ongoing
evaluation can serve as both guide and
trave l companion throughout the journey?
ACCEPTANCE is the logical initial Design or

Which specific situation

bothers you?


Some lessons Ieatned

from ProblemSolving... by
1. Don't believe everything you hear ... or

2 . If you haven'L b een there before, you
may have to feel you1 way slowly.
3 . Having been there before can stop you
from finding new ways to get there.
4 . The solution of one prob lem might transfer to other kinds of problems.
5 . Programmed process need not rule out
" chance ."
6 . When Analysis leads to Definit i on, once
imposs ible situations tu rn into solvable
prob lems .
7 . If you want insigh t, you h ave to break
through the surfaces of things .
8. Obvious answers are often the hardest to
9. Different p oints of view are seen
through different sets of eyes.
10 .

I t is easy to look. To see takes effort .

Creative thoughts come from seeing with
'f resh' eyes .

11 .

There are more ways than one to get to

the same place.

12 .

Facts a nd understanding are closely connected.


One thing leads to another . Follow the

clues .


Until translated into lessons, unpleasant memories can block discovery.

15 .

Intuition is the subconscious accumulation of past experiences. Great experie nc es lead to deeper feelings.


All experience is permanently locked in

the brain waiting to be called into service .


by logic
1. A subconscious random sample of thoughts
c an stimulate a need for order .
2. It makes sense to set limits to every
intention .
3. Thinking in itself does not evoke creativity which also depends on feeling
4 . Trying to so l ve one thi n g is often accomplished by solving something else.
5. When you examine only part of a problem,
it's a good idea to keep the whole problem in mind .
6 . Proper assessment of all ideas is essential .
7. Losing your guide (security and habit)
is one way to discover new paths .
8. A successful problem solution is dependent on the relationship of many sub
solutions .
9 . There is always some form of relation ship between all things.
10. The solution to one problem often opens
the possibility for new problems to
11 . It is easier to reach a goal when the
path of objectives is clear .
12. A weak
can lead to an
ineffective conc lusion .
13. Clear judgment requires clear standards.
14. The "playful you" is always there to
help when the "logical you" gets stuck.
15. Solving the components can solve entire
16. To determine the solution to a mystery,
you must find the essential clues.
17 . Some problems require side-trips into
strange new territory before they can be
18. Finding simple ways to deal with complex
situations is always possible.
19. Some problems are so connected to other
problems that they cannot be considered
by themselves alone.

1 12

A well-kept journal of a proces s provides an aucomatic product.

by pl8l111ing
1 . Principles and rules take many different
forms .
2 . Experiments can be costly but worth
every cent .
3. Unrelated principles can block relevant
princip les .
4. Unpleasant journeys leave few good
5 . Perfect balance is theoretical . Reality
is dynamic .
6 . Complex problems can be simply defined .
7 . A unique point of view is often found
within existing points of view .
8. Some things just can't be dealt with
properly when taken out of context .
9 . Experience can sometimes lead to premature and incorrect conclusions .
10 . Playing-around will at least get you
moving .
11 . To learn by doi n g you must first get
started .
12 . Cl ear t h inking relies on balanci ng logic
wit h experience .
13 . Unproven principles can get you into
trouble .

Expect the unexpected . Change is the

only constant.
15 . Know what you don't know . Dealing consciously with your ignorance develops
awareness .
16 . Perception and reality are never equal .
17 . Good record-keeping prolongs the appreciation of exper i ence .


The Art of Critical Making

Rhode Island School of Design
on Creative Practice

Edited by Rosanne Somerson

and Mara L. Hermano
Foreword by John Maeda


Cover images: Elish Warlop (MF'A 2013 furniture Design), studies lor
Rings of Fire and Hoop Skirts lighting, 2013, steel and brass, each 4
Publication design: Julie fry

4 in.

This book is printed on acid-free paper. '-'

Copyright CJ 20!3 by Rhode Island School ol Design. All rights reserved.
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10 9 8 7 & 5 4 3 2 I

The Art of Critical Making: An Introduction

Rosanne Somerson

Walk along the riverfront in Providence, Rhode Island, at the foot of "College
Hill," and you may be surprised by what you see. You might easily walk
beside someone carrying a hollow six-foot shoe fabricated from woven wire,
or alongside a group of students balancing their newly finished chairs on
their backs and heads, or pass someone lugging a drawing portfolio so large
and unwieldy that you might be tempted to stop and ask to assist. On certain
days there could be fashion collections wheeled on hanger racks, or recycled
industrial off-cuts of felt and cork spilling out of bags slung over shoulders, or
even sculpted metal chopsticks three times the height of the woman hauling
them. Someone might have laced delicate woven yarn around trees lining the
river walk, preparing their branches with sweater-like covers for winter. Out
of sight, inside the studios and labs, a diverse range of projects could likely
be developing-investigations into sustainable systems for food transport, or
objects designed for extreme climates, or a video that correlates and weaves
together two events happening simultaneously in different locations.
Art schools are lively places, but few outside their walls have the opportunity to experience the kind of environment where the new is manifest
every day, where paradigms are continually stretched and challenged, and
where shock and beauty flourish side by side. What is the "magic" in the
art and design school learning model that advances an individual from an
interested student into a creative innovator? And how might the creativity
and expertise that result from this form of education be accessible to others?
While no single philosophy or pedagogy effectively turns developing artists
and designers into creative professionals, some shared methods have proven
to transform hard-working students into exceptional creative practitioners.
In this book, RISD faculty and staff examine these methods to explore RISD's
rationale and approach in developing and enhancing creative learning.
Additionally, we explore the efficacy and the essential need, in contemporary times, for learning that includes hands-on practice, the processing of
enhanced seeing and perception, and contextualized understanding-all elements of "critical making."




At RISD we develop curricular models through which innovation and

originality are coaxed, rendered, and challenged, leading to heightened
expression and new ways of thinking. We cultivate intense personal development, deep disciplinary expertise, rigorous skill-building, advanced conceptual reasoning, and attention to both process and execution. We are
committed to fostering creative and critical thinkers who innovate with ease,
who are not rattled by uncertainty, who move agilely from one form of output
to another, and who can communicate in multiple ways with acuity and clarity. We believe that these traits are effective remedies for crumbling systems
and structures that no longer work. As educational systems propel us further and further away from physical. tangible experience, how better might
learning support nimble, innovative, and imaginative thinking than through
models that emphasize the iterative formation of ideas through making?
Contemporary times call for contemporary thinkers and makers.
Through these pages, we invite you to enter with us into a world of
creative energy and rigorous investigation. Who might benent from a "peek
through the keyhole" into the multifaceted characteristics of RISD's educational practice? This book will certainly be useful to those who are directly
pursuing an art and design education. Prospective students will gather deep
insights into their potential futures. Parents who may be skeptical about the
benents of supporting such a path at a time when it seems that key opportunities point toward other areas of study-business, technology, scientinc
research, entertainment, medicine, and marketing-may be surprised to
learn that RISD alumni have succeeded at high levels in remarkable ways in
all of these fi.elds. A RISD alumna who later became an attorney still cites her
RISD education as the formative basis for complex problem solving required
in her law practice; a product designer demonstrates that his education in
design process helped him to create one of the most successful online businesses in existence; some of the region's best restaurants famous for their
remarkably innovative cuisine boast RISD alumni as chefs and owners. Our
alumni are successful recording artists, medical device inventors, and social



visionaries who have changed and improved lives around the world. And
of course the list of distinguished alumni artists and designers representing every form of creative practice is the source of great pride. RISD graduates have made Oscar-winning fi.lms (and even hosted the Oscars), popular
book and television series, and signifi.cant public programming. The number of alumni who have been awarded MacArthur "genius" Fellowships and
Fulbrights is unmatched by any other art school. Look at the "Gallery Guide"
in any city, attend any global art fair, or visit any of the top design, architecture, fashion, or textile li.rms, and you will likely li.nd numerous RISD alumni
at work. In short, extraordinary results have emerged from the RISD educational experience as it has evolved over some 13S years.
In addition to aspiring young artists and designers and their parents,
many others will find this book enlightening and supportive. Many corporations recognize how much more inventive they can be when they apply
principles like those framed in our curricula, paying close attention to how
they activate innovation and advance opportunity. Businesses of all sorts
looking for ways to rethink long-held assumptions and to build greater creativity into their process and outcomes will fi.nd illuminating and expansive
approaches to familiar questions, which may well generate innovation and
new achievement. Practitioners early in their careers looking for ways to
build their own strong creative practices will benefit from the insights of the
experienced educators who have contributed to this book, gaining deeper
understanding of high-level creative learning. Even other systems of education can benefit from echoing the curricular approaches and processes of
an art and design institution such as RISD. Indeed, so much about art and
design education can benefit a broad audience.

The writers who have contributed to this book-like all of our faculty, staff,
and librarians-lead in their disciplines through engaged and ongoing professional practice. These writers do not attempt here to define art or design.



They do not offer a prescription for creative innovation. Instead, they offer
observations and examples from direct experience that make up the substance and distinction of a RISD education, untangling the territory of art education, which remains largely unknown outside of arts institutions. Through
our contributors' careful telling, RISD's remarkably effective methodologies
and tools for transformative education can be accessed by any curious reader.
In the Preface, neurologist, author, and researcher Frank Wilson-the
only writer in this book who is not a faculty or staff member at RISD (though
he is a frequent RISD visitor and lecturer)-describes the biologic science of
the co-evolution of the hand and the brain, and proposes the resulting neurological precedents to thinking and making as collaborators in both human
and educational development. He sets the stage for the other contributors,
who echo how the artistic mind relies on "making" as a critical activity, one
that informs a particular kind of deep intelligence that cannot be learned
without real material manipulation and sensory, embodied experience.
Leslie Hirst, Foundation Studies faculty member, presents the "groundwork" of preparing students to become immersive learners in our common
undergraduate first year, literally laying the foundation for the commitment
it takes to succeed as a creative professional. The nrst-year experience for
freshmen, and, in different ways, for graduate students, is about learning
how to reset expectations, to nnd new ways to begin, and to develop the
conceptual and making tools necessary to create works that are signincant
in composition, presentation, function, or solution. The nrst year is about
devising individual systems for making and breaking one's own rules. As
Hirst notes, it is also about learning to live comfortably in uncertainty so
as to take new risks and forge new directions, and to push harder through
personal limitations than ever imagined. These fundamental and formative
experiences contribute to building the experience and bodies of knowledge
that shape an artist or designer.
The creative process cannot live independently from the contexts
that inform the maker. In his essay, Dean of Liberal Arts Daniel Cavicchi



describes how the rigorous Liberal Arts courses required of every RISD
student deepen scholarship, research practices, and forms of expression.
Inquiry takes many forms in an art and design environment, and at RISD we
believe that multiple research methodologies are paramount to developing
innovative thinking and making and to educating informed future citizens-a
goal at the heart of RISD's mission. RISD students draw connections to histories, philosophies, literary forms, and identities-all essential to building
ethical, reflective, self-aware, and articulate practices. Cavicchi describes
how RISD students thus "develop a familiarity with meta-thinking which, in
turn, heightens their ability to see new connections and meanings." Liberal
Arts courses create context that informs studio work, just as art and design
students bring into their Liberal Arts classrooms unique and imaginative
forms of inquiry.
Three topics in this book-drawing, materials, and critique- are so
essential to a RISD education, and yet so diversely implemented, that we
chose to present them as guided "Conversations," incorporating numerous
voices to express multiple approaches. The nrst "Conversation," led by Dean
of Graduate Studies Patricia Phillips, explores drawing. Drawing is fundamental to RISD learning. Drawing helps to develop the intelligence of the
hand and its cooperation with the eye and the brain. Drawings are a required
component of our undergraduate admissions application, and help to determine who gets accepted into RISD. We use these application drawings, however, not just to evaluate who "draws well" but to help us assess how an
applicant sees.
To non-artists, drawing is often understood as replicating or representing what is seen-capturing shape and contour, composition, outlines, and
shadows in space. At RISD, though mastering various representation techniques may be part of skill-building, drawing is regarded more as what
Phillips calls a "flexible instrument," a developmental tool, a way of mapping
thinking that can be circuitous, improvisational, or highly structured. Drawing also helps us to record events and ideas and share them with someone



else. It can be a container for curiosity, banking undeveloped ideas to percolate into something later. I still refer to sketchbooks that I made as a sophomore, many years ago. The "raw" ideas in those pages engender completely
new resonance to me today, and in some instances have manifested as projects decades later.
When we turn drawings into things, how do those things emulate
or express the thinking that helped to bring them to life? In "Thingking,"
Professor John Dunnigan merges thinking and making into one action word,
highlighting their symbiotic relationship. Dunnigan proposes that embodied
knowledge is a direct result of engaging with real materials and real scale.
He articulates a clear philosophy about how both research and conceptual
development emerge in physical form, exemplifying curricular outcomes in
the work of alumni.
One special place where RISD students and the public encounter extraordinary examples of real-scale objects is in the RISD Museum. RISD is fortunate to have as part of the college a world-class art museum, which contains
more than 80,000 objects originating from classical times to the present
and representing most regions of the world. These great works serve as fertile sources of knowledge. They help us to understand fabrication methods
across millennia, as well as broad aspects of culture ranging from aesthetics
to social structures to spirituality. Sarah Ganz Blythe, Director of Education
at the RISD Museum, describes the long history of learning from objects as
primary sources by looking, analyzing, and contextualizing. Such learning
helps us form a language for communicating responses to art and design,
and in turn fosters the creation of art and design objects that speak their own
language. Suggesting that works of art rarely have fmite or singular meanings, Ganz Blythe demonstrates that interpretation is a form of expression
open to not only artists and designers but to all museum visitors.
The Museum is a wonderful laboratory in which to look at not just works
of art but the materials they are made of. and how those have both changed
and remained consistent over time. We are fortunate that our Fleet Library



now includes the Graham Visual+ Material Resource Center, an amazing,

growing collection of tens of thousands of materials for exploration and
research-some commercial materials, some natural materials, and some
materials that students have created themselves. Materials have played an
essential role in the development of works of art and design throughout time.
Indeed, early historic periods were named and designated by materials-the
Stone Age, the Iron Age, and so on. Today, material studies are complex and
multiply scaled-from molecular investigations to research on the environmental impacts of procurement and distribution. The materials collection
provides a platform through which to address these issues, with a particular
focus on principles of sustainability.
Materials are deep at the heart of making at RISD, playing key and diverse
roles. Their exploration comprises the second of our "Conversations," this
one led by Associate Professor Kelly Dobson, Head of our Digital+ Media
graduate program. Dobson interviewed three RISD faculty members and the
Visual +Material Resource Librarian. Each participant has varied and intimate experience with materials in his or her work and teaching. Dobson and
her colleagues' perspectives challenge us to regard materials both pragmatically and conceptually, showing how material explorations and applications
operate in both orthodox and innovative ways. The conversations address
not just the application of materials, but how sensitized responses to materials can allow the material, rather than the maker, to lead. Materials can be
virtual as well, which means that now, like never before, artists and designers have a wider palette with which to express their ideas.
Lucinda Hitchcock, Professor in Graphic Design, addresses another profound change in our times-the influx of information and the form that makes
that information evident. Hitchcock describes how visual narrative, or storytelling, can provide paths to navigate, interpret, and frame the many ways in
which we encounter and process unfiltered information. She has been part
of a faculty team for many years at RISD that has evolved a signature course
called "Making Meaning." Meaning is at the heart of communication, and



through this course students develop visual forms of expression that facilitate understanding. Providing evocative descriptions of cultural phenomena
and examples from the classroom and student work. Hitchcock helps us to
understand how today's graphic designers are "cultural curators," producing
the information that defines and enhances our experiences every day.
The natural world provides its own kind of meaning. Another of RISD's
particular treasures is the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, an inspiring collection of natural specimens ranging from plants, insects, and skeletons to
rocks, shells, and amoebas to various forms of taxidermy animals and even
a few live species. A fundamental part of a RISD education for 75 years, the
Nature Lab is a center for examination and comparison and for learning from
nature's systems. Students study how efficient systems can produce elegant
results, and then apply that learning to other contexts. They explore consistencies and inconsistencies at various scales, from galaxies to microscopic
worlds. The Nature Lab's Director, Neal Overstrom, a design-scientist with
a background in both design and biology, is uniquely adept at guiding artists
and designers to draw both information and inspiration from this magical
collection. In his essay, "The Nature Imperative," Overstrom describes how
the Lab helps students to develop sensitivity, observation, and perception,
and why this kind of learning matters.
Throughout the developmental stages of creation, art and design education depends on critiques-or "crits" as they are commonly referred to at
RISD-as a unique learning mode. At a crit, students present their work to
reviewers, articulate their intentions, and receive feedback. The reviewers
might be faculty, students and faculty, or a group that includes external professional reviewers. Often these external critics are from other disciplines,
bringing a fresh perspective to the work.
Critiques are core to the development and assessment of creative work.
Highly diverse in their methods and outcomes, they adhere to no single formula. In this book's third "Conversation," Professor Eva Sutton asked several
faculty, students, and alumni to each make a sketch representative of his or



her experience of critique, then used the sketches as a basis for exploring the
various modes of critique. Critiques can be behavioral learning experiences
that help participants learn about social interaction, expressions of support,
and disagreement. Successful critiques are about perceptive, constructive
feedback, not a judgment of good or bad, but an offering of "I experience
this-was that your intention?" or "What if ... ?" Critiques provide a pathway through which students develop a lifelong ability to self-evaluate and to
reflect on improving, articulating, and evolving their ideas. The benefits of
this kind of conscious awareness of how a work succeeds in communicating an intended outcome and the cultivation of honest response surely have
applications not just in art and design but in multiple circumstances.
In "Acting into the Unknown," Dean of Architecture a nd Design Pradeep
Sharma describes how we take art and design learning out into the worldhow various forms of creativity and innovation can influence creative practices of all sorts as well as business models, and ultimately mark culture itself.
Sharma describes the various structures of our partnered engagements, from
short executive-education salons to long-term partnered research projects
that we have run with a range of corporations, industries, and government
agencies such as NASA. Partners collaborate with RISD to explore issues
using our creative methodologies-to frame new questions and advance
opportunities. Our iterative process leads to new directions for exploration,
and our ability to manifest ideas in real form through making materializes
ideas. As Sharma suggests, this is often where true innovation occurs.

The gifted contributors to this book each articulate an important aspect of

a potent, adventurous form of teaching and learning. While this book celebrates the excellence of a RISD education, it is also about showcasing the
value of an art and design education in principle, using RISD as a model.
Recently there has been a surge of interest in the particular character of
art and design education and how its ingredients build both the intuitive



and rational abilities that generate change. Studies and the media are full
of examples of creative approaches applied in new contexts, as business
schools incorporate "design thinking" into curricula, businesses apply creative processes to planning and decision-making, and companies hire CIOs
(Chief Innovation Officers). A plethora of books about creativity, problem
solving, and innovation has been published in the past few years. RISD's
President, John Maeda, has worked with government representatives such
as Rhode Island Representative Jim Langevin and numerous bi-partisan
Congressional representatives to add art and design to the national Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education agenda, incorporating
an "A" for "art and design" to turn STEM into STEAM. This platform, supported now in over 30 countries around the globe, recognizes art and design
as the "secret sauce" in multiple fields, engaging with creative exploration to
reach greater potential-the potential that will help to define advancements
in the twenty-first century.
Being Provost of RISD at such a significant time in history is intensely
rewarding. As the world grows increasingly complex and fast-paced, with
global issues impacting us all, making, materials, and meaning are critical.
The kind of essential knowing that we develop at RISD-informed through
our hands, through our bodies, and in the creation of works, experiences, and
events-is more cogent than at any other time. Artists and designers hone
the capacity to generate something from deep inside ourselves to live outside
of ourselves. By residing in the experiential and the physical, and by developing the "hands-on" as a portal of intelligent learning, we confirm the mind
as maker and making as a state of mindfulness. We demonstrate how artists
and designers are hosts for enduring creative discovery that is self-initiated
and actively engaged. In short, artists and designers manifest what has not
existed previously-in many cases, what has never even been imagined.
A group of 34 forward-thinking women-members of the Rhode Island
Centennial Committee-envisioned the importance of art and design as the
key to progress and to humanizing and enhancing culture when they founded



RISD in 1877. Their early mission was three-fold. First, to teach "artisans
in drawing, painting, modeling, and designing, that they may successfully
apply the principles of Art to the requirements of trade and manufacture."
Second, they wanted to train "students in the practice of Art, in order that
they may understand its principles, give instruction to others, or become artists." Third, they intended to advance "public Art Education, by the exhibition of works of Art and of Art school studies, and by lectures on Art." RISD's
current mission reflects all of these goals, with an expanded emphasis on
discovering and transmitting knowledge to make "lasting contributions to a
global society through critical thinking, scholarship, and innovation." This
recent addition to the mission, while new in some ways, is very much in
keeping with the notion of showcasing expertise and innovation through
world's fairs. The form and forum may have changed, but not the intent.
Indeed, the intentions of an art and design education as envisioned in 1877
are still relevant today. RISD remains committed to immersive disciplinary
learning as fundamental to evolving basic principles into new contexts. Still,
as disciplinary boundaries conflate and overlap, we are emphasizing ways to
encourage crossovers and new forms of research and practice. At RISD, as in
broader contemporary culture, the familiar delineations between artist and
designer are becoming less distinct; disciplinary boundaries are more like
placeholders for definition rather than parameters. In the professional world,
artists are creating successful design work and vice versa. RISD students are
encouraged to integrate diverse practices in developing their work. Architecture students immerse themselves in fine arts courses and painters can learn
the techniques and processes of designers. This kind of integrated learning
complements disciplinary expertise, in which structured curricula call forth
deep, immersive investigation, intensive trial and error, and critical feedback.
Today, new models emanating from art and design are helping us to live
and work more flexibly, effectively, and meaningfully in a world that is rapidly changing and economically challenging. We need confident, creative, and
nimble thinkers who can navigate circuitous complexity. The meandering



lines of Laura Kishimoto's (BFA 2013 Furniture Design) beautiful object,

Medusa, symbolically illustrate this kind of agility, where transparent lines
still achieve solid form, punctuated by highlights all along the way (fig. 1).
Our economies, our cultural entities, and even our own constructed lives
require generative contributions that, rather than seek a single answer or
follow a mapped path, open many doors of possibility and often benefit from
the surprises of serendipity. The Art of Critical Making showcases how an
education in art and design contributes to just these models and approaches,
exploring the core principles that guide this kind of journey, a journey that is
not directional, but dimensional.

Fig. 1
Laura Kish1moto,

MedtJsa, 2013

Leslie Hirst

How does a new student of art and design transform into a

creative and critical maker? Leslie Hirst, Associate Professor,
Foundation Studies, argues that critical making is not
something that just happens to people with certain gifts or
abilities. Rather, critical making-transforming the ordinary
into something meaningful-involves absolute focus and
an enormous amount of doing that is often hard to qualify while
it is being done. Through recollections and a series of lessons,
Hirst demonstrates that the path to becoming a creative
practitioner is never straight, and is strewn with obstacles
as well as inspiration.