Debbie Downer Doesn’t Do Design

OspreyAre you a real engineer – you know, the kind who actually knows the underlying mechanics of how the natural world works? Have you ever been evicted from an innovation workshop by some smug hipster with an art degree who your firm engaged to teach you how to think creatively? Has a self-proclaimed design guru called you a Debbie Downer because you categorically reject all spacecraft designs that  include the note, “Insert warp drive here”?

Do you wear the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics on your sleeve? Do you recoil at greentech entrepreneurs who convince investors and politicians that with innovative design, photovoltaic conversion efficiency can breach the Shockley-Queisser limit or even the Carnot limit?

Do many TED talks make you want to hurl? You know the ones. Take the second most popular TED talk of all time, where Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor relates her “stroke of insight” – an incredible tale of the transcendent peace she experienced after a complete lateral stroke. She drags out the ever-popular (false – but don’t be a Negative Nancy) left-brain/right-brain stuff as an explanation for her mystical experiences. The high-rolling TED audience swoons. Taylor then dredges up an old TED staple, stating, “the left hemisphere is linear thinking.”

Ah – linear thinking. One TED speaker shows a graph of a straight line and another of an exponential curve. He explains the magic nature of exponentiality to the spellbound audience who has apparently forgotten their high school math class on compound interest and then releases his pearl: imagine how productive we can be if we employ nonlinear thinking instead of the linear variety. He equivocates discontinuous non-linearity with exponential nonlinearity and not a soul notices. Critical thinking is for left-brained losers.

Do you groan when Jane McGonigal declares an epic win with her assertion that behaviors learned in World of Warcraft can translate into solutions to real problems if we just swallow the right dose of newthink? McGonigal reports that humans have spent 5.93 million years playing World of Warcraft. She means, of course, 5.93 million man-years (or Doritos-stained-fingers, pear-shaped-kid-years). She adds that 5.93 million years ago is when primates became bipedal (TED video at 6:05). She then addresses the evolutionary value of video games, noting that we’ve played WoW as long as we’ve walked on our hind legs. I’m not making this up. “This is true; I believe this,” as McGonigal likes to say.

If you’ve ever wanted to choke a perpetual-motion hocking idea-man, The Onion has an antidote:

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  1. #1 by Knox Bronson (@knoxbronson) on November 25, 2012 - 12:59 pm

    As always, Bill, very thought-provoking. The onion video is hilarious, spot-on. Thank you. Some time, I would like to hear/read what you have to say about the left/right brain linear/non-linear concept so very popular (and which I believed to be fundamentally sound).

  1. Incommensurability and the Design-Engineering Gap | The Multidisciplinarian

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