Growing rather than planning solutions
The uncertainty of prediction
The conceptual difficulty in understanding bottom up design strategies is identical to the conceptual hurdle that has to be crossed in understanding evolution. It is a matter of trying to look across time slices.
The human mind appears to be able to predict the future by extrapolating past and present events. We can do in our minds with the fourth dimension, what artists can do on paper or canvas with the third when they make 3-D drawings. We model the future to simulate future possibilities, events and consequences. What we cannot do though is accurately visualise the future when there are too many uncertainties involved.
During the many Internet discussions I've had on the subject of bottom up design, I've found most people who have problems with the concept, equate bottom up design with brain storming or white boarding because these techniques are often used prior to devising a fully structured Industrial Age plan.
In brain storming, everyone is invited to contribute ideas however unrelated they may seem. In white boarding, a group gathers around a large sheet of paper upon which anyone can sketch out their ideas or add to the ideas of others.
Chris Heape describes how he sees them being used:
"The principle reason for having brainstorming sessions or whiteboarding sessions, is not to my mind just a question of " to predict outcomes or events". No way. These are techniques to allow people ( myself, my students, and my working colleagues ) to access their world of association and to allow them to bring their " TACIT KNOWLEDGE" up to the surface, enabling them to communicate what it is difficult to put into words and understand the problem in hand. This technique is a brilliant tool to get round the cliché thinking that bedevils the innovative mind. It allows one to *paint one's thoughts, word by word onto the canvas of the whitebord, in order to find some kind of sense, pattern or meaning which allows for the next step or decision, without having to refer to some given plan, but to some initiated goal or attracted towards some goal"
The key here is in understanding that these techniques can only be used to provide initiatives for "the next step" in the Information Age: because it isn't valid to look any further. Bottom up design involves a continuous series of short "next steps" with evaluations and brainstorming at every step. Industrial Age planning uses brainstorming only at the conception of a plan usually at the time the plan is conceived.
When the future involves too many unknowns for reliable prediction, predictions have no value. You have to work only with reality and this means waiting for the future to actually arrive before taking action. The is the biggest paradox of all: that you can exercise reasonable control over a future design by waiting for the future to arrive before taking any action. Understanding this is not immediately intuitive. It is an elusive concept that is beset with paradoxes.
It will need practical examples to enable the concept to click into place. When it does, the understanding arrives not gradually, but, as a sudden transition. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, when you first try to ride you think it is absolutely impossible and then suddenly you find yourself cycling along and wondering why you ever saw it as being difficult.
Much the same as it is difficult to learn to ride a bicycle from a list of instructions, so, it is impossible to try learn about bottom up design from an explanation. For this reason, we'll spend the rest of this chapter going through various kinds of anecdotes and examples to bring out the essence of this enigmatic strategy.