square peg round hole

Jeanny Wang on Somewhere.com shared this insight with me recently:

Clement Mok wrote a piece back in 2003 asking whether the diversity and fragmented state of design is the root cause as to why the field will never establish itself as a respected and united profession. I think that like all other professions, as a design-producer people know what you deliver and your value. But, once you move up the ladder and begin working on business strategies (usually applying design thinking), the folks up on the executive level - usually MBA[s] or Engineers - ... don't exactly know how to position you. You somehow think like them, but you are not as rational, as fixated on numbers as they are. You deliver holistics. And not everyone know how to handle that :)

Two thoughts:

  1. Perhaps design is by its nature is inavoidably diverse and fragmented. Because the act of design, of conscious problem solving, is applicable across a wide range of activities. From choosing what to wear in the morning, to working out how to land a space craft millions of kilometres away.

    We only attempt to package it into neat boxes so we can more easily train and market specific subsets of design services.

    The core analysis and ideation skills can be packaged into a more fundamental skill set for a wider audience. Reading, writing, arithmetic and design!

  2. The human need to group, categorise, and stereotype makes it that much harder to cross silos. I guess it is a way for us to avoid uncertainty, when we know exactly what box someone fits into.

    "Don't be a square peg in a round hole! Fit in. Don't go against the system. Don't make it hard for yourself. How boring right?

    It isn't all bad of course. It is an interesting niche to work in. Like an extension of being an external consultant, who are expected to cross hierarchical boundaries. So why not cross subject matter domain silos as well?!

It doesnt take much thinking to realise how tenuous the square-peg-round-hole metaphor is.

By changing the size of the peg (modifying how we interface with the world) a square peg can indeed fit into many different round holes. And that perhaps is a fundamental skill for deep generalists!

"As they say, you can't fit a square peg in a round hole. If your boss is like that round hole and you are that square peg, you aren't going to fit in unless you re-shape your edges." -- -- Gini Graham Scott in A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses: Dealing with Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, and Other Managers from Hell.

Image: Square peg round hole via Shutterstock.