Over 60 people from places as far flung as Australia and Denmark converged on Weatherhead on November 11 and 12 for a two-day Positive Design workshop on “Designing Information and Organizations with a Positive Lens.” Conference organizers proposed using the conference to advance a scholarship of design and positive change in human organizations that involves social and technological elements and fosters betterment in human organizations and communities. They advocated approaches that focus less on detection of error and control of chronic problems and more on the potential of designing hopeful organizations with more human centered technologies. What made the conference unusual was the mix of participants from the fields of technology, organizational theory, and design. The conference was sponsored by Weatherhead's center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit and the Information Design Studio.
The conference design moved between plenary sessions, which featured presentations by selected attendees, and small group sessions, where ten to twelve people sorted through the ideas being offered at the conference and the personal research and work agendas of those in their group. This mix of people made for high energy conversations and at times spirited disagreement over ways of seeing the subject of design and the terms of art from the different fields represented.
The conference opened and closed with presentations by those involved with the design of the conference, General Chairs, Richard Boland and David Cooperrider, and Program Chairs, Kalle Lyytinen and Michel Avital, from Weatherhead’s Information Systems department.
The plenaries varied widely, with presenters from each of the three disciplines framing perspectives on their field. Dr. Cho from Seoul National University in Korea offered a thoughtful framework of design principles applied to a range of human systems from the local to the global. Lynn Markus, the John W. Poduska, Sr. Chair of Information Management at Bentley College, addressed the way the internet fails and succeeds at providing customer interface for businesses, at one point offering a slide from the New York Times on how to reach a human being in the labyrinth of options in corporate voice mail schemata. Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps demonstrated a new proprietary software program they have developed which offers dynamic views of the organization chart of client organization which morphed as a cursor moved to focus on different levels of the organization.
Some of the design elements came from scholars in the organizational theory area. Nancy Adler, global leadership professor from McGill University, offered a slide show of her watercolors with quotations from many of the world’s leaders. Friday night, after dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel, Frank Barrett, an alumnus of both Weatherhead’s Organizational Behavior department and the Tommy Dorsey band, and currently on the faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, manned a grand piano for an extemporaneous lesson on the links between jazz improv and organizational theory.
Conference organizers are planning for the writings from the conference to form a special issue in the journal Information and Organization and a second book in the Elsevier publishing series for Leaders of Change --Advances in Appreciative Inquiry.
By Judy Rodgers, BAWB Executive Director