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Designing teams that flow

Imagine exiting a train station and rounding the corner in an urban part of London for the first time, on your own, without knowing a single person to start studying in a Design School after growing up in a small town. This is exactly the unlikely path taken by Lisa Scharoun, now Professor and Head of the School of Design at QUT. This never occurred to her growing up as one of 5 children in the middle of rural U.S.A. As Steve Jobs famously quoted, you can only join the dots looking backwards.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word design? At first, it invokes fashion, architecture, and iPhones. Then, after talking with Lisa on the Thriving minds podcast, it became clear that expert design is the gateway that provides the simplest solution for complex problems. For example, it was the discovery of the design of DNA, the double helix, consisting of two strands that wind around each other like a twisted ladder that led to the scientific and genomics revolution. The simple design was discovered in1953 by a team of scientists putting together the pieces of a puzzle built by hundreds of scientists, starting with Friedrich Miescher in 1869.

Watson and Crick, with the help of Rosalind Franklin, and others, used cardboard cut-outs on a table of the individual chemical components of the four bases (AC TG) and other nucleotide subunits that make up the chemical structure of DNA. Watson and Crick shifted molecules around on their desktops. It took a team working together inflow to discover the double helix structure of DNA built by nature’s simple design. Together they solved one of the most complex scientific problems, being the way in which all living forms are connected to each other (see Pray et al., 2008).

What could be more complex than designing teams to achieve flow states? The ability of team members together to flow arises from a complex array of small daily decisions each member has made. From choices of how to get up in the morning, amount of exercise, and the food being eaten. In Lisa’s case, her life flowed from exchanging letters with a family friend at 10 years old in Germany into studying and working across the USA, UK, China, Singapore, and Australia and becoming International expertise in design. Her team flow was designed by creating a collaborative environment with a mantra of ‘change comes by design’. They created a set of promotional posters for the Olympic Village that highlighted the history and significant contributions that Australian Paralympic athletes have contributed to the sport. This set of posters, created for the London 2012 games, has subsequently been showcased at the US Embassy in Canberra as well as at every subsequent Paralympic Games.

As we enter the post-pandemic COVID-19 era, the dominant design we face is how to live sustainably within an economic model that demands consumption and growth. A design solution to this complex puzzle is greatly needed, for example, how would we re-wild the Earth as proposed by David Attenborough.

Please join Lisa and I as we discuss how to design teams that flow.

Citation: Pray, L. (2008) Discovery of DNA structure and function: Watson and Crick. Nature Education 1(1):100

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