I tend to look for metaphors in attempting to understand new concepts. Considering the mess of hydrate slush formation at the Deepwater oil spill, I remembered my first real introduction to the concept of phase change, and leaped headlong into how concepts themselves crystallize.
More than a few years ago, Dr. Ron Berzofsky and I were flying back to DC from a site-inspection when he broached the wonder of phase-change; that unique ability of compounds to move between solid, liquid and gaseous states or even to a plasma due to changes in ambient temperature or pressure. First order phase-transitions are the result of latent heat exchange, like boiling water giving off steam, or the formation of snowflakes as chaotic activity cools and motion is arrested, becoming organized into a stable, low-energy system. Sometimes a triple-point is reached with very low pressures at low temperature triggers a phase change between multiple states with very small energy exchanges.
As water vapor cools, moisture vapor condenses into droplets. As those drops continue to give up their heat energy to ambient surroundings, their chaotic activity slows further, from liquid to solid with a hexagonal lattice structure, resulting in the formation of geometrically organized crystals. Ice!
OK, where’s this going? Well, in speaking recently with Dr. B, I reconsidered other changes driven by an exchange of energy. As a metaphor, design can be thought of as the condensation of new ideas forming simpler, yet more organized structures from complex experiences or imagination. In developing any new concept, people give up creative energy in exchange for organized patterns of thought in the same way that water exchanges heat energy and assumes a highly organized hexagonal crystal structure.
Most often, we regard creative energy as generating heat energy. Perhaps, . . . But consider the inverse where the creative energy behind a new idea is exchanged as those ideas and concepts are considered, evolve inside-out and finally solidify to crystallize into higher orders of organization in the creation of solutions for new problems.
Design thinking is that wonderful triple-point where new perceptions on the human condition and diversity coupled with observations on behaviors, technology, systems and opportunities are involved in the exchange of wild ideas. Sometimes this leads to the generation of entirely fresh new concepts that seem to literally fall out of the sky.
. . . Like snow.