We needed the Slow Food movement to remind us that meals can heal us through their rituals of connectedness and their nourishing substance. We need the Slow Money movement to remind us that money should serve life and not the other way around.

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Power Down: Why We Need To Completely Redesign Our Use of Energy

Energy is at the core of our global challenges, and we can't rely on tech alone to solve the problem.

More than just a bill we hate to pay every month, energy is at the very core of our global challenges. Extracting fossil fuels poisons landscapes, while burning those fuels accelerates climate change. As conventional oil and gas deplete, energy companies spend more to search for new supplies. Fuel prices rise, imperiling not just our after work drink budgets, but the economies and security of entire nations.
It’s tempting just to look for ways to target each of our energy problems with a technical fix. Can’t we improve the energy efficiency of vehicles, develop renewable energy sources, and sequester carbon? Yes, of course. But two problems remain.
First: we have exceeded global levels of energy consumption that are sustainable. The sheer scale of our energy use today is fantastic when compared with that in any era of history. And still we want more.
Second: we have created an energy infrastructure that has overpowered natural ecosystems. Ocean trawlers overwhelm the ability of fish species to rebound. Diesel-powered shovels rip apart mountains for coal. Chainsaws and bulldozers level 13 million hectares of forest every year, while paving machines render agricultural land and natural habitat into highways and parking lots for box stores.

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Solving Wicked Problems: Using Systems Thinking in Design

Before designing a solution to a "wicked problem" like climate change or healthcare, it's helpful to map out the whole system.

My classmates and I are in the Design for Social Innovation program because we identified problems in our communities, companies, or cultures and are keen to figure them out. But before talking about any solution or outcome, we’ve learned that you must first frame the problem—by thoughtfully examining the system it’s part of to understand where and how to get involved.
For me, this was a refreshing approach to design after spending several years in NYC healthcare advertising agencies where we rarely considered the social context of our work. We delivered a churn of logos using a straightforward process our clients loved, but it didn’t feel relevant to the world in which we all lived. If we’d been more conscious of the interconnected system of pharma, healthcare policy, and real communities, our design would have likely made a bigger impact and we would have certainly been more proud of it.
Learning to use systems thinking, a holistic approach to problem solving that emphasizes contextual understanding, has helped me with team management, project planning, creative work, and even relationships. And for wicked problems like healthcare that confront business, nature, and society, it’s proving to be imperative.
In 1973, social scientists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber defined wicked problems as those incomprehensibly complex and messy issues we have trouble defining, let alone attempting to solve. Climate change has proven one of the most wicked, as have healthcare, corruption, and the prison system. Such problems are inherently systemic, with unavoidable social complications that require flexibility and patience.
Let’s use Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban as an example. It’s an issue tied to obesity and diabetes, NYC’s urban plan, the beverage industry, and cultural norms. Where to even begin? “We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity,” advises systems thinking pioneer Donella Meadows. Sometimes a simple infographic like this one works to tell the story (it shows the history, culture, and science of sugar consumption, but doesn’t overextend into policy or planning, which might dilute its message). Designing visual maps and models helps us immediately find connections and describe relationships. I’ve always been a fan of writing outlines to frame an argument or plan a project; creating models now helps me see the big picture and my place within it.

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