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    Connecting the dots in reverse: the art of suspended disbelief

    Michael Rogers Aug 30 '10 2

    I recently watched a recording of Steve Jobs presenting a graduation address at Stanford where he enumerated on the idea of connecting the dots, but only in retrospect. He went on to explain that he did a bunch of things early in life that made no sense and appeared supremely useless, like taking calligraphy class, which proved instrumental in helping him design the first personal computer and begin the company Pixar. Only in retrospect can you connect the dots intelligently rang the speech.

    I mention this annodote because I am currently in the process of compiling and sequencing a book of all the research my team has conducted over the last six months. It is our Phase I book and it catalogs all of the absurd, amateurish, whimsical and despirate design experiments we conducted on our way to finding a thesis project. The goal of the book is to connect the dots, to document step along a trajectory of thought and build a thesis argument from the results, both successful and unsuccessful of the experiments. In short, to connect the dots. Before making the book, however, it seemed abundantly clear to me that we had fooled around for many months, discarding each experiment, moving on in a different direction and beginning anew from scratch. We had a project to describe but there really didn’t seem to be too many dots to connect through the history of our process. But the book needs pages and everyone likes pretty pictures so after the most important experiments were laid out I began stuffing all the rest of our early work in too. “Here is us blowing on balloons.” “Here is us making a sock.” “Here is us making a plastic version of velcrow…” Eventually reaching our first two experiments, it struck me like a Chuck Noris love-tap #437a to the head, that they contained almost in total, the project that we were currently developing. One experiment was tying up a balloon bondage style in wire and the other was screwing a bunch of paper plates together with balloons near the joints. These two experiments, which took us only hours to conduct and document, and even less time to move away from, encapsulated the entire componentry based investigation that we have been pursuing throughout our DRL thesis. In retrospect, the dots lined up pretty well and what is more, these past dots are serving as guides as to where the project should evolve to next.

    This awareness brings to mind one of the mantras of the current DRL director: “suspended disbelief.” He used to talk about this concept all the time as a way to encourage students to not be too critical of our experiments, not too practice and to not discard them in the hopes that if we were able to suspend our disbelief that the mess on our desks or desktops was just a non-functioning mess, that eventually it could evolve into something quite provocative. Some teams were able to do exactly that and some teams never were. As I think about it now, however, it occurs to me that Theo’s suspended disbelief is the prerequisite to Job’s retrospective dot connecting because one has to first allow themselves the freedom to play at random experiments before the logic that connects these dots evolves months later.

     

     
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