top of page



Greetings Humans This piece is about the insights we at DesignThinkers South Africa discovered as we researched the concept of alignment. Every month DesignThinkers research a fringe concept related to innovation leadership. A webinar to discuss findings is held and a final wrap up piece is written. This is that piece.

What follows is a description of the insights that emerged as we came to a better understanding of alignment and what it means to people. “To be or not to be?”. This is the existential question of life that we are all confronted with at some point or to some extent, in the decisions we have to make every day. Why do you exist and what do you stand for? What values do you hold dear as you reach for your goals? And as you strive for a positive outcome, have you kept your mental health as the world tosses and turns on the waves of

the corona virus and global warming?

As you read this paper consider the extent to which you have and are willing to push boundaries, to question what is and what might be? Do you try your hand at new things and conduct experiments to learn what works? Is your existence defined by the risks you take or the safety zone you hold on to? How far are you willing to go to define future situations for those close to your values? Are you willing to question what is and can you become misaligned with_____________ (insert the barriers that might stand in your way) and for how long?

Staying alive This has been one hell of a year, I am sure you will all agree, whether personal or professional. Navigating the rapidly changing landscape has required new skills, new networks, new systems and perhaps even new technology. And during this time, were you able to hold onto your humanity, to keep your family, colleagues and friends close? Did you maintain your own motivation, self-respect and self-awareness? Were you deliberate about your decisions and actions or were you reactive to external forces over which you had little to no control? If you are reading this you are still alive, which means there is hope, there are choices to make and you can still discover that which you have not yet found. The question perhaps that you need to ask is the following: “Do I need to be aligned to bring about positive change?”.

Alignment - a difficult notion to define

Of all the topics we have explored this year, alignment has been the most curious. Alignment has multiple variables and dimensions that affect our understanding of what it is. So here we go:

“Alignment is often something we are striving for, but it is not always certain we have attained it."

And even if we manage to reach an aligned state, is that actually an ideal state or is it but a comfortable illusion? Often people prefer a superficial understanding of the problem at hand and to retrofit a solution for the sake of avoiding change.

Finding alignment may not always reflect a realistic representation of the reality of the state of the world, of life, of the dynamics all around us. And as such we may end up rapidly wearing out the wheels given that the alignment was too hastily carried out.

Navigating ambiguity When striving to be aligned, often we are trying to create stability in a world in which stability is not something that we can easily reach or even maintain for an extended period of time. Given the constant flux and Black Swan events, and the need to regularly define new solutions, we would be better advised to find a state in which we are comfortable in being uncomfortable.

Black Swan events are defined as: “The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.”

To prepare ourselves for such events, we need to be inquisitive, curious and able to function in a world of not knowing the answer. We need to be prepared to discover unusual answers; those answers that may lie in waiting around the next corner that could lead to better outcomes than sheltering in a hastily erected comfort zone. John Keats (the poet) described “negative capability” as a necessary skill. Negative capability is the ability to be creative, to operate outside of your comfort zone and develop new concepts in that space of uncertainty. And in this world of constant change would it not be prudent if not essential, to be prepared for the inevitable?

DesignThinkers Insights Atelier discoveries As we explored the notions of alignment (and misalignment) with our stakeholders, certain principles and truths emerged. Here are DesignThinkers’ Insights Atelier discoveries:

1. Alignment is personal: Alignment is a very personal thing. We received a vast array of answers to various aspects of people’s personal and professional lives when asked about alignment ranging from lifestyle alignment to alignment with management. 2. People think of outcomes: When asked, most people tend to describe outcomes of alignment, not necessarily the state that one is (or is not) in. 3. Alignment is future facing: When describing alignment people seem to think about the future, whether a state they are striving to remain in or a state they will attain at some future point. 4. Timing is a factor in alignment : Alignment is directly related to timing. Alignment is something that takes time to attain and is difficult to force. 5. Alignment may be an illusion: Often alignment is something that is necessary to take constructive steps forward, but this may result in confusion later, if forced. 6. Misalignment: This is a state where one deliberately seeks to disrupt, to question, to challenge the norm and in doing so, to find alternative explanations through curiosity. 7. Being misaligned can produce surprising results: Deliberately being misaligned can deliver new discoveries and solutions that you may not have expected. 8. Navigating ambiguity: A key skill required to being misaligned is the navigation of ambiguity, accepting that there are unknowns and that to find these requires bravery and acceptance of the mystery of not knowing. This skill is known as negative capability.

The undiscovered country Why “The Undiscovered Country” you may be asking? Hamlet, was describing death when referring to it, in Shakespeare’s renowned play in which the question “To be or not to be?” was eternalized. And in this vein, accepting the status quo is akin to death as opposed to fighting the good fight. Rather, spur up your passion and wake up with a spring in your step with a new journey to undertake. For, by accepting the present circumstances, perhaps you are happy to be in the twilight of your life, perhaps you have have outlived your purpose.

Alignment then, in the context of defining new futures typically refers to a point in the problem solving process where individuals become “aligned” on what problem(s) to focus on and on what to do about it. In some cases where multiple problems are “diagnosed” or discovered the team may choose to divide and conquer and work separately on solutions to those. It is in this co-discovery of problems that shared concern and meaning can emerge. And this may help achieve a state of alignment as causality is established as most “wicked” problems are interrelated.

Hence while the notion of deliberate misalignment is necessary to discover hidden messages and to frame opportunities, there may come a time where the team “agree to disagree” and hence agree to work together to test a specific concept or hypothesis. In this regard, the timing of a temporary state of alignment may not be such a bad thing to come about, whether forced or through synchronicity. And in this state, to implement a change, an improvement that will add value to the actors involved. In this undertaking, teams create a state or perhaps feeling, of equilibrium that could persist.

It’s a wrap In conclusion we advise you to deliberately seek the edge of your comfort zone, the space between comfort and unadulterated fear, where panic ebbs and flows. Don’t venture too far or your world may fall apart (perhaps that could be a good thing) but don’t stay too close to your happy space, where apathy may result in stagnation, boredom and even fear. Find the courage to make a difference, to question the unquestionable, to experiment with new concepts and ideas that might add value or delight the actors over which you have influence.

You don’t know what you don’t know and so by pushing your boundaries, by wakening the maverick inside of you, by goading others to do the same, a new world may emerge, one where you are at the center of change, the pivot of progress, the driver of continuous, if not, disruptive improvement. Go forth and conquer-whether aligned or not. Best wishes, Roberte respect the principles and practices of privacy as captured in the South African Constitution and related legislation. If you want to engage with us on this - please click here. Copyright © DesignThinkers Group South Africa, All rights reserved. Our mailing address is: Want to change how you receive these emails? You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

This email was sent to why did I get this? unsubscribe from this list update subscription preferences DesignThinkers Group - South Africa · Chelsea Village, Upper Floor · 65 Wolfe street, Wynberg · Cape Town, WC S-7800 · South Africa


Featured Post
Recent Posts
Search tags
No tags yet.
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page