How to Create That-Which-Is-Not-Yet

06 April 2021 in Resource Center.

To develop our comprehensivity, our interest in broadly and deeply understanding our worlds and its peoples, we actively consider the learning of other traditions, traditions that may seem very strange to us. When we explore these kinds of resources, we may come across ideas that puzzle or intrigue us. The practicing comprehensivist will, from time-to-time, want to linger to explore a line of thought and some questions that arose in a prior exploration. This resource will exemplify such a follow-up exploration that extends our previous examination of change as ongoing genesis, ongoing creation. A key motivating issue for this continuation will be how we create that-which-is-not-yet. Many of these ideas are adapted from the 2012 book “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman.

The Fundamental Role of Design

Genesis is ongoing.

— On page 1 in “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman

This quote may precipitate the realization that our ever-changing world creates itself. How might we experience this ongoing genesis?

We might experience the ongoing genesis as a world that just happens: things form and come to be and we become aware of them. To understand such a world we interpret the changes observed in our ongoing experience. As we organize our interpretations, we form a story we tell ourselves and others about the ongoing happenings. From this stance, the design of the world in its dynamic changing is our ever-developing story about the world as created by our interpretations. That is, the ongoing genesis is our always evolving interpretation of our experiences.

In another approach, we can imagine the new arrangement of things, the new design of the world, as the consequence of our collection of causal beliefs, models, theories, and abstractions about the world. Here we focus on seeing the changing world through the confirmation or collision of our best beliefs about how the world changes with the reality of our experience. This is the causal analytic frame. We perceive the changing design patterns of the world through the lens of our beliefs, models, theories, and abstractions instead of as raw experience data. It is our educated view of reality. The ongoing genesis is embedded in the causal explanations which describe how the designs in the world change.

Yet another approach for experiencing the world and its change as ongoing genesis is to recognize that everything we do in the world changes it. Our actions and how we participate shapes the ongoing genesis. If we fail to act, we create a world filled with watching, waiting, lethargy, and inaction. This approach emphasizes that, like it or not, we are responsible as co-designers for our worlds. Our collaborators include the sun, the moon, volcanoes, eukaryotes including plants and animals and people, bacteria, and archaea. In a global pandemic, I must add viruses too.

In fact, it seems to me that at least these three approaches comprise the ongoing genesis of our world: our ever-evolving interpretations of ever-changing experience, the models and theories we use to understand the changing patterns of our worlds, and the actions we take as we participate as co-designers of ongoing genesis. Each of these approaches contributes to how we create our worlds. Each affects the others in a complex feedback loop.

As we become aware of our design role in ongoing genesis, we might wonder how do we go about creating our worlds? How can we create that-which-is-not-yet?

In my experience, most of us do not think of ourselves as designers. Even less as designers with a world-creating role. But each of us is a designer; we create our worlds in all three of these senses. Your experiences, beliefs, and actions co-create our worlds in collaboration with all the other actors.

Is it possible to live our lives while simultaneously designing them? The book “The Design Way” has a wonderful metaphor for seeing design in precisely this way: “Designing is like laying track for a moving train while on board.” Yes, it is almost unimaginably complex.

Is seeing ourselves as co-designers of our worlds the logical implication of seeing the world as ongoing genesis?

Does your participation in the world necessarily make you a designer of the world?

Is this design role an imperative from realizing our ongoing genesis?

What do you think of your creative role in contributing to ongoing genesis?

The Fundamental Role of Desire

In his interpretation of Purgatorio V in Dante’s great “Comedìa”, Giuseppe Mazzotta said, “We’re impelled by desire, and desire is really what moves us … it’s desire that impels us to go one way or the other.” If Mazzotta and Dante are right, desire may be the impulse that leads us to act in the world, to create that-which-is-not-yet. Even if we do something on a whim, even if we regret it later, we would say, “In the moment, I did it for this or that desired outcome”.

Is desire the source of all our change-making impulses? Is desire necessarily the impulse to create that-which-is-not-yet? Is desire the trigger for all the big changes we make?

Desire is the destabilizing trigger for transformational change

— “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman, Chapter 5 “Desiderata”

We may worry that our raw desires might foist themselves unrestrained into our ongoing genesis. Moreover, one desire may run roughshod over others. Many desires if untempered quickly lead to vice. So even though our desires may influence our actions and thereby contribute to ongoing genesis, how can we address how desire can be destructive at times?

To differentiate positive desires from negative ones is one of our lifelong tasks as human beings. Rosaleen Trainor [in a 2001 lecture] has called this process “befriending our desires.” She explains that when we become aware of and comfortable with our desires, they begin to have an accepted place in our lives and can function as a form of guidance.

— “The Design Way”

Must we befriend our desires so they can guide us to create the that-which-is-not-yet that we desire? Instead of our raw desires, is it our befriended or otherwise organized desires that give us the energy and guidance we need to create that-which-is-not-yet?

Desire can be understood as the “force” that provides us with intrinsic guidance and energy.

— “The Design Way”

One way to organize our desires as a guide for effecting our ongoing genesis might be to integrate that-which-is-desired with that-which-is, that-which-ought-to-be, and that-which-feels-right. That is, we might want to think about our situation comprehensively in consideration of our desiderata (our full set of desires), our knowledge, our ethics, and our aesthetics. Since we must co-design our ongoing genesis with others, it seems best to incorporate the desires, knowing, values, and styles of other stakeholders (including, perhaps, future generations) into our desiderata.

“desiderata” refers to those things that are believed to be desirable

— “The Design Way”

However, “The Design Way” warns us that a comprehensive approach to our design responsibility can lead to inaction or paralysis. They identify three difficulties which a comprehensive approach to design may entail (this list was also the inspiration for the impossibilities discussed in the resource The Necessities and Impossibilities of Comprehensivism):

Analysis Paralysis. When our desire for understanding our design situation endlessly gathers more and more information without a means for convergence on an effective way to create what is more desirable, then analysis paralysis can block us from achieving what we desire.

Value Paralysis. When our desire for integrating all of our values and those of other stakeholders into our effort to create change without an effective way of transcending their mutual ambiguities and contradictions, then value paralysis can block us from achieving what we desire.

The Paralysis of Wholism. When our desire for integrating the full context of everything we are considering into a Big Picture without an effective means to limit or contain our survey, then the paralysis of wholism can block us from achieving what we desire.

Despite these dangers, “The Design Way” recommends, that we carefully assess our desiderata as we consider creating that-which-is-not-yet.

Desiderata form the imperative voice of design.

— “The Design Way”

Is desire the motivation, the impetus, and the imperative guiding us to create that-which-is-not-yet as we participate in ongoing genesis?

The Fundamental Role of Intention

Although desire conceived broadly as desiderata is what moves us to create that-which-is-not-yet, “The Design Way” identifies another important aspect of our desiderata:

Desiderata are about what we intend the world to be

— “The Design Way”

Even when we are not consciously organizing our desiderata into focused efforts to make intentional change, our desiderata form our intentions. When we create our ongoing genesis through our raw desires, the accidents and whims of our desires shape our lives. By organizing our desiderata into intentions, we give direction to our creative effort to shape our ongoing genesis.

Intention is best understood, not as a vision, but as the aiming and subsequent emergence of a desired outcome. Desiderata help to aim and name one’s intentions…. But intention is not only about where to get to, it is also about which direction to go to get there—how to aim so as to move closer in proximity to our desired ends.

— “The Design Way”
Basic Design Cycle: How to create that-which-is-not-yet

We are now able to organize a basic design cycle to answer the question how do we create that-which-is-not-yet in support of our ongoing genesis. We start by assessing our desiderata. This is focused into an intention that gives direction to the change we desire. Then we act in the world. A result emerges in the ongoing genesis that we tried to shape; the result is often different from what we intended. This serves as feedback for another round of assessing our desiderata. The loop iterates until you die.

I think this model can serve as both a description of the nature of ongoing genesis for each of us: how ongoing change occurs and has always occurred in our lives. But more importantly it is also a guiding model for how we create our lives: assess our relevant desires, organize them into an intention, act in the world, assess how the effects of your actions affect your desiderata (perhaps new desires emerge or maybe a few fade away or the quality and measure of some desires may have changed).

Does this schema for a basic design cycle featuring desiderata assessments organized into intentions both describe and guide us as we contribute to ongoing genesis? What are the strengths and weaknesses of thinking about the change in our lives in this way?


The basic design cycle centered on desiderata, intention, and action is just one of many possible design cycles that have been proposed. It is much simpler than the ones developed in “The Design Way”. Although this design cycle schema captures what I see as the essential notion of design responsibility in Buckminster Fuller’s comprehensive anticipatory design science approach, it uses the language of “The Design Way” instead of Bucky’s language. I hope this design schema is satisfactory as a preliminary gloss for Bucky’s design science even though it omits many crucial aspects of his approach.

Although I have studied design thinking and I recognize it as a powerful framework for effective design, it does not seem to me to be as general as the model presented here. But, of course, what this model offers in generality it lacks in the depth and power that would be needed to address many professional design challenges let alone truly wicked problems, challenges where desiderata assessments fail to converge on any effective intentions.

My hope is that this essay imparts the imperative of design that each of us faces in our lives and that it shows that getting a basic handle on the design imperative to address the relentless ongoing genesis in our lives is tractable and manageable.

This essay was written to provide ideas in support of the 14 April 2021 session of “Comprehensivist Wednesdays” at 52 Living Ideas (crossposted at The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society).

Addendum: 1h 41m video from the 14 April 2021 event:

Read Other Resource Center Essays

Posted by CJ Fearnley

Explorer in Universe.


Desire is interset thought. I think the future is about Enough. In a fournesses
understanding Abundance is here and now ( Enough)

CJ Fearnley

I would revise my ‘Basic Design Cycle’ diagram by adding “Designing the Design” above planning and implementing and moving Regeneration to be another homologue for “Emergence” and “Ongoing Genesis” (instead of above “subjective”) which might also be described as ‘cosmic evolution’.

I few years ago, I drafted a more complicated “design science process”:

As I mentioned in the video, I value the idea from “The Design Way” (which attributes it to C. West Churchman) that we should design the design. Therefore no diagram can capture what in every case is a custom model for this design situation.

CJ Fearnley

In the interview below, Harold Nelson explains that the standard vision of a design spiral that is mentioned in almost every design resource I have reviewed is a bit mistaken. In fact, design is a process with a beginning and an ending. I think Nelson is right and I am retrospectively shocked that I unquestioningly bought into the prevailing wisdom of design cycles. I think the model I presented here should be made linear to schematicize the unique process that is every design.

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