The grand shape

While working at the Riverside School, I was struck by the idea of design thinking. I was fascinated by the idea that people can tailor solutions to perfectly fit a problem. What I like about this method is how it values context as critical to understanding problems. The first step in our design thinking process was to learn about the communities we have just entered. The next stage was a time of imagination, which saw us take risks and envision bold solutions. After distilling these undeveloped ideas into a finite course of action, we were left with something pretty incredible: actual solutions designed for actual problems in the real world.

This relationship between problem and solution connects to my experiences in biology. In the fall, I learned that proteins have a unique sequence of monomers that determines their shape and ability to link with other molecules. The grand shape of the protein was important because that shape allowed it to catalyze reactions with a particular substrate. Only one chemical can fit into each protein in such a way that a reaction can take place. The substrate and protein match each other so exactly that the process will only occur when these components come together. Similarly, evolution designs animal adaptations to fit a specific function. The finches on the Galapagos Islands have acquired beaks of the ideal shape and size to access food. All evolutionary adaptations represent physical traits designed for practical and worthwhile goals.

I want our experiences as design thinkers to mirror the organic processes found in nature. Adaptability must guide us as we attempt to implement solutions that will be welcome and effective in the communities we hope to improve. This goal will require a great shift in thinking on our part. We must think more about the people who stand to lose or gain from our actions and less about our own feelings and motivations. Making this shift has been the greatest challenge in this program so far.