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Ethos Design for a Good Quality Life : Building an innovation framework for individuals and organizations towards resilience and cognitive flexibility

Format: Papers, RSD7, Topic: Health & Well-being

Authors: Kumar Gonga Naveen, Gupta Itika, Ruchatz Julia, and Nahar Praveen

The whole world is driving towards a utopia for a “faster, better, more” future. But ironically, the more we have, the more discontent we’re becoming. The current epoch is probably the most complex and ambiguous time humanity has had to deal with. While we’re all designing for a better life, society, nation and world; we haven’t stopped to design and define the attributes that constitute a better quality life.

If we look at what the experts have to say about benchmarks of a utopian life: psychologists have one frame of reference to answer this question from, economists have another, spirituality yet another. The world right now is chasing quality of life through quantifiable parameters like better health, education, employment, GDP etc. and has been benchmarking nations on these parameters. But there is enough evidence to prove that these parameters have fallen short of their promise. Life in countries with the highest GDPs have problems of depression, suicides and obesity. Similarly there are poor countries with little resources resiliently fighting issues like child mortality rate and unemployment.

It’s evident that we experience life as human beings through parameters that are far more qualitative than economic indexes. Our experiences of happiness, flow, love and contentment come not from outside but from somewhere within us. So, to improve the quality of life of mankind, we need to reassess what Quality of Life universally means. Paraphrasing the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz: “What we measure informs what we do. And if we’re measuring the wrong thing, we’re going to do the wrong thing.”

With these dichotomies and questions about the current global narrative of a good life, we set out on a journey to define and quantify a “Good Quality Life” using the tools and methods of systemic design.

Our research for this project started with an extensive study of all global models and indexes[1] that define a good quality of life and identify the gaps in them. We researched theories of multiple paradigms and reached out to various domain experts ranging from psychologists, economists, sociologists, and environmentalists to philosophers, spiritual gurus, historians and fiction authors. We discovered a plethora of theories, some contextual and some more relevant, some old school and some contemporary. There was a lot of wisdom about man’s experience of a good quality life that we got a chance to dig into.

We then started conducting more firsthand primary research at places where no one was looking for a good quality of life. As true designers, we started looking for deviant behaviours in the system because that’s where the most relevant insights emerge. Doing this project in India, we used our nation’s diversity and complexity as an advantage.

We went to all sorts of places and people to understand people’s perceptions of life.
We went to the central jail and spoke with murderers and rapists.
We went to old age homes and heard stories of unwanted grandmothers.
We went to remote villages and were immersed in their daily lifestyles.
We travelled with migrant workers to understand their daily routines and aspirations.
We spent time with experimental educationists teaching children without any curriculum; all of this to understand deviant behaviors.

At each stage, having a culturally diverse team from India and Germany was a big boon. It helped us be pragmatic and unbiased in our research engagement.

A month-long process of synthesis and sense-making of all these primary and secondary case studies brought us down to a list of universal insights. With numerous connections and patterns between the insights, we narrowed them down to three fundamental attributes that we believe account for a good quality of life. These attributes are the lowest common denominators of what we as human beings are inherently wired to be, attributes that are at the core of who we are.
These attributes are fundamental to building a life of resilience and cognitive flexibility and, hence, to evolution.

The three attributes of “Quality of Life” are:

Attitude | Childlike: Creative explorers who find engagement and pleasure irrespective of what their surroundings are. Explore, learn and move ahead is the way of being. They neither hide their feelings nor hold on to them for very long.

State of being | Love: Love is a state of being where you accept yourself for who you are, accept everyone as you accept yourself, and live and care for others as you care for yourself without expectations. You start feeling that you and others are alike, eventually creating a feeling that we are all one.

Ability to act | Creativity: An ability to look at things and situations from varied perspectives, challenging rigidly formed assumptions and coming up with spontaneous acts or solutions.

These attributes are simple, holistic, and universal. To make them more understandable and actionable, we constructed a framework around them, which has been benchmarked and standardized using GK VanPatter’s Humantific Method [2].

The framework is intentionally designed to be simple, free of overbearing jargon or complexity, and open enough for interpretation and evolution. Our idea is to keep the framework in a state of perpetual beta, where it’s ever-evolving as a model. We want to keep it dynamic enough so it can adapt to the needs of individuals or the culture it is used.

As designers ourselves, we’re already on a journey to test and refine this framework by embedding it in our work on products, services, and strategies.

We started with the design of an “Assumption-busting toolkit” that allows people and organizations to use our framework and reassess their assumptions/hard-wired beliefs that are holding them back from being more childlike-loving-creative. This toolkit has been successfully tested through a range of “Designing your life” workshops with people of various ages and backgrounds. We used our learnings from the workshop to design a mobile application called Unblock that gamifies this experience of assumption-busting for people. Our application was shortlisted to be a finalist at the Global Hackathon by Aegon.

This framework played a key role in a project we took up with the National Science Center to design workshops on creative leadership for school children. We’ve also used the fundamentals of the framework to reassess the current linear narrative of design thinking. Our modified approach to designing thinking 2.0 was shared in the form of a workshop at India’s biggest entrepreneurship summit. The workshop saw an overwhelming participation of 280 attendees.

It’s been quite a journey for us so far, but it’s far from complete. One project at a time, we’re on a slow but steady journey to test and refine this framework and our approach to Quality of Life. We wish to reach a stage where we can design a world with a development paradigm aligned with childlikeness, love, and creativity.

We want to use design to make this world a better place, but not through traditional prescriptive methods. Cultures are an open, adaptable, and non-prescriptive tool that builds societies and their value through habits and rituals. Thus, we’re now working on expanding our purview as designers, from creating objects and services to creating ethos. We’re working on using our design skills of interpreting systems and influencing behaviours to create cultures of the future that define the spirit with which people live. We’re a team of Ethos Designers, well-armed with our framework and all set to realign the paradigms of Quality of Life.


  2. GK VanPatter, Elizabeth Pastor. (2016). Innovation Methods Mapping: De-mystifying 80+ Years of Innovation Process Design. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2018
Title: Ethos Design for a Good Quality Life : Building an innovation framework for individuals and organizations towards resilience and cognitive flexibility
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
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First published: 2 October 2018
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