Keynote Speakers

Regaining a new sense of well-being by design

Harold G. Nelson

The COVID-19 virus has been the catalyst for disruptive pandemic changes around the world. Our norms are being forever changed. Our sense of well-being has been lost. New norms are needed now because a new normal is desired and necessary. It is a perilous game to play if the process of forming new norms is left to unfold by chance rather than intension.

The changes in play, that are transforming our norms, are not the result of human intention but hopefully, their subsequent consequences can be. Our challenge is thus: how will the norms that become reified be the ones we desire rather than the ones we get by happenstance? For any hope of assuring that the ones realized in the future are desirable – systemic design will be a necessary strategy to use.

There are two fundamental approaches to the future — reactive and proactive. A reactive approach ‘backs’ into the future. A proactive approach – a systemic design approach – ‘advances’ into the future. Navigating into a desired future will require new mindsets, knowledge sets, skill sets, and toolsets – new normals. Simply stated:

We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. – Albert Einstein

From a systemic design perspective, we can reframe Einstein’s admonition by asserting that navigating into a desired future, rather than backing away from an undesired present, requires a qualitatively different stance and approach from what was the norm just yesterday. Having done this we will be able to begin regaining a new sense of well-being.


Dr. Harold Nelson consults with public, private and military organizations on issues of systemic design competence. Dr Nelson is a visiting scholar in the School of Computer Science at the University of Montana. He was the 2009-2010 Nierenberg Distinguished Professor of Design in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. He was an occasional Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy; and the Defense Analysis program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He was also an affiliated Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington and worked in research for the NSF-funded centre for Learning in Informal and Formal Environments at the University of Washington, Stanford University and SRI.

He is a past-president and a trustee of the International Society for Systems Science. He is the co-founding Director and President of the Advanced Design Institute (ADi) and owner of Harold G. Nelson LLC, Systemic Design.

As a consultant, Dr Nelson has worked with non-profits and corporations, state and federal agencies, international governments, and the United Nations, and continues to work as an educator, consultant, and scholar on systemic organizational design.

Dr Nelson was the head of, and faculty member in, the Graduate Programs in Whole Systems Design (WSD) at Antioch University.

Dr Nelson received his PhD, graduating with distinction, from the University of California at Berkeley. He received his Master of Architecture degree from UC Berkeley and a Bachelor of Architecture from Montana State University.

In 2004, “The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World”, received the Outstanding Book of the Year award. The 2nd edition by MIT Press was published in 2012.

Dr Nelson is a licensed architect in California.

Posted October 2020 content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested Citation Format (APA)

Author(s) (20XX). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) Symposium.

Posted October 2020