Where Science Meets Muse

Picasso, Bonsai and Dialogue in Innovative Design

Posted by Plish on August 6, 2013


While visiting the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, I walked by, and almost missed a small wall that had three interesting pieces: A sketch, a paper model, and a metal piece.  The three pieces were Picasso’s.


There were multiple dialogues, in time, space and media…


The other day I saw a boxwood bush at a local hardware store.  It was enormously discounted (only cost a couple of bucks) and I saw that it had potential so I bought it, brought it home, trimmed branches and roots and re-potted it.  It’s not done by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s cleaned up and now it has a chance to grow.


Before CleaningBefore Cleaning 2


After Cleaning After Cleaning 2

My dialogue with this tree has begun…


Remember the three(four) “R’s”:


This needs to be present from the start.  Without it, there’s no dialogue, only declaration,  arm twisting, unilateral chattering.

Reciprocal Relationship…

Undergirded by Respect, this is acting upon the realization that there is a dance of sorts going on,  a symphony of mutual movement, a co-creative exchange and experience.  There is a commitment to the other party.


This co-creation necessarily entails acting again, ‘re-acting’.  It’s a necessary extension of Reciprocity and Respect.  The approach gets changed, an adaption occurs based upon circumstances in time and space.


Picasso saw an image in his mind. He was influenced by it, sketched it, and in turn created a paper sculpture on the way to a finished 3D steel version.  He respected what he created, allowed himself to experience it, to dwell in a reciprocal relationship, and he re-acted, slightly modifying when the materials and context of the art changed from 2D, to 3D paper to 3D steel.

The boxwood tree exists in its own space. I need to respect it, respect the laws that govern its growth and propagation.  We are both in a dance. I take care of it and it grows and it gives beauty, oxygen,  and more. Yet, an early frost, a strong wind, an insect infestation can destroy parts of the plant and change the design entirely.  I then will need to re-act, prune anew, provide different nutrients, in short, provide the optimum environment for the tree to recover in beauty.

All design projects, all innovations, if they are to be sustainable and beautiful, should be Respectful, Reciprocally Relational, and Re-actional.  The more variables that exist in a design, the more deep, wide and flexible the dialogue needs to be.  A 2D sketch has only so many impacts on its environment and so the dialogue is simple.  Moving it into 3D folded paper creates more variables and the 3D steel has more yet – the dialogue gets more complicated.

In the case of the bonsai, the dialogue increases by orders of magnitude.  A broken branch impacts multiple leaves; bad soil mixtures inhibit root formation and growth; lack of, or excess rain impacts growth – the dialogue is staggeringly complex but not incomprehensible, because I use the three R’s.

Now, think about redesigning your, life, workplace, faith community, neighborhood, or country(!).   The complexity of the dialogue increases by orders of magnitude again.  But, start with respect, commit to a reciprocal relationship and re-act: adapt to the situation and the environment, and amazing things will happen, provided everyone involved are equally committed.

Take some time to reflect on your design projects, think about the change you are trying to make, truly engage in the depths of the dialogue.  Embrace the dialogue and all the complexity and uneasiness this may bring.  It’s the best way to sustainably innovate for the future.


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