An ongoing discussion between JJG and I concerns the value of methods in design practice. At Adaptive Path, our “classic” workshop provides two days of presentation and hands-on activities. I’m a believer in the value of such methods and teaching as a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” JJG has been less convinced. In his ia/recon essay, he wrote “Research data and formalized methodologies don’t guarantee better architectures. Better architects guarantee better architectures.”
In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Atul Gawande writes an excellent piece on the quality of medical practice. One would think that, considering the quality of tools and technology, the fast spread of information, and the ability of the physicians, practice would be fairly uniform across treatment centers. Treatment of cystic fibrosis has been closely watched for decades, and the results show a bell curve of quality — some places do very well, most places are average, and a few are poor.
What the article mentions is that while the “best practices” in cystic fibrosis treatment have been widely disseminated, leading to average hospitals performing much better now than they did 10, 20, 40 years ago, those average hospitals are still average, and the best hospitals continue to far outpace them.
The reason? Driven, brilliant individuals who improvise, take risks, challenge conventional thinking, and are simply unwilling to settle for anything other than perfect.
In short, JJG and I are both right. The dissemination of successful methods does a lot to raise the average level. But the better practitioners will always far outpace the average.