The Double Bind

(Note: This is a piece is part of a larger exploration I’m working on around serendipity. You can find all the articles here.)

One of the more important points I happened upon during all this research is the idea of the double bind. It was the closing thought to one of the more enlightening pieces I’ve read on this topic.

A double bind is when someone feels the logical and emotional weight of being asked to choose between two contradictory ideas. And more than a simple a-or-b choice, the person feels an extra anxiety because either choice feels incorrect. For example, “choose a direction, but remain open to spontaneity”. The question fails you before you can even answer.

These sort of challenges are embedded in every part of understanding serendipity. It’s probably the root principle that makes this topic so easy to understand, but so hard to explain. It’s also what makes serendipity such a human experience. It’s sort of it’s own kind of faith. This passage really struck a chord with me:

In truth, many circumstances that seem irreconcilable are actually two-sided situations that we need to learn to embrace, not suffer through. Instead of treating them as opposing forces, planned serendipity teaches us to view these two sides as complementary.

That’s how designers think. They bring harmony to what seems to be opposing ideas. This inspired me because I’ve felt like the recent popularity of design has robbed it of some of it’s magic. Not the ‘dark arts’ kind of magic, more the mental judo described above. Seeing the parallels that link serendipity and design remind me that design is also a fundamentally human exercise. It also reminded me that good design still has a bit of magic to it. (And that made me smile.)

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