On February 19, 2016 I spotted a gem of an article on LinkedIN, entitled “Designing for Loss of Control,” written by:

Massimo Portincaso


The article (you can find it here) is a well-written commentary on the TED philosophy of “designing for loss of control.” In it, he offers a quote from an unidentified TED director. In that quote was this phrase: “allowing for chaos to exist at the edges of the system.”

Imagine the courage the founders and organizers of TED and TEDx must have to allow for chaos at the edge of their system. To let go to the extent that others, people that they largely do not know, are allowed to play with their dream. To have faith that others will be, by and large, worthy stewards. That is something to wonder at.

Now, to be sure, TED does not work without rules. In fact, there are well-articulated guidelines and requirements. I will claim that it is the very specification of those rules that enables productive chaos at the edges of the system.

We are talking about culture here: philosophy, attitudes and behavioral norms. TED is not a collection of talks; it is a culture of discussion.

My role as a design manager is to create favorable environments of incubation, to stimulate innovation and enable the evolution and significantly, the realization, of powerful works. As a teacher, learner and leader, my focus remains insistently on designing processes based on human interactions, intuition and inspiration. Design evolution, the practice of being always attentive to the discovery of new ideas, recasting them in terms of one or more questions, experimenting in real time, monitoring and learning over multiple iterations and always, always adapting lies at the core of great work.

Imagine chaos at the edges of the system, churning out an intense collage of ideas in a cauldron bubbling with the puzzlement of extraordinary questions. Well, that really catches my attention. The creation of desirable opportunities and the realization of effective solutions are the crucial considerations here. TED calls this process “designing for loss of control,” which is an agreeable description of an enlightened process, I think.

Portincaso also comments: “By tapping into the power of the periphery—employees, suppliers, customers, partners, and other communities—companies can encourage bottom-up innovation, as TED has with TEDx.” True enough. But I take notice of the notion of employees as the “periphery” of the organizational mission. Given a well-written mission statement willingly supported by a passionate consensus of mission-central individuals, we need to consider employees, suppliers and customers to be the beating heart of the organization, not at the periphery at all, and certainly not appendages to be manipulated through application of a disconnected and centralized bureaucracy. They are the beating heart of achievement.

The entire complexion of doing business changes when we design for loss of control as TED does. The interactions become richer, the outcomes more powerful. The community becomes closer and more engaged. Management and leadership evolve to become based on nurturing human creativity. Professional and personal interactions that are deeply rewarding lead to real fulfillment as leaders begin to realize their own potential as humans. Everything becomes a bit edgier, more risky. More exciting.

Sadly, the profound weakness of the “command and control” school of management ideology manifests itself as a lost faith in the human resource to be an agent of success. In its stead reliance on spreadsheets, technology and moribund bureaucracy supplant the power of human interactions. It is the black hole of leadership. Managing for marginality, it succeeds only in mediocrity.

To be fearless and have faith in the people around you! Not such a leap of faith, I think. If we bring the best of what makes us human to the table we can, and do, experience better outcomes. We learn about ourselves as individuals. We position ourselves to be part of the success of others. We create powerful work.

It is, I believe, my purpose as a lifelong learner and leader to help others realize a creative life. I love the chaos at the edges of the system. I provoke it, listen to it and learn from it. At times I guide, other times I let it play, always respectful of this creative and chaotic process of problem-solving. (Portincaso)


Bill Siebold

Bill Siebold

Developing Design Professionals

Cultivating creative lives of great intent for more than 10 years

“As a lifelong learner and leader my purpose is to help others realize a creative life and to be a catalyst for success of those around me by example, through equitable interactions and with meaningful relationships.”



Bill Siebold

Developing Design Professionals

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