Eric Trist reads Christopher Alexander (1970s)

Echoing Max Jacobson’s “pattern language is not for wicked problems” is something echoed by Eric Trist, in his reading of Christopher Alexander’s work (preceding the pattern language years).

The design process is a search for the best solution to a set of conflicting requirements. The best solution is necessarily an innovation as well as a work of art in the broadest sense of the term. If the solution were obvious, it would be merely calculated; there would be no design problem as such (Alexander, 1964). Additionally, the research team believes that it is neither necessary nor desirable that they be the innovators while management and the union are solely the consumers. The ultimate design that evolves requires the resources of the men, the union and the management. While no clear-cut division of labor exists among these contributors, the research team viewed itself as a catalyst and facilitator of problem solving by the other parties. The team’s role was to introduce concepts and encourage discussion. Those who use the design must believe in it and “own” it. The final form it takes must, therefore, be the result of the efforts of all.

  • Alexander, C. 1964. Notes on the Synthesis of Form. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Source: Susman, Gerald I., and Eric L. Trist. 2016. “Action Research in an American Underground Coal Mine.” In A Tavistock Anthology–The Socio-Technical Perspective, Project MUSE, 2:417–50. The Social Engagement of Social Science. University of Pennsylvania Press. Project MUSE - The Social Engagement of Social Science, Volume 2.

(The original hardcopy edition was published in 1990).

The book chapter is revised from the 1977 article, where Trist was the first author.

Source: Trist, Eric L., Gerald I. Susman, and Grant R. Brown. 1977. “An Experiment in Autonomous Working in an American Underground Coal Mine.” Human Relations 30 (3): 201–36.

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