Bricolage and Jazz, Oh My!

miles davis, gutarist and drummer

Miles Davis

Bricolage is a French loanword that means the process of improvisation in a human endeavor. The word is derived from the French verb bricoler (“to tinker”), with the English term DIY (“Do-it-yourself”) being the closest equivalent of the contemporary French usage. In both languages, bricolage also denotes any works or products of DIY endeavors.”

One of the myths of modernity is that anything can be accomplished through the mechanical use of some technique. This is reasonably true for complicated systems like building an airplane (though even there, good design requires more than just the steps necessary to build), but it is not true for complex systems such as advocacy in which both advocate and target are evolving during their change relationship. In particular, no matter how well planned a change initiative is, like the proverbial military strategy, it will only last as long as the first response from the target.

To deal with this reality, we have to embrace improvisation. Jazz is improvisation with music, and bricolage is the art of solving problems with whatever happens to be sitting around. You can think of jazz as a collaborative sound art, with bricolage being its craft-like brother from another mother.

In the US, this is often referred to as tinkering and has become a staple of DIY media channels. You have a problem sitting at your feet. Or dumped in your lap. You need to do something about it now with what is immediately available, or you don’t have the time or money to use a prefabricated one.

Tinkering is what we all do when we aren’t happy with the solution we are presented with or forced to use.

  • Personal Modification of the “NEW” software system at work that will “solve all your problems”. This is so common, that it is assumed it will happen when new software is introduced.
  • Continuous Process of Personal Micro Self-Determination Expansion. This is a fancy way of saying that our second by second personal growth/change is more a process of bricolage than it is a procedure. Vygotsky said that we use objects in our environment to mediate our development from one stage of meaning to another. Development as bricolage or tinkering. Probably not jazz.

A change target presents as an opportunity for tinkering. We fiddle with it to understand it and to make more effective change efforts. We also learn from tinkering. There is a whole philosophy of mind called “embodiment” using our ability to tinker and actively frame our “tinkerings” as ways of understanding the world.

Tinker through your interactions with the target. Systems continue to think that they can devise perfect solutions for us (current policy, current practice, status quo), and they go to great lengths to impose those solutions on us, to make us invoke the solutions and live with the limits of the way they were designed. And as advocates we keep twiddling the dials, looking for gaps, trying out change techniques that the designers didn’t think of.

Tinkering is always a valuable thing to do, even when you believe that tinkering will not produce the change you want. Tinkering will teach you about the imposed solution and the system that imposed it, about its strengths and weaknesses, about the things the designers didn’t take into account.

People who must use any solution regularly have been tinkering with it and know a great deal about how it can be subverted. Talk to those people. Work to get them to open up about what they have learned in their quest to make the solution suit their needs.

A Great Book about these issues is The Labyrinths of Information: Challenging the Wisdom of Systems, though it has become much more expensive over the years.

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Change Strategy: Making Our Lives Larger by Norm DeLisle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, advocate50+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, Tom and Pepper the wundermutts