Björn Rust (he/him) is a post-industrial designer cum researcher, innovator and educator, developing context-sensitive innovation practices for people, planet and beyond.

Recent writings

  1. Opportunity hoarding
  2. Doing away with bullshit
  3. The course of my life, so far

Flipping the script

It would come as no surprise to anyone that change does not come easily. This is in part due to the status quo bias, or otherwise put, the desire for things to remain as they are. Whether we like to admit it or not, the human brain naturally considers any change away from the baseline as a loss. More precisely, the individual tends to weigh the potential loss resulting in a move away from the status quo more than the potential gains. This means that as a species we are averse to change, despite its inevitability.

Since designers are agents of change, we must be aware of this bias within the population as well as in ourselves. But awareness alone does not provide immunity to its effects. It requires a great deal of self-control to ensure we do not fall victim to our cognitive traps. So rather than to assume we can avoid the bias, we must defer to procedure.

One such procedure is the reversal test. This can be thought of as flipping the script. Our brain naturally defaults to one narrative of a situation as we begin exploring a concept. The point of this heuristic is to explore the other.

In the 2006 paper by Nick Bostrom and Toby Ord called The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics the authors suggest that:

When a proposal to change a certain parameter is thought to have bad overall consequences, consider a change to the same parameter in the opposite direction. If this is also thought to have bad overall consequences, then the onus is on those who reach these conclusions to explain why our position cannot be improved through changes to this parameter. If they are unable to do so, then we have reason to suspect that they suffer from status quo bias.

In doing this, we can develop empathy for the opposing perspective and find new intervention points. However, we must be aware of its limitations. It is believed that the reversal test has a tendency to erect straw men, but that’s a concept for another time.

Inspired by: Unschool: Disruptive Design Workshop
Reference: If and Then: A Critique of Speculative NanoEthics


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