Testimony and Other “Wicked” Problems | Eric Gillett


We are pleased to have
Brother Eric Gillett, a professor of
graphic design, as our speaker today. We extend a special welcome
to his wife, Kimberly, as well as their family
members and friends who are here. Brother Gillett has taught
at BYU since 1998. He is a professor
of graphic design, and currently serves
as the chair of the BYU Department of Design. He received his bachelor’s
degree in graphic design from BYU and his Master of Fine
Arts degree in graphic design from the University of Utah. Professor Gillett’s work is
regularly featured in national and international
design publications. His commissioned work as a
designer, art director, and creative director has
included work for many Fortune 500 companies. His research focuses on
design systems, branding, and typography. Brother Gillett
and his wife, Kimberly, are the parents
of six children, four of whom are
currently attending BYU. Now we’ll be pleased to hear
from Eric Gillett.>>In recent years there have
been glowing, breathless reports
appearing in the media that speak of a new
approach to problem solving. This new method promises a
competitive edge for businesses, organizations,
and governments alike. Innovation consultants
use the approach to tease out new ideas,
collecting hefty fees in the process. Time magazine,
Harvard Business Review, and a new, binge-worthy
Netflix series all extol its virtues. In the corporate boardroom,
the C.D.O., or Chief Design Officer,
has joined the ranks of the CEO and CFO. Design-driven companies
like Apple, Nike, and Target consistently
outperform their competitors. It seems that design
thinking, as it’s known, is all the rage. Corporate profits
alone, however, can’t explain all the new
interest in design thinking. In 1973 a German design
theorist introduced the concept of a
“wicked problem.” Contrary to what
you might expect by the name, a wicked problem does not refer to something evil or sinister,
but instead describes something so “tricky” and
complicated that it seems to defy solution. With wicked problems the
situation is dynamic, and often involves
multiple variables. Both the exact nature of the
problem and the solutions remain unknown when
the project begins. Examples of wicked problems
might include climate change, poverty,
the Syrian civil war, or American healthcare
to name a few. For these problems,
there are no easy answers, no silver bullets. When other approaches fail,
design thinking offers a fairly reliable process for
solving wicked problems. It values empathy,
understanding and usability, all part of the
human experience. Instead of counting widgets
or pouring over sales charts, design thinking takes a more
anthropological approach– uncovering the human
motivations behind complex problems. As I thought about
the message I could share with you today,
I was reminded that many design principles
offer insight into solving some of life’s
great challenges. I believe that by applying
these principles to your own wicked problems,
your chance of solving them may improve. While this morning I have
chosen to apply these principles to building
a testimony, the methods are transferable
to any problem in your life that you deem wicked. So before we review
these principles, take a moment to think. What is your wicked problem? Maybe it’s making your
next tuition payment? Or choosing a new roommate? Finding a summer internship? Or a date for Saturday night? Perhaps, though, your wicked
problem is more complex, a bit more tricky. You struggle with certain
church doctrines? You doubt your testimony,
or wonder whether you’ll stay active in
the church after you graduate? This is a picture of my
maternal grandparents, Bill and Aleda Shuldberg,
shown during their courtship around 1928. They were about the same
age as many of you. Although they didn’t have the
luxury of attending college, or know the stress of
choosing a major, they both struggled with
feelings of resentment toward the church and their very
active, devout parents. As a boy, my grandfather,
posed with his Mother and siblings for a family photo
to be sent to his father who was serving a mission in
Sweden, his native country. What you don’t see in the
photo is the harsh poverty they endured while their
Father was away. My 14 year-old grandfather,
top left, and his 16 year-old brother,
top right, were tasked with running
a large dry farm all on their own. With no time left
for schooling, my grandfather dropped out to
carry the heavy burden of supporting the family
on his young shoulders. He was particularly incensed
at his Father and church leaders for the extra
physical burden this placed on his mother,
who at one point had to haul water for drinking,
washing, and cooking from a well that was six miles
from their home. My grandmother Aleda
also experienced hardship growing up. She frequently recalled being
left hungry and alone while her mother, the ward
Relief Society President, traveled to help
neighbors and friends during childbirth,
distress or illness. She often stayed away
for nights on end. It’s little wonder Bill and
Aleda both felt forgotten, marginalized, and bitter. They longed for escape and
found comfort in their common circumstances. Against the advice of their
parents and bishop, and expecting
their first child, they struck off on their
own for a place called Mud Lake, Idaho. Their timing could not
have been worse. Just a few months later,
the stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the
Great Depression. On arriving in Mud Lake,
my grandparents found much of the land abandoned. It was devastated by drought,
harsh weather, and crop-eating jackrabbits,
so earlier homesteaders had picked up and moved away. Bill and Aleda had
no money, no work, and very little education,
so testimony at that point in their lives
was not a priority. My grandparents had
a wicked problem. The allegory of testimony
found in Alma 32 perfectly describes their circumstances: Design thinking principles
are not the exclusive domain
of designers. As my grandparent’s
story will show, they apply to everyone. Although they would most
likely dismiss these ideas as hoity-toity nonsense, my
grandparents actively employed them to great
success in their lives. You will recognize many of
these principles as natural, even obvious,
parts of your own problem-solving
routine because to a large extent,
design thinking is simply gospel thinking. As we begin the process,
we must agree to a few conditions. First, since solutions
to wicked problems cannot be reduced to
a series of linear steps, the uncertainty found in the
beginning is to be expected. I have heard this phase
referred to as the “fuzzy front end.” Another designer visualized
the design process as the “design squiggle.” The squiggle accurately
depicts every design problem I have faced,
most discussions at our family dinner table,
and most importantly, my own search
for a testimony. Although the design process
begins with uncertainty, a designer recognizes
ambiguity as an opportunity to innovate,
disrupt the status quo, or re-frame a problem. They believe a solution to their
problem will eventually appear. While the secular world would
be loath to label this concept faith,
the parallels are unmistakable. When my grandparents
began their fuzzy, complicated journey they
had few other options. Perhaps naively,
they maintained enough faith to believe in
a positive outcome, no matter how precarious
their risk. I feel certain that
Joseph Smith would find the squiggle similar to his own
experience as a young man searching for a solution
to his wicked problem. Like some of us,
he was confused by contradictory information. He struggled with
church doctrine, doubted his testimony, and was
not sure if he would remain an active churchgoer. As you consider the condition
of your own testimony, do not overlook the
importance of doubt. Doubt causes you to question;
it causes you to study. It causes you to seek
reassurance from loved ones
and your leaders. Most importantly,
it causes you to approach the
Lord for guidance. Rather than a sign
of rebellion, I believe it to be an
essential part of the testimony
building process. As we read in James 1:5,
“If any of you lack wisdom, “let him ask of God,
that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.” Upbraideth not means the
Lord will not find offense in your questions. Rather, he wants to guide
us toward the answers. Doctrine & Covenants
Section 9, verse 8 suggests “…you must study it out in
your mind “then you must
ask me if it be right, “and if it is right I will
cause that your bosom “shall burn within you;
therefore you shall feel that it is right.” While many of his initial
questions were answered by the events of the
First Vision, the uncertainty that
Joseph Smith faced would remain with him for years. Like an effective
design thinker, he had to stay curious
and open while undertaking a new experiment. He had to embrace uncertainty
as both an opportunity and a motivating force,
and maintain sufficient faith to proceed. The chemist Louis Pasteur
identified our second condition when he
said “in the field of observation, “chance favors the
prepared mind.” Working to solve a
particularly difficult problem, he said:
“I am on the verge “of mysteries and
the veil is getting thinner and thinner.” Pasteur was referring to the
intense preparation that precedes a significant
breakthrough, the “a-ha” moment. Those moments typically come
after a domain has been mastered, not before. In other words,
Louis Pasteur didn’t just dabble in chemistry,
he made it his life’s work. Before we can recognize an
important insight into our own wicked problem,
we have to first put in the effort to “study it
out in our minds.” Bill and Aleda couldn’t
dabble in farm work either. They had to show up for work
seven days a week, no excuses. Dependent on
favorable weather, and a small herd
of farm animals, they had to be all in. With a slight change,
could we not apply the concept of a prepared mind
to testimony and the spiritual realm? The work of building
testimony comes through the everyday activities of church
membership—home teaching, serving as the Ward
Nursery Leader, personal prayer, and study. Chance dictates that if
we choose to engage in the work of the church,
rather than dabble in it, our minds will be prepared
to recognize the Spirit’s confirmation. For my grandparents,
their first steps together were tentative. After living and working in
Mud Lake with extended family during their first
year of marriage, Bill and Aleda
decided to stay. One day while twenty miles
out on the desert, my Grandfather found
a fixer-upper, an old, two-room house
on an abandoned homestead. With eight borrowed horses,
he and a friend hoisted the house up onto two sleds and
dragged it twenty miles back across the frozen desert. Later when the family
outgrew that house, construction began
on a new one. Before the house
was finished however, World War II broke out
and building materials were rationed. The family moved
into the basement, where they lived for 10 years
until the house could be finished. Whether they knew it or not,
my grandparents were demonstrating another
design principle. The term “heuristic” roughly
translates to “find” or “discover.” It implies problem solving by
active experimentation, through a pattern
of trial and error. In other words,
fake it until you make it. Bill and Aleda built their
house line upon line, as resources
became available. And faced with a similar
wicked problem for us, it doesn’t really matter what
your first step is sometimes. The important thing is that
you have taken one. When things don’t
go as planned, taking a single step can
cause self-doubt, fear, and paralysis to fade. Your confidence will increase,
and another step will then seem possible. This process is described in
2 Nephi 28, verse 30, when the Lord said,
“I will give unto the children “of men line upon line,
precept upon precept, “here a little and
there a little; “and blessed are those who
hearken unto my precepts, “and lend an ear
unto my counsel, “for they shall learn wisdom;
for unto him that receiveth I will give more.” A cognitive scientist
referred to this process as “incremental development.” We make our best guess
based on the knowledge we have at the time,
and then move forward. For a designer,
the process looks something like this: We have an
idea and start with a thumbnail sketch. Most of the time we fail. A wise designer once said,
“Fail early, to succeed sooner.” After a slight adjustment,
based on our first experience, we try again. This time we call
it a rough comp. Again, the process continues,
line upon line, sketch after sketch,
as we make gradual adjustments. At some point,
one of our ideas bears fruit and something interesting
starts to happen. An idea takes shape
and begins to appear. We call it a tight comp. Although not perfect,
our idea improves as we continue to refine until
suddenly we are getting somewhere and have
a final comp. With no stable income,
Bill and Aleda traded their extra eggs and butter to a
local farmer for what they called “bum lambs.” Since the lamb’s mothers
had died giving birth, and other ewes would
not accept them, bum lambs were sometimes left
to starve because they required constant attention. As demonstrated by a
cousin in this picture, Bill and Aleda woke every
two hours to hand-feed the lambs from a pop bottle
filled with cow’s milk. In the midst of
these struggles, they found refuge in
the friendship of other church members facing
similar challenges. As more children came and
hearts began to soften, they began to participate
in activities with local branch members. Line upon line,
precept upon precept, their fragile testimonies
grew as they planted small seeds in their hearts: As a 14 year-old boy,
Joseph Smith had no idea what he was getting himself
into when he asked this simple question:
“Which of all the “sects was right,
so that I might know which to join.” He said, “It was the first
time in my life that I had “made such an attempt,
for amidst all my anxieties “I had never as yet made the
attempt to pray vocally.” In his anxiety,
Joseph had taken his first shaky step without knowing
where it would lead. Then he waited for
further direction. He was proceeding
heuristically– he began with a
thumbnail sketch. After years of building
line upon line, he eventually restored the
keys and authority and organization that brings
us here today. If you’re like me,
comparing my own experience and spiritual maturity at age
14, to Joseph Smith’s, is well, awkward. I don’t see much correlation, but I do take great comfort in
Section 46 of the Doctrine & Covenants which explains that
gifts of the Spirit are given to each of us
in different ways. “For all have not every
gift given unto them; “for there are many gifts,
and to every man is given “a gift by the Spirit of God. “To some is given one,
and to some is given another, “that all may be
profited thereby.” This scripture offers
reassurance that I don’t have to measure up to a Prophet. My spiritual gifts and small
steps towards building a testimony will be
different than his, and different than yours. We all start in
different places, and the Lord will meet
us wherever we are. Verse 27 of Alma 32 invites
us to begin an “experiment “upon my words,
and exercise a particle “of faith, yea,
even if ye can no more “than desire to believe,
let this desire work in you, “even until ye believe in a
manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” My favorite part of the
design process is the “What if?”
or ideation phase of design thinking. Curiosity,
and an ability to generate many ideas,
is a key characteristic of a design thinker. In the words of the chemist
and author Linus Pauling, “If you want to
have good ideas, “you must have many ideas.” Divergent thinking means
thinking inside, outside and under the box. Designers may change
their perspective, re-frame the problem,
or challenge a widely-held assumption. Using active methods that
flip, invert, or reverse, they work to disrupt
conventional ways of thinking. One of my favorite divergent
thinking methods is called bisociation. More commonly
known as a mash-up, it forces together two
unrelated domains in an effort to find an
unexpected combination. Your experience at BYU is
an example of a mash-up. You could all receive an
excellent education at another institution,
but instead you are combining a rigorous study of your
major, one domain, with matters of faith,
another domain. The hope is that something
innovative will result from this unique combination. The smart phone in your hand
is also an example of bisociative thinking;
it’s a big, beautiful, addictive mash-up of
many technologies. Bill and Aleda perfected the
mash-up by thinking divergently with
humor and grace. When a family member
needed a new dress, they went to the mill with
Aleda to choose a flour sack. When the sack was empty,
it was dismantled and sewn into their new dress. Aleda saved every scrap of
fabric, no matter how worn. She re-made tattered coats to
fit smaller family members, turned grandpa’s old
ties into what’s called a ‘crazy quilt’ and braided the
leftover scraps into rugs. When Grandma got her hands
on a surplus parachute after the war,
she was giddy about re-purposing the fancy new
fabric called nylon. Spreading out the parachute
on the living room floor, she began to cut out patterns
for all of her children. Then all of her nieces. And finally,
all of the neighbors. Never mind that the nylon
was hot and itchy, everyone was going to
have a new blouse. Not to be outdone,
Grandpa’s bum lambs grew into a mighty flock. During the harvest, lambing,
and grazing seasons, he often hired extra farm
hands and knew exactly where to find them. As a very tall Deputy Sheriff,
he was in charge of crowd control at the local dance
hall on Saturday night. His billy club knew exactly
where to land when the drunken sheepherders
got out of hand. Then on the next day,
the Sabbath, he was the local bishop. In a beautiful mash-up
of gospel teaching, farm work,
and law enforcement, he took the human bum lambs
into his home, his fields, and his ward. Many received their first
introduction to the gospel through “Brother Bill.” My grandparents frequently
prayed over their flocks and fields. For them, mashing together
work and worship came naturally. While most of us no
longer work in the field or with the flocks,
the principle is still valid. We can ask for divine
guidance in any aspect of our lives- home,
school, or family life. The Prophet Joseph was
an excellent example of a divergent thinker. The founding story of
the church reveals him to be a radical thinker
who challenged long-held assumptions,
questioned authority, and gave voice to
highly divergent ideas. I find it slightly ironic
that divergent thinking, questioning,
or re-thinking the status quo may appear to some as
antithetical to church culture. It is true that as small
children we learn to sing “Follow the prophet,
follow the prophet, “don’t go astray. “Follow the prophet,
follow the prophet, he knows the way.” Yet the principle of
obedience is distinct, complementary, and compatible
with the principle of divergent thinking. In my experience,
the most effective, and obedient,
home and visiting teachers are the ones who break
from the standard script. They use creativity to serve
the needs of their families. Thinking divergently about
your testimony offers the chance to escape the familiar
ruts and tired patterns of church membership. If church life is stale,
it’s time to disrupt your routine. Try home teaching on the
first day of the month. Say one prayer without
resorting to vain repetition. Sing harmony this Sunday,
instead of the melody, and do it as loud
as you dare. Rather than say you know
the church is true, when you might not,
bear testimony of a single point of doctrine that
you do know is true. After hovering in the
ideation phase for as long as possible,
we eventually converge upon our best ideas in the
prototype and testing phase. Learning from mistakes
and failures, we apply the knowledge
to our next iteration, and consequently the
veil gets thinner. By its very nature,
a prototype signifies a work in progress and
implies that we will fail. To the experienced
design thinker, failure is only temporary;
it is simply part of the process. Henry Ford said,
“Failure is only the “opportunity to begin again,
this time more intelligently.” In his journal,
Joseph Smith described himself as “a huge rough
stone rolling” down a high mountain,
saying “the only “polishing I get,
is when some corner gets “rubbed off by coming in
contact with something else.” What did Joseph mean? He was undergoing
user testing. His ideas were in the rapid
prototyping department. He was a work in progress. After the Lord has shown
us line upon line, precept upon precept,
he promises to “try you and prove you herewith.” Bill’s growth in the church
came incrementally. His leadership skills were
prototyped and tested as he served as the first Presiding
Elder, Branch President, and finally Bishop
of Mud Lake, a position he held
for 10 years. When the time finally
came to build a chapel, the work fell to local
ward members. Since they were all farmers,
they could only work on the building during the
cold winter months. As the building
neared completion, a date for its
dedication was set. But in the rush to finish,
my grandfather realized in horror that they had
forgotten to budget for chairs or pews,
and the congregation was completely out of money. Faced with the
approaching deadline, he remembered a coffee can
sitting on the top shelf in his kitchen at home. To earn money for
new winter coats, the children had cared for
a new crop of bum lambs all summer and had just
sold them at market. The tin can contained all
their hard earned money. The Shuldberg family quietly
took the can down, consecrated their offering
to the Lord, and bought chairs
for the new chapel. With their prototype and
test complete, a promised blessing
now awaited them. Aleda made over their old
winter coats and they attended the dedication,
sitting in new chairs that others barely noticed. On the day of the dedication,
the Apostle Joseph F. Merrill came from Salt Lake City
to offer the dedicatory prayer. Unaware that the farmers
usually ran out of irrigation water long before the growing
season was over, he blessed the stunned
members that there would always be sufficient water
for their crops. Shortly thereafter, one of the
largest underground aquifers in the US was discovered
below Mud Lake. In the words of Alma:
“And because of your “diligence and your faith
and your patience with “the word in nourishing it,
that it may take root in you, “behold, by and by ye shall
pluck the fruit thereof, “which is most precious,
which is sweet above all that is sweet “and ye shall feast on this
fruit even until ye are filled, “that ye hunger not,
neither shall ye thirst.” By applying basic principles
of design and gospel thinking,
we can accept Alma’s advice to experiment upon the word. Like the braided rug
made from Aleda’s scraps of fabric,
a testimony only becomes durable and resilient
when the small, individual experiences
of gospel living are woven together. What was once
discarded, worn, and insignificant on its own,
can offer great strength and comfort in the face
of wicked problems. So when the trial
of your faith, or any other wicked
problem comes, remember to do the following:
Embrace doubt and uncertainty as essential elements
in problem solving. Let them motivate you to seek
greater understanding. Remember that a testimony,
and knowledge, is built line upon line. Rather than focusing on
what may seem like an unreachable goal,
incremental development comes from small,
well-placed steps. If chance favors
the prepared mind, your best preparation will
come through immersing yourself in church life,
rather than dabbling in it. If gospel living has become
routine and uninspiring, or you feel stuck
with a problem, look to change your
perspective through divergent thinking. Finally, growth in
your testimony only comes through the tests
and trials of life. Prototype early and often,
to succeed sooner. From my own
personal experience, if you have even a
desire to believe, the seed of testimony
can grow and take root within your heart. Of this I testify,
in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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