Why Bricolage?

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I first came across the term Bricolage years ago when studying Anthropology in college. In his book “The Savage Mind” the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, (no relation to the blue jeans people), used this term to define the complex intellect of tribal peoples and their ability to create, among other things, intricate mythologies about the world around them. He personified this thinking with the “bricoleur”, a French term for a handyman or jack of all trades. A bricoleur makes do with what is at hand, blending existing materials together in different ways to create completely new results. From this came the definition of Bricolage: “A construction made of materials at hand”.

Bricolage has always felt like an appropriate term for my work in digital strategy, design and even photography. When we take a customer-first approach to solving unknown problems, we’re often working with those same available materials. Materials that are often in plain sight, but require a new perspective in order to remix and refine into new possibilities. Design sprints help teams and organizations succeed in creating new products, services and messages by starting with the tools, concepts and ideas that are at hand. The challenge is finding the focus, refining and remixing these ideas to find new opportunities. It’s about helping organizations uncover how much they already know and making it evident in an actionable format.

Bricolage has also become a definition for DIY across much of Europe, and in that sense it’s also an appropriate definition for the application of design sprints and design thinking. In many of the sprints I have facilitated the most powerful outcome is a sense of team empowerment as teams realize that they have the knowledge and ability to make a difference. When teams are motivated to rapidly collaborate, ideate and prototype they learn that they can innovate and grow by themselves by discovering and using the materials they’ve always had at hand.