Behind the veil

In the first issue of Lucky Peach (arguably the finest quarterly food journal ever published), one of my favourite chefs Dave Chang sets out an excerpt from Thomas Bernhard’s ranty, nihilistically comic novel Old Masters. On the surface the passage describes how the main character ‘Reger’ is putting society to rights.

Reger tears apart the world and everything he believes in – on the basis that if you believe in something, be it art, sports, or anything humanity has created to be beautiful, there’ll come a point in time when you’re eventually going to see the cracks in the facade.

And when you do, how do you reconcile that? How do you respond to this message, shrouded in the clothes of failure? Not the Silicon Valley 'fail fast and break things' type of failure. The ‘everything has gone to pot’ type of failure. We’ve all felt it. Like the point in time that you realise a childhood hero isn’t really that heroic. Their record is tainted and image just a shiny exterior. There’s an expectation-failure that you have to reconcile.

And so as ‘designers' (yes everyone designs but not everyone is a designer, perhaps) we know great design is only gained through constant iteration. And by its very nature, iteration means failure. Over and over again. Trial and error. In that very act and process you’re actively seeking the cracks in the facade.

But repeated failure is hard.

What’s more is that there’s not a lot of tolerance or room for it within institutions.

That’s why it feels like sometimes within an organisation, it’s better to paper over the cracks. But those cracks over time become a mantra in their own right. You hear things like ‘we’ve always done it this way’. ‘That’s just how it is here’.

It’s why I think as part of any effort to understand how something works – be it an organisation, a product, a service, or even people – you have to be prepared to go behind the veil. Find the cracks in the facade, acknowledge that they’ve been papered over in acts of reconciliation. In doing so, you might just see it for what it really is. A work in progress.

NOTES

Things I'm thinking about, for long enough to write them down: