One recurring explosive argument in otherwise nicely going exploration debates is the word “pragmatism”. Architects love to explore, and know all about so-called “pragmatism”. They know all too well how disconcerting the word can be. It is not seldom the word that just prevents architects from doing what they actually need to do.
Pragmatism seems to resonate with everyone, but no one feels really happy when the word is thrown into a debate. The experience is as if a big boulder is thrown in the vivid little pond that a debate was, with no water left.
Why is that? Because the word is a clincher, a meaningless argument but with serious impeding effect.
Pragmatism is not an absolute but a relative measure. What is pragmatic in one context can be totally unreasonable in another one and vice versa. Moreover the measure seems to be very subjective. Pragmatism is what holds utopians from chasing illusions as well as visionaries from achieving astonishing results.
Of course, architects are not without blame. They should take the usage of the word “pragmatism” as a signal: a signal for a lack of preparation; a signal for not having thought through, and gained the necessary support for the constraints of purpose, efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness in exploration.
Pragmatism is actually the word used to argue the shift from “exploration” to ”exploitation” when sound reasoning in the form of formulation of constraints is absent. The word makes the shift happen but not necessarily at the right moment. When used, the closure of exploration is likely to happen in an ad hoc, hasty, incoherent manner.
To avoid the argument from being used, prime concerns on the mind of the architect should be:
- What is the purpose of exploration?
- What is the (supported) capacity for exploration? In terms of resource usage that is still considered sufficiently efficient?
- What is the fit-for-purpose to be reached? In terms of what is considered sufficiently effective?
- What is the requirement of timeliness?
One should thereby keep in mind that one needs a necessary degree of inefficiency to be effective. Or as Einstein once declared, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” (Lehrer, Jonah. How To Be Creative.)
Especially the neglect of timeliness appears to be a key reason to call in “pragmatism”. And meeting timeliness might mean that what is considered effective, needs to be more relaxed at first, possibly through intermediate results to be further improved, so to reduce to results that are feasible in a timely manner, or simply to maintain the necessary support.
Really tackling the trap of pragmatism requires architects with an ability to explore with long-term, focused and coherent foresight as well as an ability to produce intermediate outcomes, ready for exploitation, that stand the test of longer-term validity for the significant part:
Wouldn’t capacity and time for exploration be used more optimally and the proper moment for intermediate closure be more clear without calling in “pragmatism”, if above 4 questions got answers first?
Let’s get rid of pragmatism as a clincher!