My brother is a photographer and a teacher, and I am frequently reminded of how differently he responds to things. Where he often thinks like an artist, I often default to the kinds of design-thinking that Grace Jeffers talks about when she says that “Design thinking is about solving a problem, but art thinking is about feeling your way to a solution” (link).
It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the way physiotherapists are trained to think – there’s certainly a lot to be said for the kinds of deductive reasoning that can work out the specific aetiology of a problem and rationalise a response – it’s just that this kind of thinking doesn’t work that well for more of the kinds of abstract approaches that are increasingly being called for today.
Clinical reasoning is often teleological, meaning that it’s orientated to outcomes and goals: it anticipates the end at the very beginning. This is good for ‘economic’, ‘industrial’ and instrumental thinking, where the complexity of phenomena are stripped back to component parts. But it’s less good for innovative, abstract, exploratory and metaphorical thinking.
And why should this matter? Well, for one thing, there’s a lot about physiotherapy that can’t be reduced to cause and effect relationships. There are ideas, emotions, inter-subjective beliefs and values, perspectives and desires that can be flattened and disembodied by too much instrumentalism.
We’ve also seen a call for more creativity and innovation in thinking in recent years – particularly from people in developed countries, where we’ve come to realise that our future economies will be based much more on the creative industries than the production of goods and services offered cheaper overseas (see this famous example, for instance).
So I really enjoyed reading about this design school’s approach to getting students to think like artists rather than designers: to feel their way to their solution, rather than attempt to solve the problem at the outset.
One of the pressures we all face at the moment, is in anticipating how physiotherapy will need to change in the future. Perhaps one response might be to take a leaf from the work of artists, and offer our students, our peers and ourselves the space to be a little more creative, ambiguous, subtle and mysterious?
As the dada art movement showed us – today’s ridiculous might well prove to be tomorrow’s rudimentary.