A Triptych of Triptychs for Designing for Neurological Pluralism

ANI launched its online list, ANI-L, in 1994. Like a specialized ecological niche, ANI-L had acted as an incubator for Autistic culture, accelerating its evolution. In 1996, a computer programmer in the Netherlands named Martijn Dekker set up a list called Independent Living on the Autism Spectrum, or InLv. People with dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, and a myriad of other conditions (christened “cousins” in the early days of ANI) were also welcome to join the list. InLv was another nutrient-rich tide pool that accelerated the evolution of autistic culture. The collective ethos of InLv, said writer and list member Harvey Blume in the New York Times in 1997, was “neurological pluralism.” He was the first mainstream journalist to pick up on the significance of online communities for people with neurological differences. “The impact of the Internet on autistics,” Blume predicted, “may one day be compared in magnitude to the spread of sign language among the deaf.”

Source: The neurodiversity movement: Autism is a minority group. NeuroTribes excerpt.

A triptych of triptychs for designing for neurological pluralism

The cave, campfire, and watering hole archetypal learning spaces:

The red, yellow, and green of interaction badges:

The three level communication stack of distributed collaboration:


Living Privately. - Building and maintaining a sense of what to show in each social environment. - Discovering and creating new environments in which we can show more of ourselves. - Assessing where you can grow new parts of yourself which aren’t (yet) for public display.

Source: On Privacy – Human Systems – Medium

Don’t Be Evil: Engineering Culture, Infrastructure, and Politics

I’m going to over-quote from this great piece on engineering culture and tech ethics.

We certainly do “try to do politics by changing infrastructure.” For good, and for bad.

Engineering culture is about making the product. If you make the product work, that’s all you’ve got to do to fulfill the ethical warrant of your profession. The ethics of engineering are an ethics of: Does it work? If you make something that works, you’ve done the ethical thing. It’s up to other people to figure out the social mission for your object. It’s like the famous line from the Tom Lehrer song: “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.”

Engineers try to do politics by changing infrastructure.

That’s what they do. They tweak infrastructure. It’s a little bit like an ancient Roman trying to shape public debate by reconfiguring the Forum. “We’ll have seven new entrances instead of six, and the debate will change.”

The engineering world doesn’t have a conception of how to intervene in debate that isn’t infrastructural.

Design is the process by which the politics of one world become the constraints on another. How are those constraints built? What are its effects on political life?

At Burning Man, what you’re rehearsing is project-based collaborative labor. Engineers flowing in from the Valley are literally acting out the social structures on which Valley engineering depends. But they can do something at Burning Man that they can’t do in the Valley: they can own the project. They can experience total “flow” with a team of their own choosing. In the desert, in weirdly perfect conditions, they can do what the firm promises them but can’t quite deliver.

In order to make these heroes, however, they have to cut them off from the context that produced them. They can’t tell a context story. They can’t tell a structure story. They have to tell a hero story. Suddenly the heroes themselves look like solo actors who pushed away the world to become the libertarian ideal of an Ayn Rand novel. So I think it’s a collaboration between actually existing tech leaders and the press around a myth.

One of the legacies of the counterculture, particularly on the left, is the idea that expression is action. This idea has haunted those of us on the left for a long time.

But one of the reasons that the Tea Party came to power was that they organized—they built institutions. So the challenge for those of us who want a different world is not to simply trust that the expressive variety that the internet permits is the key to freedom. Rather, we need to seek a kind of freedom that involves people not like us, that builds institutions that support people not like us—not just ones that help gratify our desires to find new partners or build better micro-worlds.

Source: Don’t Be Evil

The Checklist Manifesto

  • Progress in human understanding has become increasingly complex and overwhelming.
  • Checklists help prevent serious but easily avoidable mistakes.
  • Checklists should be as short as possible, include all essential steps and leave no room for misunderstandings.
  • Today’s complex tasks can no longer be left to a lone hero’s expertise; we need teams.
  • Team communication is vital in complex situations and can be greatly enhanced by a checklist.
  • Medical checklists have already saved many lives.
  • Checklists can be effective in diverse settings.

Much of  The Checklist Manifesto is flow curation describing how various industries (medicine, construction, food service, aviation, …) use checklists. A shared practice is the check listing of communication tasks. The construction industry calls this communication check listing a submittal schedule. Submittal schedules document flow between teams.

Another shared practice is using checklists to distribute power. “Cleared for takeoff” culture gives anyone on any of the teams that are constantly communicating per the submittal schedule the power to say, whoah. Further, the checklists make the minimum necessary steps explicit while giving room to adapt. Make checklists that are a cognitive net, not a wagging finger.

Checklists document and shape flow. They inspire flow in emergencies and sustain it through the quotidian. The virtues that come with the lightweight discipline of checklists are many and emergent. They relieve anxiety, make process transparent, distribute power, and help teams flow during stress.

Checklist cool tricks


  • distribute power.
  • push power of decision making to the periphery.
  • provide a cognitive net.
  • make the minimum necessary steps explicit.
  • make sure simple steps are not missed.
  • make sure people talk.
  • capture and shape real flow.
  • inspire flow in emergencies and sustain it through the quotidian.
  • capture flow between teams.
  • encourage a shared culture around flow.
  • accessibly capture institutional memory in the context of flow.

Attributes of a good checklist

What makes a good checklist? Checklists shouldn’t be about just checking boxes. Instead of being a chore, checklists should fit and assist real flow. The Checklist Manifesto offers these suggestions.

Ideally, checklists…

  • are not lengthy.
  • have clear, concise objectives.
  • define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used.
  • have fewer than ten items per pause point.
  • fit the flow of the work.
  • continually update as living documents.

See this checklist for checklists and this example checklist for more.


  • Just ticking boxes is not the ultimate goal here. Embracing a culture of teamwork and discipline is.
  • Make the minimum necessary steps explicit
  • Provide a cognitive net
  • Establish a higher standard of baseline performance
  • “forcing functions”: relatively straightforward solutions that force the necessary behavior—solutions like checklists.
  • We are besieged by simple problems.
  • Submittal schedule – checklist of communication tasks
  • Submittal schedules make people talk
  • We can build complex things because of tracking and communication
  • A checklist to make sure simple steps are not missed. A checklist to make sure people talk.
  • Push power of decision making to the periphery. Give people room to adapt. Make sure they talk and take responsibility.
  • In a complex situation, don’t issue instructions, make sure people talk.
  • Following the recipe is essential to making food of consistent quality over time.
  • behavior-change delivery vehicle
  • bring gifts rather than wag fingers
  • simple, cheap, effective, and transmissible
  • Cleared for takeoff culture.
  • Pre-launch team briefing. Team huddle.
  • Pause points.
  • Simple interventions. Leverage.
  • Checklists distribute power.
  • An inherent tension exists between brevity and effectiveness.
  • Part of every expert’s job should be finding a way to ensure that the group lets nothing fall between the cracks. Systems require experts tending flow to be healthy.
  • Getting people to offer their names and concerns during the pre-launch briefing makes them more likely to speak up later. “Activation phenomenon. Giving people a chance to say something at the start seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility and their willingness to speak up.”
  • “That’s not my problem” is possibly the worst thing people can think
  • You must define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used
  • You must decide whether you want a DO-CONFIRM checklist or a READ-DO checklist.
  • The checklist cannot be lengthy.
  • Ideally, the person driving isn’t the person working though the checklist. Copilots are good. The driver is less distracted and power is distributed.
  • “Even the most expert among us can gain from searching out the patterns of mistakes and failures and putting a few checks in place.”

Selected quotes

Checklists supply a set of checks to ensure the stupid but critical stuff is not overlooked, and they supply another set of checks to ensure people talk and coordinate and accept responsibility while nonetheless being left the power to manage the nuances and unpredictabilities the best they know how.

Continue reading “The Checklist Manifesto”