Why methodology matters?

I have just returned from Canberra – a city built on the imagination of Marion Mahony Griffin.

We will come back to this woman of genius but first let us focus on the power of her imagination from nearly a century ago.

The term ‘Canberra’ comes from the Aboriginal word ‘Nganbra’ which means the ‘meeting place.’

The design of Canberra is precisely what it says on the tin. It’s a place for meeting.

I walked around Canberra for two weeks and I felt like I was living the imagination of Marion Mahony Griffin.

Canberra, with its lower density, extensive open spaces, green hilltops and parkland foreshores, is unlike any other major city. London, Tokyo, Islamabad, Cairo, Washington, New York and Beijing – no other city in the world comes close to the egalitarian design of Canberra.

To put things in perspective, the entire human race could fit within the half of South Australia if we lived as densely as Beijing’s population. The entire human race could fit in the Northern Territory of Australia if we lived as densely as London’s population. And by contrast, the entire human race could fit in South America if we lived as densely as Canberra’s population.

This should tell us that the world is not as space deficient as we humans have turned it to become. The famous Marxist David Harvey was right. Most cities around the world follow the principles of uneven development. The rich and the elite deliberately shrink the space to create a flow of capital, and in so doing, they artificially inflate the property prices in one part of the city at the expense of the other.

Marion Mahony Griffin’s imagination of Canberra transcends rapacity and greed to create equality so that the marginalised and the non-privileged are not deprived of space.

There are few shopping malls; Canberra was envisioned as a non-commercial city.

The suburbs of Canberra are designed with walkers and bikers in mind. Footpaths and cycling paths cut through the streets and make way up to the outskirts of the city and the bush reserve. No matter how far you cycle or walk, road networks and railways will never come in your way.

Picture: Cycle walking trails go over or under the roads

There is a strong sense of idealism and social purpose in the design of Canberra.

The city has multiple storage facilities and communal kitchen gardens for those who cannot afford their private space.

Picture: common storage spaces for communities

All religious faiths are entitled to a free space by their local municipality.

The design of Canberra ‘makes it possible for communities to live together, in houses that can fit together into the natural environment’ and with many playgrounds and parks for children to play.

Safety signage is kept to a bare minimum, at least to an outsider, who comes from the oil city of Aberdeen, United Kingdom.

There are many recreational spaces for the disabled all around the city which means children in wheelchairs are also entitled to having a life filled with play and fun.

Picture: Swings for people in wheechairs

In a book published by Glenda Korporaal – Making Magic – the American journalist writes about the design philosophy of Canberra:

‘City planning was not a mechanical drafting board affair later to be imposed upon the earth, destroying whatever got in the way…. In planning Canberra, every detail of the natural conditions was thoroughly studied in order to preserve them and to make the most of each and everything so that the City can indeed be a living thing, a healthy, growing thing.’

Korporaal explains that ‘the city is carefully designed to fit into the landscape, following the contours of the topography, with as little damage to the natural surroundings as possible.’

Put it another way, the design of Canberra works with nature and not against it.

The world is not a perfect place but the architecture of Canberra exhibits a delicate balance between an idealist vision and an unequal world.

I started to miss Canberra the moment I landed in Perth. Perth is one of those cities caught between tradition and modernism and with new superstructures planted in the middle of old buildings.

Perth: Old buildings opposite new structures

One outpour of rain showers and the drainage of Perth, like all modern architecture built on technique, becomes dysfunctional. Like most modern cities in the world, Perth exhibits the short-sightedness of modern management driven by measurement, space optimisation and efficient design. Measurement, technique and efficiency – the religion of the modern world.


A woman of genius

As I read about this woman of genius, I am filled with awe.

Marion was an architect, a designer, an artist, an environmentalist, a community leader and a theosophist (a theologian and a philosopher). This makes her work truly transdisciplinary which means that her imagination was not constrained by a single theory or a discipline.

As I researched about her life and work, I came to uncover some interesting facts about this woman of genius.

‘Marion Mahony, who was born in Chicago and grew up in Winnetka, started her career working for Frank Lloyd Wright, an American organic architect, and she worked for Wright for several years. In a man’s world, Mahony was more often known by her married name and her work with her husband Walter Burley Griffin. Mahony was the second woman to gain a degree in architecture from MIT. When in 1898 she passed the Illinois State licensure exam, she was probably the first woman in the U.S. to be licensed as an architect. Mahony was overshadowed by Wright and especially by her own self-effacement and devotion to the work of her husband. Now many attribute much of the graphic style of Wright to Mahony, where she was Wright’s chief draftsman. Historians credit Mahony with at least half the drawings in Wright’s portfolio that has been called one of the most influential architectural treasures of the 20th century. Wright never acknowledged her contribution to the work, published in Germany in 1910.’

At one point at the Museum of History, I noticed Marion’s picture framed with her husband, Walter Burley Griffin. The picture depicts her husband Mr Griffin as the same height although in reality Mrs Griffin was at least six inches taller than her husband.

Picture: Framing of the picture shows that the husband and wife were of the same height

These little snippets into her life and the framing of Griffin’s picture tells us so much about the life struggles of this genius and how the masculine world consistently ignores the potential of a woman.

As I read her work, I became fascinated by the power of Griffin’s imagination and how she pursued her purpose whilst leaving success and fame to her husband. Living thousands of miles away from Canberra, she created the architecture for Canberra without any craving for success, wealth or power. As I walked the streets of Canberra, I felt so privileged to be part of her dream.


A world without dreams and visions

Today many of us squabble endlessly about methods, techniques and models trying to protect our trivial concepts and egotistical views with IP rights and copyrights. A world without imagination seems so threatened when one person takes another person’s concepts and claims them as theirs. We become deeply insecure about the limited knowledge that we hold on to ourselves.

To be sure, I don’t encourage plagiarism either and I sympathise with people who fight these (IP) wars. I understand that original ideas are hard to create and in a world where a blog can claim you authorship, everyone is an expert. Without your unique methods and models, you are just a disposable seller in a long queue of consultants.

Yet, the wisdom of Marion Mahony Griffin and nearly every visionary who has walked this planet tells us that without imagination, the tools that you carry around today (your methods, models, IPs and copyrights) are merely a set of algorithm waiting to be commoditised by the artificial intelligence when you wake up tomorrow. Without imagination, we are just cogs in a wheel. Humans factored into a system.

A vision to create something larger than life, like the city of Canberra, starts with dreams and imaginations.

It is interesting that in the leadership discourse today, we don’t come across words such as ‘dreams’; ‘vision’; or ‘imagination’. Instead, what we hear is strategy, goals, objectives and outcomes. Success matters. The outcome matters. But the source of the ideas and the ability to imagine hardly gets the desired attention.

Canberra would not have been the city as we experience it today if Griffin was motivated by greed, power, efficiency or space optimisation.

In designing Canberra, Griffin did not imagine an outcome or a mechanical process. Instead, Griffin believed the possibility of a space where human culture could work closely with the forces of nature.

This brings me to the heart of this write-up.


Why methodology matters?

When you ask someone what is your methodology, most people are put off by a futile intellectual discussion.

Not me, please.

But methodology is not some academic gobbledygook.

Your methodology is how you choose to live and how you view the world. Your methodology is your worldview. Your methodology is what you believe in. Your methodology sets the limits of your imagination. Your methodology is your truth – that single truth for which you will live and die.

Your methodology serves as a medium to bring your beliefs to the surface.

We think that research is some objective exercise unveiling what was not known to us earlier. Yet, even an open, exploratory research design cannot escape the beliefs of the researcher and the limits of their imagination. For instance, why do we research a specific topic, why do we ask a specific question, why do we choose one method over another, and why do we eventually settle on one answer over another? These are not matters left for science to answer; these are beliefs held at the deepest level of our being and mostly unconscious to us.

The question therefore is not so much whether a methodology matters or not. The question is are we aware of our methodology??? Many students I have met and supervised start writing a Masters dissertation or a PhD thesis without pondering about their methodology. How interesting that we strive to make sense of the world without knowing what we really believe in? If you don’t know what you believe in what is there to defend?

No human being has ever escaped the curse of belief. No research can be value neutral. The father of western psychology, Sigmund Freud, did not believe that God exists. Charles Darwin too did not believe in God. By contrast, the British writer and theologian C.S Lewis believed otherwise. But all these renowned scientists were victims of early years of trauma which radically shifted their beliefs about the world. Some embraced religion while others put it aside. Theists or atheists, Business or Charity, Consumption or Preservation, Buddha or Mohamed, Nymph or Celibate, Hermit of Householder – at the deepest level, we all believe in somethings.

The point is this. The universe does not exist in isolation from what we believe in. Deep inside, we are moral beings and some things are inherently wrong and right to us. During one of my workshops, I noticed a woman of a specific faith, even being a renowned social scientist, refused to touch the photo of the phallus. She later said that she found it ‘very awkward’. Even science cannot escape belief and what is most interesting, belief precedes science and scientific inquiry.

Your methodology serves as a medium to articulate your beliefs to yourself and to others.



Let’s approach methodology from another angle. Think of a theory or a life principle that has served you through your life. The theory appeals to you because it gives you a coherent view of the world. Coherence is an important aspect of methodology. Having a coherent view of how we should live life gives meaning to our experiences. Coherence is the glue that binds our inner experiences with the outer world phenomenon. Coherence is when things make sense. Without coherence everything seems senseless. Take coherence away and people experience cognitive dissonance which explains why we live and die by our beliefs and myths (culture).

Your methodology (in life and otherwise) give you a coherent view of the world.

Here are some coherent methodologies in risk and safety:

Behaviourism – Discipline, punish and reward suits your beliefs because you view people as a problem to be controlled.

Utilitarianism: Measurements and metrics suits your beliefs because you see people as an object to be measured in pursuit of a greater goal.

Deontology: Following predetermined processes suits your worldview because you see people as erratic, unpredictable beings in a stable, predictable world.

New view of safety (or safety differently): The infamous slogan ‘people as a solution’ works for you because you believe that the world is chaotic and it is ultimately down to people who create order out of chaos.

Just Culture: You believe that the world is unfair, the oppressor works against the oppressed, and it is your duty to bring justice to the oppressed (sometimes without a clue of how the legal system functions).

Is one methodology better than the other? That is beside the point. The thing that frustrates most people is incongruence. You are congruent about your methodology when you say what you do. On the other hand, when your beliefs, your thoughts and your actions become incoherent to the others, that is incongruence and it comes across as dishonest and doublespeak.

If as a leader, you set yourself to humanise your workplace and the first thing on your mind is to set up dashboards and measurements your approach is incongruent. If you claim that you don’t want to blame people when things go wrong and then come up with a ‘just culture process’ to evaluate behaviour your approach is incongruent. If you say people matter in your organisation and your management review report is filled with statistics and objects your approach is incongruent. Your actions are not aligned with your own views and whilst everyone else can observe this inconsistency, you remain convinced and largely unconscious of your own Self.

I don’t think people are dishonest (exceptions made to psychopaths and sociopaths). I think it is incongruence. This incongruence happens because so few of us think through our methodology in life and because we are largely unconscious of what we believe. Interestingly also, unless the unconscious is made conscious, and unless there is congruence between the unconscious and the conscious, the unconscious prevails. That is also why so many of us become trapped in a mid-life crisis, neurosis, psychosis (split personality) and loose the ability to imagine and create.

Your methodology is your opportunity to articulate how you wish to live, relate with others and become congruent with what you believe.

If earning more money motivates you to work harder, that is your methodology. If power, progression and promotions motivate you, that is your methodology. If libido motivates you, that is your methodology in life. If caring for people motivates you, that’s your methodology. If wisdom motivates you, that is your methodology.

I wonder if during the course of designing Canberra, Marion Mahony Griffin would have faced a conflict within? Maybe I should compete with my husband and outwit him to showcase my finesse? Maybe I should forgo my imagination for a better remuneration? Maybe I should work out a more optimised design.

For Griffin, creating a city design that would work with nature meant far more than preserving her ego or accumulating more wealth.

In the darkest hours of our lives, when we are faced with temptations, vices, choices, constraints and dilemmas, our methodology brings to life what we truly believe.

Without a methodology human imagination goes everywhere and nowhere.

Would Canberra be the same meeting place without the imagination and methodology of Marion Mahony Griffin?

I am not sure but I am open to your thoughts.










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