This post is in response to something Dave Seah wrote over on his blog. Dave’s post is a deeply personal middle of the night meditation on identity. I’ll do a terrible job of paraphrasing it here:
Who am I? I know I’m not an Artist or Designer (capital indicates archetypical roles). Sure, I can make pretty pictures when called for. What I’m good at is making sense of complex inputs and outputting simpler, human digestable stories and images.
Dave discovers that his underlying internal motivation is to understand the why of things. He calls himself an Investigative Designer. He closes by saying that “I feel like I’m getting a little closer to establishing what it is that I do, even though I’m not really that much closer to figuring out how to describe it in real world terms.”
Dave’s post was the missing piece in a puzzle that’s been dancing around my head. I think I have some vocabulary that may help Dave with his description.
I’d like to present the concept of a Synthesist, and illustrate how a Synthesist works, the vital role the Synthesist plays in evolving humanity, and the duties and responsibilities that come with this calling.
Merriam-Webster defines synthesis as
a : the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole
b : the production of a substance by the union of chemical elements, groups, or simpler compounds or by the degradation of a complex compound
c : the combining of often diverse conceptions into a coherent whole; also : the complex so formed
A Synthesist is a person who embodies these characteristics. He (I’m going to use the male pronoun for simplicity) takes disparate bits of information and weaves them to create something new. His role is to streamline and to simplify; to remove the cruft and clutter so that the end product is easily absorbable by the target human group.
The Synthesist’s role is to be a translator. He should be well versed in multiple communication standards so that he can receive the broadest possible range of inputs so that his output reflects a broad spectrum of human experience. He makes it possible for an outsider to connect with ever more fracturing cultures. He can talk the language of the Client and the Audience. He bridges multiple cultures (here I’m referring to culture in a broad sense, ie the culture of web designers, or the culture of particle physicists, or the culture of indy rock) and is able to see the links between them (even if he doesn’t consciously know it).
The Synthesist often acts at pre-conscious levels. He collects stimuli and data, constantly picking up waves of culture and society. This becomes the resource from which he creates his work. He feels when something is done just right. He knows without necessarily knowing how he knows. People in creative roles are well suited to this, as we’re often trained to work with our unconscious minds via techniques like brainstorming, priming, going with our gut, following our instincts, etc.
Synthesists are generally not the people doing cutting edge work. A Synthesist needs to be a generalist in order to fulfill his role. He needs to have a 50,000 foot view of culture. He can be immersed in various aspects of it – he needs to be in order to function. But his specialty is the bigger picture, not the nuts and bolts.
This has caused me no end of personal suffering. I’ve always longed to be the best at something. I’m quite good at a lot of different things, but I’ve lacked the genetic talent to be the best. Until I recently realized my role as a Synthesist. From a practical day to day standpoint, I have no idea what this means at this point.
Ultimately, a Synthesist’s job is to just be. He’s to follow his interest until he’s called on to act. That calling can be external (a client, an opportunity) or internal (a sudden need to do something). He’s to hone his abilities to input culture and learn how to read his own mind for cues from his unconscious brain – to make the unconscious conscious.
Being a Synthesist isn’t a paying job. Not directly. Synthesists tend to find themselves at the crossroads of cultures. They are designers, architects, writers, artists, journalists, bloggers… The Synthesist is an extremely important role at this point in our history. He’s the 97th monkey. He is a bellwether. His role in society is to act as a gateway to change. He is a signpost and a map maker.
And with that, I think I’ll get back to work!