Quartet Beneficiaries

a quartet has at least six times more potential synergies than a duet

Ruskin_Sutcliffe_1873.jpg square-50cm-spacer.jpg young-Buckminster-Fuller.png
John Ruskin in 1873 square-50cm-spacer.jpg Richard Buckminster Fuller in 1917

Why These Numbers?

  • Tripling a 'win-win' situation can be expressed numerically as 3 X 2
  • Let us examine some issues behind this simple mathematical statement.
  • Most people tend to think it reasonable to start counting from 1.
  • This has been endorsed by the western assumptions behind individualism.
  • This may be why self-interest (c.f Adam Smith) is usually seen as referring to individuals, rather than their community.
  • However, Buckminster Fuller reminds us that unity is plural and, at minimum, two.
  • This is because things spin, and/or operate on a reciprocal (e.g. symbiotic) basis.
  • But, even when we think of symbiosis, we tend to visualise individual winner/s.
  • Invention is also seen as a singular (often 'disruptive') act that is disconnected from its adjacent/rival processes.
  • The 'win-win' (1:1) equation is a better prototype but it is not productive enough for the post-carbon economy.
  • Tripling the win-win means starting with 2 pairs (i.e. winner1:winner2 and winner3:winner4).
  • When this happens, the number of synergies are tripled (see tetrahedral logic) - also explains the cognitive factors.
  • See also our notions of 4-Way Innovation and 4-Way Ethics.

The Tool's Process

  • Choose four possible stake-holders or beneficiaries who are already mutually associated.
  • Alternatively, represent their interests by proxy (role-play), using 4 problem-solving experts.
  • Ask them all to work as a team, to brainstorm their respective needs in a relevant context.
  • Ask them to think of a single innovation that would (appear to) deliver welcome benefits to each.
  • Continue this exercise until each individual player feels that s/he has become a 'winner'.
  • Ask them whether the benefits of others adds to, subtracts from, or is neutral to their own pleasure.
  • Once the benefits are made visible list them and try to integrate them into a clear product identity.
  • Give the product a celebratory name that also reflects some (or all) of these benefits.

The Tool's Purpose

  • This tool challenges the received idea that devising one-off benefits is enough.
  • It is intended to find, develop, offer and to highlight multiple benefits from a single innovation.

(courtesy of WordLock Inc.

  • Some see combination locks as a 'win-lose' situation that is determined by entering the 'right' or 'wrong' combination.
  • They see its 'solution' as a sequence of (4) numbers, rather than a set of (6) relations.
  • We could also see it as 4 interdependent beneficiaries (i.e. A-B-C-D) whose respective roles contribute to a shared outcome (X)
  • How can metadesigners find a more positive (e.g. less problem-oriented) way to create and present their work?
  • This tool calls for a highly-motivated, innovative approach by an individual, or team of creatives.
  • It is a high-return tool but, because of its complexity, may be very difficult to use successfully.

The Tool's Context

  • Although we tend to think in separate 'boxes' - e.g. economics, environment, social, etc. - everything is related.
  • This is useful for highly resourceful design thinkers, who may be able to reconcile many 'boxes' simultaneously.
  • For example, with enough imagination, many problems at one level can be reframed as opportunities at another.
  • As Buckminster Fuller once said: "The people who let the sulphur go into the air are not in the sulphur business"
  • Psychologically speaking, Adam Smith's (1776) idea of the invisible hand suggests a 'win-win' offer.
  • By contrast, the idea of 'environmental sustainability' seems to offer a 'lose-win' scenario.
  • By synergising many small benefits in a well-designed process we could overcome this problem.
  • The 4-Way Thinking Tool explains how the human mind likes to see benefits in identifiable 'chunks'.


  • This topological idea can be interpreted to mean that 2 players achieve 'win-win' by virtue of 1 common synergy


  • When there are 3 players, this implies 3 common synergies


  • With 4 players there can be six (possible) shared synergies -i.e. triple that of a 'win-win' situation.

An Example


  • Clustering appropriate benefits for familiar stakeholders can (seem to) deliver an emergent dividend
  • N.B. This model is inspired by John Ruskin's ecological context for craftsmanship.


  • JW thinks it's his idea, but awaits contradiction by other members of m21.


  • Wood, J., (2008), Auspicious Reasoning; can metadesign become a mode of governance? An article for the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, Published by Intellect Books, Intellect Journals, Art and Design. Volume 1, Issue 3. ISSN 1753-5190. Co-editors Julia Lockheart & John Wood, July 08.
  • Wood, J., (2007), ‘Relative Abundance, a chapter for ‘Designers, Visionaries and Other Stories: A collection of sustainable design essays’, (eds. Jonathan Chapman & Nick Gant), book, Earthscan, (August 2007)
  • Wood, J., (2007), ‘Triple Win-Win: synergy tools for metadesigners’, a chapter for ‘Designing for the 21st Century’ book, (ed. Tom Inns) Gower Publishing, (2007)