Designing Miracles

Using creative thinking to see the world in a more productive light
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Are Miracles Possible?

...he/she didn’t know it was impossible, so went ahead and did it (French saying).

THINKABLEI will become Louis IVthI will make a flying machine
UNTHINKABLEI see what God seesaren't bumble bees too heavy to fly?
  1. This tool challenges the rationalist tendency to overlook the ineffable, or unnoticed, intangibles.
    • In today's rational world we tend to confuse the ‘unthinkable’ with the ‘impossible’.
    • But this is inauspicious psychology. By 'shrinking' the world into 'known knowns' it reduces our range of option.
    • This exercise encourages us to think beyond what we believe to be possible.
  2. In mathematical terms, miracles are just incidents that are very, very improbable (i.e. NOT impossible)
    • If we want to become luckier people we need to train ourselves to notice more opportunities.

The Tool's Context


  1. In the 21st century miracles are usually associated with an irrational belief in religious faith, or superstition
    • As such, they are regarded as ‘impossible’, or are the outcome of fraudulent illusion
  2. Few, therefore, believe that luck can be designed (design is usually seen as a rational process of management).
    • If we believe we can manipulate 'luck' this may be dismissed as 'mere' superstition
  3. Modern cynicism has encouraged the common confusion between the ‘unthinkable’ and the ‘impossible’.
    • If we tend only embark upon what we believe to be feasible, our optimism/pessimism balance is important.
    • If we believe that the unthinkable is synonymous with the impossible, we reduce the feasibilities.

Re-Languaging Miracles

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  1. We can make miracles thinkable by regarding them as incidents of low probability
    • In other words, we simply define a miracle as an exceptional event, irrespective of its semantic significance
    • Mathematically speaking, a big enough sample size would always include 'extraordinary' parameters
    • But the Universe is BIG - actually, it's 78 billion light-years across (light travels at 186,000 miles per second)
  2. Miracles can, thereby, be identified within a minimum inclusive set of all probabilities
    • In order to sustain auspicious conditions a probabilistic approach is inadequate
    • Orthodox mathematics represents an unsituated observer standpoint that is either prescriptive, or post-hoc
    • What is needed is a self-reflexive 'situationist' method that encourages ad hoc insights in the immediate temporal present

Tool Process

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  1. Using the following argument - persuade yourself that miracles are not impossible
    • Once something is thinkable we can map it into a larger picture of possibilities
    • The more the 'thinkable' is declared to be feasible the more attainable it becomes
    • Once the ‘impossible’ is described clearly it becomes ‘shareable’
    • If the 'impossible' is described affirmatively, the ‘unthinkable’ becomes (more) ‘thinkable’
    • By combining several positive minds (using what we call sympoiesis we can discover new possibilities
  2. In the 21st century, we often assume that miracles are ‘impossible’?
    • This may be because we are too risk-averse, or busy, to deviate from convention.
    • Also, the modern belief system became increasingly sceptical and rationalistic
    • Max Weber's (1946) term 'disenchantment' can be interpreted as a habitual, cynical retreat from the inexplicable
  3. Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) confirmed the black swan syndrome
    • (i.e. that highly unlikely, but critical and formative events can be expected)
    • Littlewood (1953) considered an event which occurs one in a million times to be 'surprising'
    • We might therefore expect at least 100,000 surprising events each year in a large country
    • According to Diaconis and Mosteller (1989), at the global level we can expect to see 'incredibly remarkable events'
    • Richard Wiseman's research showed that people can become luckier
    • He found that the main principle is to acquire a more 'positive' attitude.
  4. James Surowiecki (2004) claimed that decisions/choices by crowds are smarter than those by individual experts.
    • We know that some things, once thought to be impracticable, or unthinkable are now seen as unremarkable
    • In some cases this is the result of technological innovation and widening access to them
    • This probably happens most effectively when excitement surrounding an idea makes it memorable and shareable
    • And when there is contagious optimism the probability of success increases
  5. Put several positive minds together in collaborative synergy to find something 'impossible'.
    • Ask whether the 'impossible' still has remained 'impossible' within the minds of team members.
    • Develop a strategy for making what was 'impossible' even more 'possible' than it seemed to be.


  • We think Mike Davies coined the term contagious optimism
  • the idea that, if miracles are thinkable they may become possible was introduced before the m21 project began (Wood, 2005)


  • Diaconis, P. and Mosteller, F., (1989). 'Methods of Studying Coincidences', J. Amer. Statist. Assoc. 84, 853-861
  • Littlewood, J. E. (1953). 'Littlewood's Miscellany', Cambridge University Press, 1986
  • Sheldrake, R. (1981), 'A New Science of Life',
  • Sloterdijk, P., (1983), 'A Critique of Cynical Reason',
  • Use standard deviation as possible measurement
  • Surowiecki, J., (2004), 'The Wisdom of Crowds',
  • Taleb, N. N. 'The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable' 2007. New York: Random House
  • Weber, M, (1946). 'Essays in Sociology', trans. and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, New York: Oxford University Press
  • Wikipedia entry for Edward Lorenz
  • Wiseman, R. (2003). 'The Luck Factor', London, UK: Random House
  • Wiseman, R. (2004). 'Did you spot the gorilla? How to recognise hidden opportunities in your life'. London, UK: Random House
  • Wood, J., (2005), “How Can We Design Miracles?”, introduction to “Agents of Change: A Decade of MA Design Futures”, pages 10-14, (June 1, 2005), Goldsmiths College, (Hardback), ISBN 1904158617
  1. See James Surowiecki's The_wisdom of crowds
  2. See Richard Wiseman's Did you Spot the Gorilla?
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