Never run for the train, proclaimed Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan. It's something of a gnomic statement, coming from an independently wealthy, born-again slacker, albeit one who I believe is on to something. I think about this statement a lot, because it embodies something we don't have very good language for in the professional discourse around things made of pure thought-stuff.

Our dominant paradigm is couched in language of comparative efficiency. We focus on becoming lean from trimming off the fat of bureaucratic processes, and remaining agile to respond quickly to the bewilderingly capricious environment that snares lumbering megafauna. This is an enormous achievement. It is also enormously limiting.

My problem with this paradigm is that we can only get so lean before becoming anorexic, and only so agile before burning out. It's unsustainable and we have to stop eventually. Perhaps most significant, though, is that efficiency is antithetical to what we do.

Our raw material is information, which, despite tremendous advances in its storage, transport and manipulation, still exhibits peculiar properties. It must be recognized, gathered, concentrated, operated on, arranged, displayed, communicated and understood. Information is scattered around space and time, and often buried far from the surface. It is also rarely substitutable: if we need a particular piece of information, we must expend exactly the effort required to get it. It follows that in order to know how to optimize the work around information, we must already have done it.

If that statement was false, there would be no need for empiricism at all, because all knowledge could be reasoned, including knowledge about how long it takes to reason.

I worry that our fervour to get leaner and more agile will eventually starve us of our perceptual acuity, memory, and ultimately our wisdom. But I'm not precisely advocating slowing down, as much as I am suggesting aligning with the cosmos in a way that makes fast not necessary.

The ethos that embodies such an alignment, I believe, is that of the flâneur. To flâne is to amble about with no outwardly discernible mission, taking interest in whatever presents itself wherever and whenever you are. We don't have a word for this in English, at least not one that doesn't import some form of morally reprehensible, even parasitic quality.

The inscrutability of the state of flâner does not necessarily entail that it is unproductive. Certain results are indeed either better or only achieved en flânant, namely those that depend on a complex synthesis of diverse material from disparate and eclectic sources. Like the kind of precursor material you need to write a book. Or a song. Or an app.

Flânerie has found its way into design literature, albeit not always explicitly. Bill Buxton mentions phases of divergence interspersed with those of convergence, to arrive eventually at a successful outcome. Herbert Simon wrote that when designing a system, we should operate for a period with no objective in mind whatsoever. In a keynote, Alan Cooper argued the futility of racing to be second to market versus waiting for the precocious to make their mistakes—the iPod to the Archos Jukebox. This is the kind of sentiment I want to harness.

Why not run for the train? Because another train will be along shortly. Such is the nature of trains. Running will cause you to miss everything between you and your object, and more often than not leave you disappointed and out of breath.

To flâne is to be neither lean nor agile, but comfortably plump. Relaxed. Zaftig even. A flâneur never runs for the train because of his commitment to serendipity, and because he was clever enough to invest in a schedule.