Archive for the ‘ Inspiration ’ Category

I’m Not Sorry

The most important thing I learned in 2 years as a high school athlete (let’s just say, I’m not a natural) was simple: Never Say ‘I’m Sorry.’

My coach was emphatic about it. No matter how truly sorry we were about missing a ball, striking out, showing up late to practice, our apologies fell on deaf ears. “If you are truly sorry, it won’t happen again. Don’t apologize to me. Tell me you’ll fix it.”

Her intentions behind the ‘never say sorry’ rule ran deeper than a pet peeve. She knew all too well than women who apologize frequently, especially in the professional world, are less successful, less hard-working, and ultimately make less money that those who do not. The Grindstone calls it the ‘dutiful daughter’ ideal — The Telegraph references mens’ prevailing fear of hiring ‘Sorry Skirts.’ I’d venture to say that it’s not only a gender issue. Men — whether my superiors, an intern, or my peers — who apologize unnecessarily come across as weaker, less trustworthy and lacking in confidence.

Removing ‘I’m sorry’ from your vocabulary has nothing to do with rejecting responsibility. According to an April BusinessWeek article on the topic, “apologies act as a transfer of power from the offender to the victim.” A passive apology intends to do just that — give the victim the sense that he or she is in control, in order to demean yourself and earn their sympathy. Ultimately, ‘I’m sorry’ is a rejection of responsibility. There’s a better way to make things right:

“When someone accepts responsibility, they’re basically saying, ‘I’m in charge,’ ” says Adam Galinsky, a Columbia Business School professor who studies negotiation and power.

That means that emailing your boss about missing a deadline on a proposal shouldn’t read “I’m so sorry, working on it now.” It should simply read “I missed the proposal deadline, it will be resolved ASAP.”

What happens when you don’t say ‘I’m Sorry’ as often is significant. Suddenly, it means something. So when you are completely at fault, and the victim in the situation does deserve redemption, you can look them in the eyes and apologize like you mean it. But not about being busy this Friday.

How do you deal with an uncertain future and still move forward?

In other words — how do you embrace the questions while still providing answers?

Designers have a a fairly accurate stigma surrounding them. People who work with designers often have the same complaint: “designers always think they’re right.” Sometimes, they are right — but in the event that almost infinite solutions could be found for the same problem (which I believe is always the case), their inability to form a new opinion can be crippling.

That said, the opposite — designing with uncertainty — is also not advisable. As Bob Johansen, of Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future, observes, “weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them.”

In Bob Sutton’s words, the solution is to have ‘Strong Opinions, Weakly Held,” going on to say that you should “fight like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.”

Andy Grove put it another way when he said he wanted all his people to have “strong beliefs, loosely held.”

And John Lilly carried the concept into a design-specific bit of advise when he made the case that a designer should “design like you’re right, read the data like you’re wrong.”

Ultimately they’re all conveying the same important idea: that a designer (or any problem solver) should be driven by strong, well-formed opinions that they’re willing to defend — and ready to upturn at any moment.

Bob Sutton approaches this concept from the angle of someone trying to define the difference between intelligence and wisdom. In his book, Hard Facts, he makes the observation that the wise are “those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know.”

I think many people jump between the two — from great confidence in their knowledge and ability to great doubt in their conviction and acceptance of the unknown. It’s the ability to operate as both people at once — the authoritative opinion, and the humble student — that proves mastery.

And that may be a process of recreation. One of my favorite quotes is  by Henry Sidwick:

“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow—a very painful slaughter of innocents.”

As Andy Grove put it, you need to “act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.”

At the end of the day, moving forward can be accomplished only one way: by moving forward. Tom Petty has the best advice of all: “Don’t dither; you can always change your mind later.” In his words, I aspire to be “confident… but not really sure.”

Richard Feynman: Actively Irresponsible

This Christmas my mother bought my brother a graphic novel called ‘Feynman’ in an effort to nudge him along on his interest in science. In the days following Christmas my brother very actively ignored the book, but I devoured it — I love graphic novels, and this one was particularly awesome.

Richard Feynman was predominantly a physicist, who lived until 1988, and managed, in his lifetime, to be both a world-renowned scientist and a teacher, raconteur,  musician, goofball and overall creative. He made huge leaps in quantum electrodynamics, was a part of the Manhattan project, and was on the team that solved the Challenger disaster.

What’s most fascinating, however, is the way the guy thinks. The graphic novel was so interesting because Feynman was no ordinary man — I always wish I could see the world through his eyes, and I aspire to do so. I had no idea when I started researching him that he had long ago breached the gap between science and the creative world as a great inspiration to many designers, marketers and artists.

Feynman graphic novel

Feynman, a graphic novel biography by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

Which is why I was so excited to see that Tim Ferris, on his blog on Lifestyle Design Experiments, posted this great video about Feynman titled “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.

The introduction captures well the lesson of the video: that the more you know, the more you can imagine. Feynman describes a moment when an artist friend held up a flower and said ‘look how beautiful this is.’ Feynman agrees, but his friend goes on to say ‘I can appreciate it, as an artist, but you as a scientist – you just take it apart, analyze it, make it dull.’ Feynman disagrees. Feynman sees much more about the flower than the artist sees – as he says “there’s beauty at a much smaller dimension,” things the artist doesn’t know to imagine. Feynman asks why, how, what’s happening in the flower — the science only adds to the beauty of it.

At 6:12 Feynman tells a great story about his father telling him how to look at a bird. His father taught him that you could know the name of a specific kind of bird in 18 different languages and still know nothing about the bird — you then only know about humanity, about cultures and places. Feynman, throughout his life, always said his father taught him to look at things. Feynman was much more intelligent than his father, but he owes much of his creative intelligence to his father’s ability to question everything.

After 40:00, Feynman starts talking about his philosophy on learning and teaching. He is an avid practitioner of ‘active irresponsibility.’ He’s selfish, he says — he rejects roles in leadership and responsibility because if he’s on a committee, or in a position, he can’t run around and learn. He can’t run around and experiment then, and that’s not productive for him. I enjoy leadership positions, but his mentality is an amazing way to stay young, creative and inventive.

Feynman is as attentive and particular as he is chaotic and irresponsible; it’s an incredible mix of child’s play and brilliant attention to detail, but in the right order: he questions everything, opens his imagination to the whole world, experiments wildly, then pursues a theory until he’s come at it from every angle humanly possible and made it so fool proof that only he could question it. The best part is that Feynman is always prepared to be wrong, and at the end of the day, he has only one true passion: to just find out about the world.

Isn’t that a great energy to drive you every day?

He’s dissuaded from many of life’s mysteries because people have already clouded his mind with theories. Of those great mysteries, he says, “those are mysteries I want to investigate without knowing the answer to them.”

I can’t believe the special stories that have been made up about our relationship to the universe at large because they seem to be too simple, too connected, too local, too provincial! …Look at what’s out there, it isn’t in proportion!

Once you start doubting, just like you’re supposed to doubt… when you doubt and ask, it gets a little harder to believe. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing, but to have some answers which might be wrong. I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things of which I don’t know anything about.

He says not knowing doesn’t frighten him — but it must be a little lonely, to know just how much you’ll never know, and to be consumed every day by massive questions that you’re smart enough to know you’ll never answer. What do you question in the world around you?

When Function Turns to Art

The Valentine Typewriter

Ettore Sottsass’s Valentine Typewriter for Olivetti, 1969

I was reading this interview with Sottsass by a student doing research about his connection to the Beat Generation writers, but from a design perspective this was his most interesting point: he tells the story of a typewriter he designed for Olivetti, who wanted to make a very cheap typewriter that was stylish enough to compete with all the Japanese home appliances that were ruining their market. The goal was to create a stylish appliance for the everyman. But when Sottsass finished the design, they said “this is art!” and they made it in expensive materials and now… it’s in an art museum.


DG Looking at your output I think there’s one piece in particular that seems a tribute to that “lost” generation of writers, not so much because of its function, which suggests writing, but for the content and forms it evokes. It’s the “Valentine” travelling typewriter, which I see as a tribute to the Beat Generation and your experiences at that time.

ES The design, yes, but unfortunately it turned out to be too expensive. You’re right, though, the idea was to design a machine as if it were a biro, a tool for everyday life, not a symbol of elegance and power. The story is that Olivetti had realised that Europe had been invaded by portable machines made in Japan or China that cost half the price of theirs. Before the “Valentine” there was Olivetti’s “Lettera 22”, designed by Nizzoli. Nizzoli was an artist and sculptor in the traditional meaning of the terms, because he tried to shape everything, he was a creator. At Olivetti they were scared stiff. They wanted a low-cost portable typewriter. They thought: “Let’s get rid of lower case and leave just upper case like in telegrams,” and “Let’s get rid of the end-of-line bell and simplify everything”. Mechanically speaking there wasn’t much to simplify, it had already been cut to the bone. So I was really pleased. I said: “Fine, let’s make a machine to sell in the markets in the suburbs. Let’s pile them high.” Everyone was happy with that. Then I did this very popular design, and the advertising for it proved very popular, too. I made Olivetti spend tons of money because I sent photographers all over the world to take photos, even at the North Pole, though Olivetti didn’t want to stoop so low. So although the original idea was to make it from Moplen plastic, the kind they used for buckets, we made it from ABS, which cost five times more. Moplen was fine, because it was already a “coarse” material. It was also slightly elastic so it could get knocked about without breaking. “Absolutely not!” they said, “Lets make it from ABS and put the lower case back!” The result was a machine whose design was silly in way because it had been conceived with a certain purpose in mind, to be popular and affordable by everyone, but it ended up being dear. This still happens to me now. The more things I do, the more they end up in art galleries. Research costs a lot and in the end there’s this dichotomy between what you do and where it fits into society.

Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense

Pranav Mistry, MIT Grad student and verified genius, asks a simple question: How can knowledge of everyday objects influence our interaction with the digital world?

Answer: a lot.

Pranav Mistry wants to connect the physical and digital worlds seamlessly — not by bringing the physical world into computers, but by bringing the digital world into our daily existence. He’s turning the physical world into computers. Technically, it’s incredibly complex, but the beauty of the idea is it’s simplicity. Why would you switch from paper to monitor when your paper could become a monitor? Why would you bring a laptop with you when you have perfectly good table beneath your fingers?

Mistry has invented a small device, like a tiny projector, that acts as the user’s ‘third eye.’ As it hangs around your neck, the device recognizes  multitouch, freehand and iconic gestures that the user makes in the air, reacting to them by projecting your email on the wall in front of you, or a keyboard and screen on the table before you, or even by projecting a pinball game onto the floor of the subway. To see just how incredible it is, watch the TED Talk in which Mistry demos the device for a speechless audience:

Imagine picking up a book in the bookstore, and tapping the cover — within seconds, the book’s Amazon rating is projected on it’s cover. Imagine clipping the device to a piece of paper, and dragging the text off the page directly onto the table, where you start to type.

Imagine is the key word: Pranav Mistry let his imagination run wild as he looked around him and saw that the devices we were using created a 4th wall where one wasn’t needed. His goal is to create an completely intuitive workflow that actually helps us stay human — technology that keeps us in the physical world.

The best part? The device is incredibly accessible — the potential it has to impact developing countries and low-income areas is incredible, because the device cost Mistry $350 to build alone in a lab. When mass produced, the price will plummet.

Read his TED interview here >>

Coca Cola masters what we already knew: It’s all about Content

After long discussions about creative methods and the importance of creativity as the last resource last night, these lessons by Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice-President, Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at The Coca-Cola Company, ring even more true than they did the first time I watched them. The graphics are done by Cognitive Media, a small UK Animation studio.

Essentially Coca Cola is spearheading a shift in mentality from ‘Creative Excellence’ to ‘Content Excellence.’ Instead of one-way storytelling, they’re moving into dynamic storytelling, which is really a survival move in a world where constant engagement is imperative. The strategy is all about storytelling, in a way that is Serial, Mutli-Faceted, Spreadable, and based on Discovery, but the most important point is that it goes both ways; it’s based on Engagement with consumers.

The five main principles of their marketing strategy are:

1. Inspire the best to participate.

2. Connect creative minds.

3. Share the results.

4. Continue development.

5. Measure success.

My favorite quote is the idea that the brand must “be a catalyst for play.” That’s a beautiful idea, and I can’t wait to see it executed. That very sentiment — my eagerness to see the results — means that Coca Cola has achieved something most brands haven’t.

Shoutout: Allan Peters

I discovered Allan Peters through Fabien Barral’s great blog the Graphic-Exchange.

I love this project for BBDO’s 80th anniversary, a speak-easy party. It has a great sense of humor, but maintains the aesthetic of a prohibition-era speak easy.