Search term: milton glaser

Milton Glaser on Why Doubt Is Better Than Confidence, How How You Live Changes Your Brain & How to Surround Yourself With People That Energize You …*

I was thrilled to discover Milton Glaser‘s essay, 10 Things I Have Learnt, which he adapted from a talk that he gave at a conference for the American professional association for design in 2011. While the lessons Glaser learned over the course of his long and immensely successful career are aimed primarily at other designers, many of his insights (which I’ve previously featured here and here), speak to all individuals compelled by the desire to live full and meaningful lives. I have selected some highlights from three of the lessons that Glaser shares, which I found particularly relevant to rethinkers * but be sure to head over to Design Indaba for the full essay, which is well worth a read in its entirety.

Enjoy

 DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CONFIDENCE

 

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a yoga class where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believe you have achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course, we must know the difference between skepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins.

HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN 

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. He believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have.

I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of four or five, after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed.

Well, what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street, my brain could be affected and my life might change. That is why your mother always said, “Don’t hang out with those bad kids.” Mama was right.

I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC. AVOID THEM. 

In the 1960s there was a man named Fritz Perls who was a Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history; it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much, but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Source: Milton Glaser’s “10 Things I Have Learnt”

Milton Glaser: You Can’t Take Anything at Face Value, You Have to Go Beyond the Superficiality of Existing Belief …*

“I saw a Cézanne that I had never seen, a pencil and watercolor of a landscape, and I was transformed. By looking at it, my world was enlarged. At this ancient age, I am still capable of astonishment, of feeling, “My god, I never had this experience before.” And that is what the arts provide, this sense of enlargement and the sense that you haven’t come to the end of your understanding—either of yourself or of other things.” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking to infuse your day with a hefty dose of inspiration, I suggest this interview, which iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser gave for Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project. The conversation is full of insights into Milton’s creative process and his understanding of the human experience. I highly recommend finding the time to watch the video in full, but in the meantime, I have transcribed below my three favorite insights from the conversation.

make the ordinary unknown & rethink …*

Milton Glaser: Certainty Is A Closing of the Mind via The Good Life Project

{ To Make Something Is Miraculous & the Creation of Beauty, At Its Core, Is About Empathy }

After a while you begin to realize, a. how little you know about everything and, two, how vast the brain is and how it encompasses everything you can imagine, but more than that, everything you can’t imagine. What is perhaps central to this is the impulse to make things, which seems to me to be a primary characteristic of human beings—the desire to make things–whatever they turn out to be. And then, supplementary to that is the desire to create beauty which is a different, but analogous activity. So the urge to make things, probably, is a survival device, the urge to create beauty is something else, but only apparently something else, because as you know, there are no unrelated events in the human experience. So beauty, and the creation of it, is a survival mechanism. There is something about making things beautiful, and we sometimes call that art, that has something to do with creating a commonality between human beings so that they don’t kill each other. And whatever that impulse is and wherever it comes from, it certainly is contained within every human being I’ve ever met. Sometime the opportunity to articulate it occurs, sometimes it remains dormant for a lifetime, you just don’t get the shot at it.
But I’ve been very lucky, I’ve imagined myself as a maker of things since the age of five. I realized that to make something was miraculous and I never stopped. I just kept making things all my life.
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{ Learning to See is A LifeLong Endeavor; Drawing Helps }

The great benefits of drawing is that when you look at something you see it for the first time.
You have to constantly be attentive to what you deflect in life and what you don’t pay attention to and all the things that you can’t see, and all the preconceptions that you do have about everything. Those preconceptions basically blur your vision. It’s very hard to see what’s in front of you.
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{ Be Suspicious of Defining the “Good Life,” Don’t take anything at face value & go beyond the superficiality of existing belief }

I’m very suspicious of some words like that and also what they link to. I guess I feel now that you can’t take anything at face value, you have to go beyond the superficiality of existing belief. My favorite quote is, “Certainty is a closing of the mind”. And so, I don’t know what a good life is. A good life for me, certainly, has been the things that I think are important–friendships that I have; people that I love; certainly, a marriage that has endured and continues to endure; teaching, which I’ve been doing for well over half a century, and feeling that whatever you know has a possibility of being transmitted and shared—outside of that I wouldn’t know how to define a good life. And as you know some people seem to be heroes to some and villains to others.
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Stefan Sagmeister, Paulo Coelho, Milton Glaser & Other Creatives on Rethinking the Fear of Failure …*

Stefan Sagmeister, Paulo Coelho, Milton Glaser & Other Creatives on Rethinking the Fear of Failure ...* | rethinked.org

I once received a proverb from a fortune cookie that read, “Everybody loves progress but nobody likes change.” That’s something that’s proven true again and again in both my personal and professional life. Every time we want to reach for something, we are confronted with the possibility of failure and the paralyzing fear that often comes with that possibility. So how can we manage that fear? How can we acknowledge the possibility that our efforts may crumble but still strive for what we want? I don’t believe in definitive, one-size-fits-all answers because we all wrestle with very individual amalgams of inner tensions, insecurities, hopes, dysfunctions and past experiences, but I found this series of insights on the fear of failure from various creatives very inspiring and illuminating. The series was curated by the Berghs School of Communication for their 2011 symposium on the fear of failure:

During 4 days, between 26-29th of May, we dissect, discuss, learn and listen how overcoming the fear of failure is the only path to take if you’re aiming for success. 

As part of the exhibit, the students asked several well-known creatives in various fields to send back video responses in which they discuss the fear of failure. Below are some of my favorites, but be sure to check out the Bergs School of Communication Vimeo channel to browse the full collection of responses.

PAULO COEHLO – BE AUTHENTIC

“I sit down, I breathe and I say, “I did my best, I put all my love, I did it with all my heart. So whether they’re going to like it or not, it is irrelevant. Because I liked it. I’m committed to the thing that I did.” And so far, nobody has ever refused it or criticized it or anything. Because when you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they realize that it is there. That you did this with your body and soul. So what I encourage you to do is this and don’t worry about the fear of failure, it is a human feeling. The important thing is to move beyond this fear and to do what you think you should do.”

Paulo Coelho – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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STEFAN SAGMEISTER – CULTIVATE A BIAS TO ACTION

“Specially as a student, but probably throughout life, it is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff, as much stuff as possible with as little fear as possible. And much much better to end up with a lot of crap but having tried it, than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.”
“If you don’t start it now, you will not start it later. “

Stefan Sagmeister – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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REI INAMOTO – DEVELOP SELF-AWARENESS

“Knowing what you’re weak in, is probably the best way to overcome.”
“A tip is not just accepting the fear of failure and the fact that you’re going to fail at some point in your career and in your tenure at a job that you might have, but also knowing your weakness and how to overcome that weakness.”

Rei Inamoto – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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SARAH MOON – REFRAME

“The failure I want to talk about is the one that comes from one’s own demand, the one that never leaves you in peace, the one that is supposed to be the contrary of success but here again, what does success mean? In my view, it hasn’t got much meaning, it is more about achievement in the sense of doing as much as you can. That’s what success should be. So fear of failure, at the end, can be a good natural instinct that allows you to make mistakes, and that therefore, find a new road and maybe, a surprise.” 

Sarah Moon – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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MILTON GLASER – CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET, BE T-SHAPED, WHEN IN DOUBT,  ASK: WHAT WOULD PICASSO DO?

“The consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you. It hurts you because it basically doesn’t aid in your development. The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail—they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. As a result of that, I believe that Picasso is the most useful model you can have in terms of your artistic interests. Because whenever Picasso learned how to do something, he abandoned it. And as a result of that, in terms of his development as an artist, the results were extraordinary. It is the opposite of what happens in the typecasting for professional accomplishment.”

“One question is, what are you afraid of? Is it the condemnation of others—if you do something and it is inadequate is the criticism of critics and other experts and even your friends and relatives that embarrasses you, that makes you unwilling to go forward? Of course, there’s also in professional life the fear is that you won’t get anymore work because visible failure is a detriment, people think, and perhaps correctly, that you don’t know what you’re doing. So there is that inhibiting factor. Another one that may be more profound and more interesting is our own self criticism. A characteristic of artistic education, is for people to tell you that you’re a genius, and that you’re an artistic genius, and that you’re a creative genius. And so everybody gets this idea if they go to art school that they’re really a genius. Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. And doing a project that is truly complex and difficult tests your real ability and since we all have a sensitive ego, alas, within our confident facade, the thing that we most fear in regard to failure is our own self-acknowledgement that we really don’t exactly know what we’re doing. There’s only one solution, and it relates to what I was saying earlier, you must embrace failure, you must admit what is, you must find out what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply will never subject yourself to the possibility that you are not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are. But that is, of course, delusional. So my advice, finally, about fear of failure, which is a kind of romantic idea, there’s only one way out—embrace the failure.”

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

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[Hat Tip: Famous Creators on the Fear of Failure via Brainpickings]

{ Drawing As A Fundamental Instrument For Understanding …* } “When children are prevented from drawing, their brains don’t develop fully.”

“For me, drawing has always been the most fundamental way of engaging the world. I’m convinced that it is only through drawing that I actually look at things carefully and the act of drawing makes me conscious of what I’m looking at. If I wasn’t drawing, I sense that I would not be seeing. ” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking for a mid-week pick me up, I highly recommend this short video of Milton Glaser drawing Shakespeare while reflecting on the role of drawing in his understanding of life and capacity to engage with the world around him.

“For me, drawing has always been an absolutely primary way of encountering reality. I’m astonished by drawing. I always think of every drawing as a kind of miraculous occurrence.”

MILTON GLASER DRAWS & LECTURES from TEAMVVORK on Vimeo.

draw, [re]think & understand …*

Hat Tip: Milton Glaser Draws Shakespeare & Explains Why Drawing is the Key to Understanding Life

Debbie Millman on Finding Inner Courage, Taking Responsibility for Your Own Happiness & Growing Into Your Self …*

“Imagine immensities. Try to pick yourself up from rejection. And, plow ahead. Don’t compromise. Start now. Start now, every single day.” -Debbie Millman on what it means to her to live a good life.

Is It Really Possible To Design Your Life via The Good Life Project, published April 23, 2014.

Here is a wonderful interview with Debbie Millman by Jonathan Fields of The Good Life Project. In this hour long conversation Debbie, with her characteristic honesty, intelligence and elegance, shares how she has designed her life, and attempted to create and own a sense of meaning and purpose in the process. 

– YOU CHANGE CONSTANTLY, WHETHER YOU REALIZE IT OR NOT – 

“I very very recently found diaries–I kept diaries from 1973 until 1992–and I’ve been going through them and reading them all and I realized just how low I felt and how hopeless I felt about life. It’s sort of interesting, I think as you grow as a person, as a human being, you sort of somehow think you’re still the same person, you’re just bringing all of those experiences along and yes, you’ve realized more, but you’re intrinsically the same person. And I guess, I’ve been thinking a lot about that because now that I’m in my fifties, I feel like I’m still fourteen. But then when I went back and read my journals at fourteen, or my diaries, I am definitely not fourteen and I am nothing like that fourteen year old person, nor am I like the thirty-two or forty-two year old person. But going through that is what gives you that clarity–seeing how far you’ve actually come. How there isn’t quite as much self-loathing. How there isn’t quite as much insecurity–it’s still there but it’s not the prevailing emotion.”

– DON’T GIVE UP HOPE OF GROWING INTO YOURSELF – 

“The one common denominator that I can share with anybody that feels self-loathing, or insecurity in their twenties, or thirties, or forties, or fifties, is don’t give up hope that that might not ever go away because I think it does. I’ve done about, now, two-hundred interviews, I’m close to my two-hundredth episode of Design Matters and then there’s been all sorts of live events that I’ve done over the years and then all the interviews that I’ve done for Brand Thinking and How to Think Like A Great Graphic Designer, and the one common denominator that I can share that great brand thinkers, great cultural commentators, great designers have shared with me over the years is that they all feel like they have to get up everyday and do it again. They all feel like they very well may be discovered as phonies, they very well may never ever achieve what they’d hoped. The only two people in all the years that I’ve done this that have been different in that–that have had a different experience in articulating who they are and what they believe–are Milton Glaser and Massimo Vignelli. But I think the common denominator that they share, is that they’re both in their eighties. They’re both in their eighties. I think by the time we’re eighty, we’ll be like, “ok, you know, this is who I am.” Either that or you don’t have any idea who you are. “

– YOUR HAPPINESS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY – 

“You have to make your own happiness, wherever you are–your job isn’t going to make you happy, your spouse isn’t going to make you happy, the weather isn’t going to make you happy, a restaurant isn’t going to make you happy. I think you have to decide what you want and you have to find that way of doing it, whether or not the outside circumstances are going to participate in your success. And for people that want to create something meaningful, if you’re not getting it at work, then do it at home. If you’re not getting it everyday in the workplace, self-generate your own work. Make what you need to do to be happy. Even if other people think it’s crap, even if other people think it’s terrible. You have to be able to create your own happiness, period.” 

– FINDING INNER COURAGE – 

“That’s why I took Milton [Glaser]’s class, it was touted as a really good class for people mid-career that wanted to shift the focus of what they were doing and sort of find their inner courage. And it changed my life, it absolutely changed my life. Where, suddenly, Milton was very very clear about defending your life, about owning your choices, about making the choices that you hold yourself to as if you had no issue with succeeding. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about being successful? And he has you envision your whole life–your entire life, five years from that moment in time–if you could do anything in the world that you wanted, what would it be? And you have to own it, you have to defend it, you have to declare it. And he talked about the magic in that exercise. And how over the fifty years he’s been teaching, that this particular class was the most important class that he taught and how it transforms lives. He talked about how he’d always heard from people that that exercise, that class, was the defining moment–the before and the after–and that was what it was for me. And suddenly I had this scenario, this vision, and that is what I think has helped propel me to lead a more purposeful life.”

– BUSY IS A DECISION – 

“I’m afraid to give up stuff. I’ll take on new things and still do the old stuff. That’s become a little bit untenable […] I’m a big proponent of “busy is a decision”–you decide what you want to do and the things that are important to you and you don’t find the time to do things, you make the time to do things. And if you aren’t doing them because you are “too busy,” it’s likely it’s not as much of a priority as is what it is you’re actually doing. And that could be watching reruns of Law and Order SVU, you know, I do that all the time, but you have to own that and you have to really say, “Ok, I know that this isn’t as important to me as watching Olivia Benson get the bad guys.” I think knowing it helps.”

– REACHING THE NEXT STEP BY TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH –

“What I’ve done, because I am so afraid of giving something secure up for the unknown, is I’ve kept the secure and then taken on the unknown. You know, there’s that scene in the third installment of Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford just takes a step–I think you have to do that. I don’t think you can achieve anything meaningful without taking it. […] I think in order to take that next step you literally have to take the step and hope the ground is beneath you.”  

-THE MAGIC OF OWNING YOUR VISION FOR YOUR LIFE –

“In that class with Milton, I made a list–I love lists–I made a list of all the things that I still dreamt that I could do or achieve or experience. And it wasn’t a bucket list, it was like twelve things and I put the list away. I finished Milton’s class and then I started to try ever so sort of elegantly, or inelegantly, to take the steps to try to get a few of those things. And once a year now I reread the essay that I wrote and then I look at the list and it’s mind-boggling because there are things on the list that I actually forgot we’re on the list and it’s scary how so many of them have become something that has manifested. And you know, Milton says it’s magic, maybe it is.”

listen & rethink …

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