Tag serendipity

“I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.” – Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder …*

"I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism." -Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder ...* |rethinked.org

I may be a bit biased here but I could not be any more excited to share Dominic’s interview today. Dominic Randolph is the Headmaster of the Riverdale Country School, where he has been prototyping various ways to rethink what it means to learn to and for change–notably by exploring the intersections of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology with education. He is the co-founder of our team and, on a more personal note, my father and one of my very best friends. Connect with Dominic on Twitter @daar17.

What was the last experiment you ran? 

Changing spaces where I work. Finding small “in-between” spaces to work with my computer. Changing work spaces all the time. Not being in a fixed spot.

 

What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?

Life is fear and finding ways to embrace fear. I believe that we all have a “Woody Allen voice” in our heads constantly narrating our anxieties. I think you achieve things by listening to the voice indeed, but basically ignoring it. Things tend to turn out most of the time quite well, but the little voice assumes the worst. Acting positively and confidentially mitigates the voice’s affect on one’s decisions. And yet, without the voice, the fear, life would not be as amusing nor would one do anything really. It is the comparison between the status quo of the “little worried voice” and taking action that makes you feel a sense of achievement.

 

What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.

 

What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade

Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” is one of the most provocative, elegant and most difficult to employ idea that I have come across in the last decade. The other one would be “design thinking” that I read in Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind and on Tim Brown’s blog “Design Thinking”. The concepts of human-centered design, prototyping and divergent thought as elements of design thinking have changed my life.

 

Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?

I often think that the most transformational moments are not the most groundbreaking or the most striking. They are small moments that lead to change. The most transformational moments in my life were dinner debates with my aunt, mother and brother while growing up and meeting, Kris, my future wife, and Elsa, my future daughter, at a small gallery in Sarlat, France.

 

 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life leads to living a good life.

 

 COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Empathize with others–really try to put yourself in their shoes and listen well. Also, draw your thoughts out on a regular basis. Drawing is deeply human.

 

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can I be my better future self? What legacy will I choose to leave on this earth?

 

 ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Movies: Withnail and I by Bruce Robinson, En Sus Ojos by Juan Jose Campanella, Mifune’s Last Song by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, The Trip by Michael Winterbottom, Naked by Mike Leigh

Books: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Le Citte Invisibili by Italo Calvino, Distant Relations by Carlos Fuentes, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, Any short story by Alice Munro, La Peau du Chagrin by Balzac…

Music: GoldbergVariations played by Glenn Gould, Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones, Every Breaking Wave by U2, Ink by Coldplay, Heysatan by Sigur Ros, Wait it Out by Imogen Heap, Afterlife by Arcade Fire, Bien Avant by Benjamin Biolay, 400 Lux by Lorde, Creep by Radiohead…

Images: Morandi still lives, Piranesi etchings, Cartier-Bresson photographs, Cindy Sherman portraits, Klein blue paintings, Henry Moore sculptures…

THANK YOU, DOMINIC!

. . .

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

The starting point of my Zigzag Walk …*

 

Last week I wrote about Stephen Graham’s delightful little game of the Zigzag Walk, which is a framework for exploration that enhances opportunities for discovery and serendipity. The rules are quite simple: you select a starting point and from there turn left and then right at subsequents crossroads. Being in San Francisco for the first time, I was eager to try out this exercise for myself and spent part of Monday morning going on a Zigzag walk. I started at a corner a few streets down from the apartment where I am staying where, on the pavement, was engraved the phrase: ‘ask questions’. It seemed a particularly appropriate starting point.

My Zigzag Walk was a delightful experience which allowed me to get lost in the best way, discovering new streets and neighborhoods. It was also the perfect antidote to Google Maps. Since I’ve never been to San Francisco before, I have been relying pretty heavily on Google Maps to get me to where I need to be but I’ve noticed that whenever I ask it to lead me home it always highlights the same, and rather boring, route. I’ve since come to realize that this may be to help me avoid San Francisco’s many (and often ridiculously steep) hills. But I’m only here for a short time, I don’t want to keep going over the same route, even if it saves me from a few hills. I’d rather endure the slight discomfort of huffing and puffing my way up hills for the tradeoff of discovery and serendipitous discoveries in this beautiful city (sounds like a metaphor for something else…*) Until Google Maps puts out a “Serendipity” option on its routes (which, by the way, Google, please take note), the Zigzag Walk is a brilliant and free way to discover a city and its many hidden treasures.

e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

“We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways.” – Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer …*

"We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways." - Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi is a Singapore based interaction designer. You may recall seeing him on rethinked …* a few months back when I featured his prototype for a “wearable tool to assist learning,” Grasp. Grasp, a timely and thoughtful design provocation, prompts us to question our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments. It is representative of Akarsh’s broader body of work which focuses on projects that bridge the gap between physical and digital life by applying computational methods in design and creative contexts. I am delighted to share his interview with you today. Connect with Akarsh, @akarshsanghi.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The latest project I have been working on is trying to understand the idea of creating urban trails in a city. Today we are able to navigate urban areas with the help of various mapping applications available on our mobile devices, but that is usually a static approach, since it is only to get a job done i.e. get you from one destination to another. But I believe there is a much stronger emotional value in exploring a city by following a trail created by somebody else. The experiences that this kind of serendipity can provide can amount to something great for an individual who is exploring a new place. This is an ongoing experiment in Singapore where I am currently based.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

The one thing I fear most is getting myself involved in a project or an organization in which I lose interest or faith in while in the middle of it. As a designer, I am constantly thinking and developing new ideas and putting them out into the world. But while being committed to a project in which I lose faith half-way through, it becomes extremely frustrating to see it through till the end. Some ways in which I try to avoid this situation is by having adequate research and knowledge about what I am getting into. Also you have to completely believe in your own vision that you are trying to achieve irrespective of what other’s have to say about it, and do your best in achieving that.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I very strongly believe in the idea of applying existing forms of technology in the most creative and innovative contexts to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we are trying to create something new. There are numerous situation, contexts, problems and people who are still untapped by the use of modern technology. To cater for those segments of society, we have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways. There are times when I feel extremely disappointed while working with some big organizations, since they are constantly resisting change and are so afraid to take risks in any form.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Everything that Elon Musk has done in the past decade, whether it is in space exploration, electric cars, solar energy and the latest idea of introducing home batteries. It is inspiring to see and entrepreneur born from the Internet Age has taken up and succeeded in businesses which were earlier restricted only to men and women in white coats working in research laboratories. His work clearly showcases that an idea however crazy or absurd it may sound at the time, can be pursued to alter the way humanity progresses.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I wouldn’t really say that I have had one transformational moment in my life till now (I am 24 years old) but when I was able to create small projects and put them online which other people could use and give feedback was extremely enriching for me. It really motivated me to continue creating and putting ideas out in the world. You never know what form those ideas take once they are out of your system.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

At some point of time I want to look back at my life and sum up all the experiences I have collected, the journey I have been through, the people I have come across, the work I have done in one words, i.e. “FUN”

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Being able to distinguish between First Principles and Intuition. Some of the most powerful entities that a human possesses can do wonders in difficult situations where one can make decisions based on formal logic or a simple gut call.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can we develop tools and communities to bridge the gap between physical and digital lives of people by empowering them to control the technology and not the other way around?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Books

  • Evocative Objects: Things we think with by Sherry Turkle
  • Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Films

  • P.K. by Rajkumar Hirani [Hindi film challenging the traditional ways in which we see god and religion]
  • The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
  • Interstellar by Christopher Nolan
  • The Prestige by Christopher Nolan

Essays

  • By Isaac Asimov [access here]
  • By Bret Victor [access here]

. . . * 

THANK YOU, AKARSH!

{ Tools for Empathy …* } Cowbird – A Public Library of Human Experience

{ Tools for Empathy ...* } Cowbird - A Public Library of Human Experience | rethinked.org

Screen Shot of Cowbird Website

 

Awesome resource alert –> Cowbird an online repository of human experience. I first discovered Cowbird last week, when it was mentioned in a design thinking workshop I attended, and I haven’t been able to stop browsing this treasure trove of human moments.

Cowbird is a public library of human experience. Our mission is to gather and preserve exceptional stories of human life, so the insight and wisdom we accumulate as individuals can live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We offer a simple set of storytelling tools, designed to encourage contemplation and depth — for free, and without ads. Currently, 41,908 authors from 183 countries have told 77,523 stories on 27,456 topics. We invite you to join us and contribute your stories.

On Cowbird, you can contribute your own stories; respond to simple storytelling prompts; find guidance on thousands of topics; browse stories by place or date and connect with authors from all corners of the world. And should you feel overwhelmed by all this choice, just hit the “Serendipity” button which will surprise you with a wonderful story. It’s far too cold, in New York at least, to spend much time outside people-watching, Cowbird is the perfect replacement to get your fix of insightful glimpses into the lives of others and our shared human experience.

discover, delight & rethink …* 

{ Serendipity Playdates } Sharing Moments With Strangers & Opening Ourselves Up for Discovery …*

{ Serendipity Playdates } Sharing Moments With Strangers & Opening Ourselves Up for Discovery …* | rethinked.org

A couple weeks ago, I went on vacation with my cousin. We spent a few days in New Orleans before renting a car and slowly making our way to Memphis. Other than the joy of being reunited with one of my all time favorite people, the food (those shrimp Po’ boys and bread pudding!!!) and the thrill of discovering new places, I was delighted by all the serendipitous encounters we made along the road. Travel is a wonderful platform through which to achieve something I aspire to in all aspects of my life: to make the ordinary unknown, to experience each moment with a beginner’s mind. There is a very peculiar type of freedom that comes from travelling; a sort of exchange between the physical bags one packs and the metaphorical baggage one leaves behind. Routines are disrupted, assumptions questioned, awareness and empathy are reinvigorated as experience is made fresh. As travelers, we are more open to other people, more interested in their stories, and they, in turn, are more open to ours.

I’ve been back in New York for two weeks now and have noticed that what I had left behind is quickly settling back in. I long for those in-between moments of connection and story sharing that kept occurring throughout our trip, but my assumptions about what it means to talk to strangers are quickly taking back their turf. And the truth is that it can actually be quite difficult, in the course of our daily lives, to find strangers who are willing to exchange moments for the sake of exchange, with no “ulterior motives.” There is the occasional chance encounter in coffee shops and parties but often, as an adult, I find that most opportunities of meeting strangers are weighed down by expectations of romantic interest or professional networking.

While I’m always happy to talk about creativity, design, learning, play, empathy and cognition till the sun comes up, what I would really like is to share stories and moments with you, the ones that stand out in Technicolor tones in our memories. I want to know about the softness of your grandmother’s hands, the dent left in the pillow by your sleeping cat, the time you got lost in the woods.

Admittedly, this may be cheating a bit because if you’re reading rethinked * we’re not complete strangers. But here is what I propose: let’s do an experiment in engineering serendipity, let’s share our stories and a moment on a gorgeous summer afternoon. Let’s meet up and go on an adventure, let’s get lost in an unknown part of town or go for a stroll in the park. If you’d like to set up a serendipity playdate with me, please email me at elsa@rethinked.org.

I’m also going to go park myself this coming Wednesday (July 2nd) from 12:30  to 4:00 pm at Café Lalo on 201 West 83rd St (btw. Amsterdam and Broadway). If you’re in New York and have some free time, stop by, say hello, stay awhile.

Let’s share tea & stories

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman

READ

Accelerating serendipity: Can you make happy accidents happen more often? ~ via Medium, published August 13, 2013.

How We Learn ~ Insights from psychology can make us better readers, writers and thinkers ~ via Scientific American, published August 15, 2013.

Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply ~ A road map for navigating a course to empathy — suitable for any age. From Ashoka‘s Start Empathy initiative which shares research, case studies and inspirational stories, and is building a network of Changemaker Schools committed to building empathic, encouraging environments at the elementary level. via Edutopia, published August 12, 2013.

How Self-Expiring Medicine Packaging Could Change The World ~ Husband-and-wife doctor/designer team Gautam Goel and Kanupriya Goel want to encapsulate our medicines in strips that change color as they expire, transforming the packaging of dangerously out-of-date medication into a chromatic warning. But will big pharma bring it to market?  via FastCo.Design, published August 12, 2013.

The Decisive Moment and the Brain ~ A look at the science behind conscious and unconscious awareness, and how the brain allows photographers to know things with intuition. via PetaPixel, published August 12, 2013.

The Missing Half of the Education Debate ~ Conversations about college must address more than just cost and access. They must also question assumptions of quality, performance, and relevance. This is uncomfortable and unwelcome ground. But for many students in many places, college is no longer doing well what it was designed to do — and what it was designed to do may no longer be what students most need or what societies most need of them. We need to talk about that too. via Harvard Business Review, published August 13, 2013.

How to Make Online Courses Massively Personal ~ Online learning is a tool, just as the textbook is a tool. The way the teacher and the student use the tool is what really counts. via Scientific American, published August 14, 2013.

Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur ~ “Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure,” and other tips from Michael Bloomberg based on his experience of building a company from the ground up, leading New York City as mayor, and founding a philanthropic organization. via LinkedIn, published August 14, 2013.

4 Tips To Master Thinking With Both Sides of Your Brain, And Boost Creativity ~ While some people seem to be less adept than others at firing up both burners, making them appear more left-brained than right-brained, most brain scientists agree–and this is what’s exciting–that the ability to shift rapidly between divergent and convergent thinking, which is the key to innovation, can be sharpened and improved. via Fast Company, published August 15, 2013.

Bring Design Thinking to Your Classroom with OpenIDEO ~ In mid-September OpenIDEO will launch a new challenge on nurturing creative confidence in young people – and educators and faculty from around the world are invited to join in.  via OpenIDEO

Games Can Make “Real Life” More Rewarding ~In her 2011 book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, game development expert and author Jane McGonigal describes a number of ways that games can improve our lives by using experience and research to link games with feelings of connectedness, self-worth, fulfillment and happiness. via Edutopia, published August 14, 2013

LOOK

Slick Data Visualization Reveals Scientific Collaborations Taking Place Around the Globe ~ via Open Culture, published August 15, 2013.

In Praise of a Whimsical, Solar-Powered ‘Do-Nothing Machine’ ~ Seven short decades ago, Charles and Ray Eames lent their formidable imaginations to the creation of a machine so non-utilitarian that its pointlessness gave the gadget its name: the Do-Nothing Machine. The Do-Nothing Machine embodies and evokes the spirit of pure, unadulterated originality. Its lack of any specific, hierarchical function or purpose frees it from the burden of meeting expectations, while its intrinsic playfulness subtly challenges other inventors, engineers and designers to step up. via TIME, published August 12, 2013.

40 maps that explain the world ~ Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. via Washington Post, published August 12, 2013.

Outdoor Funnel Wall Makes Music When Rain Falls ~ Somewhere in the Kunsthof-passage of Dresden, Germany, there’s actually an outdoor building wall that makes music whenever it rains. via Lost At E Minor, published August 12, 2013.

Samsung eco-conscious origami cardboard mono laser printer ~ This printer will make you rethink…* your assumptions of what a printer is. via Designboom, published August 13, 2013.

WATCH

Buildings made from cardboard tubes: A gallery of Shigeru Ban architecture ~ via TED, published August 13, 2013.

Reframing Fear: The Upside of Risk, Failure and Judgment ~ via The Good Life Project, published February 13, 2013.

The First Billboard in the World to Make Drinking Water out of Thin Air ~ What would a great ad for a university of technology be? An ad, that itself, solves a problem through technology. This is exactly what the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru and their ad agency Mayo DraftFCB have done – the first billboard in the world to make drinking water out of thin air and alleviate the lives of Peru’s people. via Big Think, published August 12, 2013.

Three Prompts to Help You Rethink…* How You Might Create A Remarkable Life

{ This is the third and final post synthesizing insights from this year’s third-annual World Domination Summit } 

WHAT’S YOUR SHAME & HOW DO YOU COVER IT UP? | Donald Miller

In his speech, Donald Miller shared a fascinating conversation he had with a friend. On the back of a napkin, his friend drew a circle, which he labeled ‘Self’, he then drew a concentric circle over the first one, which he labeled ‘Shame’, before adding a final circle encompassing the first two, labeled ‘Personality’. Miller’s friend explained to him that when we are born, there is just our core self, then at some point along the road to adulthood we discover and internalize shame. Our personalities are those traits we cherish and develop to help us cover up and compensate for our shame to protect our self. To better illustrate this, Miller shared what his own diagram looked like– in the first circle he wrote ‘Don’. He labeled the second circle “Not Enough” and the in the third he wrote, ‘humor’ and ‘intelligence’. Miller’s shame is the nagging feeling that he is not enough–not good looking enough, not smart enough, not loved enough–simply, not enough. For him, it is very important to be perceived as funny and intelligent. This is what helps him feel as though he matters, as though he exists and is relevant to other people. I was truly awed by Miller’s courage and generosity, to stand on a stage and share with 3,000 people his core shame was very inspiring.

This diagram may seem a bit overly simplistic at first, but after giving it much thought I found it to be an incredibly powerful tool for simplifying and laying out the source of many internalized and long-held fears and dysfunctions. Miller pointed out that to create something real, something worthy of our full potential–and creating one’s life certainly seems worth the effort–this act of creation needs to come from that core self.

Miller shared another anecdote from one of his own therapy sessions, where his therapist drew the outline of a person contained within a second slightly larger outline. She asked Miller to write down how he felt about the person inside, the core; DON/SELF. He wrote: calm, funny, cheerful, serene, creative. She then asked him to write in how he felt about the person closest to his skin, his exterior-PERSONALITY. Miller found himself writing, stressed, anxious, defensive… The therapist asked Miller how old that person deep inside was, he answered that he must be about seven years old, she then had Miller role play a conversation between the two. What if the two could communicate? What if the adult, outside outline could reach in and soothe the little core outline. What if they could collaborate and face the world together? Something to consider…*

 

IMG_5827

 

WHAT IF YOU FOLLOWED THE SPARKS THAT ENERGIZE YOU RATHER THAN YOUR PASSIONS? | Darren Rowse

Follow your passion, yes–but more saliently, follow the sparks that energize you. ~ Blogger extraordinaire, Darren Rowse, shared that for his first two years as a blogger back in the early 2000s, he did not know how to bold text. He started blogging after a friend of his sent him a link to a blog he enjoyed reading and which prompted him to want to start his own. As Rowse’s experience with blogging illustrates, the issue with following one’s passion is that we often do not know where that passion is until we explore and experiment with new things. Rowse recommends paying close attention to the things, ideas, experiences, people and situations that energize you and finding ways to engage more deeply and frequently with these sparks of interest and energy.

 

WHAT MIGHT YOUR PERSONAL CREED LOOK LIKE? HOW MIGHT YOU CONTINUALLY ITERATE IT? | Jonathan Fields

In a workshop entitled How To Live A Good Life, Jonathan Fields shared his Living Creed with the audience, going over each point of the creed. What I particularly liked about the Living Creed is the way in which Fields framed it, as “a dynamic doctrine based on current knowledge.” It’s a continually evolving document as it adapts in real time with Field’s current knowledge base. I attempted to do something similar three months ago when I wrote down everything I had learned thus far about being a knowmad. I have a copy of it in my wallet, which I never take out. I wanted to revisit the list daily and remind myself of these truths I had learned along the way, but have failed to take it out of my wallet, even just once. I liked how Fields framed his Living Creed as something not simply to be reread regularly but rewritten continually. I wonder {hope} if doing so would help provide a stronger impetus to translate knowledge into daily action.

 

GoodLifeProjectCreed
Like this? Learn to build a better life at Good Life Project.

Friday Link Fest…*

READ

Make and mend: Designers are finding ways to counter today’s throwaway culture ~ Rethinking…* the ways we make things, shifting the discourse from incessant production to intelligent adaptation. via Financial Times, published March 29, 2013

Engineering Serendipity ~ via New York Times, published April 5, 2013.

Great Scientist ≠ Good at Math ~Discoveries emerge from ideas, not number-crunching ~ via Wall Street Journal, published April 5, 2013.

How to Create Your Reason ~ “We need a reason, because our reasons are what liberate us from lives that feel senseless.” via Harvard Business Review, published April 9, 2013.

The link between art and innovation ~ via Politico, published April 7, 2013.

Musical Training & Language Skills Enhance One Another ~ via New York Times, published April 8, 2013.

How IDEO brings design to corporate America ~ via CNN, published April 11, 2013.

LOOK

Everything You Know by Wendy MacNaughton ~ via Explore, published April 9, 2013.

The Grinders Vs. The Dreamers. Who Wins? ~  Lovely Infographic rethinking…* grind by Joey Roth. via FastCo.Design, published April 8, 2013.

Street Artist Roadsworth Transforms the Streets of Montreal into a Visual Playground ~ via Colossal, published April 10, 2013.

Sick of the boring commute? Straphanger photobombs fellow commuters ~ via New York Daily News, published April 5, 2013.

Every Day a Different Dish: Klari Reis’ Petri Paintings ~ The Daily Dish by Klari Reis: a new petri dish painting every day. via Smithsonian Magazine, published April 5, 2013.

Artist Turns Abandoned Cars into Public Art Installations ~ “Ocupe Carrinho” (Occupy the Car) by Felipe Carrelli. via Junkculture, published April 11, 2013.

 

WATCH

Dan Pallotta: The way we think about charity is dead wrong ~ via TED, published March 2013.

Circuit Playground Sparks Electronics Education ~ Introducing the sippy-cup set to soldering irons & the world of wires ~ via Wired, published April 4, 2013.

60 Second Adventures in Astronomy Explains the Big Bang, Relativity & More with Fun Animation ~ via Open Culture, published April 8, 2013.

 

Debbie Millman on Taking Risks, Chance Encounters, Failure, Design & Avoiding Compulsively Making Things Worse…*

This past Tuesday, the online journal The Great Discontent published a deeply inspiring interview with the great Debbie Millman. Millman, a Renaissance-woman if ever there was one, is President Emeritus of AIGA, a contributing editor at Print Magazine, and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She also hosts the fantastic (seriously, check it out) podcast, Design Matters, the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet and has authored five books on design, including Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design (HOW Books, 2009). Below are some of my favorite insights from the interview, which I strongly urge you to read in its entirety over on The Great Discontent.

Enjoy & rethink…*

“My first ten years after college were experiments in rejection and despair. I knew that I wanted to do something special but, frankly, I didn’t have the guts to do anything special. When I graduated, I didn’t feel confident enough, optimistic enough, or hopeful enough to believe that I could get what I really wanted. I wasn’t living what I would consider to be my highest self—in fact, I was probably living my most fearful self.”

{…}

“My whole life has been one thing leading to another, leading to another, and then another. It has been completely circuitous and mostly unplanned. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about these chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives. But what if one of those defining experiences never occurred? What if something wonderful, something that we have come to depend on, that serendipitous bit of luck that provided us with a big break or a big deal or the Big Time never happened? One of those “if I hadn’t been eating a gigantic McDonald’s breakfast on the 7am flight to Vancouver in the middle seat, I wouldn’t have apologized to the beautiful, elegant woman sitting next to me on the plane; we wouldn’t have started talking and I wouldn’t have found out she was an important editor of a cool design magazine; we wouldn’t have become friends and so on and so on” type of moments. I call this “six degrees of serendipity”—the quintessential recognition that if this didn’t happen, then that wouldn’t have happened, and we wouldn’t have ended up right here, right now, in this way.”

{…}

“A moment that I thought was a complete and total failure—this takedown of everything I’d done to date—ended up turning into the foundation of everything I’ve done since. I’ve just created a lecture titled “How the Worst Moments of Your Life Can Turn Out to Be the Best” because the worst professional experience I ever experienced turned out to be one of the most important professional experiences of my life.
I was really ashamed of all my failures for a long time. Now, I feel it’s important to share these experiences. I am hopeful that it can give other people hope and context to see things a bit differently. It’s not a failure until you stop trying.”

{…}

“Honestly, I feel like everything I’ve done has required some risk. I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?

The first ten years of my career were very much organized around avoiding failure, but my inadequacies were completely self-constructed. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do something; nobody told me that I couldn’t succeed; I had convinced myself and lived in that self-imposed reality. I think a lot of people do this. They self-sabotage and create all sorts of reasons for not doing things under the misguided assumption that, at some point, they might feel better about themselves and that will finally allow them to take that risk. I don’t think that ever happens. You have to push through it and do it as if you have no other choice—because you don’t. You just don’t.”

{…}

“I want very badly to make a difference with my life. I’d like to make a difference by contributing to the world conversation about design.”

{…}

If you could give a piece of advice to a young person starting out, what would you say?
“I would provide five bits of advice:

Do not be afraid to want a lot.

Things take a long time; practice patience.

Avoid compulsively making things worse.

Finish what you start.

Often people start out by thinking about all the things that they can’t do. Once you take that path, it’s very hard to get off of it. Shoot high and shoot often.

{…}

“I feel happier and more a part of the world when I feel connected to others through likeminded communities. I feel really, really happy being part of a design tribe.”

wear red socks!

…wearing red socks can make one more creative. I usually wear black suits, but my one indulgence to color is a pair of red socks. The color and the piece of clothing are irrelevant; however, the notion of whimsy is so very important in one’s life. We are so very often so very serious or focused on logical analysis, whereby some of the most interesting and creative developments are connected to whimsy, serendipity and eccentricity…my red socks remind me of that.

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