Random finds (2016, week 29) — On design and creativity, restless minds and good listening, and the importance of slowness

Mark Storm
13 min readJul 24, 2016
Villa Savoye et loge du jardinier, by Le Corbusier, Poissy, France, 1928.

Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

Design principles for the post-digital era

In the late 1970s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him — “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design? As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design.

As Little Design As Possible: The Work of Dieter Rams, Phaidon, 2010.

Now, a few decades later, Sanjiv Sirpal comes up with ten new design principles for the post-digital age. “A multitude of pre-digital era products are being reinvented,” Sirpal writes in Productecture: Designing for the Post-Digital Era. “Their analog shells are being injected with new capabilities: the capacity for intelligence, connectivity, sensory input, remote access, etc. What is driving the creation of these products? Is it the bespoke movement that looks to craft ‘hand’ made things? Or is it the ‘build-an-app-and-put-it-in-the-market place’ mentality that app companies are adopting to physical products. Perhaps it’s having access to technology that allows products to be built so fast, that little regard is given to their full life cycle. Agile, Lean, and MVP’s play a part. If we can make apps this way, then why not hardware products? These products expose an ugly underbelly — hyper connectivity, with little value. They are in their infancy, and their potential has yet to be realized. Meanwhile resources are being wasted, landfills are filling up with mutant products, that lacked the foresight to become ubiquitous.”

Digital products do not age well. They tend to disappear. Post-Digital products by intention, are meant to live long.

Sirpal’s design principles for the post-digital era provide a framework for, what he calls ‘productecture’ — the creation of a new breed of objects:

  1. Objects should be designed for longevity and not obsolesce.
  2. Objects must communicate a clear purpose and value.
  3. Objects must be functionally aesthetic.
  4. Objects do not exist in isolation.
  5. Objects must function independently of other objects.
  6. Objects must function in low connectivity states.
  7. Objects shouldn’t require configuration.
  8. Objects should interpret their surroundings.
  9. Objects should be operable naturally and at human scale.
  10. Objects should age well.

“In this new era, new champions need to help usher in objects that will become the antiques of tomorrow. Productects are these champions. They are a blend of Architects, Industrial Designers, Interaction & Interface Designers, that focus on the complete experience. These new designers will be educated in the old ways, brought up in studios environments with holistic outlooks, uncovering insights and contexts, and be less concerned with titles, and more concerned with how they can shape the world of tomorrow for human scale. They will use appropriate tools and techniques in order to create informed products that respond to human need and experience.”

Summer reads on design and creativity

First of all, designer and visionary thinker Alan Moore’s Do Design. Why beauty is key to everything, which I already mentioned in last week’s Random finds. In Do Design. Why beauty is key to everything, Moore recommends 14 practices to create enduring beauty. ‘Be curious about the world’ is the first:

“Walking, or driving, I look at building — their shape, contours, how they sit in the land — old and new. I look at the brickwork of the houses enjoying its texture, its warm red colour, and the white mortar. I stop at a church and let the stillness be in me for five minutes. I run my hand on a handrail enjoying its shape and visual appearance.

People fascinate me: how they move, how they dress, how they use technology. As I am reading about some new technology advance, a reflection come to me. Maybe I make a note or two in my notebook. It reminds me of something I was reading in a book. I put my notes in the margin to dig out the book when I get back.

I always have a book on the go, and I often annotate, underline, pull out stuff that intrigues me, inspires me, resonates. This process of writing helps me see more. Making connections, creating meaning, adjusting my world view. (page48–49)

“I don’t need to draw conclusions, I am happy for the thoughts to be half-formed but present.” — Alan Moore

My second book recommendation is The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski, a professor of architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, and founding principal of 3six0 Architecture.

“I explore, witness, and practice the creative process through my work and my teaching. As a child, I was reprimanded for ‘getting bored easily,’ and now I see that weakness, like all ‘weaknesses,’ as a strength. (Getting bored keeps me moving ahead.) I live in a city whose name, (‘pro-videre’) signifies what creativity is: a process of ‘seeing ahead.’ We ‘see ahead’ when we make designs that are materialized in the future, when we write problems that anticipate solutions, when we link one step to another in navigating our lives and the way through anything, especially the empty page, writer’s block, confusion, chaos, needs, and questions. The creative process is the story of this passage and speaks for the author, to the user, the reader, inhabitant, audience or viewer.”

If you have some 50 minutes to spare — just skip a meeting — please watch Leski’s lecture on creativity at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

And finally, the beautifully designed Design | The Invention of Desire by Jessica Helfand, a designer, artist and theorist. Formerly a partner in Winterhouse, she is a founding editor of Design Observer, currently the largest international website of design and cultural criticism.

“In the end, design matters because it is an intrinsically humanist discipline, tethered to the very core of why we exist. It frames our conception of power; informs our belief about personal dignity; piques our curiosity about ction and fantasy; highlights our yearning for beauty and romance; and engages our eternal appetite for narrative. Design matters because it gives form to our past and dimension to our future, but this is not because we sit on nice chairs, or wear pretty shoes, or pride ourselves on our good taste in belts or cars or video games. Design — which traffics in but is not beholden to consumer culture — does not matter because it is hip or hot or cool or cheap or new or rare or bold or sexy, even though these are all qualities that may claim to entice us at any given moment, for reasons that have everything to do with who we are, not what we own. Design — which is grounded in mathematical certainties, relying upon composition and orchestration, on gesture and nuance — does not matter because it is pleasing to the eye, even though we applaud its beauty and its purpose and its presence in our lives. Design matters because of the why, not the what; the sentiment, not the acquisition. Design matters because people matter, and the purpose of this book is to examine precisely this proposition: to consider the conscience-driven rules of human engagement within which design must operate. This is a book about design as it relates to human beings. Because that is what matters most of all.” (page 24)

On restless minds and good listening

If you were to list your most important people assets, inquiring, inquisitive and restless minds are your top. Without that, everything fails, argues Leandro Herrero in a recent Daily Thoughts.

“The ability to seriously seek, seduce and give home to those inquiring, inquisitive and restless minds is a fundamental function of the leadership of the organization. In the old days, whatever that may mean today beyond one week, these kind of minds were assumed to be the ones of people in Research and Development, or Science for that matter. Today, this is bread and butter for all functions, all staff, all layers of management and leadership.”

“If you get this right,” Herrero says, “if you recruit the right people and you train old and new in Critical Thinking, you are providing the fuel for innovation. Winning and moving forward, reinventing the organization or simply being ahead of the game require those ‘skills’. Without that in your DNA, you are in the path of McDonaldization, slow or fast. Incidentally, McDonald’s is a successful model. The most successful if you run a McDonald’s franchise.”

Laura Schneider for Harvard Business Review.

Listening is another important people asset. Much management advice suggests good listening comes down to doing three things: not talking when others are speaking, letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”), and being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word.

But in What Great Listeners Actually Do, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, respectively the CEO and president of the leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, share some surprising findings based on data describing the behavior of over three thousand participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches.

  • Contrary to popular belief, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions in a constructive way.
  • Good listeners include interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. They create a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
  • Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
  • Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider.

“While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines,” Zenger and Folkman write. “They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.”

The authors also describe six different levels of listening, ranging from creating a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed, to asking questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. “Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for.”

“Most people listen to find a place to put their thought in.” — Judith Glaser

Entrepreneur.com’s Linda Lacina recently interviewed Judith Glaser, an organizational anthropologist who has dedicated her life to understanding the ‘why’ behind when conversations go well and when they don’t. A discipline she calls ‘conversational intelligence.’

Glaser talks about the importance of listening — not listening to judge or reject, but listening to connect — and of building trust to allow people to have meaningful and transformative conversations. “Culture is an abstract term,” she says. “Greatness depends on the quality of culture, depends on the quality of relationships, depends on the quality of conversations.”

She also shares her ideas on the three different levels of conversation. Level 1 or transactional conversations in which we confirm what we already know. Level 2 or positional conversations in which we take a stand and advocate. And finally, level 3 conversations during which people exchange energy to explore new ideas — to discover thing we don’t know yet and synthesize and share new ideas.

“In my work, listening is not passive. It takes risk to get real answers.” — Sandra Cariglio, ReD Associates

To understand an unknown market we must learn to decode its sounds: from the most distinct, to the quiet and obscure. We need to listen to its silences. Learning how to listen helps us see the forces at play, and the consequences of those forces, says ReD Associates’ Sandra Cariglio.

Deep Listening, Disclosing the Unsaid, by ReD Associates.

“In my work, listening is not passive. It takes risk to get real answers. They key for me has been learning to maintain an insider-outsider role. Gaining someone’s trust, keeping up the rhythm of a conversation, while at the same time being able to take a step back. To interpret, probe, and hear what’s not being said.”

A bit more …

“There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: A man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” — Milan Kundera, Slowness

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, by Tod William Billy Tsien Architects.

In 1999, Tod William Billy Tsien Architects published a ‘must read’ essay On Slowness — of method, design, and perception.

“So there is no quick take on our work; no singular powerful image that is able to sum it all up. We are not sure how to present our work. We know that the answer is not a computer-generated ‘fly-through,’ or even a video of the real thing. The pacing and the viewpoint of these methods are still too consistent. They are cold, machine-like lenses that follow a too-logical sequence of movement. A human eye scans panoramically, and then suddenly focuses down on a tiny point. You see the ocean, and then you see a grain of oddly colored sand. The boundaries of what one chooses to perceive are constantly expanding and contracting. And of course there are the myriad of stray thoughts, memories, and images that are called up by what you see in the color and shade of an actual space. There are the distractions (and perhaps one can also see them as positive additions) of sound, smell, shifting light, and the conversations of passers-by. This can only happen when you are there. So, we suppose we can only offer this monograph of our work as a suggestion of what we do, or perhaps even as a pack of lies, which must be proven or disproven by your own feet and eyes.”

Read on twbta.com: http://twbta.com/3031.

“Design your organization so that it develops new capabilities. We know that some companies learn much better than others. Make it your job, as a leader, to help your organization be better at learning. Structure your organization so that your people must engage with important, unsolved problems. Establish routines that allow for failure and reward those who try to discover — regardless of the ultimate outcome. Build a culture that values discovering over knowing, becoming over being. Lead by design, and don’t forget the secret: There is no secret.” — Bill Barnett in The Secret

Read on Barnett Talks: http://www.barnetttalks.com/2015/11/the-secret.html.

“If we let machines put us out of work, it will be because of a failure of imagination and the will to make a better future!,” writes Tim O’Reilly in Don’t Replace People. Augment Them. For O’Reilly, the key question is not which jobs will be eliminated, but how technology could enable us to do that was previously impossible?

“What might we be astonished by if we have the courage to invest in the possibilities of a better future?” — Tim O’Reilly

Read on Medium: https://medium.com/the-wtf-economy/dont-replace-people-augment-them-8bea60cb80ac#.cq1xo0q2u.

Or watch him in an interview with NewCo Shift Dialogs: https://shift.newco.co/a-deficit-of-idealism-tim-oreilly-on-the-next-economy-20fe42f26a10#.h8nmiwb2y.

In 1972, the composer Leonard Bernstein returned to Harvard, his alma mater, to serve as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, with ‘Poetry’ being defined in the broadest sense. Delivered in the fall of 1973 and collectively titled The Unanswered Question, Bernstein’s lectures covered a lot of terrain, touching on poetry, linguistics, philosophy and physics. But the focus inevitably comes back to music — to how music works, or to the underlying grammar of music. The lectures run over 11 hours. They’re considered masterpieces, beautiful examples of how to make complicated material accessible.

Leonard Bernstein

“There aren’t too many mysteries left, you know; one of these days some superbrain is going to come up with a brilliant revelation of original cause; DNA, or whatever it is, is going to explain heredity; and XYZ will remove the last veil from the chemical wonder of sexual attraction. And then what will we be left with? Man and his mystery — the mindless, useless, glorious pursuit of artistic truth. And all, hopefully, without a shred of motivation.” — Leonard Bernstein

Watch on Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2012/03/leonard_bernsteins_masterful_lectures_on_music.html.

Or read on Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/13/leonard-bernstein-on-motivation-creativity.

Heritage body UNESCO has added 17 projects by 20th-century French architect Le Corbusier to its list of internationally significant architecture sites, including the Unité d’Habitation housing in Marseille — arguably the most influential Brutalist building of all time. The 17 architectural sites that have been added to the World Heritage List are spread across seven countries, and where built over 50 years by the Swiss-born French architect, who has become one of the Modernist movement’s most admired and controversial figures.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, who was better known as Le Corbusier (1887–1965).

The list includes the Complexe du Capitole in Chandigarh, India, where Le Corbusier collaborated with his cousin and fellow architect and designer Pierre Jeanerret to build and furnish an entire government city.

Secretariat building, Chandigarh, India, 1953.

Read on De Zeen: http://www.dezeen.com/2016/07/19/unesco-adds-17-le-corbusier-projects-world-heritage-list.

“The obligation, and the self‑interest of every company is to build a robust society.” — Tim O’Reilly



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought