• Mat Smith
  • , Aug 2020
  • - Phaidon

Bruce Mau Know How – A Methodology to Inspire Action

Design isn’t just making things look good. Freed from its visual definition it can become a method for leadership

Design has often been confused with making things look good. This is a fundamental error according to Bruce Mau, one of the most saught after designers working in the world today.

Mau believes that if we free design from its visual definition, then it reveals itself to be something quite different: first and foremost, a method for leadership.

After all, to lead, Mau argues, is to envision the future and then systematically work to realize that vision.

It’s hard to dispute that. it’s exactly what designers- at their best- do every day. Leadership and design are both processes of social influence that aim to manifest a vision of what’s possible. Today, there is much talk about leadership as a vague ideal, but little methodology around the subject. Leaders are exhorted to be gritty, determined, empathic, and visionary. All these can be great qualities at the right time and in the right place, but none provide a path of action.

Design, says Mau, in his new book Bruce Mau: MC24 “offers a methodology for leadership that’s both comprehensive and practical. It combines analysis, envisioning, decision-making, prototyping, and continuous learning. It engages all the senses, including our sense of time. It provides a path from rough idea to detailed solution.”

“At its best,” he argues, “design is empathic leadership that should be sensitive to context, including the largest context of all: Planet Earth and its needs.

“We All Have the Power to Inspire, If We Do What It Takes,” he says. “To design is to lead. To lead is to design. To lead through design is to inspire. Human beings are hungry for inspiration. It’s a fundamental desire, perhaps even a biological need. Just as everyone has a need to be inspired, everyone has the power to inspire. But there are requirements that designers must fulfill:

1. Open up to possibilities.

2. Live with purpose and ideals.

3. Constantly measure the work against the purpose and ideals.

He’s right in that people don’t follow mere ideas, at least not for long. They follow exemplary action. “Rhetoric can whip up a crowd and create a momentary high for the individual. But only when words meet deeds can inspiration be sustained for the long haul. All parents learn over time that- for better or worse- it’s what they do that teaches their child, not what they say.

“Everything we do should reflect our declared principles: how we live, how we use resources, how we produce the things we want and need. The formula for leadership by inspiration is challenging but simple: walk your talk. That’s the key to sustained inspiration—and also the meaning of exemplary action. Exemplary action is honest, fresh, insightful and generative. It makes words believable, and visions attainable.

“But we are human. Sometimes we slip up. Sometimes we fail to match our actions to our words. That’s the time for candor. When there’s a discrepancy between ideal and action, we should be open about it and work toward resolving the contradiction. Our human weaknesses can enhance the inspiration we provide, but only if we acknowledge and combat them.

“Finally,” says Mau, “another hallmark of true leadership is generosity: people will be drawn to the leader who gives—or tries to give—the most. Design can be a powerful vehicle for generosity because of its multidimensional character and the rich array of forms it can generate. True designers, like true leaders, care.”

You’ll find more fact-based optimism, leadership know how and really good life learnings in Bruce Mau: MC24 and look out for more Mau Know How in the coming days and weeks.