A Conversation with Bruce Mau was featured in chapter nine of the book.
We Must Design a Better Future
Now that we know people want more from their technology, now that we know people want their devices to have humor, history and humanity…What do we do? What do we make? What affect should and will this have on the objects, devices and even building we make?
BDJ has a conversation with legendary designer Bruce Mau, who shares his thoughts on humor, history and humanity.
Everything about Bruce Mau is big. He has a big reputation as one of this generation’s leading designer. His collaborators range from legendary architect Frank Geary to global brands like MTV, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Coca-Cola and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. He writes and puts out big books. His 1995 book S,M,L,XL is considered one of the most significant design books of the century. He’s even a pretty big guy. To top it all off one of his most famous and impressive museum pieces was called Massive Change, a dizzying collage of print, graphics and instillations to put you in the middle of the massive changes that are affecting our planet. His website describes it this way:
Design has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful forces. It has placed us at the beginning of a new, unprecedented period of human possibility, where all economies and ecologies are becoming global, relational, and interconnected. In order to understand and harness these emerging forces, there is an urgent need to articulate precisely what we are doing to ourselves and to our world. This is the ambition of Massive Change. Massive Change is a celebration of our global capacities but also a cautious look at our limitations. It encompasses the utopian and dystopian possibilities of this emerging world, in which even nature is no longer outside the reach of our manipulation. (www.massivechange.com)
So it’s pretty safe to say that Bruce Mau is a big deal. And being such a big deal you would expect him to be a jerk. Being a jerk is kind of an operatinal hazard for many designers, architects and even doctors. It’s not that hard to understand. If you are going to design and build a multibillion dollar building or cut into another human’s body you have to have a pretty strong ego. Let’s be clear, you have to believe that you are the one who should be doing it. It’s not really a bad thing. Confidence is good. If someone is about to cut into my brain, I’d really rather they have all the confidence in the world. If they also happen to be a jerk, I and my brain think that’s just fine…go ahead. Be a jerk, just don’t mess up my brain.
But this thing is, Bruce Mau is not a jerk at all. He’s surprisingly soft spoken and deadly earnest.
Before Bruce was a big deal, he was just a young designer from Canada. In the 1990’s he started designing the books for Zone Press. Throughout that decade Zone books published some of the most interesting and challenging titles like Society Against the State and Bergsonism, and the covers were arresting. During that time I was a ridiculously poor college student in New York City. Standing in the stacks of St. Marks Books (On St. Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Ave.) I lusted after these books, often skipping meals so that I could save up enough money to buy them.
Just now I went into my library and pulled one off the shelf. I’ve had it for twenty years; you’d be crazy to get rid of it. It’s beautiful! When I flipped to the last page of the book, sure enough there it was “This edition designed my Bruce Mau”.
So to be honest, I was a fan of Bruce Mau before I even knew who Bruce Mau was.
In 1995 Bruce teamed up with renowned Dutch architect and urbanist Rem Koolhaas to produce a 1376 page collection of essays, diary excerpts, travelogues, photographs, architectural plans, sketches, and cartoons. The book was a huge success selling out multiple editions. It was even counterfeited in China and Iran. (Now that’s a good book!)
But then in 2001 everything changed. The Vancouver Art Gallery commissioned Bruce and his team to bring out the show Massive Change. The exhibit was on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery for three months from October 2, 2004 to January 3, 2005. From there, the exhibit went to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto for three months from March 11 to May 29, 2005, and then on to display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago from September 16, 2005 to December 31, 2006.
Since that time Bruce and his design team at Bruce Mau Design have been crusaders for massive change. They have launched education projects, socially conscious design workshops and a global commitment. Throughout his crazy schedule Bruce adheres to a single rule: We must design a better future.
But how do we design that future? I asked Bruce…
BRUCE: It’s a real challenge. When most people think about design they imagine hefty, expensive objects created by singular authors, designers who really are responsible for the shape of things. They think about designers picking colors and shapes. But that’s not really what designers do. There is a section of the design practice that is formal and about all of these things, but that’s not how I think about it. It’s not how I design.
When I talk about design I think of it as “big D design”. This is all about truly thinking about what do we do, designing what we do, not what it looks like. Real design innovation is actually not what it looks like but what it makes possible. What’s the new capacity that we’re developing? Design is leadership and the capacity to imagine a future and systematically articulate the future. Then we have to execute on that vision. This is the closest I’ve been able to come to leadership as a definition. What do leaders do? They help us imagine a future and they work to systematically execute that future and build it.
I started as a communication designer and if you had told me 25 years ago that I was going to be doing what I’m doing now I would have been extremely skeptical. I wouldn’t have imagined that this is what design is all about. What happened in my lifetime and in my career is that communication went from being something that happens after all the decisions are made to people realizing that communication is actually strategy. We started understanding what we were doing with our customers. We asked how do we relate to them? What’s the relationship with them? What do we provide for them? What do we offer them? What’s the real kind of impact we can have in their life?
Suddenly communication went from being advertising to being central to strategy and business. We now realize that everything is communicating. This was a big realization and the kind of work I was doing changed along with that realization. I started doing graphic design and communication that turned into branding. Then that turned into strategy and designing what we do. It was a gradual and organic transition to thinking comprehensively. The more that I did it, the more I realized there was no other way to approach design.
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The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth:
In 1998 Bruce wrote down the following list to articulate his beliefs, strategies, and motivations behind design and life. He still uses them today as the guiding principles and design process for himself and his design studio.
1. Allow events to change you.
You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
2. Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
5. Go deep.
The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
6. Capture accidents.
The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions
A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
10. Everyone is a leader.
Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
(read on…more to come)
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HUMOR: Design is Humor
I explained to Bruce about what we had learned from Steampunk and Hackers, that we believed that people wanted to have a very different relationship with their technology. And the first request was that people wanted their technology and devices to have a sense of humor. I asked Bruce how he used humor in his work and what it would mean to have technology with a sense of humor.
BRUCE: There are really two ways I think that humor can be a part of design. First humor in our culture is the place of truth. It’s not an accident that the most respected source of news today is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (called The Daily Show until 1999), is an American late night satirical television program airing each Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central and, in Canada, The Comedy Network. The half-hour long show premiered on July 21, 1996, and was hosted by Craig Kilborn until December 1998. Jon Stewart took over as host in January 1999, making the show more strongly focused on politics and the national media, in contrast with the pop culture focus during Kilborn’s tenure. It is currently the longest running program on Comedy Central, and has won sixteen Emmy Awards.
The Colbert Report ( /koʊlˈbɛər rəˈpɔr/ kohl-BAIR rə-POR) is an American satirical late night television program that airs Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central. It stars political humorist Stephen Colbert, a former correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The Colbert Report is a spin-off from and counterpart to The Daily Show that comments on politics and the media in a similar way. It satirizes conservative personality-driven political pundit programs, particularly Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor. The show focuses on a fictional anchorman character named Stephen Colbert, played by his real-life namesake. The character, described by Colbert as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot”, is a caricature of televised political pundits.
The fact that these shows are so popular tells you something. In our culture today people have a higher regard for the news coming from comics than they do coming from the traditional sources. Jon Stewart was being criticized that he wasn’t always fair and balanced on his show. He told the interviewer from The FOX News Network that he’s a comic and pointed out that his show came on air after a show that makes prank phone calls. He went on to point out that it’s an indictment of your traditional news system that the people think I’m more trustworthy as a source of information than you.
The power of humor is the reason that Jon Stewart is actually able to tell the truth. They can use humor to address issues that are too exterior for us to address directly. It’s a way of socializing public discourse in a way that is friendly and open and not so brutal. But really if you think about it it’s more brutal than a classical debate.
The second way that humor can be used in design is as a way of thinking. I love anything to do with puns and references and metaphors. For me humor and jokes demonstrate a higher order of thinking. Think about what happens when you’re able to maintain your sense of humor. You’re able to maintain a higher order of discourse and discussion because you can not only address the issue and deal with the idea at hand, but you can actually dance with it. You can play with the idea or the design and turn it upside-down. It allows you to look at things differently, in a new way. You can make fun of it and yourself. From a design perspective it allows us to see it in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to see it before. We use humor as a dimension of design, as a way of thinking that is essential. Design is humor. It’s the ability to turn things upside-down and see things in new ways.
BDJ: Do you think that every time you design something, whether it be a book or whether it be a library, is it always with a sense of humor?
BRUCE I always try to work with a sense of humor. But I don’t think every design needs to be so humorous that it makes you laugh. I think about what produces delight. What produces delight is the ability to make things, invent things, move things around in a way that demonstrates intelligence and insight. That definition of delight and humor is very close to what I try to do in everything that I work on.
People think designers are megalomaniacs, that’s it’s all about control. I have a very different kind of sensibility. I’m not interested in control in that way. I’m interested in playfulness and collaboration and openness and playing with things and turning them around and exploring them. I like seeing what you can make out of the situation that you have. I think that sense of humor, that sense of playfulness is absolutely critical. I think its essential to having a good and healthy life and it’s also good for design.
I can see this when I watch my kids. When my kids are feeling good, when they feel confident and safe in their surrounding then they are really funny. I can see they are thinking about things, they feel confident to share those things. That’s really important. Humor is a good indicator of a level of intelligence and confidence. It’s an indicator that you are doing good work.
I became conscious of this in my own studio. If you read the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, one of the points is LAUGH. Over the years I started to notice that people were always commenting that we laughed a lot in my studio. Then I also noticed that there were times when we weren’t laughing at all. The times when we were laughing a lot we were doing our best work. We were at our best. The times when we weren’t laughing was a great indicator that something was wrong. We weren’t doing our best. Laughter and humor is an outcome of a design process that says: Have fun. Turn things upside-down. Explore and build things. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t respect boundaries, just get in there and bust things up. Make new things.
BDJ As a designer have you seen examples of good designs that are based on humor?
BRUCE I have to go back to Comedy Central and the Colbert Report. Colbert is an entity; the invention of Stephen Colbert is such an extraordinary piece of design. He is so carefully created, and it’s done with such extraordinary higher level thinking. Colbert made himself an invention and then that invention produces all kinds of different ideas and stories. Colbert produces all the other events on the show but he himself is a project. That kind of design is brilliant.
Another example of something I’ve seen that’s smart and clever in the product realm is a company I work with called Emeco. They were looking to make a classic mid-century designed chair but they wanted it to be from recycled materials. They teamed up with Coca-Cola to make the 111 Navy chair. It’s a beautiful chair that looks like a work of art but at the same time it’s made of 111 recycled plastic bottles. Every chair that they produce takes 111 pet bottles out of environment. That’s a higher order of thinking. What’s clever is that they made it look like the classic chair. It’s delightful to sit in. It’s a great chair. You don’t need to know that it’s made from 111 recycled bottles but when you do…then you smile. It’s that something extra, it’s clever and you get delight from it because it’s also doing something good.
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The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth continued…
11. Harvest ideas.
Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
12. Keep moving.
The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
13. Slow down.
Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
14. Don’t be cool.
Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
15. Ask stupid questions.
Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
18. Stay up late.
Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
19. Work the metaphor.
Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
20. Be careful to take risks.
Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
(read on…more to come)
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HISTORY: History is a Bridge to new Places
Bruce’s take on history is different than most people. He sees the pragmatic affect that history has on the things we design today. Yesterday is the foundation for today…only sometimes you need to reach a little further back into history to find a solid and positive foundation. I asked Bruce what was the role that history played in his design.
BRUCE That’s really an interesting issue. One thing I realized about science and our knowledge of the universe is there was a point in our scientific understanding that we departed from experience. Up until Newtonian physics you could basically experience all the ideas that represented our understanding of the universe. You could replicate an idea physically, it had a mechanical correlation.
Newton’s laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces. They have been expressed in several different ways over nearly three centuries, and can be summarized as follows:
1. First law: The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.
2. Second law: The acceleration of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force F and inversely proportional to the mass m, i.e., F = ma.
3. Third law: The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and collinear.
The three laws of motion were first compiled by Sir Isaac Newton in his work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687. Newton used them to explain and investigate the motion of many physical objects and systems. For example, in the third volume of the text, Newton showed that these laws of motion, combined with his law of universal gravitation, explained Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.
We’ve come quite a long way since that time. In my lifetime we have lost that mechanical correlation. Our understanding of the universe has completely changed. We can’t see it anymore and in many cases it contradicts Newton. Quantum Mechanics really turned Newton upside-down but it’s made it harder and harder for people to understand the world we live in. You can apply that far beyond physics. I think it’s true for most people for most parts of their lives. It’s so complicated and contrary. As a young man, I could fix my truck. Take it apart and reassemble it. I could understand it. Today, you need an advanced degree to run diagnostics on an automobile.
Quantum mechanics (QM – also known as quantum physics, or quantum theory) is a branch of physics dealing with physical phenomena where the action is on the order of the Planck constant. Quantum mechanics departs from classical mechanics primarily at the quantum realm of atomic and subatomic length scales. QM provides a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter.
In advanced topics of quantum mechanics, some of these behaviors are macroscopic and only emerge at extreme (i.e., very low or very high) energies or temperatures. The name quantum mechanics derives from the observation that some physical quantities can change only in discrete amounts (Latin quanta), and not in a continuous (cf. analog) way. For example, the angular momentum of an electron bound to an atom or molecule is quantized. In the context of quantum mechanics, the wave–particle duality of energy and matter and the uncertainty principle provide a unified view of the behavior of photons, electrons, and other atomic-scale objects.
That is producing a need for stability, a need for people to have a way of being okay in the new world. It’s a significant and important dimension that we have to be more respectful of than we probably have been in the past. We need to better understand it and we need to design for it.
This is really how I started thinking about designing social change. If you begin to design social change, you realize that the object of the design is no longer the product. We are not just designing a product but we are designing an experience that can reinforce stability in order to allow people to embrace innovation. Now this might sound completely paradoxical. Typically we think if we want people to innovate, then obviously we’ve got to give them innovation. But that’s not true. In fact if you want people to innovate you have to provide them with some anchors and stability. You have to provide them some way of understanding. Then what you’re allowing them to do is build on that stable point and they can innovate from there.
You can see this in the language that we use to talk about new and innovative technologies. When the Internet came out we used the stable and understood language of the book. The language of the book has been the anchor that has allowed millions and billions of people to enter into this new space. We talked about web pages and everyone understood that. We used the metaphors of page language of the book culture to organizing our knowledge from history. That was profoundly important in the new space of technology. It’s not surprising to me that one of the first real successful economic applications of this new technology was a bookseller. You couldn’t have created the Amazon of today if you hadn’t gone in through the bookstore. That’s why history is so important, it’s our foundation for innovation, it gives us the language. As a designer I use history as a bridge to new places.
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The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth continued…
21. Repeat yourself.
If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
22. Make your own tools.
Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
24. Avoid software.
The problem with software is that everyone has it.
25. Don’t clean your desk.
You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
26. Don’t enter awards competitions.
Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
27. Read only left-hand pages.
Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”
28. Make new words.
Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
29. Think with your mind.
Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
30. Organization = Liberty.
Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’
(read on…more to come)
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Bruce is at heart a raging optimist who deeply delivers in the power of design to change the world. We started talking about the idea that people wanted their devices and technology to have a greater sense of humanity and this touched a chord in him. Many people think that we are in an interesting point in history where we have so much access to technology and tools that we realize that we can fundamentally affect the future. Today people and designers specifically are actively pondering the futures that they want to live in and then using the tools to build that future. This is new. I asked Bruce what he thought about what was happen today.
BRUCE: I love the optimism in your perspective! I’m deeply optimistic in my work. One of the things I tell people all the times is that as designers we can’t afford the luxury of cynicism. The ability to think about a future is a fundamentally optimistic idea. To think about the future as something that is plastic and pliable and inventible. When you believe that you can imagine the future and therefore you can change it that’s the operating system of design. That what design is all about. But that’s also what leadership is all about as well. It’s the DNA of leadership. If you have the ability to imagine a future and change it, that’s what anyone who aspires to leadership is aspiring to. We need a lot more discourse around this issue. We need a higher order of understanding of how important this really is, because a lot of people are not experiencing this.
One of my most troubling realizations I’ve had in recent years is that we are producing two classes of people: a consumer class and a producer class. The consumer class is different in substance than the producer class. One of the dangers of being in the producer class is that you only experience and interact with other producers. I think that we have a job to do as responsible designers and as leaders to think about how we prevent that class structure from crystallizing.
My own experience mirrors this. I come from a mining town in northern Canada. I never heard the word design until I left that town. For a lot of people where I grew up, they interact with the world through consumption. They don’t produce the things they buy. They produce all sorts of things locally. They’re hunters, they build their own homes, they build their farms, they do all kinds physical and local production. But when it comes to modern life and the larger impact on the world, they are consumers. They buy a phone and they talk on the phone. They never would imagine actually making a phone. They don’t have the skills to imagine a different phone.
I think about my own mother. My mother was very much in the consumer class. She was largely subject to the world and to the producer class who had all the power. She never had access to the resources and knowledge to do anything different.
Today people are incredibly empowered; the tools give us tremendous possibility. It’s absolutely staggering. It’s the best time in human history to be alive by a long shot. We have distributed this extraordinary capacity and more people than at any other time in history have access to this capacity. But there are people who are subject to the futures that are produced for them. They consume and that’s how they define and express themselves. This is why we are working on Massive Change. That’s why we are building the Massive Change Network. The real promise of the technology is its distributed power. We want to open that up, distribute the capacity and open up that power for people to shape their own life. In my experience that seems like a no brainer to the producers of the world, but that’s not who we are trying to reach. We want to reach the consumers who’ve never had access to that and unfortunately that are fearful of it because every producer they’ve ever encountered has made their life worse. It’s a different ball game and it’s a really challenging issue.
BDJ: It’s such a mindset shift. You can’t just sit back and let the future happen to you.
BRUCE: That’s a powerful idea. That’s a huge idea! It’s the idea that you can control it, that you have agency. If there was one thing we could do, if there was one change we could make in the world, we should provide people with agency. Provide them with the tools to imagine their own community and their own life.
There’s a great example of this in a project we got involved in Guatemala. This project completely blows the doors off of any definition of design and what you can accomplish with this kind of thinking about history and the future. A group of people in Guatemala contacted me and said: Our citizens have suffered through 36 years of civil war. When our citizens think about the future, the vision that they have is dominated by three images: violence, poverty and corruption. So when they try to imagine what their lives will be like in 10 years what they imagine is more violence, poverty and corruption. We need to change that. We need to work on inventing an image of the future that’s more powerful in a positive sense. We need the positive to dominate the negative. We need your help to work towards this new reality. We need to produce a vision of Guatemala that will allow people to dream.
It’s a really long term project. It’s still going on. It’s called !Guate Amala!, the love of Guate, the love of this place. We’ve developed an ongoing program that we call The Culture of Life. After 36 years of the culture of death, we wanted to build a culture of life. It’s not like you can just turn that kind of thing on. You have to actually design it.
Here in the USA we have built foundations in our culture that we take for granted. We take for granted a culture of justice, a culture of education, a culture of entrepreneurship and a culture of dreaming. Unfortunately I think we take all of that for granted. Some of us have the responsibility for dreaming, that’s our job, to dream. We contribute to society by dreaming. We dream about positive things, optimistic futures and then we work to realize those dreams.
After 36 years of atrocities, Guatemala had lost that. To redesign it we needed to build up a solid foundation. This goes to the idea of history, you just mentioned. People need a history that they can look back to, past that 36 year period. We had to search out and foster a foundation that was positive. We wanted people to have the capacity to reach back and see human society in a positive way. That is what history can do, history can empower an entire country of people.
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The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth continued…
31. Don’t borrow money.
Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
33. Take field trips.
The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
34. Make mistakes faster.
This isn’t my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else… but not words.
37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
38. Explore the other edge.
Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.
Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces — what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference — the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
40. Avoid fields. Jump fences.
Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
(read on…one more to come…)
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BDJ: The way that you change the future is you change the story that people tell themselves about the future that they are going to live in. On one hand that’s really easy but on the other it’s incredibly large.
BRUCE: That’s exactly what we’re doing with Massive Action! Everything we do follows that ethic. How do we put the tools in the hands of as many people as possible as quickly as possible for the lowest possible cost? There are so many forces that deny agency to most people. They try to concentrate that agency in the smallest number of hands possible. Just look at our universities here in the United States. Our universities advertise how exclusive they are. It’s horrendous! They measure it and they use it as a form of advertising. They use it to promote the university and for some crazy reason the more exclusive a university is the better. The more young kids they turn down, the greater the number of applicants we turn down in every department, the better and more valuable the place is. That’s insane. If we are going to make real change, the universities have to be on our side.
We need to understand that’s our real purpose. What we have in front of us is big. The opportunity is massive. This period in history will determine the coming millennia.
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The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth
43. Power to the people.
Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.