Understand By Doing

This wonderful exposé in Kinfolk on fashion designers and artists Isabel & Reuben Toledo struck me in both its beauty, and a clear description for understanding a business or a craft. Do it yourself.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 11.32.25.png

The only way to truly understand how every piece of [a] business can be assembled…is to do it all yourself. — Isabel Toledo

I’m reminded of the actor-director duality of tech and design leadership. To provide deep and meaningful guidance I need to be not only aligned with organization and customer needs — but also knowledgeable of the daily practice, the details of the work.

And Then Grace

and then grace.png

The work you do when you are graceful is what we need, now more than ever.
—Seth Godin, in Graceful

This path is before me, whether chosen by the universe or because I’ve listened and cared deeply. Craft first, then connection, and then grace.

(Video) Interview with Jack Dykinga

An interview with a photography legend, Jack Dykinga, a Pulitzer-prize winner, who has become one of the best landscape photographers in the world.

My favorite note from his philosophy: “Sometimes your voice can be more of a whisper than a shout.” Applies to writing and software just as much as photography and art.

More about Jack — a fellow resident of Tucson, Arizona — on Wikipedia. Hat tip: Charles M.

(Listen) You 2.0, Hidden Brain on NPR

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 07.37.44.png

Two weeks ago I mentioned the notion of think as a poet, work as a bookkeeper. Not surprisingly I heard an echo of this on a new summer series on the “Hidden Brain” NPR radio show. The first episode — You 2.0: The Value Of ‘Deep Work’ In An Age Of Distraction — features Deep Work author Cal Newton (I haven’t read his book yet, but my colleague Jeremey DuVall posted a detailed 5-star review).

In the show, Cal Newton brings up a quote by David Brooks:

Think like artists but work like accountants.

Echoes of E.O. Wilson? Yes, I’m going to assume Wilson said it first. Either way, it’s a brilliant way to frame the paradox of disciplined work to drive creativity and free thinking.

System shutdown complete.

Think Like a Poet, Work Like a Bookkeeper

The most successful scientist thinks like a poet — wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical — and works like a bookkeeper.

Motivation from E.O. Wilson in The Meaning of Human Existence.

Could apply to any craft or vocation, don’t you think? The most successful scientist or artist, musician, programmer, designer, tech lead, writer, product owner, or …?

Photo from Pexels.

Abstract, High Resolution, Listen & Learn

Have you watched Abstract on Netflix yet? World-class designers share their life and work and philosophy, which I’ve found fascinating. A common thread in the episodes I’ve watched so far is that design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In order to produce something useful and beautiful that people will love and buy, you have to engage with the world. It involves talking to people. Listening and verifying with your own eyes and ears.

Ralph Gilles — Head of Design at General Motors — says in Episode 5, “Go out and talk to people.” He gives the example of his Chrysler/Jeep design team engaging with millennials literally “in their living rooms.” Listening to their problems and trying to solve those problems, taking it all back to the car design lab. “How do you know what consumers want even before they know what they want?”

Tinker Hatfield — shoe Designer at Nike — says in Episode 2, “Get outside, engage with the world.” How a steady stream of fresh input leads to innovation and being outside, doing sports he loves, helps him staying connected to everything. Running a mile in their shoes, if you will. An example of the years of close back-and-forth work with Michael Jordan to perfect the Air Jordan basketball shoes.

I’m sensing a trend here: if I listen, I learn. When I approach my own software work, do I understand the needs of the person for whom I am designing and developing? If the answer is no, I need to step outside my office and talk to people using the software.

Another compelling series to hear from talented and innovative product designers is High Resolution, available on YouTube. In Episode 8, similar ideas emerge from Automattic’s own Head of Computational Design & Inclusion, John Maeda:

Don’t focus on kerfuffles within your org — keep your focus on the world. That’s where you are meant to be. No matter how great of the place you’re in.

… Creative people are diverse-oriented, and great remixers. — John Maeda

These thoughts remind me of the “jobs to be done” philosophy where success comes from understanding peoples’ circumstances. And not only accepting input when it fits a certain profile I already expect.

The key to successful innovation is identifying jobs that are poorly performed in customers’ lives and then designing products, experiences, and processes around those jobs. — via Harvard Business Review

Discovering what those jobs are requires engaging with your customers, in their lives, in their work. Now it’s time for me to get outta this chair.

Be a Yardstick of Quality

Inspiration from Steve Jobs, in 1987. This is my milepost for 2017.

People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

From I, Steve edited by George Beahm (2011).