Design before You Are Asked

Are you someone who notices problems around you and decides which you should work on solving RIGHT NOW?

Here is a motto for you then: Design before you are asked.

 

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Is It Enough?

Maria Nicanor, lab curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, has been reflecting on the accomplishments of the Lab now that it has concluded its ten weeks of programming in New York and ten weeks in Berlin.

The reader may remember that the focus of Lab activities is to engage people in discussions and events that consider how we can live comfortably, together, and sustainably in urban areas. The programming at each city the Lab visits is planned by academics from major universities, by consultants who study cities or facilitate dialogue about change, and design professionals.

In her short reflection today, Nicanor shared that the Lab’s purpose was to get people thinking and talking about things they can do to make their cities more liveable. She asserted that if the Lab can just get people talking, that would be success.

My question is, is that really enough?

Here is my concern. I feel like there are thousands if not millions of caring and intelligent people who love to talk about questions like this. We are fine so far.

What concerns me, though, is that this large number of people seem to feel totally gratified that they have done their part just by talking, with the implicit assumption that they are likely by their talking to inspire others down the chain to act.

Here lies the problem. I feel too many people mistake talk back and forth for actually catalyzing action. It is amazing sometimes how happily people share ideas they all believe in and then are fully content with such mutual affirmation even if it goes nowhere. It’s as if a sense of knowing what’s wrong and a concept from afar of an “obvious” way to fix things is satisfaction enough.

The solution of problems, I fear, may demand a little less contentment with endless conversation and exchanges of wisdom (while waiting for others to do their part by acting) and more taking responsibility for actually acting or making action happen.

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The Limits to Reflection

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of the Science and Success blog and also blogger for the Harvard Business Review, shares the results of three or four decades of research that say that our own ratings of our personality traits, like open-mindedness, thoughtfulness, and impulsivity, are correlated at only about forty percent, on average, with other people’s views of us. What’s more, other people on average see us more clearly.

Along similar lines, Seth Godin, marketing guru who has sometimes been described as a great advisor for people whose work is, in fact, excellent but not such a good advisor for people whose work is, in fact, mediocre, finally wrote something today I have been waiting for him to write:

It might be that your audience isn’t smart enough, caring enough, attentive enough, with-it enough or generous enough to understand and appreciate you.

Or it might be that you’re not good enough (yet).

If you’re in the habit of assuming one of these, try out the other one for a while.

The problem, of course, in his advice is that exactly the people who should realize that their work is pretty thin and their minds too narrow for the game they are in, will think the first option is speaking to them.

There is typically a lot to learn from those who don’t flatter you.

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Courage

Ever since I became a freelance educator and researcher with a growing and shifting portfolio of projects, the courage to push into the unknown and unpredictable has been particularly vital. An entrepreneurial or creative mindset requires a willingness to take risks and, in fact, to balance risk in ones portfolio of activities. Some gambits entail more risk than others of not creating leverage for further work, but all tend to have rewards in terms of learning.

Here are a couple of principles from Box of Crayons today that are right on point:

Courage is knowing that the story will end somehow – and you’ll likely find good in it.

Courage fades when you need to know exactly how the story ends.

 

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Ownership and Responsibility

Think for a moment of the organizations of which you are a part- your family, neighborhood, city, workplace, religious community, community of hobbyists, professional association, your profession itself…

What does it mean to you to be a good citizen of that space? To what are you committed?

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The Critical Thinking Paradox

As an educator, one of my priorities has long been to assist students in developing and refining their skills in critical thinking. In almost any discussion of educational priorities, in fact, there will be few people of any background who do not consider the development of critical thinking, the evaluation of evidence, and an understanding of bias to be a central part of what students should learn in school.

But there is a paradox I notice among many educated people who clamor for students to receive more training in critical thinkng and who feel quite competent in this area themselves. In particular, what can one make of the following sorts of assertions one can hear on any day from these same people:

  • Citing other people’s work indicates a lack of understanding of the issue. When someone doesn’t cite another person’s research, that person must really know his stuff.
  • Refering to evidence is a symptom of a lack of original thinking and an inclination to defer to authority without question.
  • Those who think analytically will tend to neglect creative solutions to problems or undervalue human relationships.
  • Analytical thinking is a bad habit because it suggests criticism. It is destructive rather than constructive.
  • Only affirmation of what is positive and correct belongs in human discourse. Raising questions about errors or flaws in reasoning is negative. One should leave it for the flaws one recognizes to disappear “organically” rather than noting such issues.
  • Analysis only complicates issues. Simple and more valid deductions and solutions can be derived by intuition (which taps into an innate “higher” knowledge) or common sense.

?????

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Books on the Bus: Creative Writing Meets Creative Reading

Seattle as a community is well known for its embrace of creative practice and entrepreneurship, a passion for reading, a belief in social action, and, of course, living green. From grassroots hacking of urban spaces, to local government experiments in multi-income community living in the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, to game changing private companies like Amazon, and social change-making foundations like the Gates Foundation, Seattle shows its lively and progressive colors on a daily basis.

You, my reader, might think that a longtime resident would no longer be surprised at hearing of yet another ingenious venture unfolding at her doorstep.  Yet, it was with great delight that I read this morning online of a new initiative that is so Seattle for rolling up creativity, social action, and living green all into one tasty dish. The innovation is called Books on the Bus.

Let’s roll back the clock for a moment to October 11, 2010 when the Richard Hugo House launched a great experiment in collaborative writing, kicked off by Nancy Pearl, perhaps the only City Librarian in the world who has her own commercially available plastic action figure.  On that day, thirty-six notable Northwest authors took to the cabaret stage of the Richard Hugo House, and in a relay of two-hour writing sessions over six days wrote a novel.

The event was called The Novel Live and was entirely spontaneous for the writers. Anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world could watch the novel unfold live, word by word, as it was being written. I had the pleasure of watching part of this event from a seat in the cabaret.

The book that resulted was called The Hotel Angeline, a mystery and adventure about a group effort by a motley collection of characters to rescue an old hotel in Seattle from financial ruin.

I went to the launch party some months later, but a busy life and too many commitments prevented me from buying and reading the book, the proceeds of which are fed back into community literary events.

Now let’s roll forward to July 6, 2012.

Seattle has long been a green city. With decades of reputation for leadership in recycling and a mayor whose election campaign centered around making streets even more bike friendly, we have lots of bicycle and bus commuters on our roads every day.

What is more, Seattle is a city that works strenuously to build community. Only last week as I rode downtown on the bus, I shared with the bus driver what a wonderful crossroads a bus can be for bringing a diversity of people together in common enterprise.

So imagine my delight when I read this morning of a new initiative called Books on the Bus that aims to build community on the bus by selecting every three months a single book title that riders are encouraged to read and discuss on the bus!

And imagine my further delight that the book selected for this green community building exercise for a city of readers is none other than Hotel Angeline!

Now I am typically more of a walker than a bus rider, and I definitely cannot read on the bus. But this summer will find me commuting by bus to my teaching position at the university. So I have gone ahead and ordered my copy of Hotel Angeline, and I will be ready to discuss it with any other reader with me on the bus!

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