Build to Learn revisited


Recently I’ve been working on some lamp projects with a friend of mine. It’s a funny project for me because I’ve been known to say in the past that it’s unfortunate how designers spend so much of their creative energy on making chairs and lamps. A visit to design week in New York will confirm this fetish that designers have. You’ll see more chairs and lamps than anything else. But I’ve come to appreciate designing lamps as an exercise in the exploration of tools and materials.

This past weekend I visited World Maker Faire in NYC. The makers at the fair aren’t into chairs and lamps per se but they have their own fetishes: LEDs, microcontrollers, 3D printers. They get teased in the press because the things that they make seem silly. But what the journos may not understand is that these makers are building to learn. They are exploring new tools and materials to see what they can do. Just as an artist might do color studies with paint or form studies with clay, the makers are exploring the possibilities and limits of their medium. The point isn’t to make something useful or functional; the point is to build to learn — to explore and discover what the tools want to do and what the materials want to be. Tim O’Reilly once wrote that the way we play with new technologies is like how babies play with blocks. They start by putting them in their mouths. Only after months or years of exploration do they build anything meaningful. Continue reading “Build to Learn revisited”

Repost: Are Leaders Born or Made?

They are made.

I’ve made it my mission to teach creativity to students from academic disciplines that aren’t traditionally described as creative disciplines. On the first day of each new quarter, I ask the new students, “Who in this room is creative?” Rarely do more than half of the students raise their hands. I tell them that those who didn’t raise their hands are wrong and that all of them, in fact, have the potential to be creative. I tell them that throughout the next ten weeks, I will prove this to them.There have been many definitions of creativity throughout history, but the one I use is probably most aligned with a post-modern sensibility: “the ability to frame and view problems from multiple perspectives simultaneously.” It requires the ability to empathize with people who aren’t like ourselves and it requires agility in order to shift from one perspective to another. I teach creativity outside of the art and design college because I believe that creativity is a necessary leadership skill for the 21st century and it shouldn’t be the sole property of artists. And because this is my mission, I must believe that people can not only be taught to be creative, but be taught to lead. Continue reading “Repost: Are Leaders Born or Made?”