A Leader on Teamwork, Credit, & Anonymity

March 13, 2012

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” – unknown

There’s a simple honesty inherent in that quote. It applies to 3rd graders as it applies to adults. It applies to business and the workplace as it does to sports and politics and education and seemingly everything else in life.

It’s a nugget of wisdom that has stood the test of time.

A line that many of us were taught at one point growing up, and one that many of us have forgotten along the way.

It feels wrong to give credit for what appears to be an almost universal truth — especially when giving credit goes against the spirit of the quote itself — but apparently that was said in these words by Harry S. Truman, 32nd president of the United States. But it reads better attributed to ‘unknown’, doesn’t it.

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An American Icon on Succinct & Simple Design

September 16, 2011

His words rocked.

If I’d had the time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

Mark Twain  (1835-1910)

When a good quote starts appearing again and again in your life, you got to honor it. Got to. We’ll leave it at that.


Design/Strategy Conf. 2011: In Their Own Words

June 1, 2011

A few weeks back I attended the Design/Strategy conference, put on by the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. Overall it was a solid lineup. A quirky and broad range of speakers, discussing the cross-sections of design, strategy and business. Rather than try to sum it up myself, below are some of the more memorable and inspirational quotes I captured from the two-day affair. Read and absorb. Read and absorb.

(Photo not of the actual conference. But it looked similar, I promise.)

“Design research:  how to know
Design thinking:  what to do
Design skills:  how to do it
Design Awareness:  how to choose”  – Bill Moggridge, director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

“All of our systems that work have been designed and proven for a stable world. Now the world is more dynamic and shifting. The frame is constantly changing… The amount of relearning that each of us have to do today is stunning — the half-life of many skills are 5 years…  Learning is a play between context and content: How do I make this strange new idea familiar?… Now, increasingly, we cultivate, we don’t teach.”  “Let me alter the music of a film and I can alter not only its meaning but also what you can actually see.”  -John Seely Brown, visiting scholar and adviser to the Provost at University of Southern California   

“Form is disappearing. Look at all the mobile phones, they look similar. TVs are the same way. The focus has shifted to the UI.”  -Kun-Pyo Lee, head of the Corporate Design Center and EVP at LG Electronics in Seoul, Korea

“Don’t despair, once the Flintstones understood that the pelicans could mix cement, then they understood innovation.”  “Complexity is the number of independent variables behaving independently in a predictable way.  And design is a special vitamin, which taken daily helps with complexity.”  -Jim Hackett, president and CEO of Steelcase, Inc.

“Your best ideas are the worst. Your actual prototypes will make you feel like that… In tech, know your first release is not a final product, just a hi-fi prototype.”  “You have a brilliant idea every day. If there’s no process to channel those ideas, you have a problem.” – Guillermo Krovblit, co-founder of Peapod Labs

“3-D printers mark the beginning of a change where goods aren’t so scarce, its the design of the goods that are.”  “[These days] built to last means built to change.” – told to him by ‘a writer’  “We are trending away from hoarding towards sharing.”  – Chris Meyer, founder of Monitor Talent, entrepreneur, executive, consultant, author, and leader of a think tank

The conference's home: the incredible Spertus institute in Chi-town.

“What we need to teach is passion with purpose.  Our school system is missing this… One of the best ways of learning is to own the learning.”  -Neeru Khosia, co-founder and executive director of CK-12 Foundation

“In the future it will not be important where product is produced. What will be important is who are the customers and where they are.” “Of 6.3 million college graduations in 2010 in China, 136,900 were from the design field. 9630 grads were from 1125 industrial design programs.” -Jun Cai, a leading design educator and researcher in China

“Design of course is this wondrous, rich, ambiguous, hard-to-figure-out kind of thing… Design happens at the intersection of possibilities, constraints and uncertainties.”  –Jeanne Liedtka, professor of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia

“The more value we create [for the 4 billion people in poverty] at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’/our customers, the more we create for ourselves. We can’t just think about building ventures, we have to think about the ecosystem around these things.”  –Ted London, research fellow at the William Davidson Institute & faculty member of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

“If your ambition is not much higher than your resources, you will not succeed.”  (referring to entrepreneurs in poverty in India)  “Success [in design & business] rests on insights, a blend of logic of observation. Not just intuition.”  – Jamshyd Godrej, chairman of the board of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company

“There are emerging trends from our speakers. 1) The problems are tougher than every before. 2) Analysis and Synthesis are fusing.” “Analysis is what you should’ve done beforehand had you known what you know last year.”  – Larry Keeley, design strategist and president and co-founder of Doblin Inc.


Quote Me: Insight from a Man with a Moustache

April 15, 2011

A piece of art.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”

Marcel Proust (French “essayist”, 1871-1922)

First things first. Happy Tax Day, America.

I had thrown this quote into a presentation a while back, and was reminded about it the other night when reading through Bill Buxton’s Sketching User Experiences. A fine read, about design and innovation, the technology development process, and the importance of sketching in any creative work. It’s loaded with wisdom, engaging anecdotes, and fine visuals. And a unique writing style, a rare combination of academic and grounded… cocktail party talk. Sort of like talking with a professor you think is cool but you aren’t completely sold yet… you think you like him, you’re mostly picking up what he’s putting down. And as far as non-fiction goes, it actually makes for decent beside reading.

Anyways, back to the quote. Good quote. Read it again.


Life’s Easy in the Sunshine State

March 23, 2011

A recent trip to sunny south Florida unveiled a surprising number of simple-yet-effective designs scattered throughout the region. Maybe it’s part of an effort to cater to the high proportion of Florida residents who are elderly (a huge theme of 21st century design). Maybe it’s because many of Florida’s neighborhoods are so new and shiny, not bogged down by the old conventions and standards that other dense urban areas suffer from. Maybe the state is quietly harboring a large number of crafty designers — drawn south to the tropical climate. Whatever the reason, good work Florida. You’ve reminded us that its not always the knock-out designs that improve our world, that sometimes getting the basics right is most important of all.

Let’s start with my absolute favorite: a standing shower where the knob is actually in a logical place. Where you can turn the water on and control flow and temperature without getting wet. No more turning on the water on one side of the curtain and getting in the other side. No more awkwardly craning your naked body to dodge the water that may be too cold or too hot (It’s okay, we’ve all done that). It’s a shower that’s designed for showering. Beautiful.

Staying with the bathroom theme, this Florida bathroom had two doors, one that opens to the house and one to the outside. I scratched my head on this one for a while. Then I realized it’s Florida. It’s always nice out. There are patios and pools for entertaining. Bathrooms that may need to be accessed by guests. People in beach towels. Guests who you might not want to trek through the rest of your house. Sensible.

These parking space numbers on a coastal stretch in Palm Beach were labeled next to the car as opposed to painted under the car on the space itself.  So you could read them once parked. Smart.

“Beaches… THAT way.” I’m told, when crusing down I-95 on a sunny Saturday. Some highway signs understand their audience (as seen on other coastal freeways). Always refreshing.

Then there’s the Sun-Pass: a digital highway pass that beeps back at you when it’s been read by the toll sensors, as opposed to doing nothing at all. That’s called feedback, that’s a good thing. It’s still an ugly gray box stuck on the inside windshield, but at least it communicates. No more speeding through the toll-booth wondering whether you’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail in five to eight weeks. Hear the beep, know you’ve paid your toll, rest easy.

And of course, rocking chairs strategically placed in a waiting areas are always a win. As I’ve called out before. Works just as well as on the front porch. The ones pictured here were found in a South Beach hotel lobby.

Rock on, South Florida.

Rock. On.


“This bag is not a toy” – a poem

December 8, 2010

— This Bag is Not a Toy —

This garbage bag has a note
A warning sign of sorts
It tells of danger and reminds us well
That it’s just a bag of course

Its printed twice, down the side
Trying to play on fear
In us the manufacturers confide
that there are dangers looming here

And let me ask, what little girl or boy
that came across this plastic thing
would mistake it for a toy?
(There’s not even a built-in draw-string)

Those special few to which it might look fun
I’d guess are too young to read
So the note is likely for adults
a point I will concede

Still it seems a bit overboard
A waste of ink at best
How ‘bout simply: “Keep away from kids”
And getting rid of the rest?

Just to be clear to those reading on
I’m not against safety
Just think we should pick & choose our words
I’d think most would agree

So I say, it’s silly sign
But just to make a splash
I thought I’d write it all out in rhyme.
Okay, time to take out the trash (seriously)

[Author’s note: please excuse the highly unconventional ABCB, ABAB (x3), ABCB (x2), ABAB format]


Pushing Buttons in Odd Places

June 9, 2010

Few things command attention like the Big Red Button.

Throughout modern civilization, red buttons have generally communicated one of a few things, depending on who you ask. “Press in Case of Emergency”, “Press to Stop”, or “Don’t Press! (but if you do, you can be damn sure something’s going to happen)”.  But unless you work in a nuclear power plant, regularly operate heavy machinery, or are an elevator attendant, you probably don’t run into these very often.

Yet here’s one in the strangest of locations; a Citibank ATM, next to the door, actually controlling the door. Obviously (as I’m sure you guessed) it’s a trap… as this one seems to say “Press to Exit and Let us Record How Tall You Are”. Note the inconspicuous tape measure.

It’s a crafty yet unsettling ploy that seems out-of-place in Chicago’s uppity Gold Coast neighborhood. Was this ATM a frequent target for robberies because of all the big spenders in the area? Did something horrible happen here? Do I feel safer or less safe now? Are they recording my height to better target me as a potential new customer for a future ‘Join Citibank’ marketing campaign?

These are the questions I found myself pondering as I stood in front of that door, my wallet full of cash, eyeing that big red button.

The design lesson here — don’t mess with classic design conventions.

But the real lesson — as always — use your own bank’s ATMs.