Some months back I was asked to consider a handful of ways of being that help me do what I do as a futures-facing designer, product innovator, and creative technologist. Here is what I offered in reponse.
1. Look at the world with wonder and amazement
Olympic gold medalist Dick Fosbury looked at the high jump bar a bit sideways. Imagine him cocking his head sideways, looking around at the other athletes training, and muttering, “Right, let’s try this one backwards…” And then, the Fosbury Flop came into being. How odd it must have seemed at the time, as odd as it would be today to see someone jump the high bar forwards, scissor-kick style. Look at the world with wonder and amazement at its potential to be what you see it as, especially if it is other than what is expected. Every so often, see the world like a Dick Fosbury. (That’s what it is to be a futures-oriented designer.)
2. Be the optimistic contrarian
Challenging prevailing assumptions is a skill. It’s far too easy to be a nay-saying, cynical pessimist. And it’s a trap to be an overly optimistic ‘yes person’ going along with the consensus (or the mob). It’s much more difficult to see the line that shows you multiple simultaneous perspectives. I prefer to constructively question spoken and unspoken assumptions while simultaneously holding tight to enthusiasm and positivity. That’s the way of the optimistic contrarian.
3. Learn to embrace the peculiar and unanticipated
We had wheels. We had luggage. Why the heck did it take so long for wheels on luggage to make sense? It’s hard to see beyond your own nose, to peer around the status quo. I remind myself of this when imagining possible futures, particularly when my mind is trying to stop me from seeing peculiar and unexpected alternatives.
4. Avoid The Tragedy of Lost Dreams
Red Alert. There’s tragedy that comes from ignoring your dreams. More money or a fancier title may seem more tangible, but this bartering is between you and the shadow at the edge of a bitter darkness. It will result in confusion, disgruntlement, loneliness, and missing out on the opportunities that matter most. Creatives are incentivized to sacrifice their most valuable assets – their unique ability to translate the imagination into expressive, meaning-rich forms that can yield beautiful, unanticipated things. It’s a trade. Something is given away, not least of which is the invaluable opportunity to follow your curiosities to unexpected outcomes.
5. Question what it means to ‘act your age’
It’s so easy to grow old. All you have to do is wake up every morning and decide not to explore something truly new. (Or think of and refer to yourself as a grumpy old person, stuck in their ways. That’s a slippery slope. It’s also a decision one makes.) As soon as I feel a kind of cynicism well up in my noggin, particularly when I come across something I either don’t understand or think I know all too well, or feel a tinge of that incredibly powerful shame reaction for not already knowing the reference or technology or moment from history, I take a beat and embrace the situation and imagine that I know nothing at all. (It has been anything and everything, from what it takes to mail stuff to Malaysia to CoreBluetooth on iOS, particularly after 8 years building a product brand and company, largely on my own.) Embracing a sense of curiosity about even the most banal things makes the wider world, beyond the mundane, full of exquisite potential. Asking questions like everything was new to you and you are no longer expected to already know everything gives you license to embrace the beauty of confusion, wonderment and learning.