John Maeda

Image taken from Fast company

Lately, my research has been focusing on the people, the artists, the humans behind the many subjects, which have been moving my mind cogs. I have recently been looking at a lot of John Maeda,president of the Rhode Island School of Design. I was hooked when I read a write up on him on the great discontent site, where he said many great things that resonated with me, one of them being:

The world kept changing and people kept saying to me, “Don’t worry about money. You’re a creative person; you shouldn’t have to worry about that.” That worried me. I wasn’t sure what they were saying to me, so I went back to school to earn my MBA in order to understand money and not be afraid of it.

I felt Maeda was expressing something that had really determined my previously traveled path. My Steiner education, had rooted my artistic outlook on life. Waldorf schools are known as ‘arty’ schools and it always bothered me that people often looked at art as being a disability when it comes to creating a career for yourself. However, Waldorf had taught me early in life that everything was an artistic task. I was very lucky to have been taught to infuse craftsmanship, artistry and self-mastery into every task I had done. I have recently recognized, similarities in Paulo Frere’s Pedagogy of the Opressed, as well as Nosakhere Griffin-EL’s research on the colours of dreaming.

Unfortunately,  after leaving Waldorf, I had quickly been convinced by the worlds anti-dreamers that, I had to pursue something I wasn’t interested in to make something of myself, in other words – you can’t be a creative and make money, similar to what Maeda, states above. Much like Maeda, I applied to study a BCom in accounting, because I believed it would make me “successful” at this game society had set up. Luckily, I came to my senses early in this journey and left the degree after a year of boredom.  After chatting to Nosakhere, about his work on dreaming, I am gratefully re-establishing this outlook and I find myself closely relating his research on dreaming, with what I was taught at Waldorf.

I like to say that creative people are confident in only one thing: their own doubt. I think there’s a huge lack of self-confidence in a creative person because, by nature, the definition of a creative person is someone who is trying to make something new. They know, if they are professional creatives, that the likelihood of doing that—making something new and significant—is hugely unlikely, so they build within that city of doubt. From doubt, they get to iterate and work extremely hard, hoping to find something new; it’s all about hope. I’ve never met anyone who is good at what they do creatively and is super-confident.

I can honestly, say that doubt has played a large role at destroying most of my potential work. I am still working at the iterative process, where I let go of my self-judging self, or not give in to it – it has always managed to drop in and believe that it is saving the day. I have recently been dealing with this issue with my work with Ownpower; luckily, my need to prove my brother wrong has saved me from giving up and I am discovering how helpful iteration is in this context.

Besides these points that John Maeda talks about, where Maeda really holds my attention; is his clear communication around art being a conduit toward human needs and perception and how it relates to leadership.

Art is about asking questions, which is a good way of looking at how to solve a problem. I like to apply how artists think to look at how to improve design, technology…and now leadership.

Maeda, has infused hope in me, he recognises a strong connection between art and management, two areas that many regard as even less linked than the recent coming together of design and management. At least in “design thinking” and ethnography, there’s a more practical, commercial context than in painting or performance. Maeda states that the leaders comfortable position has eroded a bit, before leaders needed to have the ability to function in a hieracy; but now, we need leaders who also understand that heterarchies are emerging – therefore, to understand both, you have to be creative, Maeda argues that, the way artists think can be more valuable than traditional management approaches.

Maeda (2012) predicts that future art-school grads may not make art or objects, but instead make or remake organizations. However, to comprehend the artistic process as a management strategy they may need an art education, not because art is a mysterious endeavor but because notions of “creativity” at work have typically been misinterpreted into cartoonish, childish directions. Maeda states that creativity needs to be relearned for maximum effectiveness as part of a business’ innovation culture.

In the business world, many people believe creativity is all about filling office spaces with red bean bag chairs, squishy balls, and colorful markers—kid stuff. People have the odd belief that creativity is a shortcut. That it’s easy. Creativity is an arduous process, one that forces you to be open and think imaginatively. That’s what many businesses want to do. And that’s what artists do.

Maeda’s 2012 TED talk, focused on clarifying the relationship between leadership and art, where he describes his pathway and how he has come to make these connections. Maeda goes on to say, “Tech makes possibilities, design makes solutions, art makes questions, leadership makes actions,” summing up the relationship between these disciplines. Similarly,  Andy Warhol’s famous quote:

Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art… good business is the best art.

also draws on this connection. When business is regarded as an artistic endeavor, it has the same potential as an art piece to challenge and impact every aspect of our lives. It has the ability to win and hold the public’s interest, just as any art form does, a business must be practically, well executed, as well as imaginative and engaging at the same time.

I’ll conclude with a quote from John Maeda :

We seem to forget that innovation doesn’t just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience.

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