I’ve been spending nearly half my time in Philadelphia over the past while, and I just happened to have a spare Saturday yesterday, so I hightailed it downtown. I had two objectives – to explore the Museum of Art and to attend a Brahms concert by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. One of the featured exhibitions in the adjacent Perelman Building caught my eye. It’s named, Work on What You Love: Bruce Mau Rethinking Design. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I certainly hadn’t heard of Bruce Mau before, but I am always interested in design and design methods.
The gallery is essentially laid out to be controversial, to challenge one’s status quo thinking. In a video, Mau says, “practically everything that we do is being designed or redesigned; if you think about the way that we live now our life from womb to tomb is a design experience. If we want a great life experience you have to design it.” Mau goes on to say his work is focused on allowing people who aren’t designers to have access to the power of design, in their life, their work, in their business. Giving people the tools to design their future in a highly positive way.
Almost at the door of the gallery is a huge exhibit detailing his “incomplete manifesto for growth”. And the manifesto principles look like a superset of the Agile development manifesto, but writ large, with vastly greater ambition. First there are 43 principles. What! I say to myself, how can that many principles be useful? But of course once you start reading you are hooked. The Agile principles are embedded, but there’s much more. Let me give you a taster:
1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it.
5. Go deep. The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
8. Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
9. Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
13. Slow down. Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
20. Be careful to take risks. Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
22. Make your own tools. Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
29. Think with your mind. Forget technology. Creativity is not device–dependent.
31. Don’t borrow money. Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms. Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces—what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.”
41. Laugh. People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
These are just a sample. You get the idea. This is Agile for the real world. For those people that are stuck in the zone of religious adherence to Agile development methods this may be anathema. But it’s a wakeup call. Invent your own.
The complete list and much more . . .
Work on What You Love: Bruce Mau Rethinking Design
November 21, 2015 – April 3, 2016
AFTERWORD: I wonder to what extent these principles map to a variety of design disciplines? In fact surely all design disciplines are creative processes. Would this include musical composition? I see no reason why not.