Leveraging their experience as influential members of the Rhode Island School of Design, John Maeda and Becky Bermont (VP of Media at RISD) have been lecturing, tweeting, and writing about leadership. John Maeda has developed 6 principles to help grow artists to become competent business leaders and also assist business leaders in borrowing artistic strategies. When he gave his Creative Mornings talk at Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space, he fleshed out these principles, Redesigning Leadership, a follow-up to his previous work Laws of Simplicity. According to Soulellis:
One can see that these mantras were written as guiding principles for educators or corporate executives who want to learn from artists and lead more creatively. But this is obviously a valuable and inspiring list for any kind of design professional or anyone engaged with creative growth.
Let’s go through the principles to outline the importance of Maeda’s leadership philosophy. Rather than regurgitate John Maeda’s ideas, this post will strive to digest them:
1. Build From Foundations: Even when the end-goal of the artist is to distance themselves from touching their work, Maeda wants to emphasize the need for core skills like sketching, drawing, and having a rigorous eye for studying raw information. This is less about using ‘old school’ design techniques and more about refining and having a method informed by experimentation and the availability of viable options. Having a foundation enables the individual to communicate across cultural barriers and feeds back to enrich a given discipline and its experts.
2. Craft The Team: Maeda is not known for hiding. In fact, Shanghai Daily asserts that he, as president of RISD, is repeatedly willing to work at the school’s cafeteria or helping new students with their luggage. His willingness to expose himself to different people to develop a better idea of what is being experienced by others. Thus, Maeda not only promotes the idea of collaborating and forming a group of specialists to tackle a problem, but he also wants us to get out of our shells to understand how our decisions influence groups of people that we have little to no interaction with.
3. Sense Actively: Sensitivity is important in a fast-changing, hyper-networked world. Sensing actively deepens the quality of our engagement with ourselves and others, making us more aware of our feelings, the details, and context we are walking into. For leaders shouldering responsibility, it forms an emotional bond that fosters an environment of inclusivity and openness.
4. Take Leaps: The image shown above is Patti Brennan’s Hierarchy of Imagination.
Artists take risks by manipulating and questioning why things are done the way they are. The leaps rely largely on their responses to these questions. The overarching point is that while leaders have great problem solving skills and good instincts, they can learn from artists by following their example to find good ideas in completely unstructured environments, activating the imagination, and improving their ability to join ideas. Imagination and creativity come less naturally to business leaders than elements further down the pyramid.
5. Fail Productively: This principle is simple. It points to the importance of rebounding quickly from loss, anticipating failure without the deterioration of determination, and learning from mishaps. This attitude towards failure creates a resilient vision that enables leaders to stay focused on their objectives and hold a strong team together.
6. Grow From Critique: Good criticism feeds growth and confidence. Having foundational principles helps leaders have an easier time dealing with criticism as it gives them intellectual support, especially when the specific manifestations or executions do not work as planned. As Maeda said himself, “the shortest communication path between two people is straight talk” and leaders are masters of growing from criticism.