Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Maeda The Art of Leadership #LSCon

Opening keynote session with John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design. I’m at Learning Solutions in Orlando today – hosted by the eLearning Guild.  Forgive typos and poor grammar!

The Art of Leadership

Maeda was tenured faculty at MIT – professor by day, student by night as he got an MBA.  And then four years ago he became college president with no training! So he bought books. And now he’s been learning about art and design.

Four things he’ll talk about today in regards to leadership: build from foundations, craft the team, sense actively, fail productively.

Build from Foundations:

Get your hands dirty. Artists are dirty – covered in chalk and paint. For the first year at RISD the goal is to break these artists down so they can learn to see again – stop drawing the buildings, but just drawing the shapes – the essence of what you’re really seeing…and not what you’re seeing in your mind.  This helps you get to the WHY of why you’re doing something.

Hilary Austen, Artistry Unleashed (a book) – case study of how artists think and takes apart 3 zones of knowledge:

  • Directional Knowledge (Identity): I’m an artist, a programmer. A sense of what I want to be.
  • Conceptual Knowledge (The How): I’m going to learn and make sense of this. Gather the skills and get the concepts.
  • Experiential Knowledge (Doing): Get my hands dirty and figure it out.

This stream of learning is mastery. And as you’re doing, you start changing your conceptual knowledge - “hey that’s not how it really works.” And then you change your identity - “I’m not that kind of artist; i’m this kind.” This is the lifetime pursuit of excellence.

Craft the Team:

Great teams can enable; bad teams disable.

In Japan – these wooden buildings have been standing for thousands of years…how is that possible? Choosing the right materials – they went to the mountain and took trees from the north side of the mountain to build the north facing walls, etc.

Choose the right materials.

Your materials are your people.

How do you get individuals to work as a team? It’s the fundamental question and it’s a hard thing to do.

“There’s a WE in WELCOME.” Human power of welcoming people – it’s not coming through dialogue boxes or hashtags. It’s coming from people.

Most leaders use “we”.

Marshall Ganz – no books, works at Harvard, has YouTube Videos you can look for that talk about this  – simple principles of leadership based on common sense and the wisdom of the ancients – think of it as a spiral with three parts:

  • Every leader leads through the stories that they tell. Through stories that move you through action. You will only act if you engage. Engage is not normal – you have to get out of autopilot.
  • The story of self – who am I, where do I come from.
  • The story of us – who are we and how are we connected and similar.
  • The story of now – the world has changed; we have to work together to make a difference.

Every leader that is successful follows this pattern. Leaders need these stories because they’re usually leading a change. Leaders aren’t necessary if change isn’t needed. If everything is certain, you don’t need leaders. You need leaders in times of uncertainty.

Individuals can’t hear you unless they can feel you.

Sense Actively:

Artists are always doing the wrong things at the right now. They’re trying things.

Flying kites – the only time you can see the wind. Artists fly kites.

The wind (the forces of change today that we can’t see):

  • He shows a chart of earnings and income vs. cost of medical and college costs. 
  • The monopoly on information is being disrupted…times are uncertain…we need leaders.
  • Organizations and hierarchy – this is being disrupted. It’s awkward because everyone can talk to everyone. This is terrible for those who are happy at the top. It’s morphing into a network – and it’s disorganized and feels a bit odd.  And it’s a trans-organization network – you can friend your competitor (you know what they’re doing and what they’re eating!).

Fail Productively:

Leaders are often challenged to listen when the listening is hard. Leaders are often connecting people – they hope to make connections between people.

Leadership = Traditional Leadership and Creative Leadership

  • symbol of authority vs. symbol of inspiration
  • yes or no vs. maybe (comfortable with ambiguity)

Ben Horowitz’s blog.  The secret of a CEO is to never tell anyone you’re having a psychological meltdown. “If you manage a team of 10 people, it’s quite possible to do so with very few mistakes or bad behaviors. If you manage an organization of many more it becomes quite impossible.”

A lot of leaders are used to

Redesigning Leadership (book by John Maeda and Becky Bermont) – chronicles first two years of being president of a college.

Humanity and Technology

The disruption of TVs, computers, mobile (a tv on your face…)

Technology realizes progress at light speed…electrons travel at light speed; people don’t.

Technology…delivery text, images, music, movies…there’s a pattern across CD ROMS to browsers to phones…we’re kind of stuck in this loop now.

Design = making solutions; Art = making questions

Artists ask why..why not? It’s not about auto-pilot…

VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) – characterizes how we feel now. It’s sounds scary, but we can work with it with a different VUCA (Visioning, Understanding, Clarity, Agility). This is the antidote to the now. Building common understanding.


Art and science are merging again. Scientists are inspired by artists.

Design makes something desirable. It makes you want it.  (Think Apple products!)

Turning STEM into STEAM – adding the arts back into science.  Bringing the left and right brain together.  (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)