Michael Wolff on Design: Empathy is Your Superpower

In this video from 99U, designer Michael Wolff talks about how "past experience" is not his friend, quotes Maya Angelou about what makes for lasting impressions, and dishes on about how "design can be an agreement system among designers."

In my judgement, the last point was much on the mind of architect Lance Hosey last September when he spoke at the IdeaFestival.

Because designers tend to know a "great deal about very little and very little about a great deal," Wolff believes empathy - the capacity to feel something toward the object of one's thinking - is the key to great design. I was particularly interested in his comments about corporate and business expression. In what struck me as honest bewilderment, he says "he's never understood any boardroom he's ever been in." And written corporate communication isn't meant, in his view, to be expressive or to be read.

"It's meant to be approved." That's hardly the way to connect emotionally with buyers.

Give the video a look. You won't want to miss designer and visual essayist Debbie Millman, who will be one of the IdeaFestival 2014 speakers! Festival Passes at the Early Bird rate of $350 will be available only through April 27.

Stay curious.


Don't Be the Jackass Whisperer

Found today while skimming the news deposited in my feed reader, this important public service announcement on creativity and innovation from Brene Brown was too good to pass up:

Don't try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.

At the IdeaFestival, we talk a lot about the importance of thinking laterally and its relationship to innovation. One just never knows when and where an idea will originate, and it's important for the mental attic to be well stocked. That's why speakers as diverse as Claudia Hammond, Lee Billings, Jason Felts, Debbie Millman, Steve Pemberton any many, many more soon to be announced will appear at IdeaFestival 2014.

The effect is cumulative. And we often hear stories about unexpected connections made over a three or four day period. In fact, some people have been inspired to do some truly bizarre things, like get rid of cable.

But away from the IdeaFestival where the hard work of realizing your vision will inevitably takes place, it's important to remember that there will always be people who think you're nuts, a fool, a crackpot. And you may be nuts, a fool, a crackpot. But here's the genius of the Brene Brown quote, and it goes to the beating heart of any truly original idea.

The critics don't know that now.

If you're fortunate to find people who understand your business idea or creative project, great! You will need allies and friends along the way. But if others simply can't wrap their heads around your goals, don't sweat it. They'll be back if and when you succeed.

Be nice. In the meantime, stay curious.


Peter Sims' image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Even Generals and Senators Stumble into Passion

In the weeks since Cosmos returned to our television sets, I have run across a variation of the following question from frustrated humanities professors. I thought I'd share it with you now.

Where is the Neil DeGrasse Tyson for the liberal arts?

Cosmos is a hit, again. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a pop science star. Thanks to him, kids dream about expanding human knowledge of the phenomenal universe. Now: Where's a liberal arts rockstar to make people care about human culture that much?

And later in the same piece at Gawker on the need for such a spokesperson:

The humanities breed curiosity. A certain epistemological humility. And as a result, empathy. Language matters. Stories matter. Art matters. History matters.

Because it offers us an unfiltered and accurate take on reality, science (and its Cosmos cover man, seemingly) offers us reassurance in the face of the unimaginable. As such, science's epistemological privilege is secure, even when the work is incomplete. Standards of repeatability and falsifiability that apply now will apply in the future.

The inherited mysteries of the human race, on the other hand, admit no such resolution. For reasons that are now and may forever be immune to scientific method, each of us enjoys a first-person, self-referential view of the world. One of the many consequences of this state of affairs is that faced with the unimaginable, the mind can only point and suggest a metaphor.

Something like that happened there.

The good news is that we're all working from inside the same flawed chemistry. With such a low anthropology, we're all spokespersons. Read the last two sentences in this otherwise stirring passage from a The New Republic piece and see if you don't agree.

The humanities are thriving, but not in the academy. Homo sapiens has always hungered for story and song. We are narrative and rhythmical creatures. Music and rhythmical language awaken our intelligence, as has been observed since Aristotle. We construe our meanings through plot: Who dunnit? Why? What happened next? And we sift our meanings—often the meanings we can hardly articulate abstractly—through song, poetry, images. Why else would we be glued to our screens, large and small, following the adventures of endless fictional characters, whether in video games or films, and why else would we mosey through the streets with digitized music and delirious rhymes flooding through our earphones? We hunger to make sense of our experience, we hunger to understand right and wrong, we hunger to name and plumb our feelings, whose intensities often blindside and bewilder us. Even generals and senators stumble into passion. We have not stopped being human, so we still need 'the humanities.'”

Please remember, IdeaFestival 2014 Festival Passes are on sale now through April 27 at the lowest price they'll be all year. I hope to see you in October!

Stay curious.


Cropped Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Sarah Elliott

"IdeaFestival Uncut:" Watch Full-Length Speaker Videos

Because it goes to the beating heart of online media, I found "Manipuated for the Greater Good," a post on Andrew Sullivan's blog about the meteoric rise of the web site Upworthy, utterly fascinating.

For those of you who don't know, the site monitors, culls and publishes hugely popular content about "topics that matter," what Sullivan describes skeptically as "evergreen ideas," nothing but "standards like 'Human rights are a good thing' and 'Children should be taken care of.'" Along the way, Upworthy has honed a writing process that churns out headlines that are both attention-grabbing and widely mimicked.

If, like me, your work involves writing for the online world, chances are you've read some of the hundreds of articles on writing clickworthy headlines. XKCD brilliantly parodies the practice by rewriting several famous - and infamous - 20th Century moments in a manner that will be instantly recognizable to virtually anyone that reads anything on the web.

Since the click-through became the measure of relevance because of its easily monetized relationship to advertising, I've often wondered about the gimmicks used to attract online attention. Some, like Sullivan, are asking serious questions about this development: does sharing really equal engagement? Has interestingness become a substitute for depth? Have we become hooked on distraction?

I don't have good answers to those questions. But I do know that we find what we measure, that interesting things come from people interested in things, that intelligence is marked by an openness to experience, and that meaningful creativity often takes time and always needs a well-stocked attic.

The IdeaFestival recently released its first full-length speaker videos. Called "IdeaFestival Uncut," I think you'll find them worth your time. In the video posted here, ecologist, writer, artist, and expert on adaptation, Rafe Sagarin, discusses adaptability and its power in an unpredictable world at IdeaFestival 2013.

I invite you to be still.


Limited Early Bird 2014 Festival Passes Available Now!

We are pleased to announce that 2014 IdeaFestival Festival Passes are currently on sale at the Early-Bird rate of only $350. Limited quantities are available now through April 27th at 11:59pm.

IdeaFestival 2014 is shaping up once again to bring you world class presenters, sessions and affiliate events  that will keep you curious, provide you with new tools, connections and a growing IF community to help you think disruptively about life, work and play!

If you need some motivation to act quickly, here’s a sneak peek at a few of our confirmed presenters for this year’s event.

Get your Festival Pass today and don’t forget to add on Thrivals and IF Water tickets, too! We look forward to seeing you in Louisville in September. Until then,

Stay Curious.

Kris Kimel

Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

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