Many years ago, for a bed design I created, I commissioned a sketch from an industrial designer and RISD grad Erik Askin. I told him of my inspirations and guiding principles, and he made some great suggestions about its structural integrity.
Cut to many years later when I found Green Piece Furniture, on Treasure Island, to work with me on its manufacture. The founder, Nick, developed a schematic drawing based on Erik's sketch. I visited his workshop a few times to see the work in progress, and to document the process of molding the plywood and adding the walnut veneer.
Now that I have been sleeping on the v1 prototype since Summer 2016, and enjoy its smooth lines, I already have ideas about the v2... I’d be delighted to talk with a wholesaler about mass manufacture, wink.
for your vast capacity
will the work of good
This year I worked for nine months inside a startup at IBM called the Bluemix Garage. It’s a global team of people in strategy, sales, product design, systems architecture, and engineering, and together with its clients, the Garage solves problems for startups and enterprise businesses alike using IBM’s Design Thinking.
You might be asking yourself (like I initially did), How is it that IBM can have a startup? How is IBM’s version of design thinking different from anyone else’s? What do those terms mean, and what do you actually do? These are important questions about place, product, and people – and I’m glad you asked!
Garages, culturally, are the near-mythical origin spaces where prototypes are made. Factually, it’s where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard banded $538 together to make HP’s first product. As a child, it’s where I assembled my seventh grade science class foam diorama of a cell; it’s where my Dad kept his gardening tools, and where my brother and I kept our muddy boots. It’s a place where you can get dirty without too much impact on your cleaner surroundings, where it’s okay if raw materials drip onto the floor.
This was the baseline at the Garage: rolling up your sleeves is routine, experimentation is unexceptional, and the pressure of getting it right is released. In that context, there was no failure – just endless opportunities to tinker, revise, learn, and improve.
And it’s why client engagements started with a workshop: everybody does the work together, and everyone worked on the same thing at the same time. The doing the work part was sometimes new for C-suite clients, since it’s different from delegating the work. Agendas are tight, time is short, and there’s a lot packed in.
Bluemix is the result of IBM applying its own design thinking tools to its product suite. (I tip my hat to the naming steward who drew a branded parallel between the B and M of Business Machines with that of blue [IBM’s corporate color] and mix [the ability for the product to be reconfigurable].) Bluemix a cloud-based computing platform-as-a-service: customers use only the apps and services they need, with instant access to an enormous library of features and functions; the entire platform has tremendous capacity, particularly for scalability.
With Bluemix, any size business can harness enterprise-level computing power – much in the same way design workshops democratize participation from all levels of an organization. When I left the Garage, there were plans to scale from six locations to eight, and we were only two years in.
In order to yield maximum throughput of workshops, some mental preparation was necessary. While at the Garage, I developed these ground rules, shared with clients in advance of getting together in person:
- Take off your judgy pants; put on your partici-pants. Everyone’s ideas are welcomed and heard; everyone contributes to the workshop equally. There are no bad ideas, no silly questions. The stance is yes, and – to keep opening and exploring – rather than no, but.
- Conversation is critical. We explore, unpack, ideate, diverge, and converge – all using conversation. Come prepared to have an engaging dialogue, with active listening & participation.
- Focus for flow. With 100% attention (laptops closed, phones away), together we can achieve the state of flow – full immersion in co-creation. This is magic. And to me, it’s the most special, irreproducible aspect of the workshop experience.
- Quantity > quality. The path to genius is ten thousand unused ideas. Be open to exploration, embrace all possibility – even something that feels absurd. Remember, this is about opening.
- Simple tools focus thoughts. Thick Sharpie markers and 3" Post-Its aren’t for detail. That’s intentional, to focus thoughts on only the most essential facets of an idea.
- Switch it up. Often our clients came to us. A new working environment helps give a new context to what’s possible, and begins to open up mental pathways to creativity.
- Working with people. Working for people. People are at the center of everything. It’s empathy for the user, and for each other. We both value and model cognitive diversity, to yield the most relevant results.
- “Good design is good business.” –Thomas J. Watson, Jr., 1973. All of the Garage tools, including IBM Design Thinking, had one purpose: to help move business forward.
Although these ground rules were portable – that is, they worked anyplace the work was done – we found that a change in context and environment afforded our clients the most release from their everyday thinking, which in turn engages the garage-like mentality. Any idea that’s outside of business as usual stands to benefit most from being explored outside of business as usual.
I found that the people part of my work at the Garage was the one that required the most concentration. From balancing the energy in the room to facilitating conversation with each style of speaker, ensuring all voices are supported and heard, and integrating decision-making (or decision-makers) when necessary, people are the constant.
For 106 years, IBM has reinvented itself, its culture, and its products, in order to keep pace with progress. Just as they no longer manufacture Selectric II typewriters (which I learned to type on), and they no longer develop any products which exclude consideration of the end user, I’m confident there’ll be a future for IBM – if there’s ever a future beyond design thinking. Not many companies practicing design thinking today can claim this longevity.
On a breezy summer August evening In Manhattan, walking around Tudor Park with my Mom, a serious thought suddenly stopped her from walking.
“I’ve never seen a Tweet,” she said.
So I stopped too, and pulled out my phone to show her. “This is what it looks like on this device. It looks different on other devices — your phone, someone else’s phone, and on the web.”
We sat in a small and beautiful public park in an area of the city I’d never seen, and I conveyed, using simple terms, the differences between Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (where she is a user). I made it relatable: “If Gucci has 10 million followers on Instagram, how might they use Instagram to share…”
“The fall looks!” she erupted, catching on. “There goes catalogs.”
The next morning, I received an email entirely written in the subject line:
hi. trip home was uneventful. what a pleasure living here! 2 seconds to the train, taxis are available all nite long. very civilized. tonite was delightful, and i thank you again for a yummy dinner and great conversation. i really do hope you enjoy this coming weekend. please make sure to kiss jordan and the butchkalas for me and tell them how much i love them and miss them. safe drive down and back. looked up gazpacho recipe which i haven’t made in years and forgot how easy and appropriate it is for the summer. thanks for the suggestion. mommy wuvs you. xoxo
Today my Dad and I drove from New York to Washington, DC. About five hours of drive time, on a circuitous route he preferred, avoiding all major highways and cities between the two metropolitan areas. (I met him in Irvington and we took 287 > 78 > lunch at a Jamaican place in Harrisburg > 15 > 270, if you’re curious.)
Along the route, I saw only three signs I should have stopped to photograph.
A few times he pointed, slowly, gesturally, with his right hand, as if controlled like a marionette of childhood desire. Occasionally these gestures were accompanied by exhortation: “Dairy Queen!” — pronounced with just enough time to slow down without accident as the driver of his Subaru. And occasionally these gestures were silent.
We stopped at a farm on route 15 that had great signage — great enough to entice us off the main road. Every few hundred feet there were serial messages attached to rusty bikes, leaning against miles of corn. So we bought corn, a dozen heirloom tomatoes all of the same size (lasagna on the menu tomorrow night), and sadly, too few deliciously drippy peaches.
We talked about hip hop vs rap, and I played him a bit of Groove Theory and then a bit of Tribe. We left this particular inquiry at: “Is there any rap that’s more Barbara Streisandy…?”
We talked about newspapers vs newsfeeds. Where the news gets the news (hint: it’s Twitter). He refers to everything handheld as a “gizmo.” Even: “Is there a gizmo on that... gizmo that can tell me how the market did today?” The retired stockbroker, still checking in. I fetched it from the soon-to-be-deleteable apps I keep in a folder called Crapple.
The most engaging of topics happened after lunch when he asked, during a long stretch of big puffy billowy cumulus clouds, if I thought that all our memories are stored in our brains somewhere.
“Hm,” I said aloud. “Great question… Yes, I do think all experiences are stored.”
“Well, if you think about it, DNA has four times the computing power of the ones and zeroes that power computers.”
“Ya lost me.”
“Think of it this way: if you were cooking with just salt and pepper, you’d have limited range. Although you can do a lot with it, it’s still just two options. But instead if you had access to parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme… you’d have a different order of magnitude.”
out of the tree, everywhere
hello, then nowhere
recede jet engine
for Suzanne vega
to photograph a
bird in flight is like time stopped
the moment is gone
This week I finished unpacking books I had with me since I moved to SF, and integrated them with ones that had been in storage for years. They all sit now in beautiful built-in shelves, in an upstairs fireplace’d parlor room of a 1890s victorian in the Fair Oaks neighborhood. I am happy that my books are all here.
- Biographies. No surprise, I like people. Moss Hart (my namesake). Copland, Wilde, Anderson, Bernstein, Bacon.
- Books on words. Compact OED, Handy MidEast phrases, Basque to English, The Meaning of Meaning.
- Children’s books. Including some of my own from my childhood, and others I’ve picked up.
- Old books. Cute pocket sized Shakespeare, first edition Dickens, Oscar Wilde, illuminated Salome, illuminated Rubaiyat.
- Art books. One whole shelf. Magritte, Sendak, Holzer, Sherman, Ruscha. Vernacular drawings.
- Design books. One other whole shelf. Tibor, Graphis, Millman, Pentagram.
- Zines. Lots and lots of independent publication love over the years. Non. Might. Outpost Journal. Hello Mr., Jarry, Headmaster, Gum, Encyclopedia. Lots and lots of small books which I always am drawn to.
- Fiction. Some from my childhood and other new fiction I would like to read.
- Self. Books on spirituality in art, music, listening to the universe kinda stuff.
- Business inspiration. Being nice, reworking, teams.
- Poetry. Whitman, Rumi, Wilbur, Siken, Milton, cummings.
I’d say that paints a nice portrait of who I am.
death is what it takes
artists and creators birth
ideas for living
The aww of giving: Today I got word from my ol’ roommate, K., that she received an antique butler I shipped her. When we lived together in 1999–2000, she let me borrow hers (in perpetuity) as she left for New York, knowing it wouldn’t fit into her much smaller apartment. This morning’s first text opened: “moved to actual tears.” It marked the conclusion of a 16-year-old promise I kept, one she never knew at what point it would be concluded (if she’d even recalled loaning me the thing). I loved starting the day with pictures of her kids playing with the packing material, a jacket draped over the jacket holder.
The awe of receiving: When I got to work, I checked my email and discovered that one of my old friends from back east, M., had donated $500 to my ALC ride. I was speechless! And then energized, feeling that much closer to the finish line.
a nonchalant man
not paying attention to
the puddle, splashes
nobody can make
a suicide blooper reel
we all get one shot
On Tuesday I broke ground on an important topic in a new teaching environment. It was my first (and definitely not last) teaching experience at Creative Live.
When researching for my class, Building a Brand Book: When, Why, and How, I realized that there’s no standardization of what elements go into brand standards. Certainly each company is unique, but I saw a great opportunity to establish a hierarchy of recommended content contained in a company’s brand standards, vis-à-vis the scale of the company. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been done.
Preparing for six hours of content was somewhat easy, since I’ve got a lot of case studies from my professional experience about the power of brand transformations, and how it aligns people, rekindles their passion, and is a quantitative measure of success. I talked a lot about the value of consistency and how brand standards help ensure that.
But what was new about this experience – and more of a challenge to prepare for – were the role-play conversations, and guiding the six in-studio students (pictured, top row above) about how to have them. It’s easy to recognize the signs of inconsistency, harder to do take matters into your own hands and do something about it. By the end of the class, they felt empowered, and saw how much they could do.
The most thrilling part was the reach: 2500 people live-streamed the class from all over the world. Some students hung out on CL all day. The impeccable host, Chris Jennings (holding Brand Bible, above), did an amazing job integrating their chat room comments and questions into the course content, and bringing a global perspective from designers and non-designers alike. And he did it all with a smile. Thank you, Chris, Aleza, the production team, and Creative Live!
To gain personal insights on my life over the past few years, I analyzed my time traveling between NYC, SFO, and PVD from September 2012 through last month. Even though I became a full-time San Franciscan in April 2014, it’s felt like I’ve lived here longer. I’ve been coming back and forth semi-regularly for upwards of 10 years. But June 2013 marked the first time I was in SFO nearly a full month.
The ocean says no,
no, no, no, no, no. Do not
leave your footprints here.
- Your must is a form of self-care. Doing things you must do appears to the outside world that you are being selfish. You must turn that critique off, however, and dive in.
- External critique is almost as loud as internal critique. They are both imposters.
- It’s getting easier and easier to be distracted; this comes in many forms. What’s everyone else reading / sketching / dribbbling / thinking / listening to? Sometimes this will gratefully spurn a new direction for something you’re working on, but it will likely detract from your flow. Focus your attention!
- Doing the work / showing up is the process and the project. (Surprise! Road trips aren’t just about the destination!)
- I love how thoughtful Elle was in her responses. That pause before speaking made us all pay attention.
- Being entrepreneurial, it’s easier to listen to your must, but it takes a board / advisors / friends who’ll go out with you for pancakes (but never waffle!) to keep you on track.
- Walking back to Bart with Amanda, we talked about both being lifelong learners who are constantly & consistently evolving & growing. Some people are stuck in one place, and they tend to be attracted to those whose energy feels exciting, but that can be a drain. Save some chi for yourself!
I met Lukas Volger, one of the co-founders of Jarry, at a StartOut event in New York. We talked about my old place in the Mission, and what I was doing with the beautiful meyer lemon tree in my backyard — making meyer lemon sorbet, of course, and crafting a cocktail I call the Mission Sunset (recipe below). I conveyed my appreciation for harvesting the fruit each time I’d go outside to pick. Lukas asked me if I wanted to write a piece for Jarry, and I was absolutely delighted for the opportunity.
The piece is a conversation with my favorite cooking buddy, Stephen Willson, about food, family, and being gay. You’ll have to purchase a copy of Issue #1 to read the full text!
I also Kickstarted the first issue. I’m happy to be a part of first successes.
Mission Sunset cocktail
one big ice cube in a double old-fashioned glass
add a few dashes of orange bitters, then add in:
1/3 part your brown liquor of choice (mine’s usually Maker’s)
1/3 part antica formula vermouth
finish with 1/3 part blood orange soda
twist of meyer lemon peel around the rim and in the glass
serve & enjoy!
what really gets me:
couples in supermarkets
we gave good bones
and skin within
the globe, despite
my hummingbird heart.
one center, two extremes.
two paths, twice converged.
and yet, yet now:
is my heart where
is my body