Seven (pairs of) words for newly hatched designer chicks

I love doing end of master addresses It soothes my serial dropout inferiority complex, I guess.This one’s for the 2020 class of IED Madrid’s Master in Design and Innovation, where I taught Design and Futures and tutored their enterprise project.

Have you watched The Graduate? 1967? The famous movie with Dustin Hoffman. With songs from Simon and Garfunkel. Choo chooºdoodoo choo choo… At the beginning of the film, in a party by the pool, Mr. McGuire grabs the protagonist from the arm and tells him:

— I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
— Yes, sir.
— Are you listening?
— Yes, I am.
— Plastics.
— Exactly how do you mean?
— There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

So imagine this is The Postgraduate and I am your Mr. McGuire. Only I’m going to tell you seven words. Or to be precise, seven pairs of words. And I’ll elaborate a bit.

  • One: Team up. Don’t try to grow through overcoming your weaknesses. Grow through adding your strengths to a team. Of all your many weaknesses, there’s only one, the one and only weakness that will stop you from going places: the weakness of being an unlivable asshole. If you can NOT be that asshole nobody wants to work with, and you can put together a team, then your weaknesses don’t matter anymore because you’ll always have someone having your back.
  • Two: Embrace uncertainty. Some of you may have started this master believing you were going to find “the” formula for innovation. People, if there was a formula for innovation everybody would be using it and then it wouldn’t be innovation, duh! You probably may have a couple grudges against the school, and one or two may come from good reasons. But if when seeking advice you received three opinions from two different professors, or if you felt like you were given a mishmash of ingredients but no one gave you a recipe to bake something with them… sorry, that one’s not our fault, that’s just how innovation works. And here in academia, as well as out there in the industry, sensemaking is largely your job, and you never know where the surprises will come from next time.
  • Three: Join sales. You’ll face hard times, and this is true no matter the moment. I mean you’ll face times of idle talent. Don’t sit idle, waiting for someone else to recognize your talent and use it. Nobody says you can’t be the one who does that. Go where the money is, spot the opportunities, and exploit them by conspiring with other talent out there. Mark my words: the heroes the world needs right now are not martyrs, but salespeople.
  • Four: Act anywhere. The world already has enough designers of the kind that always respond to our existential challenges with yet another app. Stick to a problem, do your research with curiosity and honesty, and ask yourself: How can we make a difference? Maybe the answer is not an app. Maybe it’s not even new business. Maybe the point of intervention is human resources. Or rethinking the relationship with your providers. Or realizing in your case that the latest silicon valley culture fad just does not apply in the case at hand and you have to use a concept from the nineteen sixties. When people tells you to think outside the box they’re usually giving you a slightly larger box, only maybe this new one comes with free avocado toast. Develop a knack to feel the walls of the new box. And then break them.
  • Five: Less stuff. Stuff (as in “physical things”) is abundant. It’s time it begins to be scarcer. Start to think of the stuff you make like children: if you’re thinking about bringing one to the world, make it worth. Probably it’s time to make, again, just a few things, made to last.
  • Six: Keep making. We live an era in which more and more stuff is dematerializing. Which means many of you won’t end up doing stuff made of atoms, but stuff made of bits. With “made of bits” I don’t mean just stuff made of data, but also stuff made of rules, relationships, and stories. Hey, I can live with that. But even if you end up doing this kind of immaterial stuff, don’t forget to still use your hands. Design is about doodling or 3D-printing or carving your way to a good concept, just as much as it is about thinking hard to later make. Make things, even when your ideas are half baked, and let the silent dialogue with the very process be your guide.
  • Seven: Get real. We’re entering the era of purpose. Purpose, purpose everywhere. Purpose matters. Purpose always mattered, but alas, it probably wasn’t ready for so much sudden attention. As a result, 86,2% of the purpose you can see around you is bullshit purpose. Purpose made up just because it sounds good. In a world where we are starting to believe the goal of letting the planet warm no more than one point five degrees Celsius is probably a pipe dream, we don’t need to worry, because one of the most powerful companies in the world, The Coca-Cola Company, has a purpose: to Refresh the World. Hurray! Hallelujah! We’re saved! Yeah, I don’t think so. Bullshit purpose. It’s everywhere. Don’t fall for it. Discover your own purpose, but PLEASE make it a real one. One of those purposes that not only gives you opportunities, but also makes you lose many others. If you’re not saying no to things, you don’t have a purpose. You have just a tagline.

Astudillo over. Trust me, this is good material. Think of that. Will you think of that?