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M.AD Insighter Series

Bruce Mau, Global Guru

Jul 21, 2021 - 04:00pm

Speaker

Bruce Mau

Global Guru

Overview

In this edition of the M.AD Insighters Series, we bring you an exclusive talk from an icon of international design: Bruce Mau. Bruce has collaborated on a broad spectrum of innovation projects, everything from books and carpets to social movements and corporate organizations. He grew up in the Northern Ontario town of Sudbury, in what […]

Bruce Mau

Global Guru

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In this edition of the M.AD Insighters Series, we bring you an exclusive talk from an icon of international design: Bruce Mau. Bruce has collaborated on a broad spectrum of innovation projects, everything from books and carpets to social movements and corporate organizations.

He grew up in the Northern Ontario town of Sudbury, in what he calls one of the least likely environments in the world to cultivate a design sensibility. Yet, in returning to his roots, he found inspiration for a life-centered design approach based on the premise that empathy for all of life, not just humans, is key to creating positive, lasting change.

His twenty-four massive change design principles (MC24) provide designers and non-designers alike with a mindset and toolkit to create impact and achieve desired outcomes across any discipline at any scale.

Don't have time to watch the whole talk? Here's the transcript:

Bruce Mau on Design: Full Transcript

Hank:

Thank you all for coming today. I thank everybody for coming to the broadcast today from around the globe. Hey, we have a great speaker in Bruce Mau. Who's the co-founder and the CEO of Massive Change Network. It's a holistic design collaborative that is based in Chicago. Bruce is a brilliant creative optimists, capital letters optimist. His love of thorny problems led him to create a methodology for a whole system transformation across 30 years of design innovation. He's collaborated with global brands and companies, leading organization, heads of state, renowned artist and fellow optimist. He is a serial entrepreneur since he was nine years old. He became really an international figure with the publication of his landmark S,M,L,XL, designed and coauthored with Rem Koolhaas. His most recent book Mau: MC24, 24 Principles for Designing Massive Change in Your Life and Work. He's the co-founder and CEO of Massive Change Network, which is this amazing holistic design collaborative based in Chicago.

Hank:

I would also share with you that Bruce has served certainly as a visiting professor in a lot of institutions worldwide, including the Graduate Architecture and Urban Design program at Pratt in Brooklyn, the Getty Research Institute in California, and the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. He was named as a Cullinan Chair at Rice University and was confirmed a distinguished fellow at Northwestern University. He's the recipient of the Design Mind Award from the Cooper-Hewitt national Design Museum in New York, the AIGA Gold Medal and six honorary degrees. He was also named an Royal Honorary Designer for Industry by the RSA in London. His recent book, MC24 carries the most important message of all, I think. I'm on record to say it is the best book ever on indexing and explaining and giving an indexal relationship for design that's expressed through principles and reasoning. It's an inspiration honestly for change.

Hank:

As I've read it several times and I've now gifted at least 10 copies, each time a certain chapter might seem to be my favorite when I go through it. There's one on there in sketching, for instance. But always, always, I didn't read the last chapter again and I get to the quote from Bruce's youngest daughter. Never, never give up. Keep the love alive, the world needs you. I know that that is always my favorite chapter on love. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Bruce Mau.

Bruce Mau:

Thank you so much, Hank. I'm really delighted to be here. I'm going to share really a journey with you. I started back in the era of hot metal type, and I've been at this a long time. I really started as a graphic designer and then kind of evolved. I'll share with you that story of kind of how I changed the practice in response really to the world. That the world kind of asked me to do different things that I had never even contemplated doing. That's really how I developed this kind of quite different approach to design. As Hank mentioned, I published MC24 during the pandemic. It came out really in the kind of midstream of the worst of the pandemic. Frankly, I called my publisher and says, "I think we should rewrite the book because I'm going to look like an idiot because it is radically optimistic. It's really sort of, I really want to rethink it." They said, "No, well, first of all, it's too late. It's at the bindery. But also it's exactly what we need. You really shouldn't change it at all."

Bruce Mau:

It's really designed for the kind of crisis that we're now facing. I took some time to kind of rethink it and realized they really were right. That's what it was all about. Now, this is the first paragraph of the book. Practically everything we do today needs to change. We're still doing most things in the old way, almost everything we do. We do these things as if we own nature and that we have dominion over it and that we have unlimited resources. That it's just boundless. We work as if waste is not a problem. We don't even think of waste as an idea. We think it just is. In fact, it isn't. If you look in the natural world, it's not there. We treat nature like a pantry and a toilet. We think short-term probably like there's no tomorrow and pass the check to our kids. We really just it's short-term is our way of thinking. We dump problems we can't solve at the places we can't see. Many of our solutions create more problems than they correct.

Bruce Mau:

Because of the way that we think about design, we extract the problem from the context and try to think about solving it as a discrete object. Which is a falsehood. By not considering the kind of ecosystem implications, we create all kinds of chaos while we solve the problem that we're interested in. We really have to come with new ways of working. I want to start a little bit with context to understand sort of where we are historically. This is a chart that shows population for 1950 to today. You can see that in 1950, mid last century, we were less than 2 billion. You realize that today we're now at 7.9 billion. Or sorry, less than 3 billion. We're now at 7.9 billion. You can see where the development is occurring. The blue line is less developed countries. The red line is more ... You can see that those countries are kind of flattening off. There's not a huge amount of growth anymore in the most developed countries. Most of it's happening in the developing world. But most importantly, this is the most important fact of the last century.

Bruce Mau:

The real important thing that happened was quantity. That's what we're now facing. I'd like to think that we have success problems, not failure problems. This is a chart that shows, on the red line, population from 1750 to today. All the other lines are resource and implication. So all the things that come with that scale of population. We have that population because we succeeded so often. We solved so many problems that we're now 7.9 billion. Now we have a new class of problem that we've never had to solve before. It's a new kind of order of magnitude. The good news is that we're not going to solve those problems with the tools of the past. This is the work of Ray Kurzweil. He shows that by about 2025 or so, we'll put the power of a human brain in your pocket for 1,000 bucks. For the price of an iPhone, we'll have a device that has the processing power of a human brain. By about 2050, it will have the processing power of all human brains.

Bruce Mau:

Imagine how you will work, how you will think, how you will think about problems, how you will engage the world, how you will understand and experience the world when you have the processing power of all human brains for the price of an iPhone. That's what's really going on, which is incredibly good news. On the incredibly bad news front, we have about 10 years to avoid global disaster. You can see it every day. It seems it's really accelerating, becoming more and more clear the nature of what that global disaster is going to feel like. That really means that we have a kind of historic crisis that we now have to deal with. On top of that, we now have a pandemic that just seems to go on and on. On top of that, we have a lot of other crises. It led me to talk about what I call the crisis stack. Which is that you have a pandemic crisis, of course. Everyone is focusing on that. But you also have a crisis of racial justice and inequality.

Bruce Mau:

You have a climate crisis, on top of a food insecurity crisis, on top of a crisis of government, and on and on. Really for the first time in history, they're all happening simultaneously. It's not a sequential problem, it's a simultaneous problem. That these are all happening in parallel. They're all linking together and causing acceleration and new kinds of challenges. I wanted to tell you a little bit of sort of how I get to be here and the journey that I mentioned. I was born in Northern Canada, about six hours north of Toronto, on a farm outside of a mining town. This is the farm that I grew up on. It was the last farm on the left on a road into the boreal forest. Behind my house was literally hundreds of miles of forest that just ... What we call it Crown land in Canada. That experience growing up there and during the winter months, it was minus 40 for weeks on end. That meant that we couldn't have running water in the house.

Bruce Mau:

My job was to go to the well in the valley each day with a snowmobile and provide water for the household during the winter months. Growing up going to high school after hauling water was not something that I really talked about very much. I was frankly embarrassed by it. Most of my friends had running water, I think. I think all of them did. I didn't see how this life was relevant to the life that I wanted. I was inspired by Expo 67 and I wanted to see the world and be part of that outside world. I saw it on our little black and white TV and I wanted to go there. I didn't see how those worlds were connected. But over time I realized that that experience, having that need for water was something that I shared with about a billion people. About a billion people today still don't have access to running water. I realized that the empathy of that, the kind of being able to experience someone else's problem, is actually at the core of everything that I do.

Bruce Mau:

That if you think about what a designer does, and I would say that we're all in some ways designers, if you're in the creative field especially, you're a designer, if we're all thinking about solving problems, we mostly are solving other people's problems. That process of empathy is really key. I became a designer quite by accident. I didn't really know what it was actually. I got a job as a designer, I was like, "Okay." It was a lot of fun to me. I loved putting words and images together. I just fell in love with that. I had an incredible teacher when I was in college. I went to college in Toronto. I only lasted about 18 months. I didn't do very well. They told me my work would never sell and I had a pretty rough time there. I didn't stay long enough to really understand the disciplines and the boundaries. I never really respected the boundaries. This is the first book that I did with collaboration with a man named Sanford Kwinter and Michel Feher. It was on a contemporary city. We developed this concept that we referenced was pantheism.

Bruce Mau:

Pantheism is basically that everything is alive with energy. That every surface is a potential to kind of emerge and come to life. This was a book about the city, a contemporary city. The whole idea was to make it as city like in its performance. Not as an illustration, but as a model. To make it feel like you were experiencing a city. That really brought a completely new way of designing into my work. Another project that we did several years later was called Incorporations. This introduced a very important idea that wouldn't really become clear to me for a couple of decades. But the idea was this concept of incorporations. That is that, every object incorporates other things at a smaller scale. A thing is made of things. A book is made of matter and energy and material that come together to kind of create the book. The book is itself incorporated into bigger flows and systems. The book goes into the publishing world, it gets distributed and sold and all its circulates around the world.

Bruce Mau:

We can really see in everything this scale concept of incorporations. That things are made of other things at a smaller scale, and they are in themselves incorporated into a bigger scale. That way of thinking about design changes fundamentally the remit of our work. Instead of thinking of the object itself, we really have to think about where does all that material and energy come from and where does it go when it's over? That way, where we start to really think about the ecology and the systems around us and pretty fundamentally alters our work. I consider myself one of the most fortunate designers of the last half century. It's been an absolutely incredible adventure. I couldn't ask for more. I worked with MoMA to move them into their new digs and to design the brand for MoMA. I worked with Frank Gehry on the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, and on many projects. Frank was really a mentor for me. He was a very important person, not only as a designer and a entrepreneur, but also as a person. As a man. He was very instrumental in helping me.

Bruce Mau:

This is a project that we did in Panama City. It's a new museum of biodiversity, the world's first museum of diversity. It included a space called the Panamarama, where people would go in and kind of experience it and experience the story of Panama and the story of our understanding of life. It was really what the whole project was about. It was about how to understand our efforts to understand life and to bring order to the chaos. In the words of Charles Darwin, he said, what explains the riot? In other words, why is this happening? It was a wonderful experience. Books became a really important part of my work. I've in my studio designed over 260 books. They became really important as a way of working, as a way of distilling narrative and telling a story and organizing ideas. That becomes a kind of critical work of what I really do for a living. In that process of being a designer, I became an author because I needed to do research. To do research, I needed to write.

Bruce Mau:

I didn't think of myself as a writer because when I wrote, it didn't feel like what writers do frankly. It took me a long time to discover that they don't do it either. They have editors. I realized that, actually through iteration and editing, I could be a writer. I could be an author. This is the first thing I did as an author. It's a incomplete manifesto for growth. It was really a prototype in a way of MC24. An effort to understand, what does it take to sustain a creative life? Not for a season. I mean, anyone can be a hot designer for a season. But really having a creative life through your whole lifetime is an altogether different problem. There's all kinds of forces playing on you one way or another to kind of prevent you from doing that. It was really a kind of an effort to think about that. I became, as I mentioned, an author. Over the years, I've designed and authored and co-authored about a dozen books all related to the world of designs. All relate it to our changing capacity.

Bruce Mau:

What I realized over time is that I actually do what I call context projects. They're projects that really help to kind of map out the territory that we're now living in. That really is kind of give us a kind of way of understanding where we should work and how we can contribute. As Hank mentioned, I did a project with Rem Koolhaas called S,M,L,XL. It really was a kind of manifesto and documentary about what it means to make architecture. What it takes to dig a hole in the ground and change the world. That led to a lot of collaboration with Rem Koolhaas over the years, including the Seattle Public Library system. Really trying to understand strategically what's the role of the library as the cornerstone of democracy in the home of Microsoft. Why do we need that? I worked with the Jets and the Giants to create their new stadium. I did a commission to redesign Mecca. Frankly, if you had met me at the well, when I was getting water for my family and said, "Bruce, you really should pay attention because you're going to have to design Mecca."

Bruce Mau:

I would have said, "You're on crack. That's not going to happen." But that is what happened. I was commissioned to do a 20 year plan for the future of Mecca, because there's a real crisis. You can kind of see it in this image. The number of people is overwhelming the city, the facility. The number of Muslims that have to visit Mecca according to their religion, they each have to do it once in their lifetime. When you do the math, the city doesn't accommodate it. The design of the place doesn't accommodate it. They commissioned us to do a 20 year plan. My response was to say, "Look, it's Mecca. I checked, if we do a 20 year plan we're going to base it on the car. I checked, and the car it's about over. Let's do 1,000 year plan because we can't possibly know what's going to happen." Therefore, we will have to design an open system. A kind of open platform for innovation, which is the most important thing we could do. That was an extraordinary, I mean, a really wonderful group of people, a wonderful project.

Bruce Mau:

Then in 2004, I did a project called Massive Change. The back cover kind of says it best. It's not about the world design, it's about the design of the world. It was based on this quotation by Arnold Toynbee, who says that in a long streak of history we'll look back on the 20th century and think that it was actually not about violence and conflict or technology and innovation. It was really about the idea of thinking of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective. when he uses the term practical objective, he makes it a design problem. It's not a utopian vision. It's not by definition out of reach. It's actually a real thing that we're going to do. This was in 1957 he wrote this. I was commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery to do a project, a big exhibition on the future of design. I said, "Look, I think he's right. I think he's absolutely right. I think that's what most designers are committed to. They probably wouldn't say it in that kind of grandiose way, but that's what they're talking about and that's what they're doing.

Bruce Mau:

I want to know if I am right, if he was right. It's almost 50 years later, so let's figure out what's actually going on." We started a school to do it, a little school called the Institute without Boundaries. That was a collaboration with a university of Toronto called George Brown. We had a dozen students in the studio over two years, and together we did Massive Change. It broke attendance records in the museums that it went to. We beat Warhol and Picasso with a design exhibition. It was organized around what we call design economies. The regions of your life that are being designed and redesigned by these new capacities. This is the image economy and what you see here, it would be like standing inside of the electromagnetic spectrum. Where the color images are images of the world that you can see with your naked eye. All the other images are the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum that has been turned into visible light. It's like we've taken the whole spectrum and turned it into an eyeball that we can look at the universe and make better decisions.

Bruce Mau:

We looked at the market economy. The market is a design space. It's not a space that is natural. It's a space that we invent. We featured 11 people and organizations that are reinventing the world, reinventing the market economy. We ended with designing evolution that we are designing life itself. We designed this part of the exhibition as a series of voting booths. We tried to make voting as difficult as possible. Difficult to decide, not the current model that's going around these days. But difficult to decide to say, "If I vote, yes, then I'm voting for these hopes, but I'm accepting these fears. If I vote, no, I'm voting for these fears and I'm giving up on these hopes." It was a really extraordinary experience. In the end, what we realized was that we're actually designing or redesigning wealth. That we still have the wealth of capital, but we have new forms of wealth, wealth of information, wealth of mobility, all kinds of new currencies that are being produced and distributed.

Bruce Mau:

In the end, we realized that the kind of most important diagram out of that project was this. That we saw and we documented a real transformation in the scale of responsibility of design. We went from design being a subset of business, that happens in a cultural context, that happens in the natural world, to design being the biggest project of all that nature, culture and business are now all design projects. When I first did this, plenty of people, including my friends said, "Bruce, you're a megalomaniac. You just want to control everything." I said, "Look, it's not about control. It's about responsibility. It's about the fact that where we fail to design, we design from failure." You could see all over the world and we documented it. All over the world, we were destroying the ecologies that sustain us because we hadn't designed them. What you see now over a decade later is that we're now going back to those places and redesigning them or recovering the ecologies that we destroyed.

Bruce Mau:

When the show opened in Vancouver, I did a presentation at a high school in Vancouver and I showed them some of the stuff I just shared with you. I talked about this quotation from Arnold Toynbee. At the end of the presentation, a young woman came to the microphone and she said, "Mr. Mau, I think you're not thinking big enough." I said, "Tell me more because you know, most people are not saying that about me at the moment. It's quite the opposite." She said, "Well, Toynbee was right for the 20th century. That the welfare of the whole human race was our project. But in the 21st century, it's the welfare of all of life. That should be our goal for the 21st century." I have to say that I was just totally blown away. She just kind of blew my mind. She was absolutely right, and I realized we had a blind spot because we were looking at it from that kind of 1957 world where we owned nature. Now, that's completely gone. Well, we really understand that we're living in a different world.

Bruce Mau:

That really kicked off the process of thinking about what we now call life centered design, and really trying to understand what that means. The question then is, are there principles? If we're going to do life centered design, which we realized we had been doing for 30 years are there principles that we could apply? In fact, that's really the genesis of MC24 and the life centered design principles that the book contains. It's really sort of how to think about that. So I'm going to take a pause here and stop for questions, and then I'll carry on. Let's just go back one slide. Are there any questions on the story so far? I can't see you, so you have to ask them.

Speaker 3:

I have a question. It's more of an opinion based on what you've said so far when you talked about when the girl came up and said the welfare of all life. Do you think we have enough time to design our world so that we can catch up and achieve that goal before climate change that really makes the lasting impact?

Bruce Mau:

No.

Speaker 3:

No?

Bruce Mau:

It's already upon us. It's clear that it's already upon us. But there's no other way out of here. I don't think we're going to be able to avoid that. But I think what we can do is redesign it. We're going to have to redesign the way that we live in order to prevent the worst implication, the worst impacts of climate change and the kind of runaway train. There's no guarantee that we will. But I think the only chance we have is to redesign how we live. That's really what this was about, to say, look, could I help people think about it so that they would be able to kind of be part of that process and start to think about what that means? I'm going to go through a few of the principles just to kind of show you how that works. But I think you're inheriting a set of challenges that no other generation in history has had to deal with. The degree to which they did have to deal with, they passed the buck. We shifted it down the line to you.

Speaker 3:

Thank you.

Speaker 4:

I was very curious about, you spoke about that book on pantheism, and then you have this other project where you're redesigning Mecca. I'm just wondering, what do you think about your professional personality makes you so approachable for these types of spiritual applications of design? Because I that's really beautiful.

Bruce Mau:

I don't know. Actually, that's a good question. I've never really thought about it. I think that going back to the concept of empathy, I have developed a very rigorous methodology of empathy. That I take very seriously the work that we do. I don't take myself seriously, but I think I take seriously the trust that my clients put in me. I take seriously the ethical work that we do. When I first started working in design in corporate design agencies, and I didn't really like it very much. I felt like I was building a cage that I was going to be held in. Like I was building my own prison cell, and it didn't feel good. The first company I started, the first design company was called Public Good. It was a very simple idea. We weren't kind of sophisticated in a political way, but the idea was very simple. That is, we wanted to do things that made the world a better place. This was in 1982. When I did that, a lot of people told me to my face, they thought I was crazy.

Bruce Mau:

They said, "Who do you think you are that you can only do things that you like?" I thought, "Wow, what a weird question." They took it as a critique of them. I had to explain, "Look, I really don't care about you. I'm interested in me and I just want my own energy to go to things that really make the world a better place. It's not more complicated than that." As a consequence, I lived like a student for more than a decade. I lived very modestly so that I could do that work. It was only over time that other people around the world eventually figured out what I was doing. But that question about the spiritual, I mean, I think I'm very thoughtful and considerate in the way that I work with people. I've developed a real methodology of collaboration. Collaboration is not just working together. It's actually a method of respect and consideration for other people and their ideas. It's kind of making a place for them. It's respecting them and making a place for them.

Bruce Mau:

I remember when I was first working on the books with ZONE, they were in New York and I was in Canada. This is before the internet. I went down there and they asked me, "How much is it going to cost?" I said, "I don't know really." They said, "Well, we're going to give you some blank checks. Take them home, and when you figure out how much it's going to cost, you call us and tell us how much you're going to fill out the check for and we'll put it in our book and you write it on your check." When I went home, I went to the bank to ask them about how long it would take for a check to clear from New York. Back then, it was like four weeks. But when I showed them the pages of blank checks, they're like, "Who gave you these? How did you get these?" I said, "My client gave them to me." For me, it was not a problem. It was not out of the ordinary in the sense that they really trusted me because I really respected and cared for them.

Bruce Mau:

I was very sincere. I think that's the best I can do at the moment for that question.

Speaker 4:

Thank you. Yeah, no, I think you really answered it with just your rapport with them and the energy you've put out into the world. Yeah. Thank you.

Bruce Mau:

Thank you.

Speaker 5:

Hey, Bruce.

Bruce Mau:

Yeah.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. Hey, I'm old enough and I'm sure you lived through this, that we've had 10 years until disaster over the last 50 years. It was Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb, when we're going to have mass starvation in the '80s. We're running out of resources. When I was in college, Pico well, we only had 20 years of oil. Now we have more proven reserves than we had back then. The first Earth Day, I remember we were worried about global cooling. Not to dispute anything that you're saying, but to me, I'm saying ... Earth in the Balance, have any of those predictions come true? I'm not going to dispute global climate change, but you mentioned ... It's really interesting what you're saying about wealth, what wealth is, monetary systems. I think the biggest problem we're handing to our children are unfunded liabilities. What thoughts do you have about that and where we're headed?

Bruce Mau:

Well, I think that I've studied that a lot, the kind of warning signs because there were a lot of warning signs along the way. I think what I tried to do in my work was to convert the warning signs to opportunity and optimism. Because I think hitting people with a stick has proved ineffective. Since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, not one year has the number of cars on the roads in the world gone down. Not once. Not once did we say, "Hey, let's try something else." No, we increased the number of cars every single year since then. That's really who we are. I don't think people are going to suddenly embrace going backwards. That they're not going to abandon the beauty that we've created, because we love beauty and we love the things that we're able to create. I don't think we're going to get people kind of motivated and inspired with the stick. I think we need a carrot and we need a new way of thinking about these challenges.

Bruce Mau:

I think that you're right about the kind of constant predictions of ... Because what the predictions fail to integrate is our creative capacity. I'm optimistic, even though I think that the challenges are going to be great and they are greater than ever. They're greater because of scale. We're at a scale now and we're not slowing down yet. We're at a scale. We're going to reach somewhere around 10 billion by mid century. Now, the bad news is that it will be 10 billion. The good news is that it will be about 6 billion young people. We're going to have amazing opportunity to set a new mindset and set a new agenda. That is where I think the real opportunity is in the coming decades. But there's no doubt ... I read a report a few days ago that if the ice sheet of Greenland melts, it will raise the sea level by 20 feet. I mean, and it's melting. It's melting pretty quickly. Quicker than we expected. Put 20 feet in Miami and see what that looks like. It's a problem.

Bruce Mau:

I think that there are going to be ... I have friends who are building ... I have a friend who's designing the sea wall around New York. I mean, it's a huge project and they're going to spend billions of dollars doing it. That's really the kind of challenges that we're facing now.

Speaker 5:

You mentioned cars. Part of the design problem might not even be coming up with alternatives, but the business model. Uber and Lyft have probably done more for leveraging return on miles or whatever than building light rail. Or in Miami, they built a rail system which couldn't even generate the revenue in the initial years. I don't know what it does now. It couldn't even pay for operating expenses. That might be an example where we don't have to look for alternatives, but we have to look at better ways to do it.

Bruce Mau:

Yeah. I mean, there are many who say that all the technology we need is already done. We don't need new technologies, but we will have them. We will have incredible increases in performance, the rate of change. I read recently, there's a great book called Ten Global Trends. In that book, they outline the increase in forest cover. That the forest cover in the world is increasing, not decreasing. Even with all the kind of things that are happening, I was shocked by that. I think it's really important to actually be in touch with the data. The second principle in the book, is begin with fact-based optimism. That, let's start with real data, start with facts and really work from an optimistic perspective. I'm going to talk a little bit more about that as we go. Are there any other questions?

Speaker 6:

Yes, I have a question. Hi, thanks for visiting us.

Bruce Mau:

Thank you.

Speaker 6:

When you're talking about rate of change, how do you feel about the frustration of sometimes it's not changing fast enough? I wanted to use your book as an example. I have a copy of your book. We learned in Hanks' class about, the medium is the message. There are these amazing messages in this book, but it's also on paper, a lot of paper. It has to be right now. What other way do we have right now to deliver a new message in a new way to bring in this new change?

Bruce Mau:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:40:17]-

Speaker 6:

It's like some [inaudible 00:40:19] are fast and purchase though, and how do you deal with those frustrations as a designer?

Bruce Mau:

That's a great question and very generously formulated, I must say. You're absolutely right, I still believe in the aura of the book. That the book has a kind of important place in our kind of cultural universe. But I also believe in using other tools and using film and video and internet and every other tool that we can get our hands on. In the fall we're going to launch a film called Mao that really sort of is a feature length documentary about the kind of concepts and ideas in the principles, and about the kind of story of how this came to be. And it's actually going to happen ... There're, I think five film festivals arranged for the fall for New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Washington.

Speaker 6:

I'll be there.

Bruce Mau:

But I think ... We're also now working on the next project, which is the neuroscience of massive change. It's a collaboration with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth on the neuroscience behind the principles. What happened is that, I've been collaborating with them for a few years and I did a presentation there. The director, one named Dr. Sandra Chapman said, "Yeah, I don't know how you did it because you're obviously not a neuroscientist, but each one of these principles is a neuroscience concept." What we're now working on together is kind of going deep into the brain performance of this way of thinking. They talk about your neuro pharmacy. That when you were optimistic, your neuro pharmacy releases chemicals into your brain and your body that make you superhuman. It makes you outperform people who aren't inspired. It's why we can do things that where ... It's why people can do all kinds of things when they really have purpose. It's why optimism is so important. It's a method. It's not just an attitude.

Bruce Mau:

It's a way of working. It's a way of thinking. It's why we start with inspiration. That our responsibility is really to inspire.

Speaker 6:

Awesome.

Bruce Mau:

Did that answer-

Speaker 6:

Thank you.

Speaker 7:

I have a question from just, have you found any difference between designing for social good kind of projects versus maybe more corporate stuff? If there is difference, how do you make a portfolio as a student kind of direct towards one or the other depending on where you want to go with it?

Bruce Mau:

That's a great question. That is the reason that work on what you love is the last principle in the book. I should be careful to say that the principles are not a linear method. It's not like you start with one and you end with 24. But one is important because it sets the kind of foundation of inspiration and especially leadership. That design is a capacity to envision a future and systematically execute the vision. That's the best definition of leadership I could imagine. The last principle, work on what you love, it really was, I wasn't sure that was a principal for the longest time. It was in there but I was wondering, is it really there? Is it really a principle? But the more and more I worked and the more I worked on this book, this project, I realized it's maybe the most important principle of all. The principle is very simple. You should treasure your creative energy. Your capacity to envision the future is so valuable, it's so important in this time.

Bruce Mau:

It's so important to you. It's so important to your family and your loved ones and your community. That you have this ability to actually create a vision. That you have that. Yet, so many of us squander that on things that we don't respect and that we don't love, and that we know we don't want to be part of. But we need a job, we need to make a living, et cetera. In the book, I outline this kind of vision that I had when I was very young. When I first started working, I had this kind of weird image in my mind that there was a filament around the whole world, that there was a thin layer around the whole planet. In that layer, there were particles. In those particles were people. The particles were very, very far apart. They were very few of them. The particles were people that I needed to do my work. Who I was looking for, and they were looking for me. They may not know anything about me, they might not have ever heard of me, but I was the perfect person for them.

Bruce Mau:

I realized that the only way they would find me is if I put out a pure signal that was true to who I was and what I wanted to do. Every time that I compromised that signal, I made it more difficult for them to find me. I realized that I had to do whatever I could to get that signal out for a long time, because it would take a long time for them to find me. Now, this was pre-internet remember. That capacity now to find you is so much more advanced. It's so much easier and faster and lower cost. But the problem remains the same. You should starve the things that you don't respect of your treasures. Don't give them your energy. Keep your energy for you and the things you love. Try to get those two things to line up. Because when they do, you'll produce your best work. It's like my neuroscientist friends say, you will have superpowers when you're working on the things you love. When you're inspired, your brain will behave differently. You'll have the ability to do things that are truly incredible.

Bruce Mau:

You will, in the process, advance the world. I like to say that we should be selfish to be generous. That the more that we actually care about what we're doing, the better we are at contributing to the world and advancing life on the planet. Is that an answer?

Speaker 7:

Yes, it was a great answer. Sorry. There's a lot of us here.

Bruce Mau:

No worries.

Speaker 7:

I didn't realize I was still muted. Thank you.

Bruce Mau:

Thank you. Maybe I should go on because I don't have too much more time. But I don't have to also fix that a place ... Okay. As you can see, the principals, they're really diverse. It really came about because one of the things that happened was that, and Hank mentioned this, I was made an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry as part of the RSA. It's a very cool kind of weird thing. It was started by Ben Franklin when he was ambassador to London. He realized that the industrial revolution was making a lot of ugly product and that we should try to get artists involved in making the products more appealing. He started this thing called the Royal Designers for Industry. It was only 200 people. It was a very kind of rarefied thing. I was made an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry. As part of the process, the RSA has a kind of young leadership program. They sent a group of young leaders to the studio in Chicago. I showed them the work and showed them what I showed you.

Bruce Mau:

They said, "How do you do this? What kind of designer are you? You're a very weird dude. We think of designers being defined by their product, but you're designing social movements and carpets and cities and institutions and brands. How do you do it?" I was a little bit ticked off with them and I said like, "You should have paid attention because I just showed you." They said, "No, you showed us the results, but you didn't talk at all about how you think or how this happens." I realized that we didn't actually know how it happened. It just happened organically. It evolved over a 30 year period. That's when we sat down and really started to say, "Okay, what are the principles of life centered design? How do you really think like this?" I'm going to go through a couple of them. The first is, first, inspire. It's first for a reason as I mentioned. That in our practice, we take responsibility for inspiration. We don't leave it to chance. It's not like a side effect of our work. It's actually our principal job.

Bruce Mau:

If you think about what you do, how you work as a designer, you're moving people to a new place. You have to show them that new place and convince them to empty their pockets, give it to you and spend that money on getting to a new world. It really is, you can't make them do it. You can't beat them into making the change. You actually have to inspire them. I realized it's the only real tool that we have. We just don't have that authority to force change, but we do have the power to inspire it. That realization was really powerful. I did this sustainability platform for Coca Cola. Now you're talking about transforming a global system that does one and a half billion transactions a day. Whole communities of people are doing very, very well under the old way. If you're going to change it, you have to actually show them something better than that if you want them to move to this new place. That's really the kind of origin of this way of thinking. That we don't have the ability to force them, but we can inspire them.

Bruce Mau:

The same is true of them. We're working with the CEO, but the CEO can't make their people do it. They have no authority either. They can inspire them to go to a new place, and that's really the work that we did. That was the real core behind that. What you see when you think of it that way is that, you have, hidden in the design process is a method of leadership. That you have this kind of method, an actual method. Not anecdotal advice. If you look at the publishing around leadership, it's almost all anecdotal advice. You should work hard, get up early, be et cetera. But this is actually a method. You have in a design process a method for leadership that is really unmatched. That you have this kind of incredible ability. I don't think most designers really understand the power that they have and really embrace that power and take responsibility for it. That's the first principle. The second I want to talk about is this one, which is maybe the most disorienting, it's the most kind of fundamentally challenging of the principles.

Bruce Mau:

That is that we're not separate from or above nature. For most of our history in the west, we believe that nature was given to us. That we have dominion over it. You can really trace it back to Genesis where we're told that we are owners of all of life. It really is a kind of ... I mean, it still informs almost everything that we think, but it's a thing of the past. What we see from the science today is that there's really only one thing on the planet, and that's life. We had the extraordinary experience of going into the jungle with E. O. Wilson, who's maybe the greatest life scientist working today. When we were working on the museum of biodiversity in Panama, he came down to help us. We went out into the jungle with him and he explained that there's basically only one thing on the planet, that's life. Life has an experiment going in form, and we're one of those forms. Nothing more, nothing less. We don't have some special status. We're not exempt from the rules of the game.

Bruce Mau:

Over 99% of all the species that have ever lived are already extinct. There's a process of constantly inventing new species and as the old species go extinct. That, that's the real world. He said something really, really beautiful, which is that, that rock is slow life and life is fast rock. In other words, that you are matter formed in the core of stars that is animated with electricity. That's life. The moment that you unplug that electricity, you go back to rock. When we talked to the indigenous people, they talk about being related. They say, "We are related to the rocks and the grasses." To go back to pantheism, we're related to the rocks and the grasses, to the animals and the plants. We realized that there's actually a methodology, a cosmology in the indigenous people that is the destination that we've been working towards for 30 years.

Bruce Mau:

That that's really what's going on. I've been working with the students at the McEwen School of Architecture in Northern Canada, my hometown. It's a tricultural project with French, English and indigenous people. They have indigenous elders in every studio. When you work in your studio inside [inaudible 00:56:36] and McEwen, you work with indigenous elders who are there to kind of talk to you about our way of life. One of the projects they do is make a birchbark canoe in the way that it's been done for thousands of years. They go into the forest together. The school has a forest as part of the school, which was really inspirational to me. They find a birch tree that's, in their words, ready to give up its bark. There's a certain point in the life of a tree of a birch tree when it's ready to kind of ... If you make a cut, you can remove the bark in almost in one piece. They do that then they make this birchbark canoe together. It's a big project over a long time. Then eventually they kind of have a smudging and naming ceremony.

Bruce Mau:

They launch their canoe. They experience one of the most beautiful things ever invented by humans. That thing is a thing that when it's broken or it finally wears out, it goes back to the forest floor. It's food for the next generation of life. That kind of model of a continuity, of perpetuity, they've been doing that for thousands of years and they can do it in perpetuity. That's really how we have to think. That we need to get to that way of living. Then finally, the third one, I want to touch on that I talked a little bit about, work on what you love. As I mentioned, it seems so obvious. But aligning our passion and our production and our love and our work remains one of the great life challenges. It's incumbent on us as creative people to protect our innocence. To protect our energy and beauty and thought. Protect your time and your mind, and give all of that as much as possible to the work that you love the most. Starve the things you do not respect. Give them nothing of your extraordinary talent.

Bruce Mau:

You have the ability to imagine new worlds, invent new ways of living, and most importantly, new ways of thinking. Dedicate all of your creative energy to the love of your life. When you discover that love, you wake up every day with fresh energy to share your time with the planet in new ways. The love of your life will inspire you, move you and draw the talent and energy from you in ways that you cannot imagine. We cannot afford the luxury of cynicism. I have a cynicism allergy. Whenever I see it, I want to kill it. It's not for us. There are plenty of cynics. That may be a role that they need to play. That's not the role for designers. Designers have to find the optimism. We have to find the possibility where others see only failure or constraints. That's really the work that we do. Are there other questions? I know there were at the time, but I'm happy to answer questions if you [crosstalk 00:59:56]-

Speaker 8:

Hi. I have a question. I'm sorry. I've been waiting to ask a question. I did a project this past quarter kind of inspired in a way by ... Well, I was tackling the concept of love and how as a society we've become so full of hate because we've ultimately forgotten how to love. I read your chapter over and over again, the last one on love. I kind of came to this conclusion that, the purest form of love is nature. Which is very interesting because that's a lot of ... You touched on that as well. I kind of tried to tackle this way of showing love through nature. I actually did it through flowers dying and stuff. But how do you think in today's society, where there is so much hate and you push and preach about empathy so much, how do you think as designers we should go about ... How do you teach people how to do that again? How do you teach people love? How do you show that?

Bruce Mau:

Well, first of all, I think we have to start by demonstrating it. That, I can't tell you about it as much as I can show you what I do. I think that demonstrating it in our conduct and in our willingness to allow the world to see what we're doing and to see that approach. I've always felt that the best way of communicating is demonstration, not illustration. To actually model things. I try to do that as much as I possibly can and to give as much as I can. I'm very inspired by the people that I work with. I let them know as much as I can.

Speaker 8:

Thank you.

Speaker 9:

I have a question that kind of touches up on the same topic. How does one kent one workshop or develop empathy within a team?

Bruce Mau:

That's a great question. One of the chapters of MC24 addresses that, and that is new wicked problems, demand new wicked teams. It came from working with a designer, a scientist actually, named Bill Buxton. Bill, he's now the chief scientist for Microsoft, the head of research for Microsoft. But he was the chief scientist ... He invented Maya, the software that changed the car industry and movies and all that. We were studying his work when we did Massive Change and we went over to see him with the students. He called me up the next day and he said, "I'm going to be your chief scientist." I said, "Bill, I don't really have a job for chief scientist." He said, "Well, I'm coming over there." He came over to the studio and he spent about a year in the studio working on Massive Change with us and helping us. He said, "You've got something here that I'm not sure if you really understand how important it is." He called it the renaissance team.

Bruce Mau:

He said, "The way that you're working on all your projects, it's not possible to have a renaissance person anymore. But you can have a renaissance team." The bodies of knowledge are too vast and deep for any ... It's hard enough to master one discipline, and almost impossible to go beyond that. He said, "You've developed this thing called the renaissance team." We began to really look at what are the behaviors that make a renaissance team work? In the book, I spell out the seven behaviors of what it means to be a renaissance team player. One of the things is the willingness to lead. Each person on the team has to have the willingness to take the lead if the time comes where they're the right leader for that moment. They also have to have the willingness to follow. Leadership has nothing to do with age or seniority or even expertise. One of the biggest projects that we ever did, and it was a project in Japan, and it was done by the youngest guy in the studio.

Bruce Mau:

It was so clear to everyone, including me, that he had it. It was his project and he was born to do that project. He went to Japan. He met with Mr. Mori, who he was the most important developer in Japan at the time. He met with the prime minister every week. I mean, it was like he was a real big shot. This guy just walked right in. He knew he had it. Part of really supporting that collaboration, is to understand what your responsibility is to the team. One of the responsibilities is your gift. That your expertise, your culture and talent, your special gift, that's your gift to the team. A renaissance team player, a wicked team player knows what their gift is and they are open to other gifts. They're accepting of new ideas, new perspectives, new experience from other disciplines. It takes a very special person. I'm a fellow at the engineering school at Northwestern. We have some people who, they are geniuses. I mean, they're Nobel prize winning physicists. they're incredible.

Bruce Mau:

They don't care about anyone else. They don't want to talk to anybody. They don't want you to come around with your ideas. They want to do their work, and that's all. I totally get it. I love those people. But a designer on a team is a different beast. Developing the culture and methodology of that is really important. Does that answer your question?

Speaker 9:

Spot on? Thank you so much.

Mira:

Hi, Bruce. I'm Mira and I have a question on something you touched on earlier. You spoke about systems and understanding how we operate within systems. But then you also talked about questioning the status quo and asking why do we do things the way we do? I guess my question is, when do we know if or when our systems inherently flawed, and how do we make sure we ask ourselves those questions? When is there room for change, and when should we just throw out the system entirely?

Bruce Mau:

Great. I want to work within natural systems. What you want to do is make sure that what you're doing really is compatible with the ecosystem that sustains it. The human made system is likely not designed in a way that is compatible with the ecosystem. I have no problem throwing away those systems. We should question them, critique them, quantify them. One of the principles is, quantify and visualize. We need to be able to look at those things, quantify them and visualize it for everyone to see and say, "Look, here's what's really happening." When we did that work with Coca-Cola, the first thing we did was called running the numbers. Where we just take the business and run it for 50 years. Don't make it better, don't make it worse, just see what happens. What we showed them was that, in 50 years they would produce 2.7 trillion PET bottles, and they would leave 2.2 trillion of them in the environment.

Bruce Mau:

I said, "If that's not what you would qualify as a brand disaster you should be removed from the board because you're not doing your fiduciary duty. You have a fiduciary duty to protect the assets of the company, including a brand that's worth $66 billion. You're pumping out this garbage with your logo on. If you think that that's not going to come back to bite you, you just don't see it because you look at them one at a time. You don't see the accumulation." We have the ability to visualize the system. We can take their system and say, "Look, here's what happens. Here's what 2.7 trillion PET bottles looks like." It's big. We can show you that. I think part of what we need to do is actually that process so that people can understand the failings of the systems that we've designed. Because when I was talking about how you can't design a discrete object ... We still think that objects are discreet, and that's mostly how we work. What we did to make that possible, the way that we allowed ourselves to do that, is we created a concept called externalities.

Bruce Mau:

Externalities are things we don't have to worry about. If I dumped the garbage in the ocean, it's an externality. I don't have to pay for it. I don't have to worry about it. It's somebody else's problem. That concept of externalities has poisoned our culture and our way of thinking and working. There is no externality. There is no exterior to the natural world. There is only one thing on the planet, it's life. The idea that you can somehow put something out of sight out of mind, that's still our operating system. We still think like that. If I throw the garbage away, I don't have garbage anymore. I'm good. No problem. But in fact, the garbage goes somewhere and it is there. I think the more that we are thinking globally, understanding our interconnectedness, that we're one family, turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself because you're related. Understand that kind of relation. Now extend that invitation to the rest of life. We are related to the rocks and grasses, to the plants and animals. That's the reality of our existence.

Bruce Mau:

The sooner that we can kind of make that the basis of our work and have that inform what we do every day ... I mean, I don't know if you're experiencing this yet. But I certainly am. What's so exciting is that people are waking up to this. There's a global awakening happening that people are realizing we're all in this together. Now there's going to be people who they're going to be the last guy standing selling gas guzzling SUVs. But even they know that's not the future. Even they know that there's no future in that. That we're going to get to a different place.

Mira:

Yeah. Thank you.

Bruce Mau:

I'll take one more question if there is one. Otherwise I'm going to go about my business.

Hank:

Bruce, before you get away and we do that one last question, I would love it if you would say something ... There's a chapter in your book that I think is so important for students on sketching. I'd love for you to say something about that to students as a way of thinking and getting to thinking.

Bruce Mau:

Okay. It's one of my favorite. One of the things that comes out of that concept is the idea of low resolution ideas, fast and cheap. In other words, ideas have resolution, just like ... Do you remember when the internet first started and you were downloading an image on probably [inaudible 01:14:06]. I don't know. But when the internet first started, if you were downloading an image, it would download a color square and then four squares, then 16 squares. It would basically increase in resolution as the information was downloaded. At some point, you would be able to see what it was. Then it would become a full high resolution image or at least full resolution. That concept of resolution also exists for ideas. If you think about what a sketch is, a sketch is a low resolution idea. I don't need to know all about it. I don't need to know the final color. I don't need to know all the details. I just want to capture the gesture. I just want to capture the idea. Does everyone on the call have a piece of paper and a pen in front of them?

Bruce Mau:

Because we can do this little exercise right now. I want you to get your piece of paper ready and put it in front of you in a way that if you ... Well, you'll know in a second. I want you to close your eyes and draw a camel. Not with your eyes open, but with your eyes closed. Draw a camel. Then as soon as you're done, we're going to hold them up. Try as best you can to draw a camel. Let's take a look. That's good. They're great. What you can see is that everyone knows how to draw a camel. They may test the boundaries of camelness, but we have a file, we have a storehouse of icons that we can access. I hazard to guess that not too many of us have actually seen a real camel up close. You'll notice that everyone ... I mean, literally I've done this with thousands of people. Everyone draws a camel in profile because that's the icon that we have. What you realize is that, in a few seconds, we were just able to see 25 different versions of a camel.

Bruce Mau:

You have this incredible, massive creative processing that can happen with sketching, where you can do it in groups, you can do it quickly. What you really are exploring is low resolution ideas, fast and cheap. We like to say, it's a dollar on a sketch. It's $10 in a shop. It's $100 dollars on the floor. It's an order of magnitude difference at every stage of the production process. Lots of sketches is way cheaper than fixing problems in the final result. I like to throw away 99% of the work. You can imagine when I go into businesses and say, "Look, we're going to throw away 99% of our work." They're like, "Why? That's against everything that we talk about." All of the culture of education and business, it's all about success. Sketching is about failure. Sketching is about throwing away 99 bad ones to get to one awesome, good one and increasing the odds. The more you sketch, the better the chance that you're going to get awesome.

Bruce Mau:

The proof in that argument is Frank Gehry. Because I worked very closely with Frank for many years. Frank does more sketches and more models than any architect that I know. Here's the conundrum. Frank is maybe the best architect in the world. He certainly has the most advanced technologies. I mean, they're incredible. Some of the most talented people I've ever met anywhere, but they do more sketches than anyone else. If they're so good, why don't they just do it? Why wouldn't they just do what they already know? The answer to that is that they don't know. That the knowing is in the sketching. The knowing is in the creative process. They're the best, so let's learn from the best and do what they do so successfully. That is really to explore sketching low resolution ideas, fast and cheap. One of the things we talk about is, sketching can produce images like we just did, but they can also produce budgets. Like when I worked with Imagineering, we were talking about a methodology where the first budget for a project would round off at 100 million.

Bruce Mau:

They would be thinking about a $5 billion project and they would quantify things to the nearest 100 million. As they proceeded through the project, then it would be the nearest 10 million. Then the nearest million, then the nearest 100,000, then the nearest 10,000. By the time you're finished, you're looking at a budget that's very precise and you're rounding off to the nearest thousand. You're that kind of ... If you think about that as resolution, you can sketch a budget, you can sketch a timeframe, you can sketch all kinds of things. You can do physical sketches. That concept of low resolution ideas fast and cheap is not constrained to the visual. It's really a way of thinking that allows you to increase the odds of greatness. I think on that, unless you have any other questions, I will say thank you. Thanks so much.

Speaker 11:

Thank you so much, Bruce.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Bruce Mau:

My pleasure.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Bruce Mau:

Yeah.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Hank:

Thank you, Bruce.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Speaker 11:

Thank you.

Speaker 11:

Yeah.

Bruce Mau:

Thank you, everyone. Have a lovely day. [Spanish 01:21:05].

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