I have always felt a strong commitment to contribute to the community.
I will never forget my first profound experience with service when I was in high school. I, along with a selected group of students, went to Jonestown, Mississippi – one of the poorest towns in the country – to paint the walls and ceilings of the community center over spring break. At the end of the seven days, I felt unfulfilled, like we (a group of Northeasterners) had not done anything for those we were supposed to help, but rather, did it for the sake of “doing good”. Those of Jonestown did not seem receptive to our help, nor willing to participate in the project. Similar to the history I had studied in the classroom, it seemed as though we were colonists coming in and imposing our beliefs on the natives.
When I got home, I called one of the families I met and asked if I could return over summer vacation so I could get a true sense of the town. I stayed with them in their trailer and was completely immersed in their daily "normal" – bloodstains on the floor, guns and bullets next to the bed, kicked-in walls, sweltering heat, cockroaches, chitterlings and all – genuinely shocked by such a different way of life. When I settled in, I realized that Jonestown was indeed being “governed” by outsiders and there was no stability from within. The community itself had no real sense of community; it was just outsiders coming in each week to “help” bring about change that nobody really asked for, wanted or were capable of initiating themselves. That was the moment I truly learned the value in the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Through my interactions and conversations over the following weeks, the locals were able to see that I genuinely cared about why I was there – not just to paint walls and ceilings, but to bring the Community Center to life, for them, the community. There, in Jonestown, Mississippi, I realized that service is not about what we think others need, but instead, about truly understanding and learning to help identify needs, and giving those you are there to help, a safe and comforting environment, where they feel they can reach out and ask for assistance. Service is about providing the opportunities and resources to continue to bring the dreams of others to life.
That trip transformed my perception of community service. Service ultimately strips us down and allows us to connect – human to human – and relate on the most basic level with people who are different, instead of wanting to change them. Community service should not be viewed as a program requirement, or a nice thing to do, but instead as a part of the fabric of one’s character – a way of life.
A Carnegie Mellon professor once said, "Our duty as designers is to rid the world of ugliness." Over a decade later, I still take that responsibility to heart. I interpret "ugliness" as ill-defined purpose, poor function, confusing directions, frustrating experiences.
Designers solve problems. They reduce clutter and incorporate more intuitive, aesthetic outcomes to improve human interactions. There is reason, passion and/or cognition; there is strategy, intention and purpose. It is not as much about invention as innovation, to connect the dots and improve upon them.
For instance, I walk into a bagel shop or an ice cream parlor and immediately see opportunity — fix the ingress/egress, print the menu board to improve readability, rearrange the layout chairs and tables. It is simple things that would take a literal hole in the wall, patch it and completely transform the space.
Everything artificial is designed in some form or fashion. Whether it is a parking lot, presentation deck, coffee pot or cellular phone, everything relies on interactions with the end goal (hopefully) to improve the function, value and appearance based on human-factors. It may seem pompous, or lofty, to think Designers are the world's fixers but they sure do make life more practical, pleasant and beautiful.
We just listened to the “Yanny vs. Laurel” sound clip for the first time. With all the social media buzz about it, we figured we would write down what we heard and then compare.
Without any context, what I heard was incoherent and resembled something like “Yehme” or “Jimmy” so I wrote that down on the paper. We flipped it over at the same time, and I was absolutely shocked to read “Laurel” on the other page. How could we hear such drastically different sounds? I did not hear anything remotely close to Laurel! Then I heard a version that accentuated the frequencies to highlight Yanny (high) and Laurel (low). Either way, why was I originally hearing neither? It really makes me think how many things in our everyday life are believed to be objective but yet interpreted so differently. Our senses challenge our sense of the world.
When I was younger, I was given a toy toolkit. It looked like a real toolkit but it did not function like one.
I was recently reminded of this while listening to Donald Miller's podcast "Building a Story Brand" (no pun intended). The host asked if guest Daymond John believes you should staff your liabilities. The FUBU creator/Shark Tank entrepreneur did not, and instead felt you should staff your assets.
John would rather hire someone to take over an area of his personal strength "... so that I can peak in the other areas that I don't know. I don't want to be taken advantage of... I can't be the sucker at the table."
The way I interpret that is, when building out your toolkit, it is not about having all the tools but about having the right ones for the right reasons. You cannot use a hammer on every project; no matter how great, it only serves a narrow purpose. However, if you only choose projects which utilize its specialization, that high-quality tool makes work much more effective and smooth. You leverage your strengths and accomplish more in an area that matters most to you.
Most tool kits come with the obvious: hammer, wrench, screwdriver, pliers. But they miss one vital tool — the generalist. Cue the Swiss Army knife.
The Swiss Aemy knife is not pretending to be all-encompassing nor the best at every function — but it does offer an imprecise skill set for infinite use. It comes in handy for everyday tasks as well as when you are in a bind. Each of the aforementioned tools has a purpose; and the Swiss Army knife's is its versatility.
It makes me wonder... why are we so often told to be a hammer, wrench, screwdriver or pliers but rarely the Swiss Army knife?