Monday night I had the pleasure of hearing John Maeda, President of The Rhode Island School of Design, speak at the High Museum in Atlanta. A partnership between the High, The Westminster Schools, and Lovett School made his visit possible. Having just finished his excellent short book, Redesigning Leadership: Design, Technology, Business, Life, I was excited to have the chance to hear him speak.
Maeda has the kind of extraordinary intellect that is able to render complexity understandable without ever speaking pejoratively. During his talk, I thought of something he said in the book: “Although data can make a compelling case for something, data rarely create the emotions needed to spur people into action.” Maeda goes on to write about not only the need for storytelling but indeed the primacy of storytelling over statistics. He argues that artists are uniquely suited for this task as they have the intuition necessary to identify the story “and how to tell it in a compelling manner.”
As my school sails toward the work of our ambitious strategic plan, Maeda’s thinking here seems powerfully relevant. While we are determined to gather data that will allow us to assess the efficacy of our steps forward, we must also tell the stories well that will allow people to feel the larger narrative through the individual stories that illustrate components of it.
Maeda’s book left me with much to think about, and I am certain I will write more about some of the topics and issues he explores. I am likely to return to two topics in particular:
- Understanding the strengths and limits of on-line collaboration. In Redesigning Leadership, Maeda quotes many of his tweets, including this one: “Until you can serve pizza and drinks over the web, a social media portal to foster true collaboration will be so-so.”
- What makes for successful work in groups? What should be the balance between team cohesion and team cognitive dissonance?