The book “They Ask You Answer” by Marcus Sheridan has really got me paying attention to the questions I’m hearing every day and taking the time to craft thoughtful and (more importantly) honest responses. While I do get a lot of questions about Innovation and Design, if I want to be really honest, the question I’m hearing the most these days has been, “Do you miss teaching?” A close second to that is, “Why did you choose to leave the university?”
My answer has primarily been some form of, “It’s complicated.” That’s just not good enough and thus the thoughtful and honest exploration began.
I’d like to start with one of my favorite TED Talks, “Your Elusive Creative Genius” told by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” During her inspiring talk, Elizabeth shares a bold idea that rather than a person “being” a genius, they instead “have” a genius. I love this concept and rather than unpacking it here, I encourage you to check out her talk. That said, the key takeaway is that with a title like “Chasing the Genius of The AND,” this genius is some elusive external being that is being chased; that I’m chasing.
Where to Look for a Genius
Think, “Oh that’s Genius” when observing something else. For me, this could be when I see Gus (our awesome dog) cuddle in a particularly comfortable position. “Oh, that’s Genius. I should relax just like that.” Gus is my relaxation genius.
The Genius of The AND has been the most elusive genius. I’ve been chasing her before I knew her name.
Do I miss teaching? Of course I do. Do you know what else I miss? I miss working on movie sets with my brother and family. I miss that dearly.
“Why did you choose to leave the movie business?”
“Because I was chasing the Genius of The And before I knew her name.”
In those days, I was either studying Engineering in college OR working on New York City film sets. The dichotomy of the two environments was tearing me apart. I loved them both, but never fully immersed in either. Throughout the 90’s, I would leave them both on soul searching journeys guided by country roads on the saddle of my Harley-Davidson. I was looking the wrong way and never did find her, but got closer, landing in Charlotte where I would study both Physics and Poetry, thinking I would be happy as a High School teacher. I’m sure in fact, that I would have been happy in those frenetic halls, lockers slamming, with boys and girls becoming men and women.
Somewhere in there, I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, and loved it, but was too naive to know I was holding her in my hands. By 1998 the journey took me to Chapel Hill where I studied Biomedical Engineering, and I was getting closer to finding her.
Over the years I went to school or worked, started a for profit and then a nonprofit, and went on living a mostly dualistic life. When hired to teach Biomedical Engineering Senior Design at NC State in 2006, there was one… well, there were many… but there was one particular story that I recall impacting my teaching philosophy.
It was about an entry level engineer we hired out of Penn State to join our product development team at Alaris Medical Systems in Creedmoor. This kid came into the company with so much energy, excitement, and creativity, only to have it beaten out of him by the FDA’s Quality System Regulations and Design Controls. He picked up his whole life, moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, bought a car and got a place to live, and within 6 months, he was leaving because he couldn’t stand it.
I never wanted that to happen to the students. So, I wanted them to get a taste of what real life is like in this industry while still in school. So, in my classroom, I insisted on them following Design Controls. But even more important was a message that I hope my former students all remember, and that new students embrace. The health and wellness of our world is depending on your creativity. It takes a truly special talent to be both creative and live in the required constraints of a system that is in place to protect us. We need quality systems AND we need creativity. Be brave and do both to make this world a better place.
“The health and wellness of our world is depending on your creativity.”
Over the next 12 years I would get to meet the Genius of The AND from time to time. Most notably, Jim Collins is credited with developing this concept in his book, “Built to Last,” where he states most famously to reject the, “Tyranny of the OR.” But I don’t think I truly knew And until practicing Yoga.
The Genius of The And is all around us. She’s everywhere, in all matter and energy, and is both Luke Skywalker’s AND Darth Vader’s Force. She is caring and thoughtful, confident and humble, courageous and careful, competitive and collaborative, leader and follower, logical and emotional, classical and romantic, orderly and chaotic, and … well AND.
In Yoga, she is the Peaceful Warrior (and many more such poses of both relaxation AND strength).
So why did I leave the university? Because I was chasing the Genius of The AND. In my humble opinion, many academic institutions and design firms have lost the Genius of The AND, often times reducing Industrial Design to primarily aesthetics. As a best practice however, Industrial Design IS the Genius of The AND.
AND it is Psychology
AND it is Art
AND it is Engineering
AND it is Business
AND it is all the other perspectives brought together - It is People First.
It is the ability to derive order from chaos.
And today, I find myself in a very special place where the Genius of The AND is celebrated and encouraged and practiced daily.
For more on the FDAs Quality Systems AND Creativity - check out this Guidebook on Design History File Ready Ideation