At the Monterrey Design Conference last year, one of the principals from OMA (Rem Koolhaas’ firm) gave a talk. They began by noting all the famous architects and firms that had emerged from their office: BIG, MVRDV, FOA, JDS, REX, Zaha Hadid, Buro Ole Scheeren… just to name a few. And we all cheered. For they are some great designers (many of whose projects I’ve posted about on this very blog). Clearly a great achievement for OMA to be such an incubator for great talent.
“And so,” they continued, I paraphrase, “we had to ask ourselves a question. Why are so many of them leaving our firm?”
Murmurs filled the hall.
“Who are we being such that they feel their future is brighter outside of our company? Who are we being that they feel the need to leave to fully express themselves?”
It was not where we expected the talk to go… nor was it something most of us would have considered. But there it was, honestly stated and expressed with vulnerability. It was an inquiry, posed to us all. And one that was clear OMA was taking on with vigour.
It’s a great inquiry.
Ben Zander, in his amazing TED talk, finishes off his presentation with a similar question, describing his definition of leadership and success: shining eyes.
“So if the eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it. If the eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And this is the question: who am I being that my players’ eyes are not shining?”
He then ups the ante quite beautifully:
“We can do that with our children, too. Who am I being, that my children’s eyes are not shining? That’s a totally different world.”
When things keep going a certain way, be it in our lives or all around us; when we get that realization that maybe something is off; when we notice that our progress is stymied; when we grasp our strategies are bankrupt; whenever the barriers stop us flat we can ask ourselves that very great question: “Who am I being such that it is going this way? Who am I being such that these are the results I’m having?”
The answer often surprises us (in that “bad news” insight kind of way).
Once we get over the shock, we can complete it, clear ourselves, and begin to design who we do want to be.
And keep that stable of fabulous designers to make great things, together.