Friday, May 30, 2008

Being Outwardly Responsive to an Inward Beginning

Who is responsible for the lack of ingenuity or the lack of design in the 'hood? In a recent post on, Tom Peters writes about the great work that the mayor of Seoul is doing in implementing design by beginning with the necessary things. In a response to a comment about the seemingly more importance of the "'lunatic fringe' of design," Tom Peters brilliantly responds. Here is his response and mine, mostly duplicated.

"Richard, I don't disagree with much-most of what you said. Yet I have an abiding view of life: If it ain't been implemented it's still "new"! That is, I heartily applaud Korea's effort to put design front and center as a national economic strategy--and I don't really give a damn if it's cutting edge or not. The Mayor of Seoul is working diligently on cleaning up several block areas--one at a time. To be sure, there is nothing "cutting edge" about clean streets and tidy sidewalks and nice signage. But is arguably exactly the right prescription for Seoul at the moment. (Other 'cooler' parts of the program include the likes of heavy investment in new museums.) While it is more "fun" for me to talk about the IDEOs and Imaginations, Seoul's sparkling neighborhoods and new green spaces are a wonderful start on a "culture of design" per my lights."

Reading Tom Peters' comment I thought of all the neighborhoods in the 'hood around the US and wondered if government officials and neighbors would just do the things that they can do, like implementing regular clean ups by simply picking up the trash on their streets, and, of course, not throwing any down, that would be a great start to re-building, a re-designing, of sorts. The communities are already built. What now has to be valued is the neighborhoods in which the neighbors live and this has to come from inward pride, an inward sense of ownership and responsibility. Money is not the only solution to all problems.

Many times we want to go for the major stuff or simply the stuff that catches the eye when the simple stuff, not to say at all that other stuff does not need addressing, would at least lead to the best beginning. It's all about that beginning, that mindset of change that makes the difference. I must also admit, thinking about the erection of grandness amid squalor that such a site can be admirable and inspiring, like a wild flower patch among the naturally greening of some neighborhoods that have had burned out houses in its stead. Remaining dilapidated houses still stand among such greenery. How's that for the greening of neighborhoods?

It is in the spirit of the aforementioned beginning that I applaud the mayor of Seoul for his efforts. But I also most certainly appreciate the new museum, undoubtedly cutting edge. Funny...years ago the City of Detroit opened up one of the largest, most beautiful museums to honor the accomplishments of African Americans. I was hired in the year it opened. It was marvelous just walking around that building. It's a marvelous design! Initially, there were many supporters, but as time went on the visitors tapered off.

Now, there are other issues for the tapering to be sure, as I witnessed it up front, as many other museums have had, including the DIA, the home of the extraordinary Diego murals. But what struck me profoundly was the necessity of doing the small stuff, such as picking up the trash in your neighborhoods that would carry over to honoring those who have gone on before. (Honoring yourself is key.) It's always the small stuff out of which larger, cutting edge stuff, can be built for a more surer foundation.

Disclaimer: I repeat...I am not at all naively suggesting that there is one solution to such problems as dilapidated neighborhoods, nor am I suggesting that this human problem, of not doing the simple stuff, is endemic to a certain people. (Of course, we know that here with just our decisions of avoiding the small stuff in our businesses.) I am, however, passionately suggesting that there are always things that we each can do individually to jump start those larger more cutting edge things out of which the smaller things are the foundations for such great success. Build inwardly; the outward design will be beautifully implemented and more appreciated.

I'm suggesting a "new" thing. Pick up the trash. This is the necessary inward beginning to a needed outward response.

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