An Event Apart: 5 Dangerous Ideas

by April 2, 2012

In his 5 Dangerous Ideas talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Scott Berkun talked outlined truths about how the world works that creatives don’t like to talk about. Here's my notes from his talk:

Everyone is a designer

  • Most people who will write something are not professional writers. Yet for specialized jobs like software development and design, we assume that only professionals can do it. This is a dangerous assumption.
  • Design is matching a solution to a problem. Everyone does it several times a day. Everything is designed around us. We shouldn’t look down on that.
  • “My client thinks he’s a designer” needs to be reframed as “he is a designer, just an extremely bad one.” This paints the client as an obstacle but with an interest in design. How can we move that to our advantage?
  • Designers should be ambassadors for good ideas. People who need help with design can be mentored and taught. In the process of teaching people you make them realize how much they don’t know.

You have no power

  • You need power to make decisions. Designers make decisions so we need power.
  • You can choose to be an artist and make all the decisions yourself. When you choose to be a designer or an engineer, you naturally have less power over all choices –there are things you need to collaborate on and negotiate.
  • If you only have the low ground, fortifying it buys you nothing. If you are operating with only a small amount power, it’s natural to be overly protective of your domain. But this will not extend your power beyond your narrow space.
  • We often create jargon to fortify ourselves and our position. This isn’t an effective way to build more credibility.
  • Whoever uses the most jargon has the least confidence in their ideas.

The generalists are in charge

  • The person with more authority than you likely has a broader, more general role than you.
  • If you are spending a lot of time in rooms with other people trying to convince them of your ideas, you probably have a lot less influence than you think.
  • We like to believe that is we have a good idea it will convince others to go do it. This never happens.
  • If you are pitching, you have no power. Everyone in the creative profession spends a lot of time pitching. The more time you spend pitching, the less power you have.
  • The bigger your idea is, the more likely you are going to get criticism for it. This is dangerous because it makes us only pitch small ideas that are more likely to get accepted.
  • In room power vs. out room power. If you are putting all your eggs in one basket (the meeting), you are limiting your ability to be effective. What happens before and after can be more influential.
  • Go down the hall talk to people before the pitch meeting. This is ok.
  • Creative types like to spend hours at a time alone making things. This allows us to discount all the factors that come into play around ideas that have nothing to do with our work.
  • What’s the culture’s appetite for change? If it is low, your big ideas won’t get accepted.
  • How much of your personal stake are you willing to put into an idea? Many creative people want the upsides of ownership, but only without the investment of involvement.
  • Ownership, accountability, involvement, and not involved at all: spectrum of people who have power.
  • If you argue for your limitations, you get them. “I’m just a designer” is saying I don’t want to do a lot of things.

You work in sales

  • Talk to people you don’t like. If you want more power, you have to do this. It’s easier to stay with the people similar to you. But you need the conviction to talk to people you don’t like about your ideas.
  • If people think you are smart and useful your job title is irrelevant. A job title may be useful to get a client but in your day-to-day job, it doesn’t matter. The opposite is also true.

Creativity is a risk

  • We like to claim domain over the word “creative”. Many teams are labeled as the creative group. We assume that’s our turf.
  • Most of our ideas are too conservative. We often opt for the safer stuff and then complain about it.
  • We feel protective about our ideas. Success for us is not about getting better ideas or skills. It is how we get accepted. Instead, give yourself a chance to get rejected.
  • In creative work: who will ask the tough question, do the extra work, be willing to fail and learn, put their reputation on the line, commit to a crazy idea.
  • If you as the “creative person” are not willing to take those risks, who will?