I recently saw the wonderful documentary, Eames: The Architect & The Painter, and if you are a fan of the furniture, films or other design of Ray and Charles Eames like I am, you have to see this film when it comes to your town, or becomes available via DVD or some streaming service. Even if you are not obsessed with the work of the amazing couple, you have certainly been exposed to it, and I think we all can learn from the example they set.
So much about this film impressed me, but one lesson more than all the others resonated. Ray and Charles sold their process to their corporate clients, not their knowledge. When they approached design challenges for their clients, they looked at them with a fresh perspective, and learned about the challenge, the industry, the technology, and that process of discovery is really what they sold, the work product was almost an artifact of the process. Charles liked to say, “Never delegate understanding.”
The Eames methodology of addressing subjects as a novice, learning about them, and translating that learning into a product seems similar to Zero Gravity Thinker solution to the expertise/innovation paradox. I had a moment of synchronicity at Ignite Seattle 16 on Wednesday evening when Beth Kokol got up and spoke about Hackademia: her work at the University of Washington to get students to solve problems they have no special expertise in.
While there is certainly room, and need for knowledge and expertise, we cannot be so cocksure that we ignore the value of a fresh perspective and the innovation it can give rise to. There are skills and methodologies that can prepare us for success in any field, Charles Eames said that design is a life skill not a professional skill. In today’s world media literacy is one of these important life skills. The ability to learn and comprehend and adapt
that learning into action is more important than all the knowledge one can acquire in an era when all the knowledge is available (freely*) on the internet.
Here’s an article from Wired about the film, and a little bonus: watch this Ted Talk from the grandson of Ray and Charles Eames, Eames Demetrios