About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

20 August 2010

An Architect's Vision

Daniel Libeskind is a world renowned architect. He is most famous for being selected by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to oversee the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. He titled his concept for the site Memory Foundations. Some of his other projects include the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany, the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England, and the Wohl Centre at Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat-Gan, Israel.

Libeskind gave a presentation titled 17 Words of Architectural Inspiration last February at a TED event. The 17 words form the basis of his vision for the future of architecture. You can watch the presentation here. If you do, and if you happen to be an architect, you will most likely find yourself either nodding in agreement with what he says, or calling him a fool or worse. I say this because I didn't find many neutral opinions in the "Comments" section.

As I listened to him speak - with nary a shard of architectural savvy in my bones - I started to wonder how many of his 17 words can help form a vision for building a more satisfying and meaningful life. And, without doing much stretching, I can make a case for the relevance of all 17. What I want to do here, though, is to take just a few of the words and share the connections I made.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

Libeskind believes that architecture - more than almost any other profession - must be anchored in an optimistic view of the future. He said:
"You can be an general, a politician, an economist who is depressed, a musician in a minor key, a painter in dark colors. But architecture is that complete ecstasy that the future can be better."
There's not much to argue with here. Optimists fare better in nearly all aspects of life ... and studies have shown they live longer too. So, if you're a pessimist ... you have one more thing to be pessimistic about. On the other hand pessimism doesn't have to be a life sentence. Dr. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and recovering pessimist, has shown that we can cross the bridge from pessimist to optimist by developing three specific cognitive skills. You can read about them in his book, Learned Optimism, which he wrote because his daughter kept telling him how big a grouch he was.

Hand vs. Computer

While admitting that the whole practice of architecture today relies heavily on the computer, Libeskind is adamant that the hand should drive the computer, instead of the other way around. He says this because he full-out believes that his best ideas come from an unknown, unseen source deep inside him and have to be teased out into the light through hand drawings and sketches. That being done, he is only too happy to open his computer and begin the process of turning his sketches into blueprints. He closes with a question for his fellow architects:
"How can we make the computer respond to our hand rather than the hand responding to the computer?"
This comparison raises several interesting questions. On a practical level, you might ask whether the technology you are using in your work and your life is your servant or your master. Do you really have to jump to answer your cell every time it rings? Should you open PowerPoint the minute you start preparing a presentation or should you sketch it out on paper first? Should email or text messaging be the default option in your communication with the important people in your life? On a philosophical level, you might wonder if you are living a life of your own design or following a template designed for you by others or even by circumstance. On a spiritual level, you could ask whether the fundamental choices you make are informed by your conscience - the voice inside you that tells you what is moral and good - or that which is expedient and self serving. I could go on with my list, but I am sure you get the idea. You can read more about this notion in the book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford. You can also read more abut Matthew's ideas in his New York Times Magazine article The Case for Working With Your Hands.

Raw vs. Refined

In this instance, Libeskind said he thinks of raw as "naked experience, untouched by luxury, untouched by expensive materials, untouched by the kind of refinement that we associate with high culture." And he believes that the creation of sustainable environments in the future will depend on the use of raw space or "...
a space that isn't decorated, a space that isn't mannered in any source, but a space that might be cool in terms of its temperature, might be refractive to our desires. A space that doesn't always follow us like a dog that has been trained to follow us, but moves ahead into directions of demonstrating other possibilities, other experiences, that have never been part of the vocabulary of architecture."

Here I think relationships. I like mine raw or as open, juicy, and authentic as possible. I don't much like them refined or dry, stilted, and managed. All relationships? No, not all. Most, then? Yes. Including work relationships? Yes. Why? Because the more time I can spend with people I've come to truly know and care about, the better my life is for it.

  • How are you generally optimistic or pessimistic? Would the people who know you best agree? Why or why not?
  • How do you work with your hands? Does doing so bless your life? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • How is a relationship either raw or refined as you see it? What is the balance between the two in your life? If it needs to shift, how so. If not, why not?

"Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." - Langston Hughes
“I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.” - J. B. Priestly
"I promise you the sloth approach is the most successful life-maintenance program. So many of us waste our time being angry at our bosses, our families, our president, or even our God. The Sloth Plan, on the other hand, helps us to accept that there is no real hope for change. Power is in the hands of an elite, entitled few, and there is no reason to waste our lives howling in the wilderness." - Wendy Wasserstein, Sloth
"Deep down in people there is love and craving for the beautiful. There are many who go through their whole lives without ever knowing when they have liked or what they have liked." - Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
"'Hunches,' his mother used to call them. The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really just a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it's all written there." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
"Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood." - Friedrich Nietzsche
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" - C.S. Lewis

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