Research Methods for Art and Design Final Presentations 2008
Magnet Poetry 01

Leadership and courage: Atticus Finch

I have been feeling very anxious lately and my friend Gong Szeto sent me this quote from Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

"I wanted you to see what real courage is... It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."

I have been thinking a lot about courage and leadership in terms of Obama, the economic meltdown, and the work I have been doing lately with government and policy.

Courage, leadership, and the Obama electoral victory

What made me feel most happy about the Obama victory was that for every person who voted for him it took courage. The victory was most improbable but the people who elected him saw it through no matter what (the what's being Rev. Wright, Bil Ayers, Sarah Palin, lies about Obama's Islamic faith, the economic meltdown, even Obama's citizenship). The strength of Obama's leadership is his ability to create the conditions for people to have this kind of courage. That's all good leadership does is create the conditions for collective courage.

Courage, leadership, and the economic meltdown

The economic meltdown demonstrates the ambiguity of Finch's words of wisdom. It is clear that traders and their highly compensated bosses saw it through no matter what their visions of immense profit based on passing the buck on risk to the next player. Those who were supposed to be accountable to risk management lacked courage, especially following the debacles of Enron, but one man's courage is another man's cowardice. What they lacked was leadership from Greenspan down to trade floor managers. The autopsy of the American financial body indicates that there were red flags everywhere and there were people who were waving those red flags. The leaders of these corporations refused to see  or when they did see, it was too late. In other words, they lacked the courage to lead, which meant doing things that might rein in their traders or reduce some of their windfall profit. The NY Times has a wonderful article, Talking Business, on how Dr. V. Y. Reddy, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, prevented the excesses of the US financial system from happening in India with his strict oversight and regulation.

Courage, leadership, and my work

My work in design and policy is always extremely frustrating because it is difficult to find leaders with courage. I find it most perplexing that those in the bureaucratic areas of government (who have some the greatest job security and benefits) are the most risk adverse. They have the least to lose and yet are afraid to risk anything. My own failures as a leader stem from my inability to get people to move forward with a progressive agenda, not because of their fear of failure, but their exposure as poor leaders. No matter how many times that I tell them that my job is to make them look good.

I can inspire the hell out of my students to achieve miraculous things, but not other leaders. It is something for me to work on and develop as a leader, but it sure is frustrating. Where is the line between keep going no matter what and just plain stubbornness? This is my challenge to conquer in myself.

And yet, for now, I keep moving forward...so that one day the Atticus Finches in my life will believe that I am the bravest person they ever knew.

Comments

Obama

I think your completely wrong Dori... I asked for Atticus Finch with examples of leadership and yet you go right to Obama because your retarded.. O what now!

ksenija berk

Following Dori’s post and Joe’s reply I feel a certain peace of my mind and soul. I’m tranquil for I see it is not just I, feeling like I’m doing a mad man’s job in design criticism and theory, for it seems like nobody ever listens to me. To be perfectly honest, I do have some supporters, going all the way to professors emeritus, but right now, I’m not sure, whether they really support my efforts, or are they just nice to me. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of those who provide constructive criticism to my work, like Dori and prof. Victor Margolin. The problem is that design practice now seems perfectly happy with their kind of creative research on topics from social sciences and humanities, which is ok, but is not enough. We need critical theoretical research on design, but many designers just don’t care enough, which is not very good for the development of the discipline. I had numerous in-depth conversations with designers, famous or just emerging individuals likewise, and all to often their response was: “Nobody really likes theory, you know, it is boring academic stuff.” It got even better on conferences where design was the central topic of the theoretical research and designers were merely listeners to theorists their only question after the debate was: “Do you expect us to understand you? We are designers, not theorists! Show us more pictures not dull theories!”
Call me mad, the history of madness has many faces, but they gave me courage to continue to do what I do, to dig deeper into the social and political dimensions of design. Here is one of my forthcoming research priorities in design:


Uncover the Power
The focus of my forthcoming research on a theoretical and discursive level intends to build connections between design and humanities. The research will connect the areas on several levels, sometimes sharing the methodology, sometimes the protocols or the theoretical framework. Design practice will not serve me solely as a ‘graphic document’, but will try to form a centre and a point of departure for in-depth theoretical research on/in design theory.
The research will focus on the shared protocols, canons, managerial subroutines and instruments of power, control and distribution connected and acted upon design. What kind of power relations does design form in contemporary society? Can we recognize and analyse the forms and networks of power created and instituted by design in society among various agents like politics, management, civil society or art? To paraphrase Foucault, one of the main goals of my research would be to study power at the point where the intentions of designers are completely invested in real and effective practices - “...to study power by looking, as it were, at its external face, at the point where it relates directly and immediately to what we might, very provisionally, call its object, its target, its field of application, or, in other words, the places where it implants itself and produces its real effects.”
Power relations represent one of the central issues of my work. Among other things, my work will attempt to uncover some patterns, measures, standards and finally ethics involved in the process of design, while it appropriates the forms of policy in order to become a design policy. The object of the research, in a true Foucaldian manner, would be to understand power through the practice of design at its outer boundaries, where it becomes capillary, where it transgresses the rules that organize and delineate it, gets invested in institutions, embodied in techniques, and acquires the material and conceptual means to intervene in society as an agent of social change. The research will pay special attention to opening a pubic discourse on design in a series of dialogues among different agents in society, to fostering a design critique, actively engaging the broadening of theoretical discourse and to making connections between scientific discourse and design practice.
Am I really too utopian or is it just the current world we live in, deprived from critical thinking, partially blind, spreading passivity as a virtue making it a perfect polygon for testing emerging models of Marcuseian one-dimensional society?

Joe Schwartz

I have had some similar frustrations when trying to spread the good word about Design Education. I have the good fortune to work in a K-12 system where the administration has the good sense to not understand exactly what I'm doing, but to recognize progress and leave it alone.

On the other hand, I often wish that the administration and the other students WOULD understand what I'm trying to accomplish and work with me to get more done. I read an article some time ago that said it is very difficult to be a teacher-leader within your own district. When you are so familiar to those around you, the content of your goals is often lost. It is only when those outside your own perimeter listen that real progress is made. How true.

My program is only four years old and I have not heard from anyone that is out int he "real world" yet to see if anything that they learned in my classes has carried through for them. I have heard from my students who are now in college and they have come back to tell me how much I was able to help them and they weren't even aware of it at the time.

Teaching high school can often be like the quote from Atticus Finch, but I don't consider that to be courage, I consider it to be a challenge; I know that the students have the goal of figuring out how to "lick" me; getting them to change their minds and drink the Kool-Aid is what brings me back day after day.

I hope that one day I will know if what I've been doing has made a difference. In the meantime, I push forward like you and do the good work, with the goal of lasting long enough to be proved right.

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