Only One

After introducing me to his class, Peter took a seat off to the side of the room. Front and center, I projected my laptop onto the giant screen behind me and opened up PowerPoint to create a new blank document. “What shall we call this presentation?,” I asked them. The students just stared and Peter all but broke out in a sweat. Nobody had an answer. “How about ‘Design’?,” I proposed and typed Design. into the center of the slide, in 96 pt. Helvetica. Nothing more. For the next hour I spoke about thinking like a designer - not specifically design thinking. Circulating my sketchbooks, everyone browsed their contents as I explained the process of getting one’s thoughts and ideas down on paper and subsequently articulating them to a customer, colleague, or even a room full of strangers.

Thanking me for the unique presentation, Peter concluded, “This certainly wasn’t what I expected, but I must say it was no less interesting and inspiring.” As I was leaving, an Indian woman who’d been sitting near the back of the room, approached me outside the classroom. She began to tell me how her son is constantly doodling on his papers, drawing when he should be practicing or studying. “I’ve been forever reprimanding him for not paying attention. For wasting his time. Now, after hearing your lecture, and looking through your incredible notebooks, I have to thank you.” Leaving with a 180o understanding of her child’s artistic tendencies, she vowed to encourage and support his design thinking capabilities. Her apologetic tone brought a tear to my eye knowing I just eased the tension in their home and possibly changed the course of that little boy’s life. With one word, on one slide, in one hour. I understood that no matter how small or large my audience, I’m only out to reach one person - to make just one difference. That’s thinking like a designer.

Starting out doing twenty-minute break-out session presentations to expense-accounted attendees at trend and innovation conferences was like being in the AA League trying to make it to the Majors. Sometimes the little room down the hall was full of genuinely curious participants, and other times, the room had a smattering of lost folks who seemed to have wandered in serendipitously. Combining my teaching experience with differentiating content boosted my self-confidence. Reading the audience like a practicing stand-up – my Mastery teacher was right. A couple years in, I found myself on that main stage with a crafted forty-five minute presentation. Customers and peers in attendance were beginning to take notice. It’s not a competition by any means, but I believe I hold the company record for the largest attended presentation to a customer – with an audience of 400. Steven claims second place with an audience of 250. Pantone Color Institute’s Laurie Pressman invited me to co-present on color trends and synesthesia at SXSW 2015. Our session had an SRO audience of 500 color-curious consumers. Four years later I presented foresight and trends to 1,199 as the opening keynote speaker for the 13th Pangborn Sensory Science Symposium in Edinburgh, Scotland. Again, I was only trying to reach one person – the twelve-hundredth, in the front row – my daughter Rebeka.

1 comment

  • Michael Katz

    Reading the field is the gift be it the back of the diamond or behind the podium on stage. Designing the next pitch to a customer or the audience is the payoff pitch if it hits the mark or changes a life.

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