This is an ongoing series, based on conversations with Bruce Mau, to help people working in the brand-experience medium embrace and apply the 24 Design Principles. I believe that spending time with these interrelated, non-linear habits of thinking can help us realize better outcomes – at work, in our personal lives, and in the world at large.

The trick with working with someone as brilliant as Bruce Mau is that there is so much value in the simplest remarks that it sometimes takes me a while to unpack it all. The notion that we are called to inspire the people we work with underpins everything we have learned about design thinking.  I always thought that inspiration was a sort of lucky-strike extra. But Bruce has shown us that there is methodology to this madness. Literally. As leaders, we are called to take people on a quest — a collaborative journey that has a clearly defined objective. It may be difficult to achieve — we may need to adjust our course along the way — but our first duty is to inspire the people we hope to lead.

The design-thinking methodology that Freeman has embraced is unique in that it is fundamentally a leadership methodology. When I think of all the leadership books I’ve read, and the many lectures I’ve attended, they generally consist of anecdotal stories that describe amazing people and how they demonstrated grace under fire. But those stories don’t provide a DIY method that helps us become more effective leaders.

Freeman’s 24 Design Principles begins with this essential directive: “First inspire… lead by design.” True leaders take the time to show people what success will look like once it’s been achieved. They engage their team both emotionally and intellectually in “what beautiful looks like.” They act with intention to inspire their people, and to show them how to inspire each other.

When I think about where we are today, both Freeman and our industry at large, leading by design is more important than ever. People used to come to trade shows because that was the only place to get the information they needed to succeed. But today, they have plenty of options on where to get information.  I believe that they turn to us — and to the brand experiences we create — for inspiration.

What does this kind of leadership look like? I saw it in action the other day, and it was truly inspirational. One of our account leaders was kicking off the start-of-work meeting for the team working on a very high-profile client event. Normally, she would have framed it up by talking about client expectations, budget limitations and timeline challenges. She would have addressed questions about the size of the exhibit space and logistical concerns. Instead, she started the meeting by asking our team to think about how our client’s innovative technology could change the world for the better. She asked them to consider how to engage participants in this mission. She inspired the team by visualizing the opportunity to design for massive change.

For me, that’s what beautiful looks like. That’s what leadership looks like.

P.S.
In the workshops Bruce Mau conducts, he helps us think about how to act with intent by having everyone write their personal manifesto. You can read more about that here.