Collapse : Keeping you up at night

So, I just finished Collapse by Jared Diamond. To be honest, I think I was just waiting for the paperback edition, I’d read Guns, Germs and Steel last year and loved it. Anyway, it’s the kind of book that keeps you up at night, like tonight, or wakes you up at dawn, and you find you have tears rolling down your cheeks; you’re sobbing but you don’t quite know why.

FUD is the easy answer. The tough answers are that Collapse is a signal, a red flag, and a warning. Like Diamond, I, too, hope that it is an early warning signal. And that Diamond’s words would, somehow, somewhere, be the tipping point for the massive changes, we, as inhabitants of this blue marble, must make. Not another Cassandra.

Sounds dramatic doesn’t it. It’s easier to just let the feelings wash over you, close the book and put the facts away. Malcolm Gladwell puts it well, in his review,

They are a tangible, finite thing, and societies collapse when they get
so consumed with addressing the fine points of their history and
culture and deeply held beliefs
—with making sure that Thorstein
Olafsson and Sigrid Bjornsdotter are married before the right number of
witnesses following the announcement of wedding banns on the right
number of Sundays—that they forget that the pastureland is shrinking
and the forest cover is gone.

One of the things that really hit me, when I moved to Chicago to work and study at the Institute of Design, was the almost palpable difference in atmosphere amongst the students in a graduate program whose focus was human centered design and that of the graduate school of business I’d attended in Pittsburgh. Like night and day, business school was not quite human centered, or focused on the needs of the users, but winning, valuation, the bottom line and the virtual games of strategy we competed in for grades. At this point, I must also confess, that I hadn’t noticed it while in business school itself. I liked the thrill of the win, myself, and enjoyed pitting my skills against my peers in mock case competitions.

A sense of that can be seen in the comments section of my previous post, that competition is a blood sport and business is war. You can almost smell the tang of copper in the air. In Chicago, for the first time in my career I was working not only for a non profit, but found myself in a ‘sales’ situation I’d never faced. Till then it was always either B2B, where corporate money often feels like Monopoly, or mass communication style of B2C, where the customer was the segmented, delineated, demographic, almost mythical target audience. Not ‘real’ people. There is a point to this, Virginia, and yes, it relates to the environment too, be patient.

Here, for the first time in my life, the advertising agency account executive in me was inappropriate, ‘hard sell’ was not possible. I struggled with this, when I took prospective students around for tours of the school, and talked about the program and it’s philosophy, that to bring myself to persuade anyone that this was the right choice for them was not the right thing to do. It was decision they had to make, they were making a choice that was life long, the choice of graduate school, and they were, in effect, taking up a small mortgage to do so. Private schools are not cheap. Neither is living in Chicago. So, I discovered, that the fairest way to do this was to help them see the pros and cons of the decision, debate the merits of the program, and ultimately, let them know, that the final choice was theirs to make. I could only shine a torch on one path, life has many that you can take. In short, I became human centered, concerned about the needs of the user. My students can tell you the rest, I’m sure 🙂

Anyway, to get to the point to all of this, I came across this post in the Globalisation Institute’s blog, "
Delivering shareholder value and improving the environment

Chevron’s part in preserving the local flora and fauna was born not
of altruism, but of business sense, Prof Diamond says. "They want to
make money. And they discovered that they could make more money by
being clean than by making messes."

Once businesses have realised
it generally costs little more, and can often end up costing less, to
behave in a responsible manner, those practices propagate through the
company and into the corporate world.

And, to continue the profound mood that I find myself in, I reflected
that the most important thing that I learnt in design school was not
design, it was empathy.

Interviewing prospective students, reading application essays, the same message would come through, over and over, in different words, in myriads of ways,

I want to go to design school in order to learn how to make things that makes life better for other people.

I want to learn how to design products to help the elderly and the aged. I want to make the world a better place.

I was inspired to apply when I realised that I could make life easier for the physically challenged.

Any wonder I’m so passionate about design?

[Update:] Been thinking about this post, it’s two themes in one, but was letting the thoughts flow yesterday. Am going to continue on a couple of concepts from this today.

This entry was posted in Books, Business, Design, Personal. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Collapse : Keeping you up at night

  1. Perspective says:

    And another look at The Body Shop sale

    While similarities abound between the Alienware purchase and The Body Shop sale – Each will remain an independent unit with it’s own brand and product strategy intact Each will keep it’s name, unsullied by it’s purchaser’s name Each is small

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