As the director of a leading edge graduate program in digital media and engagement, as well as a content creator, I do receive a fair amount of invitations to participate, collaborate and give. Over the past few years, I’ve become a lot more parsimonious about accepting them, preferring to devote my limited time to students and family. So I’m usually a “no” first before I say “yes” — if ever!
A couple of years ago, the leadership at Arcade magazine — a publication about design and the built environment — asked this communications strategist and educator to be the feature editor for the kickoff issue of its redesign. I said “no” at least twice, wondering what the connection was to my world, until I opened my mind and (a) saw the intellectual link between engagement and architecture; (b) recognized that this publication would help “extend my reach” and connect with communities with whom I don’t normally have a relationship.
So I finally said, “yes” and convened a set of remarkable thinkers around my editorial premise: “designing communities through communication, building them with social capital.”
The final paragraph to my introductory article sums that premise up (and is also the core of my “Storyteller Uprising” book):
As the glue that holds society together, community is crucial to communication. If we want to continue to design and build around the places where humans physically gather, wouldn’t it help if we understood what, in this digital age, inspires and enables acts of sharing, collaboration and collective action in the first place? What this assembly of journalists, academics, communications professionals and thought leaders share in the coming feature may surprise you. Thanks to our networked world, we are in a constant state of disruption, where well-established hierarchies are giving way to informally created, bottom-up, self-organized communities. This newfound community power will demand a more interactive, consultative approach to how designers think and work.
I’m glad I realized that I should say “yes” to Arcade. This thinking has led me to a more community-based approach to my own work, and my role in that community. So when Arcade Magazine features editor Alan Maskin for issue 31.1 and a principal at the architectural firm of Olson Kundig asked me for my input on his design for the new Jeff Bezos-funded Center for Innovation at the nearby Museum for History and Industry, I agreed to do so immediately. Not only did I see the value of a permanent exhibit telling the story of Seattle as a hub for innovation, I wanted to convene conversations — and therefore community — around our region’s “special sauce.”
In 2010, I interviewed UW history professor Margaret O’Mara (watch it above) “whose work looks at the growth of the knowledge economy and the reasons creativity and innovation thrive in particular places.” Margaret also serves as the research consultant for the new Center for Innovation. Are you beginning to see how this chain of “yes’s” connects?
Thanks to Margaret, I ultimately ended up joining forces with Olson’s Alan Maskin and Marlene Chen to produce some of the content that will go into MOHAI’s new permanent exhibit this fall. And because of this partnership, I recently got to sit down with the funder of this initiative, and the founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos. Which is how — bringing this post full circle — he agreed to sign the back of my Kindle (he said “yes” without hesitating).
The moral to this story? Try to say “yes” more than “no.” “Give” more than “take.” Indeed, a friend recently gave me the terrific new book by a Wharton business professor, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success” in gratitude for my taking the time to share some career advice. I was deep into reading this book about generosity of spirit that leads to career success, when Arcade asked whether I would engage my social networks to participate in today’s “Give Big” campaign — whereby the Seattle Foundation matches all donations to non-profits such as Arcade for the next 24 hours.