IDEO Chicago’s roof garden, and some of its bounty
I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat. When making a meal, the spontaneity of grabbing fresh herbs and other homegrown ingredients from the garden is an essential part of the whole process. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to what gardening, design, and creative leadership have in common.
Gardening is generative, iterative, and user-centered
When designers in our Chicago studio first planted a roof garden, they noticed people were picking and eating the strawberries and tomatoes and leaving the eggplants and tomatillos to rot on the vine. They soon realized that planting a work garden for 60 busy people is very different from planting a home garden for a family of four. Project deadlines simply took priority over cooking, so any plants that took extra steps to prepare were ignored. The next year, the designers planted a “Grab and Go Garden” that contained only fruits and vegetables that could be eaten straight away. This time, more plants were eaten, less were wasted. A good garden, like good design, needs to meet the needs of its users.
Gardening helps us frame future design challenges
The old assembly-line metaphors of the Industrial Revolution won’t help us design the future. Our world is complex. Like a garden, we must tend it, cultivate it, steward it, and encourage it to meet our needs instead of always trying to be in control of it. Our solutions must accommodate the competing needs of humans and the rest of nature. Successful design, like successful gardening, is never finished and is constantly changing.
Gardening teaches us how to be creative leaders
My colleague Michael Hendrix recently wrote an article about his experiences co-leading our Boston studio. He describes his approach to creative leadership as “Gardening, not architecture.” It’s a powerful thought. An architect makes the physical world obey. A gardener helps living things thrive through attentiveness and dialogue. Good leadership starts by finding talented people, giving them a safe space to cultivate their creativity, and letting them grow into their full potential under careful guidance—not a controlling thumb.
What personal pursuits have helped you with leadership challenges?