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By Design or Day-by-Day?

MoMa - Wikimedia

MoMa - Wikimedia

Recently, I had the good fortune to join my 85 Broads Power Circle colleagues to preview the Designing Modern Women exhibit at MoMA. A fascinating retrospective of the contributions made by creative women, highlights include 1960s psychedelic concert posters; familiar furniture and fun textiles; and the first display of a newly conserved kitchen by Charlotte Perriand in concert with Le Corbusier.

During the evening’s festivities, what struck me most profoundly were these words from museum curator Juliet Kinchin: we live design. While Kinchin delivered this line matter-of-factly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, we live design. But how many of us really live by design?

Whether we’re aware or not, everything in the universe has a design. The formation of the clouds, the waves in the ocean. We select our own designs: The clothes we wear and the homes in which we live feature visual elements to which we’re attracted: modern vs. traditional furnishings, bright vs. subdued colors, textured wool vs. sleek sateen. Choices abound and it is through these choices that we guide ourselves and drive outcomes. It’s no different in business: The opportunities we pursue and the paths we take contribute to the perpetual build process that moves us up the ladder or not at all.

As children, we’re taught to select our clothes the night before, color within the lines using Crayola’s 64, and to stand in lines waiting our turn. The structure morphs and blurs as we get older; for example, university students are encouraged to think outside the box, travel abroad to expand their horizons, and never settle for less than what they want. What starts out as a well-defined and predictable life design veers into random and unpredictable chaos. Entering the workplace, some adults fixate at this stage, overlooking their opportunity to strategically design a life. Without a roadmap, they hope for pleasant serendipity yet usually succumb to a day-by-day grind.

They say the majority of adults are visual learners. Yet, how many of us have taken the time to express the design by which we live? Sure, in today’s digital world, one could say we articulate the design of our lives through LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest. But that’s not the same as sitting down with a blank sheet of paper – you remember that old-fashioned ruled yellow page one pulls from a legal pad – and writing down how the composition of what you do, think and say every day is creating your design. Proactive, not passive.

The designs featured in MoMA are incredibly diverse: some functional, others not, spectacularly elegant or messy and provocative, and some, merely a refinement or improvement of an existing accoutrement. Regardless, the end result is a tangible expression of years of hard work, learning, patience and vision. Define your design.