Design Philosophy: Find Your Inner Buddha

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HOW Design Live—in Chicago this May 4 – 8—is all about collective wisdom shared. From speakers sharing their expertise with attendees to attendees sharing theirs with one another.

That’s why we’ve compiled 101 Inspiring Ideas for Creative Professionals in Design, Branding & Marketing, an exclusive free e-book featuring words of wisdom from a selection of 2015’s HOW Design Live speakers.

For a sneak peek, here’s one piece from the e-book:

Find Your Inner Buddha—and Other Philosophies

By Cheryl Heller, Founding Chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at SVA, Founder of the design lab CommonWise

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Use Tools, Don’t Be Used by Them

In our professional lives, it seems apparent that everyone has a need to invent their own methodology. Frameworks, processes, protocols, approaches and branded points of view abound, each holds just enough in common with each other to be familiar and just enough of a difference to lend confusion. Otto has his Theory U, IDEO has their thinking, science has its scientific process, but they all share the same core principles in the same sequence. The truth is that there are only a few universal processes in the world—for creating, for making, for measuring—and all variations of them are adaptations. Your goal should be to learn to see the universal in the applied, to evaluate their use to you in accomplishing your own objectives, and to be able to understand them deeply enough to make your own adaptations when needed. Otherwise, you fall victim to the framework of the month without ever really becoming its master.

Don’t Stop on This Side of Complexity

In the same way that you can learn to see the universal principles in methodologies, you can learn to see the patterns and organizing principles in complexity. And there is always, always, always something of value on the other side. Complex problems, complex instructions, complex relationships all succumb to the act of seeing. That wonderful piece of wisdom (that I can’t remember where I heard) is that you should never delegate learning. Likewise, you should never delegate the task of untangling, because that is where the vision lies. Big hairballs call for big data, but most of the time, it takes only the ability to pay deep attention to detail, then step back until some of it becomes blurry enough to let the big system emerge.

Go for Sufficiency, Not Efficiency

I will never forget what my riding teacher used to tell me about handling a horse—to do “as little as possible, and as much as necessary.” I think that’s the definition of elegance, too. Nature has the same rule, to take or do only as much as needed to accomplish the objective, and no more. There is nothing “extra” in nature. In American culture, on the other hand, it seems we always try to overshoot the mark—with food, money and assault weapons. If we could live using “sufficient” resources, we’d live very different and perhaps happier lives.

Recognize That All Time Is Not Equal

Some is meant for contemplation,and some for action. Some for listening and some for talking. Some for taking in, and some for putting out. To find and become comfortable with those rhythmsis exhilarating and highly productive. To recognize the difference is key.

Find Your Inner Buddha and Listen to Her Carefully

Be indulgent with curiosity, clear with purpose, economical with talk, drunk with creativity, and prudent with action.

Want to read more wisdoms from HOW Design Live speakers? Download the rest of this 25-page e-book: click here and enter your e-mail address to get the download.


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Cheryl Heller is the founding chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at SVA, the founder of the design lab CommonWise and an AIGA Medalist. She is a business strategist and communication designer who has founded two companies and taught creativity to leaders and organizations around the world, helped grow businesses from small regional enterprises to multi-billion global market leaders, launched category-redefining divisions and products, reinvigorated moribund cultures, and designed strategies for hundreds of successful entrepreneurs. She is the former Board Chair and Advisor to PopTech, a Senior Fellow at the Babson Social Innovation Lab, and the Lewis Institute, on the Innovation Advisory Board for the Lumina Foundation, and serves as an advisor to DataKind. She created the Ideas that Matter program for Sappi in 1999, which has since given more than $12 million to designers working for the public good. Visit