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I don’t need a vacation, I just needed my vocation re-energised

7 October, 2011

Yesterday* something great happened that reminded me why being a designer is my vocation, not my job.

A colleague in Washington DC, Leslie Tergas, attended the Transform 2011 Conference at Mayo. She presented us her highlights. The gist of Mayo, innovation and the conference:

  1. Here’s a leading organisation – good at what they do – with design at the forefront of them being great
  2. They take the notion of service (i.e. Health Care Delivery) seriously – and want to do it better
  3. They want everyone to do better and have a thing called the Mayo Innovation Center, and run things like a Transform conference

I’m not even going to capture my highlights….nah, I am, but not as many as I’d like because that’s not really what this post is about. So these are two easiest to share highlights:


Great innovation definition from Andrew Zolli

INNOVATION: The creation of new forms of value in the anticipation of future demand that propels systemic change

I like this definition because it reminded me of when we had to define innovation at my old job, and failed. We said something like “Innovation is an activity that results in some kind of value-added change – experiential, operational, organisational, societal” or the equally lame “Innovation is the creation and implementation of new or improved ideas, concepts, processes, services that add value for the enterprise.” The definitions just didn’t capture innovation in a meaningful way, and this quote reminded of why. It’s the ‘value’ bit that makes it ‘innovation’ over change. Change can be for the worse, or just different. Innovation is about creating something better, not just different.


Think BIG – start small – move fast
Changing the system at an element level – not system level.
A simple win = achievable steps toward a meaningful goal.
This image (copied) that summed it up for me:

Why this resonated with me was because, particularly in the public sector space where you’re working with agencies looking to change/improve things for citizens, whole communities, all paid for by the nation’s coffers and taxes, change is often on a huge scale. Thinking is BIG, moving is fast. But the middle bit is often messy, competitive (organisationally) and, quite frankly, unachievable in its intended form. Being audacious in your vision is great, but as a designer, maybe turning the vision for that audacity into more realistic, more engaging smaller steps is a better way.

But why did the above remind me of my vocational devotional love of design?

Well, about 3 minutes into the presentation:

  • My mind went all zen and ‘empty-bowl‘-like as I became solely interested in listening intently to every word and pouring over every image on screen
  • In the gaps between intently listening my subconscious said – “This feeling is good; capture this feeling. This is what being a designer feels like. Remember? This is why you’re a service designer”
  • My brain saw multiple applications to what I was hearing and what my synaptic pathways were connecting. I wanted to do, put into practice, inspire, and use aspects of EVERYTHING in my work IMMEDIATELY!
  • I felt a focus on what really mattered (in amongst the sometimes daily round of mundane office life and politics) that was unashamedly about how I think, how my brain works, and what really matters to me.

Even the notes (below) I generated are a set I know I’ll keep for years and reference the little frameworks, info-design tidbits, quotes, and prompts. Probably not even for the content but for the reminder of things that made me re-think differently.

Maybe it was because Leslie was my original design mentor and I was happily hearkening back to my origins. Maybe it was the purist nature of conferences and speakers, passionate about their subjects, maybe it was because it was in the health space and I’m fortunate to have done some great work with great people in this space. Don’t know – don’t care. I just think sometimes, if you’re lucky enough to do what you love for a living you still need to be reminded why you love it.

*Steve Jobs also died yesterday. And as iWrite this on my MacBook, using downloaded photos taken with my iPhone and from notes captured on my iPad iCan’t say iAm an Apple-phile, but iCan say iM glad iWas alive when the likes of a Steve Jobs was. A man who also seemed to luck into his vocation. 


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