Here is another letter by my good friend Michael Wolff.
Originally written for the design magazine Kyoorius and aimed at young Indian designers. But the theme is universal and something for us all to contemplate.
It's good to be writing to you again. I hope you’re managing to be well and happy. This time, with the world in such a distressing state, I’m writing about design in its widest contextual sense, because design, as a way of thinking, could help us to change direction and avoid ending up where we seem to be heading.
I think Buckminster Fuller thought and said what we urgently need to achieve. He said: “We need to move from a you or me world, to a you and me world”. ‘You and me’ is what this letter to you is about. First of all, let me explain that I’m writing to you personally. If you're reading this now, I’m writing precisely to you. It may be hard for you to believe this, because we probably haven’t met and don’t know each other. But I don’t write to groups, I write to individual people, and it is you that I’m thanking for reading this. It’s the only way I know how to speak to you personally about the daunting situation I think and feel we’re in.
Now I want to share some my thoughts with you. I think we're at the point of exhausting the paradigm we’ve lived in, called ‘more’, and it’s time for a new paradigm to live in called ‘enough’. We’ve got ‘more’ tangled up with success . So most ‘more’ is now in the hands of relatively few people. Many who feel they don’t have enough ‘more’ feel compelled to have more ‘more’ and obviously there simply isn’t enough ‘more’ to go round. If you use the statistics that define the situation we're in as a mirror, you will see how old and unworkable the ‘more’ paradigm has become.
Take a look at a website called the miniature earth, and you’ll be shocked. This site concludes that “if you keep your food in a refrigerator and your clothes in a closet, if you have a roof over your head and have a bed to sleep in, you are richer than 75% of the entire world population.” Arguments like: it’s always been that way and that these days many people have vastly improved standards of living are weak when you look at this bigger picture.
‘More’ has also corrupted the idea of competition. Instead of competing with our own past performance, most of us are still competing fearfully with everyone else, and in second-guessing what other’s might be capable of, all sorts of very unpleasant and dubious snooping and spying practices are beginning to happen around the world.
If you’re a marathon runner, what matters is how you improve your performance from your last marathon. If someone comes along who runs twice as fast as you, you can’t do anything about it. But you can, by competing with yourself, in any aspect of what you do, triumph over yourself. That's the point of competition. In the first London marathon just a few meters from the end, the leading two runners joined hands to run over the line hand in hand - you and me, not you or me. Running the fastest that they ran was enough. Winning by just that little bit more was abandoned.
Being the best you can be is ‘enough’. Craving to be the best there is becomes an obsession and an addiction. Being bigger, more famous, earning more, having more and wanting substantially more than others inevitably deprives others, and that’s what’s driving the ‘you or me’ crisis we’re facing today. It was encouraging to hear from Andrew Witty, the Chief Executive Officer of GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK), a leading pharmaceutical company, say that they are going to give away a product they've discovered that will diminish the horror of malaria and just charge a management fee of 5% for its distribution.
It’s interesting to hear that scientists in Cambridge University may have found the means to eradicate Malaria altogether. They weren’t competing with each other in a race for ‘more’, they were competing with themselves to achieve results that will benefit mankind because they are mankind. They are you and me.
In business, mark-ups, margins and super profit have become the mantras that often emasculate quality. They’re driven by the ‘more’ paradigm. Like cancer, growth becomes an end in itself. In the US today, many brands that you would know and whose products stood for quality, now just print their logos on products that are made for a variety of brands in the same factories. They depend on their brand name implying a qualitative distinction, which is no longer there. They've been corrupted by the margin and profit mantra, and because of this, generosity of spirit usefulness, durability, beauty and mutual interest with you and me are often lost. They no longer compete with their past performance, they compete to kill each other. Ironically many of these brands are now in authoritative lists of huge US retail brands that are anticipated to fail. This is competition as suicide.
That’s enough for me to say in a short personal letter to you, other than to invite you to think about the value and place for ‘enough’ in your own life. Once again, by writing to you in this way, I’m asking you to think about the thoughts that I’m expressing. I know, although you may not, that you as an individual can inspire others and, then many others, until ultimately, between us all, we can change the hopeless direction in which I think we're all travelling.
Hope is the outer suburb of possibility and from possibility, as designers, each one of us can personally live in, and strive to fulfill Buckminster’s Fuller’s legacy: a you and me world of peace, harmony and enough for all of us.