Jessica Helfand | Events

The Next Stage

In the spring of 2016, I published a book about design, calling attention to its intrinsic value as a humanist discipline. Not long afterward, I was asked to conceive of a graduate-level course based on the book: in doing so, I wanted to concentrate on the sorts of essential human characteristics that both influence and are impacted by design—notions that frame, among other things, our perceptions of loyalty, credibility, even leadership. Can design confer false authority? Do the things we design result in unintended consequences? In keeping with the book’s premise, students were asked to consider certain essential human conceits (things like humility and authority, fantasy and consequence), and to address many of the difficult questions, uncomfortable answers, and inevitable, if involuntary biases we all bring to our perceptions. Working individually and in small groups, they looked at things like design and shame, solitude, presumption—even privilege. (They also considered how design impacts the absence of privilege.)

What resulted was a demonstrable shift both in their understanding of themselves, and of each other. They grew more circumspect, more compassionate, more trenchant in their observational awareness, more evocative in their use of language, and more open-minded in their ability to both generate and reciprocate ideas. By changing the conversation—indeed, by having a conversation at all (not a lecture or a mandate, but a grounded and honest exchange of ideas)—they deepened their interpersonal awareness and amplified their capacity for reason. They learned how to look, and more importantly, how to listen.

This is a model that seems unusually timely, certainly within but equally beyond the classroom. It requires only one thing, and that is being willing to listen: not to the biggest person with the loudest voice, the slickest deck, or the strongest opinion, but to ourselves and to each other. It's time to distance ourselves from performance at the podium, time to move away from hero worship and hubris. And it starts by changing the conversation.
Welcome to The Next Stage.

If disruption is seen as a boon to innovation, why has no one disrupted public speaking? This is the premise for The Next Stage : a series of honest, face to face conversations, not with pundits or proselytizers, but with real people. No heroes or headsets. No best practices or posturing. No gimmicks.

And yes—you guessed it—no podium.

No design thinking—just thinking—with designers, yes, but also with scientists and economists, editors and curators, artists and writers with different perspectives and varied voices. This is not about empathy as a commodity, but about our prerogative, as citizens of the world, to reframe the coordinates around our own expectations, and to reaffirm the value that comes from listening to the experiences of others.  In an era that is likely to be remembered for its impatience in all matters, we want to slow down and start listening—not to ourselves, but to each other. Beyond the recursive loops of our social media feeds, past the binary restrictions of partisanship, playbooks, and either-or propositions, we’re interested in a different kind of conversation.

Our kickoff event takes place this Friday at Continuum, in Boston, where we’ll be discussing what it might mean to trade hubris for humanism. We’ll be posting more information about subsequent events as we have them. We hope you’ll join us.

Jobs | June 14