#2 Bruce Mau, Oprah Winfrey, A Manifesto for Growth

ithinkyoushould. Have a Manifesto for Growth. For the longest time I fought against what I was purportedly good at. For example, I knew that I could write, and that I wanted to write, but I didn’t know how well or if this was simply a passing idea. I never considered an audience to whom I could share my well-considered wisdom, and I certainly never made space for my potential critics. I didn’t think about how I would channel my ideas into something constructive or vaguely useful. I assumed rather self-righteously that what I would eventually have to say, or write about, was good because it’s what I endeavoured to say and eventually write about. I thought rather naively that what would follow is that people would care. Call it the arrogance of Youth. Except I wasn’t a youth. I think I was just lazy.

What I fought against was doing the real work necessary to become an effective communicator. Among other things, the list would include the ability to:

A. Hone my voice,
B. Develop my opinions against the opinions of the masses,
C. Study people I found interesting, and people that I didn’t,
D. Analyze what was “useful” or what I, and the rest of the world thought made them good,
E. Understand what I thought my worth/value was against what people could afford to pay me, or what they deemed I was worth.

Above all, I hadn’t considered the prospect of failing until someone else made sure I did [more on that “someone” in later editions]. When you don’t consider that one day you just might fail, or put another way, if you aren’t sure about what makes you successful, then by turn, you won’t be able to imagine the pitfalls of failure. You might never get where you’re really supposed to be going, and you inevitably leave the door open for all kinds of saboteurs who are busy calculating and hungrily await your first failure in the guise of your unintentional misstep.

My conundrum was simple enough. And yet it was overwhelmingly complicated. Put quite simply, I didn’t have a Manifesto for Growth. Nor did I have a plan for success. I was very good at giving away my ideas— for free, unfortunately or fortunately, as the case would be, but I hadn’t planned any “what-if” scenarios. What if I became ridiculous wealthy in a very short period of time. What if I became notoriously famous. What if I became broke-ass in the process of discovering my gift. What if I had nurtured the wrong gift [fortunately, natural gifts have a way of reminding you what you “should be” doing]. What if nobody wanted what I was offering. And most difficult to swallow, at the time anyway, What if I failed? And so on.

It occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now that one should have a Manifesto For Growth. An “aspirational” system by which you measure your business success and failures. A mantra that you espouse until you become the idea itself and when people see you, they are able to say: there goes so and so, the guy who was able to “be” about it, more than “talk” about it. Granted, if you can do both, successfully, then you are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest.

One popular culture example of achieving a personal/business Manifesto of Growth is Oprah Winfrey. Say what you will about her media dynasty [what can you really say, beyond any superficial bitchy comment?] but it would seem that this woman was destined for media success. Success, was her focus and mantra since she started working. She is fond of telling the world how her goal was to make her age. And when she began to make her age, and had surpassed her age, she set out a series of success benchmarks all of which she surpassed. If we look at successful people and companies today they are there because of some aspiration or desire to be there. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell would argue that success is a series of the fortunate circumstances of various contributors from a variety of re/sources, but I do believe that how we become what we become is more than an opportunistic fortuitous moment. Who and what we become is largely based on how we plan or don’t plan as the case may be; whether we turn our failures into success, whether we repeat the same mistakes expecting different outcomes, whether we stay in the rut because the rut is comfortable. And what we allow other people to tell us to do, and what to think about our worth. In short, whether we pursue and orchestrate our destiny.

Here’s what I consider to be the Manifesto to begin all manifestos. And this comes by way of Creative/Design Guru, Bruce Mau. Naturally there are many manifestos that have been put forward in different forms and in different centuries by a mass array of Thinking Individuals and these philosophical “White Papers” include words like: mantra, goal, plan, mission, prayer, sonnet, etc. But to me this Manifesto resonates in a different way. Perhaps because it is the brainchild of a “humble” Canadian from the mining town of wintry Sudbury, Ontario; perhaps because it comes from a guy who didn’t seek fame before relevance; and because it comes from a guy who consumes Hope and Optimism and breathes Collaboration the way most of us consume cookies or chug beers and breathe air.

The Manifesto was first inked in 1997 on the dining table of the Williams Mau residence. I had come to Toronto by way of Winnipeg the summer of 1995, and had worked a brief internship with Bruce Mau Design followed by a paid employment opportunity shortly thereafter. When I left Mau’s Studio—founded on much the same principle as Andy Warhol’s Factory/Studio—2 ½ years later to begin a career as a communications specialist in design, I would look back at B/MD as the greatest example of creative practice ever.

As it would happen that early evening in 1997, I had paid a visit to the home of Mr. Mau because I wanted his contribution to a publication I was editing called Rhed. The magazine was to be a unique cultural offering by designer and publisher Del Terrelonge on the creative scene in Toronto, Canada. We had a list of contributors including Dr Kenneth Montague of Wedge Gallery, Judith Tatar of Tatar Gallery, Susan Hobbes of The Susan Hobbes Gallery, Stephen Bulger of Stephen Bulger Gallery, and others. My basic question to each participant was something along the lines of “what is the role of art/the artist in our times?” to which Bruce Mau quite speedily and without provocation, much less a concerted thought, hammered out 10 points of which he entitled An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. It was brilliant to say the least. Unfortunately, the Rhed publication never saw another issue beyond its first incarnation, but the BMD Incomplete Manifesto would go on to achieve several impressive iterations, including a profile in Fast Company magazine that spread like wildfire and contributed to Mr. Bruce Mau further solidifying his reputation as “The Thinking Man’s Designer,” all the way to his present persona as “design guru,” and “optimist.” An Incomplete Manifesto For Growth has been translated into several languages and self-help gurus easily talk about its relevance to achieving personal growth and success.

The work involved in this is simple enough. Create your own Incomplete Manifesto and change it and alter it as often as you like as you become more successful.

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