Pistol Pete, Sarah Vowell, Venture Capitalists and………….Design?

For the last few days I have been at Oklahoma State University for the Experiential Classroom workshop.  I joined a group of delegates with a broad range of backgrounds, but all with a single commonality: An interest in entrepreneurship and how that impacts our decisions in business and in some cases – design.  As I sat and listened to the speakers, I couldn’t helpbut think of Sarah Vowell, author of the great book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot.  In an interview, Sarah told the story of how she was convinced to play the voice-over role of Violet Parr, the squeaky voiced daughter in the animated movie The Incredibles.  She was asked to play the character and she quickly declined.  Pixar replied with an invitation to their studio in California.  Sara, though hesitant, accepted based on advice from her father where he asserted that she should never pass up an opportunity to observe and learn from people who are the best at what they do – regardless of discipline.   This was the opportunity I had this week as I was surrounded by some of the best minds in the country in the area of entrepreneurship.

What I did not expect from this workshop was to learn something about the design process.  As it turns out, entrepreneurship is more than a sensibility but a process, much like design.  A common theme that was repeated and reinforced is that entrepreneurship begins with an opportunity, not an idea.  It was explained further that most businesses in fact fail because the founders have only an idea (even if it is good).  A common idea is “I would like to start a bar.”  The future owner of this business never bothers to ask the critical questions pertaining to this idea.  Is a bar needed?  Where should it be located?  It is the blind romance of the idea that leads to the failure.  Conversely, when entrepreneurs seek the opportunity first, they can follow a logical process that will tend to lead to success. My readers who have taken my studio will know where this is leading;  the logic given operates in parallel with a solid design process.  Designers fail many times because they have a simple idiosyncratic idea about a design, one that is centered around what they “want” or “like” with no regard to the opportunities of the design criteria or program.  The design fails because the “idea” is not rooted in the preformative opportunities inherent to site, program or environment.

I hypothesize that if both the entrepreneurial process and design process operate in concert, then projects can and will be more successful.  Pairing the opportunity with the design criteria will be a goal for the makeLab as we move forward.

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