Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path recently posted a reading list on their blog that provides designers, and information designers in particular, with a hefty end of summer reading list.
At a glance, the list reveals the usual suspects – Edward Tufte, Don Norman, and Scott McCloud (I feel like I have to give Understanding Comics another shot. I read it a while back and nothing about it really “stuck”) – but two of the usual suspects got me thinking about something I like to call, “career design.” Neither of these two guys are designers, or information architects, for that matter, but their respective paths represent intriguing career options for “creative” folk.
First, Merholz recommends Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling.
Bruce Sterling fascinates me because he has successfully made the leap from writing engaging, idea-rich science fiction to serving as a wise and insightful commentator on trends in design, technology, urban planning, as well as the future of the human race. Careerwise, he went from being a genre writer to being an intellectual celebrity and, if you’ll pardon the expression, a “thought leader.” (To be fair, he was always sort of “thought-leaderly.” When I read Schismatrix 20 years ago, shortly after reading William Gibson’s cyberpunk masterwork, Neuromancer, the book that gave us the term “cyberspace,” I thought that Sterling’s novel was actually the more advanced one, conceptually.)
Career Lesson Number One: Content is king.
If you really have something to say, you can make a career of saying it. More practically, authors should realize that their audience is an asset that can be leveraged to access more and more content distribution channels and networks. A virtuous circle ensues as your audience grows thanks to the broader distribution, etc.
The other name that jumped out at me was Stewart Brand. Merholz strongly recommends his How Buildings Learn, as, “one of those books that every IA has read, even though it has nothing to do with IA.” Mr. Brand’s career is fascinating not only because it began in the 60s with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, but also because it consists primarily of creating communities from the crunchy Whole Earth Catalog to the pioneering, cyber-community, The WELL to the 10,000-years-outside-the-box think-tankThe Long Now Foundation. Not surprisingly, he is also one of the founders of the Global Business Network, “the world’s foremost scenario consultancy.”
If you’ve never heard of a “scenario consultancy,” then you’ll be interested to know that, “Scenarios are tools for ordering one’s perceptions about alternative future environments in which today’s decisions might be played out.”
Lesson Number Two (which is almost the opposite of Lesson One): It’s the scenario, stupid!
Let me put that another, more polite, way. You can certainly become known as a “content creator,” make a career of that role, and even become influential in this or that field (or, as in the case of Bruce Sterling, in many).
But your pursuit of this career path should not obscure the fact that there is another path, a more enterprising path, one that focuses on the creation of spaces, platforms, organizations, and scenarios where content is created or aggregated, and where creators, as well as their consumers, congregate.
Talk about influence! Of course, not everyone has “influence” as a career goal.