Let’s Talk Smart Growth

This post is part of a year-end series by MBA students at California College of the Arts’ Design MBA Program. Read more about our annual partnership here.

by Andrew Deming

Who are we but works in progress, early iterations of our eventual selves?

Hailing from a religiously and ethnically homogeneous suburb in the south, I’ve always viewed the relative lack of diversity in my upbringing as a handicap in the realm of design and innovation. Growing up, my family did not live in abject poverty, in misery, or in an exotic locale. I was not a misunderstood genius child, nor was I born into a wealth or fame. But I am no stranger to design challenges and the negative effects of limited thinking. I believe in the change that critical thinking and a designer’s edge can achieve and I desire to be an agent of that change. This is what led me to enroll in the MBA in Design Strategy program at California College of the Arts.

I grew up in a tract housing development in central Florida. My childhood home was an exact facsimile of the neighboring homes on either side. While it was safe, clean and comfortable, from an early age it left me wanting. It took some time for me to realize that my issues with “home” were not just a matter of preference, but the result of significant design problems. Not only does this area that I’ve called home for much of my life lack aesthetic appeal, it has become known for its characteristic rampant suburban sprawl—unchecked growth brought on by unsustainable building practices.

The problem is further enhanced by a stifling political environment that doesn’t allow much room for progressive discussion. While some might argue that these are primarily first world problems, they are real, and they profoundly effect the lives of millions, often going unquestioned by those who have to cope with the challenges on a daily basis. This kind of shortsightedness is responsible for flawed and inefficient design throughout the world.

What we’re doing at CCA—strategic thinking paired with a high level of creativity, is desperately needed in the public sector in the United States and abroad. Contrary to what is often presented in the national news, in the U.S. we are not faced with the choice of a decentralized market or a command and control state…far from it. This polarized thinking resulting in hyperpartisanship, is the epitome of so called “in the box” thinking.

Creativity and logic, social consciousness (social values) and liberty (economic values) are not mutually exclusive. While diversity cannot and should not be forced upon people, exposure to a variety of ethnicities, cultures and religions is the best remedy for softening the hard wall of bias that keeps so many from connecting with others and realizing a better world by design—a world that is vastly complex and unable to be adequately summed up in definitive statements and simple, straightforward viewpoints like those espoused by partisan idealogues.

The primary challenge of the LiveExchange course at CCA is one of finding a balance of active learning and engagement, with an intense focus and quiet. It is communication as an art form. Good design is clear thinking made visual. Likewise, good communication encompasses all the beauty and refinement of an exquisite work of art. With both art and communication, one could inquire whether the mastery of the form is essentially a self serving endeavor for the purpose of manipulation. The focus of LiveExchange, however, centers on building a range of competencies in order to be able to better navigate the murky waters of business negotiations and social interactions of all types. Much in the same way as an abstract artist may also be an excellent representational painter, so too does the masterful communicator have a broad range —knowing when to leverage humor and when to approach a situation with a dignified and serious sincerity, when to listen and when to advocate. If only the thought leaders, broadcast journalists, and government officials in the U.S. would truly listen and ground all assessments (anchor all statements in factual evidence) perhaps a real conversation about sustainability could take place.

At the MBA in Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts, trust, respect and transparency are paramount. Here, diversity is celebrated. I invite you to take a closer look.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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