What Richard Saul Wurman and René Magritte Don’t Know

 

I’m a big fan of Richard Saul Wurman’s approach to solving problems.

If you’re not familiar with his name, you’re likely familiar with his work. Mr. Wurman has written and designed over 80 books and started the TED conferences, which have rightly been getting more and more influential in presenting the edgiest developments in myriad fields to the world.

I think of all the books that I’ve read by Wurman, and all that I’ve learned from the conference that he started, the most important lesson that I took away was from a forward in one of his books (I don’t have it here to check, but it would have been from either Information Anxiety 2 or Understanding USA) where he talked about his approach to learning and how it influenced how he presented information.

Essentially, Wurman’s gift is the ability to take in and analyze information as if he knows nothing about the subject.

An architect and designer by trade, Wurman could be tasked with developing building plans or creating a set of icons to convey some complex information and would be able to do both in a novel and highly-intuitive way.

His solutions are aimed at the novice, since that’s how he approaches problems, and therefore anyone can understand and see the value in them.

This isn’t always the ideal approach or demeanor to present – for example, if you’re trying to get a new client’s business, it’s probably better to show that you know what you’re talking about that flaunt your ignorance – but when the goal is to make information attainable and digestible, being able to look at the information available as if you are seeing it (or anything like it) for the first time is a super-valuable skill.

There’s a classic painting by René Magritte entitled ‘The Treachery of Images’ in which he has illustrated what appears to be a pipe, along with text that says ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (translation: this is not a pipe). This seems to be a ridiculous statement at first, until you realize that only by removing your own burden of knowledge about what you’re looking at can you devise other, perhaps more practical, deeper or just more creative purposes for the object shown.

It’s amazing how seldom the ‘right’ way to do something is not the most effective or efficient. Try breaking the rules, or just ignoring them completely, and see what you come up with.

You won’t always end up with the ideal solution using this method, but at the very least you’ll have developed another (possibly far superior) approach than what’s accepted as the status quo.

22 comments

  1. I agree with you Colin! I have always also appreciated those who have been able to take complex subjects and make them more easily understandable like Dr. John Gray (relationships), Robert Kiyosaki (finances), or Evan Margolin (Salsa dancing).

    I think it often, of course not always, takes much more skill, ability, and knowledge to present difficult information in away that a novice can understand or see the value rather than the other way around.

  2. I agree with you Colin! I have always also appreciated those who have been able to take complex subjects and make them more easily understandable like Dr. John Gray (relationships), Robert Kiyosaki (finances), or Evan Margolin (Salsa dancing).

    I think it often, of course not always, takes much more skill, ability, and knowledge to present difficult information in away that a novice can understand or see the value rather than the other way around.

  3. I agree with you Colin! I have always also appreciated those who have been able to take complex subjects and make them more easily understandable like Dr. John Gray (relationships), Robert Kiyosaki (finances), or Evan Margolin (Salsa dancing).

    I think it often, of course not always, takes much more skill, ability, and knowledge to present difficult information in away that a novice can understand or see the value rather than the other way around.

  4. Hi Colin,
    Finding the key to progress is a great art. Other names that come to mind in addition to Mikko’s suggestions are: James Dyson (vacuum cleaners) and Muhammad Yunus (banking and micro-credit)

    Adrian

  5. Hi Colin,
    Finding the key to progress is a great art. Other names that come to mind in addition to Mikko’s suggestions are: James Dyson (vacuum cleaners) and Muhammad Yunus (banking and micro-credit)

    Adrian

  6. Hi Colin,
    Finding the key to progress is a great art. Other names that come to mind in addition to Mikko’s suggestions are: James Dyson (vacuum cleaners) and Muhammad Yunus (banking and micro-credit)

    Adrian

  7. It’s this outside-the-box kind of thinking that give the most elegant, beautiful and mind altering solutions. As we get older it seems to become more and more difficult to do so. We could learn a lot by looking how small kids approach problems!

    @Jonny: It is a painted representation of a pipe ;)

  8. It’s this outside-the-box kind of thinking that give the most elegant, beautiful and mind altering solutions. As we get older it seems to become more and more difficult to do so. We could learn a lot by looking how small kids approach problems!

    @Jonny: It is a painted representation of a pipe ;)

  9. It’s this outside-the-box kind of thinking that give the most elegant, beautiful and mind altering solutions. As we get older it seems to become more and more difficult to do so. We could learn a lot by looking how small kids approach problems!

    @Jonny: It is a painted representation of a pipe ;)

  10. We discussed this painting in one of my art history classes. I immediately liked it!

    One of my frustrations with a variety of industries is that the people who work in them fall into that habit of using their own language. Those of us who don’t deal with [insert industry here] on a daily basis don’t understand those terms. When I go to buy insurance, a new car, a house, etc, hold my hand and speak in terms that don’t make me feel ignorant! When I find people who speak to me instead of at me, I stick with them.

  11. We discussed this painting in one of my art history classes. I immediately liked it!

    One of my frustrations with a variety of industries is that the people who work in them fall into that habit of using their own language. Those of us who don’t deal with [insert industry here] on a daily basis don’t understand those terms. When I go to buy insurance, a new car, a house, etc, hold my hand and speak in terms that don’t make me feel ignorant! When I find people who speak to me instead of at me, I stick with them.

  12. We discussed this painting in one of my art history classes. I immediately liked it!

    One of my frustrations with a variety of industries is that the people who work in them fall into that habit of using their own language. Those of us who don’t deal with [insert industry here] on a daily basis don’t understand those terms. When I go to buy insurance, a new car, a house, etc, hold my hand and speak in terms that don’t make me feel ignorant! When I find people who speak to me instead of at me, I stick with them.

  13. Pingback: The Blogroll: How we wrecked the ocean « Living the minimal life

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