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Richard Saul Wurman Quotes

Richard Saul Wurman

Richard Saul Wurman quotes: TED’s daddy on rethinking your thinking.

“My opening line to my students, and a recurring theme in my classes, was that the big design problem isn’t designing a house for your parents or yourself, a museum, or a toaster, or a book, or whatever.  The big design problem is designing your life.  It’s by the design of your life that you create the backboard off which you bounce all your thoughts and ideas and creativity.  You have to decide what it is that you want to do each day.”

“Design your life to express your most essential desire.”

“Success comes from understanding failure.”

“The biggest motivation to get anything done is to want it very badly.  It didn’t matter to me at TED whether the audience liked the speaker or not.  It didn’t matter to me what they thought of me.  What mattered to me is doing good work.  Doing the best I knew how.  That’s all.”

“If you’re not terrified, you’re probably not pushing hard enough.  You have to be confident enough in the idea to handle the terror, but no terror means you aren’t trying something hard enough.  Significant things are hard.”

“Most people don’t have enough interesting things in their lives, so in place of interest they try to accumulate funds and power.  But I think you’re going to be a better businessperson if you look at your life as a collection of hobbies, a collection of interests, not a matter of things you do during the day and things you do in the evening… or what you do during the day and what you do during the weekend.  Think of everything you do as driven by and connected to your real interests, and it’s going to affect how you look at the products you’re making.”

“Think: what was the most extraordinary experience you’ve ever had?  What made it extraordinary?  What breakthrough or major decision did it provoke?  In which ways are you recreating that moment?  How are you inspiring others because of it?”

“Decide how much money, power or fame you want.  An irrational longing for any or all of them will likely interfere with your desire to create good work (it’s very difficult to have all three for very long).  Design your life to ensure that every day is interesting.  Your life and work should be an extended hobby.  Make connections between your interests and hobbies: what patterns emerge?  Do those patterns lead to new ways of doing things?”

“The toughest design project is designing your life.  Your needs must be addressed to survive; they demand short-term solutions.  Your desire is where creation starts; it’s focused on ‘what can be’ and on the possibility of a better future.  What do you desire?”

“’What’s next’ lurks at the margins of ‘what’s normal.’  You’ll notice it if you imagine ‘what can be.’  Consider far-out ideas by looking at their advantages, disadvantages, and interesting aspects.  Get comfortable with what’s marginal and find its critical mass potential: one day it will become a market, so capture it before anyone else does.  What will that be?”

“Do you want to play provocateur?  While exploring your topic, add, transfer, animate, substitute, fragment, distort, contradict, parody, analogize, symbolize, repeat or combine one or more aspects of it.  Look for emerging thought patterns and hints of new value.”

“Leadership is having an idea and being able to explain it clearly.  Clarity leads to real change: people embrace what they understand and act on it.  It’s the overwhelming desire of a determined individual that mobilizes others to get things done.  People follow a leader who can clearly articulate the future vision from the mountaintop and walks them through the steps necessary for their arrival.  What’s your power idea?”

“Most of us do not even know how to ask a question.  Most of us do not see the root of the word ‘question’ is ‘quest.’  Most of us don’t have a quest in our life.”

“I live by two credos: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  And: most things don’t work.”

“Learning can be defined as the process of remembering what you are interested in.  If you don’t remember something, you haven’t learned it, and you are never going to remember something unless you are interested in it.  These words dance together.  ‘Interest’ is another holy word and drives ‘memory.’  Combine them and you have learning.”

“I like to question the minutia, to get to the essence of things.  The minutia of life is all about design.  It’s about the design of how you talk to another human being; it’s the design of speech; it’s the design of everything we do.  We need to be better at listening, and we need to aim more directly at understanding and being understood.”

“Perhaps the three principles closest to my heart—and the most radical—are learning to accept your ignorance, paying more attention to the question than to the answer, and never being afraid to go in an opposite direction to find a solution.”

“The most essential prerequisite to understanding is to be able to admit when you don’t understand something.”

“The only way to communicate is to understand what it is like not to understand.  It is at that moment that you can make something understandable.”

“In recognition that any good idea is a fragile thing, you have to give it a few minutes to breathe—like a good red wine.”

“Most of what we see that we call information doesn’t inform, and most questions do not have a quest.”

“The most common definition of the word information is: the action of informing; formation or molding of the mind or character, training, instruction, teaching; communication of instructive knowledge.”

“You only understand information relative to what you already understand.”

“One of the most anxiety-inducing side effects of the information era is the feeling that you have to know it all.”

“Order is no guarantee of understanding.  Sometimes just the opposite is true.”

“The greatest thing in life is conversation between people.  And public conversations are best when they happen between two people with a third acting as the conscience of the conversation.  Any good conversation is based on understanding.”

“There is nothing else we can do better when we do conversation well.  There is no other communication device that provides such subtle and instantaneous feedback, nor permits such a range of evaluation and correctability.”

“Information anxiety is the black hole between data and knowledge, and it happens when information doesn’t tell us what we want or need to know.”

“I am terribly fascinated with things that I don’t understand.”

“When I have the choice to do something I don’t want to do, I most often—most always—do it anyway.”

“People can be motivated to creativity simply with the instruction to ‘be creative.'”

“Education is to learning as tour groups are to adventure.”

“As TED creator, the powerful speeches were meant to meld technology, entertainment and design.  My curiosity was not for answers but for questions.”

“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.”

“Three lies we learned in school: (1) answering questions as opposed to asking them; (2) endless memorization as a learning method; and (3) worshipping at the foot of success rather than understanding failure.”

“Our educational system doesn’t have exclusive rights on the guilt and anxiety associated with learning.  Learning inherently involves some trauma; it requires a certain amount of exertion and implies giving up one way of thinking for another.”

“Most people don’t understand anything—just like me.  The difference is, I admit it.  Hell, I wallow in it.  Every bit of work I do starts from not knowing.  Is that how you see most people act?  Most people ‘uh-huh’ each other to death.  They ‘uh-huh’ everybody because they were taught when they were young that it’s not good to look stupid, that it’s not good to say, ‘I don’t know,’ it’s not good to ask questions.”

“Instead, the rewards come from acknowledging or answering everything with ‘I know.’  You’re supposed to look smart in our society.  You’re supposed to gain expertise and sell it as the means of moving ahead in your career.  You’re supposed to focus on what you know how to do and then do it better and better.  That’s where the rewards are supposed to come from.”

“I absolutely trust indulging myself.  I trust the fact that I’m a dumbass and that if I like something and understand something, probably other people will, too.  Maybe they won’t, but I still do it for me.  Most people don’t let themselves do that, because in our society, it’s not appropriate to say you’re indulgent.  That’s one of the personality characteristics that are politically incorrect.  So you’re not allowed to say, ‘I indulge myself.’  You’re not allowed to say, ‘I’m terrified because I don’t understand.’  And at the other extreme, you’re not allowed to say, ‘I’m confident,’ because then people say you’re arrogant.”

“I believe I’m very normal.  I’m hyper-normal.  I’m more normal than anyone else I know.  I think my thoughts, my indulgences, my desires, my pleasures may at first appear different, but that is only because they are more normal, not because they are more esoteric.”

“To understand something, empty your preconceptions.  Communication gets screwed because most people try to look good and sound good, above all else.  I’ve tried to abandon all that.  I embrace my normality.  I think I go directly to the essence of things because there’s nothing else in the way.  I’ve worked at clearing out the crap—the preconceptions, the desire to impress.”

“I don’t really know what to say I do.  People often ask me how I get things done, so I tell them I have a secret.  Inevitably, they beg me to reveal it, so I say the reason I do anything is because I want to do it so badly that it’s not a matter of why I do it: I’m incapable of not doing it!  Once I have the passion to do something, it’s harder not to do it.  Until I can do it because of the passion, not for power, money or fame, I’m not able to move off dead center.”

“I believe I am bored when other people are bored, only faster.  I am interested when others are interested, only more interested.  But I also think I’m less, rather than more, intelligent than other people.”

“Each of the books I’ve authored, designed, and published was inspired by something I didn’t understand, whether it was diagnostic tests on my own body or finding my way around Tokyo or around the Olympics on TV.  In all of them I have tried to embrace my ignorance by finding a phrase that captures a solution to pursue, such as, ‘I want to know where I am and what’s around me.'”

“For most of my career, I was not successful.  I couldn’t glue two nickels together.  At best, I kind of failed sideways my whole life.  Though to call some of what happened ‘sideways’ would be to give it a pretty face.”

“By indulging my interests through my life, and perhaps because of rather than despite many failures, I have been able to design my life.”

“I freely share the truth about my life and views.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Ultimately, I hope for people to speak the truth about themselves.”

“The big design problem we all have is designing our own lives.  If we do it right, wouldn’t the best result—the best measure of success, ultimately—be that every day is interesting?”

“May you be your purpose, however it manifests.”

Related: Tim Ferriss quotes.

Cory Johnson: CEO of a business he has yet to launch. As seen on your mom’s phone. Scaled to 7-figures in seven seconds selling a course on selling courses. Kidding. Watch this.