Moore’s Law isn’t really a law, but semantics aside it essentially stipulates that computers have been doubling in speed roughly every two years. The compounding effect of this doubling is sometimes difficult to comprehend, but it means that today’s computers are two billion times faster than they were just a few decades ago. And if you extrapolate that compounding effect forward, the numbers get even stranger – by roughly 2040 that computer will be nine quintillion times faster. These numbers are huge – they’re abnormal – and this is disrupting business, disrupting design, and disrupting technology.
In this opening keynote from #mtpcon Singapore, John Maeda, the Head of Computational Design + Inclusion at WordPress parent company Automattic, argues that this increasing complexity and speed can only be handled by bringing balance to our work – and that product people are best placed to lead the way. Because product is ultimately a creative role that brings together all the functions and balances creative chaos with execution.
To start, John tackles the recent online controversy started by his interview in Fast Company, published under the clickbait title “In reality, design is not that important”. The offending quote was taken out of context and inevitably caused a firestorm of debate and push back online as designers felt it belittled their role to one of subservience. Of course that wasn’t what John meant, but his argument that a product team being “design led” makes as little sense as a football team being “goalie led” doesn’t make for exciting headlines.
He goes on to clarify that “teamwork has long been more important than anything else to me. “Engineering-led”, or “Product-led”, or “Marketing-led”, or “Design-led”, all imply to some degree the importance of a discipline’s performance over and above the performance of the entire team. I believe that when we place a focus on the customers’ needs and when we work as a team to satisfy their hopes and dreams, then everyone wins together.”
This requires a new style of leadership, that eschews power structures and authority. Leadership is about pushing decision making to the person with the most context to make the right decision. This used to mean escalating the decision up a hierarchy to a leader because the higher up the hierarchy you went the more context they had. But today that knowledge and context is spread throughout the team and organisation, and leadership is about bringing together that context so the team can make a decision together.
John goes on to underline that this kind of creative leadership is very different from the traditional Harvard Business School style of leadership. Creative leaders focus on inspiration over authority, ambiguity over clarity, being real over being right, improvisation over following the manual, learning from mistakes over avoiding them, and hoping they’re right rather than certainty they will be. This is increasingly important because of the impact of Moore’s Law. We simply don’t know what’s going to happen next, and we can’t have the certainty we might have had in the past. So embracing ambiguity and improvisation is key.
Creative leadership therefore isn’t just about climbing the mountain – it’s about leaping off the mountain, and doing so repeatedly as you try new paths and approaches. This changes the emphasis from being able to fail fast to being able to recover fast – to learn fast.
Watch the full talk for a delightful series of insightful lessons in how to lead in these fast-changing times, how to combine creativity and execution, and how to balance design, technology, and business.