RESULTS: tagged with John Hockenberry

Mar 9

Eye

It was a homecoming in so many ways, going back to the TED conference in 2012. I had not presented there for more than a decade. I had last been on the TED stage in Monterrey California, the conference’s original location back in February of 2001. It was a moment when Y2K was a fading fear, 9/11 was a random calendar date and the tech bubble of the ‘90s was about to burst. For me it was 3 kids ago. Back then I was so full of ideas and thoughts about design and where the world was heading. I had great successes presenting those dreams on the TED stage. In the subsequent 11 years, though, it seemed that so much had happened. I had lowered my gaze somehow. I felt less like a dreamer and more like the tentative pilot of a flimsy canoe as waves crashed all around me.

What would I possibly have to say at this much grander Long Beach TED conference that could matter to a much larger audience of V.I.P.s and world-changers? I staggered around in my own anxiety for a good long while until I remembered the children we had spoken to in the course of the “100 Dreams, 100 Minds, 100 Years” project. What did they have to say that would be of interest? We asked such questions of 10-year-olds from around the world and each one of them had something to offer. The key was finding a connection after believing one was there. Connecting yourself to the people you are speaking with and knowing within yourself those connections exist, there is no other formula for reaching people.

In just this way, TED 2012 was for me an exploration within. There were all my personal notions of design and the ideas about design passed to me by my father, Jack Hockenberry, the first director of design at Steelcase. There were memories of my days as a math wiz at the University of Chicago learning the power of scientific precision, the possibilities of technological change evident even back in the 1970s, and the capacity of an idea to bend reality and change the future. It was a delight to be amongst the TEDsters, old and new. This ethos of change and curiosity and the determination to make something happen was infectious. It was the perfect place to launch the “100 Minds” initiative. Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett and I winked and waved at each other from across rooms. We managed to grab a few precious minutes of conversation. Both of us were grateful that the “100 Minds” vision had come together so well. We both thought it fit perfectly into the whole TED community. In a sense, Hackett and Hockenberry were like two friendly cousins in an extended family. Him urging me on to do well on stage and me cheering him forward with his vision for the second Steelcase century.

It had been a very long time since I was a worker in the old desk plant in Grand Rapids, the son of my dad – the designer of curved metal pieces that confounded some of the die makers used to right angles and squares. My dad’s name was on the blueprints they used and I would get some pretty cold looks when difficulties with the metal stamping presses would shut down the line. It had also been a long time since I had whimsically taken to the TED stage myself. This would be a test of my dreams.

With a big family now and as much focus on retirement as on the future of civilization, to my great surprise the TED talk came easily. It turns out that dreaming out loud, even on a stage as exclusive as TED, is completely natural and just as exciting at age 55, with 5 kids, as it is in your early 40s and a newlywed. My talk about design and the need to do things intentionally, to think about the world before you make or act (just what our dreamer kids were telling us) rocked the house. When I left the stage I got lost in enthusiastic lines of people asking questions and sharing their own impressions of all that I had said. At one point, I caught Jim Hackett hovering on the edge of a small crowd. He gave me a “thumbs up” sign and winked with the message that he’d see me soon.

Hackett and Hockenberry. Kinda catchy, don’t you think? What’s the lyric in that famous song Moon River? “Two drifters, off to see the world.” How about “Two Dreamers, off to see the world.”

Or even 100 dreamers.

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Permission to Dream, a 100-Year Challenge

Feb 25

I grew up in a house of design, a house of dreamers and the leader of the pack was my father Jack Hockenberry who helped Steelcase onto its path toward becoming a design leader back in the late 1960s. He was the first real director of design and he brought his journey home to us each night. He worked for IBM and Kodak before Steelcase and at each company his job was to imagine where and how people would work in the future. It was his constant focus back in the 60s and 70s and while it was nearly impossible to know a precise answer to this question it didn’t stop dad and his team from dreaming. My siblings and I would ask questions all the time. “Dad, will chairs have motors in the future? Will desks have TVs? Will typewriters become computers?” “Yes, Yes, and Yes,” he would say.

My dad took us along to see dreamers in action, in museums and fairs. He visited the 1964 World’s fair in New York City and brought back books and pictures of the wonders he saw. “Look, he would say, “School will be like this someday.” He showed his kids a picture of a bubble like chair thing called a study-sphere where you could search the world’s computers for information and read books and watch films. I wanted a Studysphere. We all went together in a futuristic VW Bus to visit Expo 67 to see the dreams at the World’s Fair in Montreal. The amazing apartments from Habitat 67 are still there, still lived in, still dreamy.

At work, my dad used terms like “word processing” and they sounded so futuristic. I imagined words in some lab/factory being carved with lasers and electrified with special machines to allow them to speak. Chairs would move from room to room on tracks where people would dial something onto their chair-arm keypad and people would automatically assemble for a meeting.

It all mostly came true but so much more came true that wasn’t dreamed. Good and bad. My father left Steelcase and I got down to starting my own life and stopped dreaming beyond anything farther down the road than the next personal triumph or tragedy. I look back now and see so much that might have been dreamed, might have been anticipated. I wish I had dreamed about more tools to address the challenges we face today.

When I was asked to be a part of this Steelcase 100 minds event, it was an invitation to return to that dreamy moment in the 1970s when nothing seemed impossible and when the paths still seemed fresh and unclear. In the seventies no one believed the Dow Jones Industrial Average would ever climb above 1000. We believed the Cold War would never end or if it did it would be in a mushroom cloud or clouds.

There are similar cautions and warnings about the future today. In these pages and postings you will find many cautions and warnings about the next 100 years. Some of them are from kids worried about the world they are inheriting. Many of them are from adults thinking about those kids. But there are many more flights to the horizon itself. People here pushing themselves to see the changes possible and begin to ask what the world will look like when, for instance, our political system is mobilized so that we argue less and accelerate into consensus and collective change more than we do today.

Will our bodies be networked? Will elections go away in the face of the ability to continuously monitor the state of communities almost like a political polygraph? Will traditional college simply go away as higher education suddenly needs no campus upon which to teach? Will education begin earlier and never end. Will journalism meld into this continuous educational mission? In the future kids won’t learn to read and write, they will learn to publish. Energy will cease to be invisible and mysterious coming from pugs on walls and will become decentralized visible everywhere, and energy use will be a part of every calculation we make about what to do and how we live. These are just some of the dreams on these pages. For me it is a look back and a look forward at the same time. 100 years ago offices had no meaning. They were workspaces created to escape factory floors and retail madness, they were places to drink and plot with financial clients. The Oval Office in the White House 100 years ago was a place for hanging wet laundry. FDR converted the space to what it is today. Originally conceived by President Taft in 1909 to be a central chamber of a beehive of activity for running the day-to-day operations of the Presidency, today the oval office is a historical shrine and a place for ceremony and the most important historical decisions far removed from the day to day operations of the 21st century presidency. Every workspace of today can tell a similar story of transformation, birth or death throughout the last century. Workspaces are just part of the story. As these pages suggest, there is much more to come.

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Feb 24

Image from Tiffany Shlain Film

Take a look at what Tiffany Shlain created and then explore the dream of Jamy Yang. Shlain’s collective power of people linked up across geography and language time and space to make change and embrace a mission coupled with Yang’s technological capacity to transform ideas instantaneously into objects. The boundaries and categories of the last thousand years are breaking down and we can glimpse it all right here. Try your own combinations, they’re all exciting.

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Feb 20

We really didn’t know what to expect; kids from all over the world being asked by some strangers from the U.S.A. to “dream” what the future would be like in 100 years. What would be the reaction? Would we be considered intrusive or worse trivial? We’re the Hollywood music video crew looking for little hip-hoppers to mug for the cameras, right? To our deep surprise and joy, the kids took to the project with gravity and excitement. It was almost as though they were expecting us. The energy of these kids said, “We thought you’d never ask!”

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