Saturday, January 3, 2009

Design leadership for active living?

When it comes to dispensing advice about healthy eating and active living, we can all talk the talk. Typically, any expert excels in telling people what to do. Simply do what I say. However, in our heart-of-hearts we know it is much more important to listen to those people who walk the walk (if we can find them). Or in John Maeda's case - jog the jog.

John Maeda is the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design. This new role is undoubtedly more responsibility, more leadership and possibly more burden than his previous role at the Massachusetts' Institute of Technology. He wrote the best seller "The Laws of Simplicity" so this year, as his life became complex, I imagine that he felt like he had a lot to live up to and a little like he was in a fish bowl. Moreover, he is a family man with a wife and 5 daughters. Finding time to be active couldn't possibly have been a high priority for him over the first few months of his new tenure. Publicly he stated that what was most important to him was openness and transparency in his presidency. Being open would mean being accessible and that would put a premium on his time. So his fitness regimen would take a backseat, right?

Wrong! John Maeda places a premium on design and where better to utilize design logic but in one's own life? With a design focus, he was able to turn the complexity of a chaotic president's life into one more simplified yet one that met his ambitions. Jogging with John: Innovation Jog for Creative Entrepreneurs, co founded with his colleague Steve Cronin (CEO of Pawtucket's Mercury Print & Mail), started back in June 2008. Billed as 'a social jog through Providence for those who like a dose of ideas with their morning run' this is not just a running group but also a social network. The 73 members (as of Jan 03, 2009) not only enjoy hanging out with like-minded individuals but also continue developing their relationships and dialog via a social media network. After all, much of the conversation focuses on Web 2.0 leadership as well as other innovative ideas.

For me, the story here is the way being active became part of a solution. No one is telling you that jogging is good for you; that it makes you burn more calories, clears your head, makes you feel better and, if you are doing it with friends, allows you to enjoy camaraderie. It isn't yet another thing that you can feel guilty about not doing. However, you can bet that if I lived in Providence I would make every one of those jogging sessions. I would have a lot of learn from these design gurus, these Web 2.0 leaders, these entrepreneurs, and I would love to be jogging along with them through the streets of Providence. Active living at its best. And leadership at its best too.

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