From the issue feature, "Living by Design in the Pacific Northwest." 
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The below is adapted from a talk given at a PechaKucha Night Seattle event, Designing Leadership, which was hosted in collaboration with Design in Public for their Seattle Design Festival. Over the coming weeks, we'll release more adaptations of presentations given that evening. —ARCADE


I’m a designer, dreamer and doer. I’m deeply curious and open to infinite possibilities. Among other things, I’m curious about courageous leaders who inspire positive and profound change—I’m not interested in what they do but why they do. I believe there are four design elements that comprise change-making leadership:

ONE: Weightlessness

Four weeks before leaving home for grad school, my mother called and told me my father died of a heart attack; little did I know that she would die of a broken heart a year later, leaving me feeling ungrounded and insecure—floating. Left with a few thousand dollars and knowing my current possessions wouldn’t bankroll me for the rest of my life, I attempted to save every cent. The level of my bank account became a truth serum—as it grew, so did my ability to say no, have a voice and express honesty. This feeling of security and freedom profoundly influenced my saving patterns, and I knew that I wanted to always have absolute freedom to be real and create value.

The best leaders aren’t prisoners of their possessions, and they live honestly and purposefully.

TWO: Curiosity

The brain likes to conserve energy and avoid thinking. Assumptions allow our brains to take it easy, yet our brains need challenge to spark innovation and creativity. Strong leaders energize and inspire people to challenge assumptions—to think, thereby creating new intellectual pathways in themselves and others. Curiosity and openness flourish in diverse teams that wrestle with ideas to find creative solutions. My team is comprised of people with differing backgrounds; the engineers make art and the artists engineer, and the dreamers do and the doers dream.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The best leaders create curious, diverse teams interested in bettering their strengths while understanding their weaknesses.

THREE: Attentional Intelligence

As a former bicycle racer I experienced a race crash. Landing on my head and shoulder, I tumbled on the chip-sealed road and before coming to a stop, I accepted it. I saw my thoughts, and I observed that this was my experience and that something would be gained from it. This attentional intelligence—seeing my thoughts, accepting a situation and redirecting energy—created no emotional suffering. It’s not surprising that scientists are discovering that it’s possible to train and strengthen attention like any other mental ability.

Acceptance is powerful, and strong leaders can see their own attention and actively change their understanding. This intelligence provides energy to change the future.

FOUR: Empathy

Effective leaders foster change, but change is hard. Understanding the emotions of others—fear, sadness, anger, happiness—is critical to inspiring and leading people. Compassion is an empathetic response, and successful creative processes grow from understanding the feelings of another. Compassion is the creative mother to invention.

The best leaders create novel solutions by having empathetic attention.