Design Observer Twenty Years 2003-2023





02.28.23
Kaleena Sales + Omari Souza | Audio

S10E11.5: Minisode


In their final minisode for The Design of Business | The Business of Design’s tenth season, Omair Souza and Kaleena Sales reflect on the themes of leadership, risk, and fearlessness from past guests Kunal Kapoor and Dori Tunstall.

Omari juxtaposed the ideas of fear and the potential for something new:
There may be spaces that we may be interested in operating, but fear prevents us from doing so. And maybe that space of discomfort is where the innovation lies.
And Kaleena closed the conversation with a final thought on how leadership and impact can arise even in situations where power might not be evenly distributed:
I think that when we're thinking about being fearless or when we're thinking about taking risk, sometimes that can happen in a number of different ways. And so if you're in a space where you don't feel like you are the decision maker, maybe your role within that can still be very impactful based on just your challenging of old ways, of doing and pushing for more sustainable practices or more equitable ways to represent communities that are otherwise underrepresented.

This episode of The Design of Business | The Business of Design is brought to you by Morningstar: investment research, data, and strategies to empower long-term investor success.

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TRANSCRIPT

Omari Souza
Welcome to The Design of Business,

Kaleena Sales
The Business of Design — minisodes. I'm Kaleena Sales.

Omari Souza
And I am Omari Souza.

Kaleena Sales
Hey Omari! How's it going?

Omari Souza
Not too bad. Yourself?

Kaleena Sales
I'm pretty good. I can't believe how far along the semester is now. I feel like it just started, and now we're, like, almost at mid-term. So, how's your semester coming along?

Omari Souza
You know, it's been going — outside of the ice storm that Texas got hit with.

Kaleena Sales
Oh yeah.

Omari Souza
That resulted in us not having classes for a week. It's kind of just been like this catch up moment.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah.

Omari Souza
It's the last minisode. The end of the season.

Kaleena Sales
Can you believe that we are on the final episode?

Omari Souza
I can't. It's actually been an amazing journey. Thinking what we started over the summer, now we're in the winter, entering spring — it's been a lot of interesting discussions and tidbits that we've learned from all of the guests to The Design of Business | The Business of Design. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah. And then listening to Kevin and Dana has been an incredible opportunity. I'm excited to reflect on this most recent episode with Dr. Dori Tunstall and Kunal Kapoor. So let's jump in to it. Last month, Kevin and Dana spoke with Kunal Kapoor, CEO of Morningstar, and Dr. Dori Tunstall, dean of the Faculty of Design at OCAD University. Both Kunal and Dori reflected on ideas of leadership.

Omari Souza
Kunal reflected on one of his first management roles at Morningstar, coinciding with the 2008 global financial crisis and what he learned about risk in that position.

Kunal Kapoor
You don't always have to have the shiny toy to learn the most, because to this day, if you ask me professionally where I've learned the most, I'll point to experiences like that as opposed to when I've been handed shiny toys with the underlying expectation to not screw it up. That might be great because you're suddenly running the shiniest toy in the company, but if the expectation is you can't screw it up, it's sort of implicit that you shouldn't be changing a lot. And those are not the most fun jobs, it turns out. So, you know, sometimes it's really good to have the jobs that on the surface seem like the ones that, you know, could be the riskiest because the learning curve on them is easily the steepest.

Kaleena Sales
And Dori talked about feature aspirations as she continues on her journey of leadership.

Dori Tunstall
I'm aspiring to more fearlessness because I feel that it is our fear that is causing us to do harm to feel like we need to protect. So I'm aiming for more fearlessness because, you know, if you know more, if you experience more, then you might be less afraid of future possibilities because you have the ability to imagine ones that are again, more equitable, etc., etc.. So I'm, I'm aiming towards more fearlessness.

Omari Souza
Yeah, I love that. I love the context for both leading into the quotes that they made, especially Kunal's time period taking on this management role during the financial crisis and his talk about the cost benefit of taking on jobs that have high risk and not always having the shiny toy. I remember graduating during that time period from undergrad. I graduated in '09 and it was a crazy amount of time. You spent this entire time period learning how to operate in a particular market, and then when the Great Recession hit, all bets are off. Everything that you learned in your classes were completely different. The tutelage I received was basically training me to be a print designer with no web knowledge. And immediately after graduation, all the expectations for designers required you to have web knowledge or some type of social media skills and yada yada yadda, all for entry level roles that otherwise you did not need. So it was one of these moments where there was the shiny toy that you weren't necessarily equipped with if you were graduating into that window and you had to find a way to get this job done or acquire these skill sets to make yourself competitive without the safety of learning them within the classroom.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah. 2007 2008 was— I hold distinct memories from that time for various reasons. But one of the reasons that I will share here on this podcast anyway is I was working in advertising, I think I share this story maybe briefly before on one of our other episodes, but I was working in my first job out of grad school and got laid off because the recession hit, we lost a big client. I was working in advertising and it's all about, you know, clients and you lose a client, people get laid off and that sort of thing. And so, yeah, I found myself in a situation where I was job hunting. And interestingly enough, I remember interviewing at an ad agency that I was really excited about and I showed my portfolio and they were like, Yeah, this is great, but we should warn you that really the client that you would be working on already sort of has a template. Everything is sort of already established and we aren't necessarily looking for like breakthrough creative like ideas in this role. We need someone that can sort of be a cog in the machine. And I was just like, whoa, you know, because I think when you're in school, especially if you depending on what sort of program you go through, but I had one too a school and it was all about, you know, be as creative as possible and do all these incredible things and you're going to go and like change the world with your your creative work. And so to be confronted with the reality that sometimes the expectations don't really align with that and that a job isn't even a creative position, isn't necessarily wanting you to be creative was sort of eye opening for me. And so that that sort of made me think about a couple of other points in relation to the conversation that Dr. Tunstall had with Kevin and Dana, where she was speaking about essentially finding a way to make an impact, no matter sort of where you find yourself or where our students will land, whether they're working on big clients or small clients or in an environment that sort of nurtures creativity or not, I think there are still opportunities to make an impact. And so I think the question that I started to really think about as I listened to this conversation was, you know, how can we teach our students or sort of the next generation of designers to make impact? What are the things — what are those like, those principles that we can leave them with where they know how to make an impact no matter the space they find themselves in?

Omari Souza
Yeah, and I-I have to put respect on Dr. Tunstall's name. I think the piece that she mentioned too her regarding fearlessness is a part of how we do that. I think in many cases we don't as academics or as leaders, encourage people to be fearless in the design space. In many ways, we encourage people to be complicit or to be that cog long term, and by being the cog are pretty much mean, like things become formulaic. The asthetic that we pretty much use, we get influenced by what's popular and we try to stay safe within what's popular because we're afraid to do something different, that that may be viewed as less than or not good or not of quality. There may be spaces that we may be interested in operating, but fear prevents us from doing so. And maybe that that space of discomfort is where the innovation lies. And in many cases, we don't encourage our-our students or our people to really jump into that space of discomfort, find that area where you are nervous or scared. I remember being in grad school and one of my thesis advisors would tell us, tell me specifically, but when teaching the class would then say, you know, when you're thinking about the trajectory of your thesis — if you're not intimidated by your-your topic isn't good enough, like it needs to be something that that makes you-that makes you nervous when when you think about how to approach it or it's not really a challenge.

Kaleena Sales
I love those points. I think that fearlessness can sort of show up in a lot of different ways. For my own work, and when I end up sort of talking to my students a lot about is sort of rebelling. And you point to this in your comments, but sort of pushing against the status quo and sort of like their visual narratives. And so, you know, countering dominant canonical narratives about good design, advancing cultural expressions, advocating for equity in terms of like representation and narrative. So a lot of those deal with like style, right? So like, again, you know, going against or challenging, I should say, not necessarily going against, challenging Swiss design and and all that. And I think that's one way to sort of advocate and that's certainly the space that I find myself in a lot. But I think that for people who work in other spaces that don't really deal with style, for example, I think there are ways to be fearless in the way that they challenge systems, the way that they challenge policies. And actually, I had an opportunity recently to hear Dr. Sasha Costanza-Chock discuss their book Design Justice, recently. And they were talking about these design justice principles. And I loved the way that they're sort of outlined in the book Design Justice. There was one that sort of stood out to me, and it resonated with me in terms of like something that my students and I think other students could carry with them into the industry as they're working, especially if they're challenging or really advocating for systemic change. And so one of those, I think ten design justice network principles was to work towards non-exploitative solutions that reconnect us to the earth and to each other. And then there was another that was about seeking new design solutions. And so in their book it says, you know, we look for what's already working at the community level and it's about honoring and uplifting traditional indigenous and local knowledge and practices. And I think that when we're thinking about being fearless or when we're thinking about taking risk again, sometimes that can happen in a number of different ways. And so if you're in a space where you don't feel like you are the decision maker, you know, maybe your role within that can still be very impactful based on just your challenging of kind of old ways of doing and pushing for more, you know, sustainable practices or more equitable ways to represent communities that are otherwise underrepresented.

Omari Souza
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I agree wholeheartedly.

Kaleena Sales
So what about you? What sort of examples come to mind when you think of leadership?

Omari Souza
I think I've been fortunate to have a number of people that have been direct, indirect leaders. I often look to a lot of people outside of design as inspiration. For a long time and still I am a huge fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates and I would read his books, listen to his interviews and talk about how he found his voice within an industry that took him a long time to break into. A lot of the leaders that were in my fam-were were around me, were family members. And through years of like self-reflection, realizing that some of my own leadership practices and my own fearlessness comes from the trauma of being a first generation American and also being poor or growing up poor, I should say. Once you have economic traumas, a lot of times this fearlessness comes from a space of desperation, like, I need to accomplish these particular things so I don't go back to where I was. So you're taking on these projects and you're working on these things and you're trying to make a space for yourself, because in reality it's as my students like to say, an opportunity to chase the bag and provide sustainability for yourself or make a name for yourself, especially if you feel like you've come from a space where your name doesn't garner a particular amount of respect or appreciation, and you want to bring that to your family or to your as a as a representation of your culture and the feedback. So for me, when I think about what separates me from some of the people that I've worked with and some of the students that I teach, I think in many ways it's that level of desperation. And sometimes I can be fearless in one space because I'm more fearful of things that are happening in others. I'll take on these projects that other people may feel fearful of because for me, like I have this incessant desire to not go back, but not being in the same position of financial desperation.

Kaleena Sales
I mean, now I feel that 100% in your situation, it's made you really go after your goals, right? And be fearless in some ways. And I think that in some other people it might show itself in a different way. So it might cause some people to actually retreat in fear and be afraid to show up as their authentic selves. I think that fear is sort of a part of the experience of like assimilating and and wanting to create like safety for yourself and your family in order to succeed in like a system or an environment where you're underrepresented, right. And so sometimes that fear might make you shrink down and blend in, right. And not go after or not sort of be your biggest and best self. I think that's how I probably experienced it in my early career. It's like, let's blend in, let's not do too much because we want to sort of create the path of least resistance in order to succeed. And so I don't know. I just think it's really interesting how-how that shows up. And I also think that respectability narratives come into play as well for a lot of like people from marginalized communities that are trying to show up in spaces where they're afraid to show up authentically, right. And so I need to wear my hair like this. I need to dress like this. I need to speak like this. I need my work to present itself in this particular way. That's all based in fear as well. But it's rooted in like, you know, real oppression and real experiences. And so I just think it's really interesting how like a call to fearlessness might really resonate or land differently depending on like the way that you respond to trauma or the way that you respond to just being an outsider. And so, yes, I loved this conversation that both Kunal and Dr. Tunstall had surrounding this, this kind of concept of risk and fearlessness. And I do hope that the things that we're doing, you know, with our students and the conversations that are being had on even on the podcast, encourages people to be more fearless.

Omari Souza
Yeah, Yeah.

Kaleena Sales
Speaking of lessons learned, do you have any takeaways from this season of hosting the minisodes?

Omari Souza
I, I think the amazing thing about all of these speakers and guests that we've had is that it gave me such a wide perspective in terms of design philosophy and design practices and how we as a field and industry can impact the world around us, whether that's pushing conversations around asthetic or advocacy or pushing conversations around tenacity within workplace and position, elevation or achievement, I should say. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to sit and listen to all of these conversations and discuss it with you, calling a good friend of mine, as well as sharing that with, you know, this amazing audience that's been super supportive of us over these episodes.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, I completely agree. It's been a lot of fun and a huge learning opportunity. You know, I think both of us are entering these conversations from the positionality of being design educators. And so we're in the classroom engaged with students. But it's been really nice to hear from industry leaders, you know, in these conversations and to learn a little bit about what they're looking for. And so I think about the multidisciplinary sort of approaches or what multidisciplinary approaches are good to teach our students, what transferable skills matter most in this industry. And I think one big takeaway is and even in the last conversation that we listened to with Dr. Tunstall and Kunal Kapoor, one thing that seems to have been consistent is that a lot of people, a lot of the industry leaders that we've listen to really are rooted in making a difference and making an impact in whatever corner of the world you find yourself in. And so I hope that we can do that ourselves. And then if nothing else, that we make it easier for other people to to do that along the way.

Omari Souza
Completely, completely agree.

Omari Souza
The Design of Business | The Business of Design is a podcast from Design Observer. Our website is D-B-B-D dot Design oObserver dot com. There you can find the complete archive from past guests and hosts. To listen, go to D-B-B-D dot Design Observer dot com.

Kaleena Sales
And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe to this podcast. You can find The Design of Business | The Business of Design on Apple Podcasts or however you listen to podcasts.

Omari Souza
And if you're already subscribers to the podcast, tell your friends about the show, or go to Apple Podcasts and rate us, which is a great way to let other people know about the show.

Kaleena Sales
And between episodes, you can keep up with Design Observer on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And thanks to Morningstar for making this conversation possible.

Omari Souza
Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Design Observer's executive producer is Betsy Vardell. Our theme music is fine, Mike Errico. Thanks as always to Design Observer's founder, Jessica Helfand.

Kaleena Sales
And of course, our counterparts, Kevin Bethune and Dana Arnett.

Omari Souza
Thank you guys again so much for your support for season ten. And we look forward to hearing from you guys in the future.

Kaleena Sales
All right.

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