The math of lists

Peer over someone’s shoulder — on subways, at desks, at kitchen tables — and chances are good you’ll quickly find a list maker. Inventories, enumerations, lists are sensemaking for nonsensical things.

Lists guide and advise. Not only do they provide temporal structures for moving through a day space, they demand coherence, story, and priority. “What’s your number one priority on this project?”“What’s your top ten list of apps?” “What are the top x of y,” people ask, the content mattering not at all, in contrast with a hunger for the list itself. We have numbered lists, therefore, we are.

Hence, when recently asked the “five things all designers should know,” I offered a list.

See also:
The art of listmaking

1. Be comfortable with fiction like nonfiction.

Leadership is 50 percent fiction/50 percent nonfiction. That is to say, leadership is the confidence in knowing what you know and what you know you’ll know. It’s the ability to speak confidently, knowledgeably, and easily about the latter that sets some apart. Be comfortable with the fiction.

2. Know presence from present.

It’s a relatively mundane thing, after all. It’s what we do when we show up – we’re present. However, presence is different from present. In both cases, one is there. But presence offers those also there the resonance and memory of something larger than just being there. When you show up to talk about your work, are you present or do you have presence?

3. Make practice spaces.

Design is only as meaningful as the way it is communicated. Think not of design reviews and presentations as the only opportunity to talk about your work. Consider every day an opportunity to talk about the thing you believe in. Look at the exchange with your barista, the dog walker, the phone call with your great aunt, the family dinner table all as opportunity to test out your idea in the wild. Life offers a practice space for an idea. Use it to practice live.

4. Find a yes threshold.

We do a lot of filtering. A lot of filtering out interesting from not interesting, smart choices from the less smart, good email from spam, nourishing from the draining. We have less practice saying yes. Instead of practicing filters, try practicing good ways of saying yes. Accept invitations. Say yes to the offer to have coffee, to write a post, to do a project. Practice saying yes and not only will you expand your networks, but you’ll learn your yes threshold so you can use it wisely.

See also:
Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

5. Have a trustable framework.

This morning I had cereal, fruit, and milk. Same as yesterday. And five years yesterday. Truth is, I have the same thing every day. Little routines of sameness create a foundation that’s trustable. Trustable small frameworks make whatever unpredictability that happens throughout the day more doable. Whether its thank you gift, a way you take a photo, a song, frameworks create possibilities for what’s possible.

As for making any of these part of a daily routine? Add it to the list.