Designers Ray and Charles Eames were desired not for their demonstrated knowledge of a subject, but for their ability to investigate and innovate. This ability is what all my Alexander Technique teachers and colleagues demonstrate, and what studying AT has made possible for me.
It’s so exciting to be able to take on a new activity and have the means to work out what’s going on, and what would make it easier! Not only does applying the principles of the Alexander Technique activate my ability to execute a sport or movement practice–and consistently improve, but seeing what allows for efficiency in an activity clarifies and deepens my understanding of the Technique.
It’s as if I have a key that unlocks the “how-to” of anything: surfing, dancing, running, yoga, Chi Kung. I can see the mechanism; I understand how things are supposed to work, and how they work when they work well. I understand coordination, how when it’s operating at a high level it’s not just effective, it’s beautiful. This is so satisfying and inspiring that I am filled up with enthusiasm, for the particular thing and to “talk shop” about it with anyone who will listen.
In these images, and in surfing videos, I can see the active relationship of arms to torso to legs, and the engagement of the eyes in starting the spiralic movement that follows all the way through to the feet and the board. I see how everything plays out to best advantage. Does that mean I can surf?? Not yet, but it means I know how to approach it, involving my whole body and the dynamics that make it work well.
This ability to figure things out is what I aim to inspire in my students. As my teaching matures, I recognize that sharing my realization of how things works is not nearly as much fun as planting seeds in a student’s experience, like hiding Easter eggs, and then waiting with excitement for them to say, “you know what? I figured out that when I don’t stiffen my neck, when I let my limbs move freely off my torso, when I wait just that one extra moment before going into action, everything is easier!” It’s like watching revelation in real time. Pure delight for me.
Here’s the article that inspired this post: “Selling Ignorance,” by www.jonathanfields.com
“Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire.” — Richard Saul Wurman on Charles Eames
What if the single biggest thing you have to offer is not what you know about a given subject, but how you approach it?
What if your unique lens, applied to anything in that special way, is your greatest gift?
Take legendary designers, Ray and Charles Eames. The wife-husband team generally committed to projects that took years to complete. Why? They needed to allow for the migration from novice to expert.
They were experts in their process of inquiry and elaboration and creation. But they constantly took on challenges in entirely new fields. Along the way, they’d need to learn about the specific content, materials, products and needs. But what people were really buying and what they were selling was faith in their ability to figure out it on a level most others couldn’t.
That led to a paradigm-shifting volume of output that spanned a mind-boggling diversity of fields. They designed everything from splints for injured World War II soldiers to entire structures, interiors, fabric, exhibits, images, patterns, brands, games, movies and even toys.
Design firm, IDEO, is another powerful example. On the surface, this now legendary design house is just that. A design firm. Thing is, clients don’t come to them because they’ve got expertise in this widget or that. They come to IDEO because they know IDEO is driven by a process that moves them rapidly from ignorance to inquiry and then genius. And IDEO hires people who’ve demonstrated a similar approach to creation in their own endeavors, along with a capacity to apply that process to new challenges. So, at IDEO, you’ll find everyone from classically-trained designers to writer, musicians, entrepreneur-types and beyond. Because it’s more about the lens.
Reflecting back to the quote that opens this piece about the Ray and Charles, the full quote reads:
Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire. He was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work.
In other words, they were selling precisely what we’re so often told to see as our greatest flaw.
Ignorance unexplored is the seed of impotence.
Ignorance mined is the seed of innovation.