Back in October, I met the man who I think is quite like the person I would like to be when I am old. He is a poet, and a famous one, but to tell the truth, I had never read a word of his work before I shook his hand.
It wasn’t so much his words that struck me, but his hair. It was a perfect mix of Einstein and The Beatles: a disheveled white crown that transitioned into side burns to frame his face. His voice was also striking: difficult to describe, but the words “weathered” and “wise” come to mind. He gave a reading at Magdalen, and if you haven’t heard his work before, check it out here: http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/heaney/personal_helicon.php Be sure to click on the ‘Listen’ button and hear him read.
Reflecting on this year of meeting people in the start-up and design world, I think we have something to learn from great poets. Mr. Heaney spent his entire life engaged in intense observation of his world, and has built his career around artfully describing the tacit insights found in these observations. While many of us pride ourselves in being in touch with customers needs, we are often are more focused on ourselves than on the object of our observation. For us, user observation becomes a means to an end, and I believe our insights are weakened as a result. We fail to make observation and documentation a way of life, as it seems to be for great poets. If we stop looking in the mirror, and instead immerse our selves in the task watching the world around us, we might find insights we are not even looking for–and grow some pretty cool hair to boot.