World changing?

This past week I was fortunate enough to attend the PIE Demo Day at the Bagdad Theater. I was excited to see what the first class of PIE had been up to and what was happening in the start up community here in Portland. It was a fun event and a new experience for me, I’d never heard anyone pitching their business looking for funding, so I learned quite a bit by watching. But it also made me think quite a bit. At some point during the introduction, one of the founders of PIE talked about businesses changing the world. And as I pondered the businesses that presented I couldn’t help but wonder how any of the ideas were truly world changing. I mean absolutely no disrespect to any of the folks who worked hard and were on that stage, they all are interesting and the business ideas were quite good. A few of the apps I would love to try. But would I classify them as world changing?

This theme keeps coming up in things that I am reading. First in The Great Discontent interview with Noah Stokes, he talked about the experience of going to Brooklyn Beta and being challenged by business leaders to think about how we as a community can use our skills to change things in healthcare and education. I read a lot of different thoughts online after Brooklyn Beta that reverberated the theme of doing something larger.

Then I got the second issue of The Manual and read the piece by Cennydd Bowles. It struck the same chord, Cennydd calls for great design, human centered design.

Great products also meet the needs of society as a whole. So we should design for the good of the web, for the good of design, for the good of the world.
-page 56, The Manual, issue 2

And again he reiterates:

In this new environment, we’ll see personal success defined through the success we bring to other people’s lives.
-page 56, The Manual, issue 2

In the final essay in The Manual, Josh Brewer sums up a lot of what is being said about design leading today.

The era of great design teams is upon us. It will be led by men and women who challenge what we think is possible, inspire us to do more than we believe we can, and encourage us to be even greater than they are.
These leaders free us as teams to reach inside ourselves and create what has never been seen or done before.
-pages 83-84, The Manual, issue 2

I in no way feel like I understand fully how I can and should be participating in something that not only is exciting and fun for me to do as work, but also would be contributing to something much larger than myself, but I do know that I’m now on the lookout for what it may be. I not only want to help create beautiful things that function well, but things that will meet a real need. Because I am tired of the chatter about the next great app that connects me to my friends, I have more than enough ways to connect with people online and in reality, I should probably step away from the screen and connect in person more often. So this week I’ve been contemplative and I’ve been wondering a lot about what this means for me. The desire is growing in me, now it is time for me to figure out what to do. Also, as I prepare to make a large change in my professional life, where does this fit in? That’s what I’ll be thinking about over the next several weeks and probably months.

Update: Just after I posted this, I watched a fantastic video and reread a recent article. They tie in perfectly with the ideas above. Wilson Miner’s talk from Build 2011 is amazing and for a small donation you can see all the videos from the conference, it is worth it for this talk alone. In addition, Cameron Koczon’s A List Apart article is fantastic. We are in a time where lots of people are thinking about design and design as leading the way. It’s exciting and provides a lot to think about.