The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe
— John Berger

Being an outsider is a terrifying prospect when you think about it.

Seriously challenging established norms usually means launching oneself onto the slippery slope of the unknown.    And, the consequences can be socially devastating.

Yet ironically, those who are courageous enough to step outside of the everyday are often the ones who discover life’s greatest illuminations. In an extreme example of this, I think of the French high wire walker, Philippe Petit.

Petit, who is most famous for his 1974 walk across the twin towers, describes his tightrope traverses as ultimately acts of creative expression. In the excellent 2008 documentary Man On Wire, Petit explains:

‘I think to myself, if I run across, I will fall into another life.
‘It is like a bank robbery,’ he says.
‘Stealing back the void for the people.’

Petit’s concept of reclaiming the void for others is a powerful idea, and especially so, for designers. In creating things for other people, designers must force themselves to step outside of their perspective.

Australian anthropologist and Intel’s chief user experience designer, Genevieve Bell, calls this discipline ‘critical reflexivity’.

‘Who you are influences the way you see things and the choices you make.
It is essential that you get outside of yourself,’ she says.

Challenging assumptions seems like obvious advice for anyone interested in creativity, but to put it into action is deceptively difficult.  To transcend the everyday, requires a direct assault on what we believe and why; it means asking more questions than we have answers for.  And like all creative endeavours, ultimately, it involves enormous courage.


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