Central to Gehry’s success has been his ability to admit failure – to reject his initial attempt and start again, with renewed confidence that the draft would be better because of what he has learned.
5. Seek out people who think differently
Another key to accepting critical feedback is to discuss it with people who may see other possibilities and won’t fear offering a challenge. Seeking out people with diverse opinions, including those whose views may even be diametrically opposed, is a critical element in self-assessment and avoiding failure.
Gehry, for example, though famously computer illiterate, surrounded himself with people who understood computer aided design (CAD) and embraced the possibilities it offered. Although Gehry never learned to design on a computer, he has never eschewed guidance on what could be achieved digitally.
Harnessing newly available design technology, developed originally for the aerospace sector, helped Gehry recognize possibilities, rather than constraints, and allowed the architect to explore his own creativity. Over time, Gehry pushed the edges of computer modelling, and became among the first architects to use computers to aid design and manufacturing. The technology allowed him to create stunningly complex geometric constructions and free-form designs using ordinary building materials – essentially creating a tech firm in the process.
Gehry’s lessons, notably on interpreting incoming data and avoiding bias, apply to all budding innovators. Avoiding pinning oneself down too soon, embarking on an iterative process – even if time-consuming – and letting the data speak, are key messages. The same applies to seeking out people who think differently and listening to what they say.
Gehry’s somewhat weird structures may not be to everybody’s taste, but they have become landmarks in their own right and, in that sense, have established themselves as both viable and desirable. The lessons from his practice apply to everyone who wants to explore new ideas while minimizing the risks of failure.
This article is an adapted excerpt from the book, ALIEN Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas (PublicAffairs, 2021).