Director’s Fellow Marko Ahtisaar at the Media Lab

These are my (rough) notes from Marko Ahtisaari’s talk at the Media Lab on Feb 4, 2014.

Marko Ahtisaari is the latest Media Lab Director’s Fellow. He is an incredible designer, thinker and musician. Marko just started his fellowship year and spoke to the Lab about his current interest in the question: “How to lead your creative self”

He covered three broad areas:

Your week - Basic everyday behavior

Based on work done when Helsinki was Design Capital of the world, Marko presented a redefined 9 to 5 work week:

Do 4 hours of good work

“good” = meaningful and give you satisfaction

Set 3 goals a week

could be two professional ones, one private one

Use 2 steps to clear your mind

implementing the filtering part of the GTD methodology make gaps in the day to work through the list of things

Focus on 1 big creative question a day

give yourself permission to think of one big question per day you can keep a question for another day, but you can’t add a second question today

[Marko mentioned that there is scientific grounding for all of these.]

Your energy

Goal: Predictably and consistently performing at very high performance

Key: Physical activity & recovery

Changes Marko made to his routing:

Your habits

Based on work by Marshall Goldsmith (Zen CEO coach) who has written numbers books on the topic including “What got you here, won’t get you there”.

Brutal feedback, and Daily follow-up

What now?

Marko’s current interest is designing the context and conditions in which teams can consistently achieve high-performance creative work. The things he is interested in range from wellness and mindfulness, to group dynamics and reflective practices.

As Marko himself acknowledges, it’s easy to get lumped in with the self-help section of your local book store, when you start talking about things like cybernetics or wellness. But that’s not where Marko is going with this. He is interested in what we can truly understand about how humans are creative, but he isn’t afraid to look across the disciplines.

He allows himself (and invites us) to explore this question broadly, which I find compelling. Because the answers are most likely to be found in the blind spots of the silo-ed academic world. Better understanding the brain and engaging deeply with philosophers who worked hundreds of years ago, go hand in hand.

Related - Feeling in control and health

As Marko was speaking, I remembered the work of Michael Marmot at University College London that I read about in the wonderful The Art of Choosing. Prof Marmot studies the effects that work has on health, and found that employees who feel they don’t have control over their work (Marko’s description of the flood of email that drives our work made me think about this) has significant negative health effects.