Never Take The Package Deal

If you have met Richard Saul Wurman, you have a Richard Saul Wurman story. Even 37 signals’s Jason Fried has a RSW story that changed his life.  The man is often a … jerk. But he has a way of looking at the world, once adopted, you can never discard.

Here is mine.


At the Phoenix IASummit, Richard Saul Wurman was the keynote speaker. Unsurprising, since he coined the term “Information Architecture” and wrote the first book on it.  He came in at the beginning of the conference and proceeded to stay the entire time, sometimes alarming people with his questions, culminating in a keynote speech that infuriated the twitters and got a standing ovation by about five people.

At one point, he was sitting in the lounge, surrounded by a group of folks who were asking him questions.  Finally, I spotted an opening, and asked the one that was on the tip of my tongue. “I sometimes put together events. Can you give me any advice?”

Sensible question, right? I mean, he did invent  TED.

“No.” He said. And he paused. The man can work a pause. “No, you’d have to follow me around for weeks. For TED, I didn’t just pick the speakers. I worked with them on their talks. I designed the chairs. Look at these chairs! Hotels don’t have good chairs. I designed the menu. I hired the chef. I had the music composed. A great conference is not one thing. It’s a million things.”

I use quotes. But this is my memory. So there may have been some paraphrasing. But I do recall thinking “This is a man who never takes the package deal. If you show him option one and option two, he pushes the paper aside and starts to tell you what he wants. He never stops doubting assumptions. In fact, I’m not sure he ever makes any.”

And from then on, I also question everything. Never assume anything “has to be that way.”

He’s gone on to keep reinventing event formats, not even taking for granted his own ideas on what a talk can be. He’d rather fail at doing something new that could be great than do something adequate the way everyone knows will work.

And today I question everything, including my own ideas. The moment we stop questioning, we walk away from our chance to be better.

The enemy of good work is “it’s always been that way.”


Learn more from RSW via Dan Klyn

UX Week 2013 | Dan Klyn | Make Things Be Good: Five Essential Lessons from the Life and Work of Richard Saul Wurman from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.


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