(All photos by Asa Mathat)
President, Rhode Island School of Design
Read the full transcript below. (Transcript by Realtime Transcriptions.)
Maeda: Hi. So I was enjoying this brochure. So well-designed. And the cover I changed, though, because it says leaders must think more like technologists. I actually think that actually technologists must think more like leaders instead, and I’ll tell you why.
I was at MIT Media Lab for many years and I became president of Rhode Island School of Design roughly six years ago. And I read every book on the first 100 days. Gosh, every book out there, it’s informed me on what it’s like to be president versus being a professor, but didn’t help very much.
But the one paragraph I always remembered was never have a vision as a leader. Never come in with a vision. And so I struggled to not have a vision.
And I addressed a group of 600 high school students who were on campus for our summer program, and it was my first thing to do as president. And there were 600 people in the auditorium. They’re all art students from around America, around the world. And they have green hair and they have weird T-shirts and it was a bit scary. But I said, “Hey, I’m the new president and I want to try a focus group idea, so I’m going to give you some ideas for a vision and I want you to apply for the one that makes the most sense.”
So the first idea I put out there was because of education, I thought, “Well, so what about lifelong education in the arts?” It didn’t do very well. It was like an applause-for-dad kind of thing. And the second one I thought would really get them in the ego because it was about fostering the next generation of super art talent. Even that didn’t do much better, so I was kind of giving up.
I said how about building a case for creative people in the world. And suddenly, everyone started applauding. I was like Bono, where it’s like, wow, everyone is applauding. Why are they applauding?
So an hour later, I was in our shop and a young woman came up to me, and she said, “I’m so glad you said that, in the auditorium.” I said, “What did I say?” She said, “Well, I’m a sophomore. I’m growing up in Nebraska. I’m the creative one in school. I’m the weird one. No one takes me seriously. And you said in the auditorium you were going to fight for us.” I sort of felt what was happening in the auditorium.
So I love how six years later, now we have wonderful things happening in Silicon Valley, where companies like Airbnb that are hugely successful, mentioned in this conference multiple times, are founded by two of our graduates, Brian and Joe.
And more companies like this are emerging, companies that don’t come from technology or business. They’re coming from artists who understand the human condition.
And when I think about how the opportunity in America today to move STEM education to STEAM education because STEAM education makes for better entrepreneurs.
And Valentine’s Day of this year, in Congress, when it was open back then, what happened is there was a bipartisan congressional caucus was launched called the STEAM Caucus, devoted to putting art education back into American schools. And now, only like a half year later, there are now 55 U.S. reps on board across both sides.
So I’m delighted that America, more countries are recognizing the importance of putting art education, design education in the STEM education, because new innovators, like the Airbnb guys, are about to come out more. Thank you.