Charlotte Burgess-Auburn is a designer, artist, and educator. She has been the Director of Community at the Stanford d.school since 2005, where she teaches classes on the role of self-awareness in creativity and design. She’s also the author of “You Need a Manifesto: How to Craft Your Convictions and Put Them to Work.”
Manifestos have been a tool for recruiting people to collective causes—political, religious, artistic. But in this age, where it seems like everyone is being recruited by everyone else every moment of the day, you need a way to recruit yourself to your own cause, a method for considering your own power to create and to make positive change in a world that sorely needs it.
The time is right to redefine the manifesto as personal for the present moment. So how do you craft that manifesto—and put it to work? Try taking an inner road trip.
A practice of self-awareness equips every maker, creator, or problem solver with an essential understanding of their own relationship to the process of getting work done. Know yourself, and everything will work better.
In this landscape, you might think of goals as your destinations, values as the gas you need to get there, ethics as your steering wheel, and biases as well-worn paths and ruts in the roads.
Goals are destinations. The journey to them can be more short-term, like “write my book,” or more long-term, like “bring up my kids to become healthy, thoughtful, productive adults.” They are a conceptualization of a place, a moment, or a state of being where you want to arrive. However, as with all things set in the future, we need to regularly reexamine that course in relation to the present.
As Andrea Small and Kelly Schmutte have said in their book, Navigating Ambiguity, wayfinding is a matter of paying attention—cultivating awareness of where you are and what is happening. You may have a destination in mind, but there are many ways to get to that destination. And as you are finding your way there, new destinations may beckon more strongly. So though a goal gives you direction and structure for your journey, it’s not always where you end up.
Taking time to consider your goals—the ones you’d like to have as well as the ones that you’re actively pursuing—can help orient you toward work that is meaningful to you. The only way to truly know your goals is to look inward. Get to know yourself. Dig around to see what goals you might already have in your backpack.
Values are simply what you value in your life. They help you determine what is important to you in both the long term and the short. Some are derived from your personal experiences, some you inherit from your family or your culture, and others you adopt as a part of your learning. Your values are changeable. What is of value to you today may not be in ten years. (In fact, let’s hope not.) Your values are also personal. I can’t tell you what values to have—they are yours, not mine. What I can tell you is that you need them. Why? It’s gas in the tank. Values motivate you. They push you. Let them.
Values matter because they are present in everything we do, but they also hide in our actions—they are not always self-evident and not often self-examined. By airing your values as part of the work of creating your manifesto, you have the opportunity to examine and evolve your sense of purpose as you gain experience and wisdom. Examine your daily pursuits as a way to discover what you value beyond the obvious. Start with the behaviors, actions, and objects that are important to you and extract your values from them.
If values are the accelerator for driving toward your goals, then ethics are more like the brakes, the steering, or the lines on the road. Ethics are the rules and restraints we establish for ourselves to keep from running all over the place, squashing everything that’s in our path. Without an accepted set of rules of the road, you can struggle to know how and where to stop, especially when your vehicle can take you far beyond where it’s safe to go.
Ethics are your rules, whether they are personal guides to your own behavior or a collective set of laws that keep all of us on paths safely. Built in line with your values and responsive to your experiences, they indicate your boundaries and the ways you get to your destination.
As you are creating your manifesto, use the opportunity to ask yourself if there are any guardrails in there, any brakes, any limits. If you’ve got your personal ethics in place, you’ll be better able to tell when you, your organization, or your field is heading in the wrong direction.
Biases are the predetermined preferences that we hold; they can be favored routes to travel—or ruts in the road. So often we make choices based on instinct, but it is important to understand and examine the ways in which your preferences have developed. Understanding them can help you see where you need to push through unnecessary or unjust boundaries imposed by convention, negative influences, and systemic or structural prejudice.
Biases are tendencies to favor or disfavor anything based on your previous experiences or cultural norms. Everyone has biases—they are a product of a learning brain. They form because the brain categorizes new experiences based on prior knowledge. Our brain connects new ideas, new people, and new things to categories we’ve formed from all of our earlier experiences and then responds to them the same way it does to other things in that category.
While some of these biases are very useful (to keep us from walking into oncoming traffic) and some are harmless (like “sour cream and onion chips are just better than barbecue”), some are incredibly harmful both to others and to ourselves. Stereotypes passed to us from our families, the cultures we grew up in or are living in, and the media and information we consume can predetermine our ideas about ourselves and other people based on race, cultural background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and so much more. While it’s not possible to live a life with no biases at all, it is critical to know that they exist, to become aware of what yours are, and to bring them into the light so you can spend time and effort to change when you need to. By exposing your implicit biases, you can make more deliberate choices.
All this talk of values and ethics and goals can make writing your own manifesto seem like the stakes are too high. But the beauty of the approach you are about to take is in its flexibility. You’re not setting anything in stone. Your first manifesto is going to be a prototype, and so is your second and your third. Free yourself from any sense of obligation—you don’t owe anyone anything. Trust your intuition. There’s only one person your manifesto can and needs to be totally true for, and that is you, right now.
Reprinted with permission from “You Need a Manifesto: How to Craft Your Convictions and Put Them to Work” by Charlotte Burgess-Auburn and Stanford d.school, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
“You Need a Manifesto” is part of Stanford d.school’s new series of guides looking at the methods and mindsets behind creativity and design.