Conversation on architects, geniuses and morals...

December 27, 2011

On KM’s classmates mailing list, we are having a very interesting conversation. It started with Vasu, who teaches in Ohio, posting a link to Louis Kahn’s work, designing the IIM-A campus:

click here for the link to Louis Kahn’s notebook and sketches

A fascinating set of sketches and more.

Today, Fareed Zakaria interviewed architect Frank Gehry on his CNN show. Gehry created the building that currently houses my office. Gehry’s initial sketches also resemble idle doodles.

Gehry said his buildings don’t look weird to him. He said other “normal” buildings look weird to him. That statement resonated with me. He talked about the need to provoke an emotion and gave the example of the Nataraja figure as something that has “movement” built into it. It made me look at the familiar Nataraja sculpture in a new way, even though I have been seeing it all my life.

We are toying these days with the metaphor of “management as design.” That view sees management as largely an improvisational art, like creating a building or a motion picture or a piece of exquisite art often out of materials that happen to be at hand. It is seen as a punctuated process, with lots of zigs and zags and not as the linear and overly rational kind of analytical process that most of us were exposed to.

The examples of “design thinking” in the above blog are giving me all sorts of ideas that I hope to incorporate into the redesign of my classes for next semester.

The design schools seem to be doing more innovating everywhere on management ideas than the so-called management schools.

To this, Raj replied:

Thanks for this. Did you know that this great and famous architect died a pauper and in debt? That he was a lousy family man? That he had two marriages running in parallel one of them being secret? I wonder whether the existence of one great skill can be a licence to do a lot of not so acceptable things.

It is a debatable point that if we did not have inventive or creative or other breeds of geniuses around, the world would have progressed much less or not at all. Equally it could be argued that the accolades and hero worship that geniuses get, make them take many things for granted, a bit of God play. I am at a loss when it comes to accepting such people with their sharp edges or ignoring them or despising some of them.

Here I am not talking about genuine handicaps that some geniuses do have. Like I attended a highly technical lecture by John Nash, a few years ago. One could see the ghost of man trapped in some kind of an invisible web, reading from a word document projected on a screen and even reading ‘comma’, ‘full stop’, etc. A genius struggling against all odds to do what a child of 10 could do so easily. That was a humbling moment. Not one, where one would despise a human for his shortcomings. But a great painter or whatever, running wild after any one of the opposite gender who is willing or unwilling, is something else. Some may argue that it is a problem coded in his/her DNA…and that the subject is helpless.

Can someone throw some light on how one can distinguish between condonable and the unacceptable behaviour of geniuses?

And my response was:

Raj, my mother had a theory that satisfies my sense of logic…she used to say that the same kink which made a person talented to the point of genius, also meant that the person would often not abide by “ordinary” values of life. “Magic often also means madness,” she would say, and after reading about the lives of many creative geniuses (genii?) I’d tend to agree.

Well, society (the middle class…the upper and lower class never seem to bother!) always has trouble accepting anything which is not the norm….here I am not talking about theft, murder or absolute no-nos, but those things where what is acceptable seems to shift from time to time..exposure of skin, living together, extra-marital relationships, same-sex relationships, drinking, and so on. Our sense of security seems to be threatened by those who do not conform. No, I have no easy solutions for this…I guess such geniuses will still go their own way, and be tolerated by some, and gossiped about (and detested, or secretly envied) by the others!

What are YOUR thoughts, all of you?

Cheers, Deepa.

On Tue, Dec 27, 2011 at 9:12 AM, Vasudevan wrote: