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This page shares my best articles to read on topics like creativity, decision making, strategy, and more. The central questions I explore are, “How can we learn the best of what others have mastered? And how can we become the best possible version of ourselves?”

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Daniel Scrivner

Jony Ives' CCA Commencement Address and Advice for the Graduating Class

“My encouragement is to be committed and proactive in caring for that deep, creative part of yourself that is easily overlooked.”

Legendary designer Sir Jony Ive joined California College of the Arts’ class of 2021 as the keynote speaker. During his 15-minute keynote speech, he drew from his own college experience, recounting a lesson he learned during a plaster sculpture class with his professor, Roy Morris — ”a class that permanently changed the way I thought about the sanctity of creating,” he said.

“I dreaded the class because I was allergic to plaster dust. Despite wearing my mask I would end up wheezing with streaming eyes, and my tongue would swell so that I sounded like Scooby-Doo when I spoke,” he said. “But here's the thing. While we learned about form and proportion, Roy was really teaching us about the fundamental value of our thinking and our ideas. And this began with teaching us how to respect our own work.”

He continued: “I came to learn from him that creating and thinking should always be afforded a rare respect—and this is the important thing—always a rare respect, not only when the ideas are good, and not only if the circumstances are easy and convenient. If we make it our habit to respect our ideas and our process, we increase the probability that they will actually be good and worthy of that respect.”

During his speech, Sir Jony encouraged the graduating class to nurture their creativity. “Our professional skills develop with repetition,” he said. “Our creativity develops with deep care and intention.”

He also touched on the importance of being curious, open, and inquisitive, which he said has become the basis for all that he does and how he thinks. “Having a genuine relish for being surprised and for learning is fundamental to creating,” he said. “Of course being curious fuels our appetite to learn. And wanting to learn is far more important than being right. Curiosity can unite us and form the basis for powerful and joyful collaborations. And crucially, the delight and joy of curiosity and learning can temper our fear of doing something completely new.”

As chief design officer of Apple for 27 years, Sir Jony is responsible for the design of some of the world’s most profoundly influential, intuitive, simple, and beautiful products—including the iMac, PowerBook, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods, as well as major architectural projects such as Apple Park and the iconic Apple stores.

Speech Transcript

I've always felt a particular connection with people who create, who have ideas, who make, a connection that transcends age or discipline. And while we practice in many different ways as designers, painters, sculptors, writers, and architects, our work essentially comes from the same place. So with the sincere hope of being useful, I would like to share a little of my personal journey with you. And while it is personal, I hope it resonates as the journey of a fellow creative. As a young boy, all I wanted to do was draw and make with the single-minded determination of someone who had discovered what it is they love. And I suspect because I was hopeless at everything else, I became consumed with creating and making. I studied industrial design at college and started to learn about the skills particular to design.

I loved my practice and it started to help inform my sense of identity. It helped me understand how I could contribute to society and to culture. I began to think of myself as a designer rather than a shy person that couldn't read very well or speak with any confidence. As I became more preoccupied though with becoming a professional designer, I started to worry about an imbalance. While developing my design practice legitimized and channeled my creativity, I started to feel that my childhood dreaming and imagination was being left behind.

Now, colleges, of course, exactly their place, exactly their time to focus on developing our professional skills. But what bothered me was just how easily my attention was consumed with the specific skills of design rather than the fundamentally important ones of creating. Not to sound hopelessly dramatic, butI almost felt I was betraying the dreaming and the wondering that had really sustained me as a child.Without imagination, without profoundly new thinking and potent ideas, our practice that has no purpose. There was one class that bought my tentative worries and concerns into focus.

It was a class that permanently changed the way I thought about the sanctity of creating. It was a sculpture class, a plaster sculpture class. It would begin by making crude molds in aluminum and then casting plaster. After it dried, we would sculpt and refine the plaster forms by hand using saws and rasps. But the plaster workshop was very small and it was complete carnage. The air would become opaque with white plaster, dust, and large pieces of plaster covered the floor and tables. But my teacher, Roy Morris, was absolutely brilliant. He was quiet, he was kind, and he was patient. And it was an important class because I learned about form and making form, yet I dreaded the class because I was allergic to plaster dust. And despite wearing my mask, I would end up wheezing with streaming eyes and my tongue would swell so that I sounded like Scooby-Doo when I spoke.

But here's the thing. While we learned about form and proportion, Roy was really teaching us about the fundamental value of our thinking and our ideas. And this began with teaching us how to respect our own work. You see, when Roy asked us about our sculpture, he would get fantastically agitated If weever refer to it glibly or casually. Despite the complete chaos inside the plaster workshop, he would expect us to stop what we were doing, carefully clear a small patch on the table, free of plaster debris ,dust, and tools. We would then place our work carefully in the center and attempt a thoughtful explanation.

Now, Roy also had analogy to plaster and it was even worse than mine. But he endured those lessons fueled with a fierce belief in the almost sacred importance of creating. I came to learn from him that creating and thinking should always be afforded a rare respect. And this is the important thing, always a rare respect not only when the ideas are good and not only if the circumstances are easy and convenient. If we make it our habit to respect our ideas and our process, we increase the probability that they will actually be good and worthy of that respect.

I cannot thank him enough, and so I really want to encourage you to be neither distracted nor limited by your respective areas of expertise. Of course, your disciplines and the skills you have learned are wonderfully important, but just know they will tend to naturally win the competition for your attention.My encouragement is to be committed and proactive in caring for that deep creative part of yourself that is easily overlooked to develop an unconditional respect for your creativity, which will sustain you during the times when the ideas are either sparse or not very good. Our professional skills develop with repetition. Our creativity develops with deep care and intention.

I obsess trying to deeply understand the general nature of ideas, understanding their nature I tend to have more ideas and do a better job caring for, protecting and developing them. Ideas by definition, are always fragile. If they were resolved, they wouldn't be ideas. They would be products that were ready to ship. I've come to learn that you have to make an extraordinary effort not to focus on the problems which are implicated with any new idea. These problems are known, they're quantifiable and understood, but you have to focus on the actual idea, which is partial, tentative, and unproven. If you don't actively suspend your disbelief, if you don't believe there is a solution to the problems, of course you'll lose faith in your idea. That is why criticism and focusing on the problems can be so damaging, particularly in the absence of a constructive idea.

Remember, opinions are not ideas. Opinions are not as important as ideas. Opinions are just opinions.Perhaps the most important thing I can share with you today is about curiosity. Being truly open, inquisitive, and curious has become the very basis for all that I do and how I think. Having a genuine relish for being surprised and for learning is fundamental to creating. Many of us have a natural or innate predisposition to be curious, though I have learned that after a traditional education or working in an environment with many people, it has to be a decision. It requires intent and discipline. In interactions with larger groups, many of us gravitate towards the tangible and the measurable. It is more comfortable, far easier and more socially acceptable to talk about what is known. Of course, being curious fuels our appetite to learn and wanting to learn is far more important than being right.

Curiosity can unite us and form the basis for powerful and joyful collaborations, and crucially, the delight and joy of curiosity and learning can temper our fear of doing something completely new. Lastly, one of the wonderful consequences of being open is that you find yourself actually listening. To listen well means you need to be quiet. Great ideas can come from the quietest voice, and I really worry how many good ideas I have missed because I wasn't listening or I couldn't hear a thing for the usual deluge of opinion.

I think it would be great to resist the urge to fill every moment of every minute with opinions and to listen. So to you, the class of 2021, to the creatives that will define our futures, to your openness and to your curiosity and to your ideas, I wish you the very, very best on your next adventures. I trust that you embrace, truly value and nurture your creativity. Thank you so very much.

Browse more of history's greatest speeches →

About the author

Daniel Scrivner is an award-winner designer and angel investor. He's led design work at Apple, Square, and now ClassDojo. He's an early investor in Notion, Public.com, and Anduril. He founded Ligature: The Design VC and Outlier Academy. Daniel has interviewed the world’s leading founders and investors including Scott Belsky, Luke Gromen, Kevin Kelly, Gokul Rajaram, and Brian Scudamore.

Last updated
Dec 16, 2023

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