How John Maeda Sold RISD's Faculty On His Vision For The School

Photo by Flickr user scobleizer

A little more than a year ago, we reported on John Maeda's travails as president of the Rhode Island School of Design ("The Twitterfly Effect"). After taking the venerable art school's reins and alienating some on campus with the kind of cyberstyle leadership that had worked so well for him at MIT's Media Lab, Maeda was stunned when his board-endorsed strategic plan for the school met with a "no confidence" vote from the faculty. One year later, his revised plan passed with a hearty 80% faculty approval. What made the difference? A piece of advice from his pal John Jay, Wieden+Kennedy's executive creative director. Posted on Maeda's office wall is Jay's "10 Lessons for Young Designers." No. 2 on the list: "Life is visceral. Get off the computer and connect with real people." Maeda did, logging lots of face time with faculty and staff. "The world is shifting," he says. "Leaders are exposed and accountable, and can get word from anywhere. Now it's about a shared voice. That's academia."

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