Recently I was in New York, and one of the high points was a meeting with Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek editor, noted author, and creator of the Nussbaum On Design blog.
Bruce is well-connected in the design world, and his opinions on design and innovation are both respected and debated. I'd been aware of Bruce's work for some time, but it was his recent post, Are Designers the Enemies of Design? (by all means, check it out!) and its subsequent reaction and fallout that made me want to meet Bruce. With a good word put in by David Armano (the "connoisseur of conversation"), I was able to schedule a late afternoon appointment.
Bruce's 43rd floor office has a gorgeous river view. But I didn't spend much time looking around. That's because Bruce captures your attention. Right off the bat, I was struck by Bruce's vitality and friendly manner. He's an engaging individual with stories from many different arenas. (I should note that we are close in age, Bruce a year older; this means that we have a number of similar experiences including "ducking and covering" in the 1950s).
We chatted about creativity, design, cycles of business innovation, and the challenges of writing a book. We then turned to the subject of blogging and these topics came up:
- Writing and maintaining a good blog "requires time, effort, and discipline";
- The danger of turning one's blog into a self-PR platform ("it makes it boring");
- The very difficult challenge of monetizing one's blog ("very, very few are able to do it"); and,
- The exhilaration of getting connected to many, many interesting people.
I mentioned to him David Armano's observation that the tone of Nussbaum On Design appears to have changed over the past few months from being reporting-oriented to being more conversational and audience-engaging. (The certainly shows up in the number of comments his posts elicit.)
Bruce acknowledged as much by saying, "I've gotten to a certain age where I feel I can just say what's on my mind." This led to a discussion of the above-cited post about designers and its reaction by certain bloggers in the design community ("Who Controls the Conversation"). As Bruce put, "Let me just say that I'm a strong believer in openness."
We talked for about a half an hour, and then Bruce had to attend a meeting. "Stay here and relax," Bruce told me, "and we can chat more when I return." While he was gone, I studied Bruce's book shelf, and then pulled down two books he had written in the 1980s. These were both serious works of reporting and analysis. The first I dipped into was Good Intentions: How Big Business, Politics, and Science Are Corrupting the Fight Against Aids (1990: Grove/Atlantic).
The other work was The World After Oil: The Shifting Axis of Power and Wealth (1983) in which Bruce explored the economic and global geo-political implications of the new technologies of the 1970s and early 1980s. I was startled to read on page 109 that Bruce predicted the near-term downfall of the Soviet Union from internal causes. He made this prediction in 1983, and he was certainly in the minority then.
When Bruce returned to his office, I asked him about his prescient insight with regard to the fall of the USSR. He smiled, "You're not the only one who was impressed. When that book came out, I received a call from William Casey [former CIA Director under Reagan]," and he proceeded to tell me a fascinating story about meeting Casey. What fun! He told me some other stories too, and I talked about my own experiences as a creativity consultant in industry. I gave him a Ball of Whacks to play with and also a Creative Whack Pack.
Over the past three decades at BusinessWeek, Bruce has witnessed a lot of revolutions — in business, technology, economics, and in politics. But these days, Bruce is not looking backwards. It's clear that he's both enjoying reporting on the exciting things currently taking place in the design world, and also having fun using the new communication tools to engage people about the future of design.
Many thanks for your time, Bruce!