For this installment of “Writers I Read,” I’m sharing my conversation with Ian P. Hines of ianhin.es & intrv.ws.
Ian: First of all, thanks for asking me to be interviewed. Interviewing others is certainly something I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what if feels like to be on the hot seat.
So “modern do-gooder,” eh? I first stumbled upon the phrase in a column by David Brooks of The New York Times, and wrote about it a bit here. Basically a modern do-gooder is someone with:
- an orientation towards public service;
- a belief in the power of the free-market of ideas;
- a relentless focus on measurable results and accountability; and
- a deep respect for people who pursue excellence in what they do.
Let me break those down a bit deeper.
By an orientation towards public service, I’m speaking specifically of doing for others as a matter of course. Now, that could be in your job, or in your spare time. Whatever. The point is that you feel it’s important to do work — in the broadest sense — that makes a positive difference in the lives of others. It’s not just about making money.
The free-market of ideas is an important concept, because it implies that the best ideas will naturally win out over the long term, assuming that experimentation and debate are allowed to occur. This is the biggest reason why too much top-down uniformity can be a bad thing. We need a diversity of approaches, as the first idea is rarely, if ever, the best one, and might very rarely makes right.
Results and accountability? Well, if you’re afraid of those two things you really shouldn’t even be involved in whatever you’re doing. Show me it works, and I’ll embrace it wholeheartedly. But prove it. We’ve spent far too long trying to fix problems with solutions that are based on a “gut-feeling,” but never pan out. We simply don’t have the time to guess anymore.
And lastly, pursuing excellence. I mean this in every context. If you’re a father, be the best father you can be. If you’re an employee, the best employee. Etc. Don’t settle for second best. Ever. People are counting from you; expect great things from yourself, and they’ll happen. And visa versa.
The number one thing that attracts me to a writer online is that I recognize these characteristics in them. And most especially the last one. Patrick Rhone, Shawn Blanc, John Gruber — these guys are so well read and so well respected because they approach everything they do with a zeal for quality. And in a world where everything is right at your fingertips, acceptable isn’t enough. People are looking for stellar quality. And that’s what I shoot for every day.
But, let’s face it. I fall far, far short of the goal. We all do.
I just wake up every morning thinking, “I want to be a good person.” Then I try to do that. I look to my faith to guide me when I’m not sure how. I used to look to political theory–to politics–but that’s not the way to find truth or wisdom.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said “The truth is the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.” I believe that. It’s important that we recognize that everything is not relative–that there are objective rights and wrongs in the world–and that we need to do everything we can to act properly towards one another.
So, I don’t know if that answers your question or not. But it’s what I think on how to live your life as a good person. Adopt a strong moral compass rooted in a proper understand of right and wrong and follow it unflinchingly. It’s hard, but it’s the only true way to live.
There is nothing inherently wrong with short-form content, except that it cannot be the end-all be-all. Blogs, or tumblelogs, filled only with links, photos, reblogged items, and the like fail to grasp the true potential of blogging: to share who you are as a person with the wider world. You don’t have to be controversial; you don’t have to be particularly interesting, or thought provoking; you don’t have to be anything at all. What you should do is endeavor to be yourself because your life, inherently, is worth sharing with others.
The reason I feel that way about good design is because good design is the result of a continuous process of reexamination and revision, with an eye towards making the best possible product. That’s really what life’s about, no matter what you do: an endless process of reevaluation and revision, with a goal on doing the very best job possible.
Take religion, for example. You don’t normally hear people compare religion to design, but work with me for a moment. No human being perfects the practice of their faith on the first go round–no matter how hard they may try. Rather, living one’s faith is a constant process of reexamination and revision of habits, with a goal of living up to a great ideal. So, too, with design.
Did Apple make the perfect computer when they release OS X? No. Sure, they made a damn good one, but they knew they could do better. We can always do better. So, unlike Microsoft, they are engaged in a constant process of refinement and improvement, with a goal of doing their best every time.
So, I guess for me the real unifier between those things is that they’re all focused on doing your best all the time. On making things better than they are now. On constantly improving, even if it sometimes means returning to basics.