April 10, 2013

I’m constantly reminded of the incredible genius of Jane Jacobs’ approach to urban planning. It can be applied to any field, and I apply to Web design. Today, I realized that it can also be applied to how we live our lives. Having a grand vision about what we want to achieve in our lives is analogous to Robert Moses’ plan for New York City. The problem with having any grand vision is that we end up ignoring the instinctive wisdom we all have. Some call it, “the wisdom of crowds.” In Star Wars, it’s called “the Force”, as in “Use the Force, Luke.”

Jacobs’ approach is to first observe how people are already using the city, and to identify the wisdom of what they are naturally doing, and use it as a guide to optimize it. It’s a bootstrapping method where we don’t know what our goal is, or what we might end up with. We put faith in our own wisdom, and let it express its full potential by lending support. It’s very much like how we raise our children. (Probably an approach that come more naturally to women.)

Beyond urban planning and parenting, I think we can apply this to ourselves. We can stop having a grand vision of what we should become or what we should achieve in life. We just observe what we already do, and identify wisdom, then lend our intellectual support to optimize it. I think this is what our egos and intelligence were originally designed to do before they began thinking that they were the boss, dictating all the other aspects of ourselves. We are here to express our full potential, and we don’t fully know what that is. Instead of being busy designing a grand future plan for ourselves, we should be calmly observing what we naturally do. Our instincts are wiser than we think.