Monday, May 21, 2012

Musings on Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Show, Part IV

The last room in the Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Show in Philadelphia did not excite me as much as the first gallery.  Perhaps, I was getting tired after concentrating so much in trying to see and hear everything in the first room.  Perhaps the organizing diary statements did not resonate with me as much as those in the first room.  I might try to go back to the show and start in the second room and view the exhibition backwards. 

On one wall of the second room Sagmeister wrote: “Drugs are fun in the beginning but they become a drag later on.” (  He also revealed that he has an addictive personality that tends to overindulge alcohol, cigarettes, or cigars.

“Money does not make me happy” dominates another wall.  (  There is a graph showing that in the United States, earning more than $80,000 a year does not make individuals happier.   I found a study by Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman that pegged the American happiness level at $75,000 a year.  They studied 450,000 survey responses and found that below an annual salary of $75,000 people might not have the money to do the things that make them happy (,9171,2019628,00.html)  By the way, Kahneman’s new book Thinking Fast and Slow is a superb introduction to behavioral economics that I think can be applied to all aspects of one’s life ( Another article discussed the research behind the observation that money spent on experiences was more likely to result in happiness than money spent on material items (   A video near the graph explained that absolute wealth does not predict happiness as much as social rank.  Studies have demonstrated that people will pick a lower salary as long as their peers make even less than they do. (,8599,1974718,00.html)

A third wall had “I often assume an outcome of failure” as its organizing quotation.  How Sagmeister views failure became clearer to me when I watched a short video I found on the internet (  Sagmeister said he was scared of failure as a student, but he now tries to embrace failure.  He advises us to do as much stuff as possible with as little fear as possible, and he states that the fear of failure “has become less so” over the years.  It has become easier to embrace failure as he gets older because he has learned techniques to get unstuck and because he now has great people working with him.

This was my favorite part of the second room of the exhibit because it reminded me of one of my favorite Chris Argyris articles “Teaching Smart People How to Learn.” (    

Argyris distinguishes between single loop and double loop learning. “A thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68 degrees is a good example of single loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, ‘Why am I set at 68 degrees?’ and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaging in double loop learning.”

Many professionals like doctors have been almost always successful and so they are not good at learning from failure. When their single loop learning goes wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism and blame others but not themselves for the failure. They are not good at double loop learning.  Effective double loop learning depends on how we feel and how we think.  Argyris believes there is a universal tendency for us to design our actions according to four values: to remain in control, to win and not lose, to not feel negative, and to be rational.  Their purpose is to keep us feeling safe and competent and happy.

On the way out, I appreciated some of Sagmeister’s clever touches.  He added words to the Exit sign so it now read “Every EXIT is a start” and he eliminated the “F” from Fire extinguisher to create “Ire extinguisher (no more anger, no more ire).” I the end of the long hallway leaving the exhibition, I noticed one final quotation from the diary:  “Everything I do always comes back to me.”

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