Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading 7 Questions with
Dr. Cheryl Heller
helps you in your leadership.
Dr. Cheryl Heller
Name: Dr. Cheryl Heller
Organisation: The MeasureD Lab, CommonWise.design
Cheryl Heller, PhD, is a designer, educator and author. She is a Distinguished Senior Lecturer at Babson College. Most recently, she was Director of Design Integration and Professor of Practice in Innovation Design at Arizona State University, a joint position in the schools of Design, Engineering and Business. Prior to this role, she founded the first MFA program in Social Design at SVA, teaching people to use the design process to solve complex human challenges, Graduates are working as creative leaders in government, industry, healthcare, technology and global NGOs.
She is President of the Measured Lab, which she founded to investigate the contribution design is making to human health, and has taught creativity to leaders and organizations around the world. Heller is a recipient of the AIGA Lifetime Medal for her contribution to the field of design and a Rockefeller Bellagio Fellow. Her book, The Intergalactic Design Guide: Harnessing the Universal Creative Energy of Social Design, is a manual for anyone wanting to use design to create a resilient future.
Her writing has been published in the Harvard Business Review, CEO World and the Design Observer. Heller created the Ideas that Matter program for Sappi in 1999, which has since given over $14 million to designers working for the public good, and partnered with Paul Polak and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to create the exhibit, “Design for the Other 90%.”
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Balancing my own growth with that of others. It is very easy to succumb to the role of "the person who has all the answers," because that's what many people come to me for. Maintaining a path led by inquiry and learning is essential for all leaders.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was born in a place I didn't want to be and had to get myself out. That meant being willing to pioneer and create paths that didn't exist before. That practice, and my hunger to create what does not exist has persisted throughout my life. Along with my love of communication, and the strength that pioneering cultivates has led to new visions for what is possible. I believe these are essential qualities in a leader.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
By paying attention to time and opportunities. By not rushing through my life, but making time to consider how each thing I do can include all that I have to bring to it. Not all time is equal. Not all time is for action. By considering the best action first, in the beginning of a day, I become more productive at what matters to me.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
I now see my leadership opportunity in reminding other humans that we cannot afford to be solely human-centric. I hear people defining success in only personal terms, and have great conviction that we need to define success in planetary terms -- not global, but local, and inclusive of the other living beings with whom we share the planet.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Meg Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science. She integrated, for the first time for me, business and the living systems of nature. My favorite definition of integrity is "when you look inside yourself, there is only one self there." Meg illustrated a way that my professional work could be integrated with my love for nature and living systems.
Beyond that, Meg's book was and is tremendously beneficial to corporate leaders looking to reenergize their culture once they realize that the industrial, hierarchical model is detrimental. Wheatley's new book is devastating but also critically important. She asks us to accept that our civilization is in collapse and become the kind of leader who can provide value in this context.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Live in your body. Get out of your heads alone, step away from the fucking screen, and pay attention to your other senses. Pay attention to how you feel and the totality of what is going on around you.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I met my most important mentor, Paul Polak, because he asked me and a group of my friends for help. My decision to help him was a hugely rewarding one for my own learning. The best mentors are curious and always learning themselves, rather than the people who already think they know it all.