Webb Interview

This is an excerpt from an interview done for the Webb Schools alumni magazine in 2012. It was an interesting effort given I had to go back and look at how my life was influenced in high school, and to realize how formative that experience truly was. It was time and place in my life where I formed much of my work ethic, as well my desire to exceed what was normally “expected” of me.



Innovators Disruptors Entrepreneurs – Webb Alumni are Defining the New Paradigm of the 21st Century

September 11, 2012

Forget the status quo or the popular trend. To be at the vanguard of a rapidly changing global workplace, today’s professionals increasingly need to exhibit broad conceptual abilities, as well as technical skills. They lawyers, filmmakers or designers, but they are also innovators, disruptors and entrepreneurs. That takes drive, leadership, and passion. And in the emerging paradigm of the 21st century professional workplace, Webb alumni are showing the way.

Take Gray Holland, innovator. With over two decades of design experience, Holland is constantly asking, how can something that did not exist before be brought into reality. Holland has worked on design for everything from software to aircraft interiors to sunglasses.

Interested in the automotive industry after graduating from Webb, Holland enrolled in a joint engineering program at Occidental College and Columbia University. However his real interest was design, not engineering and he eventually transferred to Art Center College of Design. Fresh out of college, Holland became an automotive designer with GM where his engineering background came in handy as he worked on the EV-1 electric car. At this early stage in his career, Holland challenged the process by using 3D design technology to streamline the design process, giving an individual designer the tools to complete the work that had required a team of a half dozen designers before. “In 1992 such ideas were played with, but not really considered seriously. In six months, I had produced a huge percentage of the EV-1’s interior dashboard. This was rewriting the rules for a designer, and a huge challenge to the status quo. And at GM it was really political suicide, but for me this was pure freedom. I knew how I was going to spend the rest of my life.”

Capitalizing on this “digital design practice” concept, he founded his own company Alchemy and later moved to Amsterdam to start a new firm, UX-FLO, affiliated with his San Francisco-based firm, Alchemy Labs.

Holland is quick to credit Webb for giving him the attitude and confidence to make those moves. “The school instilled in me the idea that I could make anything happen if I just worked hard enough,” he says. “Looking back, each of these steps was an impossible dream… but that is the power of belief: it tends to make the impossible possible.”

Design trends are less interesting to Holland. “Movements, Memes and Paradigm Shifts are what capture my attention. For example, iPads are a trend; Multi-Touch interfaces are a Movement. Being on Facebook is a trend; capitalizing on social networking is a Meme. Sustainability is a trend; what changes when we run low on fossil fuels is a Paradigm Shift. Trends are too hard to predict, and you don’t know how long they will last. But movements, memes, and paradigm shifts can be seen from far off. You have to be willing to look deeper – to not get caught up in the trend. Design is not about creating a cool looking thing, it is a process for addressing real needs while creating solutions that transform the ordinary into something special.”

These ideas form the crux of Holland’s past and current work, and it’s what has pushed him to change the status quo. Holland’s company, UX-FLO, is based in Amsterdam, where he currently is working for a client Maxon, which makes 3D animation software called Cinema 4D.

Even within design, Holland points out that a multifaceted background is more important than ever for career success – specifically, software programming skills and design talent. “This type of multidisciplinary person is incredibly valuable to corporations, because so few of them exist,” he points out. It’s those people – people who can bring diverse skills, abilities and interests to their careers – who are redefining the paradigm for career and personal success. It’s a new paradigm, but it’s based on an old concept: the concept of the well-rounded individual, a concept that The Webb Schools has been instilling in its students since 1922.

“We are always trying to push the boundaries, while paradoxically maintaining a sense of balance. We believe that present and future paradigms are a balance of appropriate crafting of progressive ideas, and sometimes that means maintaining conservative traditions. We really just try to pay attention to what will hold real value – this is the key. If we can do this, we will create timeless value in the marketplace, and this type of design will never go out of style.”

Spanning decades, Holland’s career blends entrepreneurship, innovation and disruption. That’s not atypical in creative, artistic fields, but today the same fluidity that has characterized the creative fields is as likely to characterize careers in finance, law, film and hospitality…

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