Pattern recognition and the Wurman’s response

Richard Saul Wurman and Gloria Nagy live in Newport.  The NYC wrote them up yesterday and the results are interesting.

Wurman is the founder of TED and MED.  Ms. Nagy, his wife, is a novelist. The kids are equally questing and accomplished.  Tony Wurman is an artist who experiments in new media, Joshua is a severe-weather chaser, Reven is a photographer in New York, and Vanessa created a equestrian center in Rhode Island.

All of us in the creative class (as Richard Florida calls it) are interested in Richard Saul Wurman’s speciality: pattern recognition. Could there be secrets here?

And sure enough there are.

The article records Ms. Nagy’s answer to a snooty German architect when he asked, skeptically, about what her husband did for a living.  

Ms. Nagy’s reply, she recalls, was something like:

“What Richard does is allow his brain to operate like a great big cellular Cuisinart, mixing all his knowledge, thoughts, frustrations, observations, visual, conceptual and gathered information and feelings about everything together, hitting the high switch and pouring it all out in the form of ideas baked in one mold or another: conference, book, map, exhibit.” 

This is as good an account of pattern recognition as I have seen.  It emphasizes how inclusive, syncretic, and fecund the process is.  It begins with everything and ends up with one very particular thing.  And this thing may become productive in its own right.  Like TED which had been very productive of patterns indeed.

But why stop there?

The entire family is exemplary of what we now hope for from the creative class.  Ms. Nagy is an ethnographer, of a kind, the observer of the architectures and fine details of contemporary life.  Tony Wurman leaps media.  Reven captures life.  Joshua chases storms. (This last is increasingly apt for people who study contemporary culture.)  Vanessa manages horses, and if you have ever worked with clients, you know who valuable this skill can be. 

This family needs franchising.  The Wurmans could be exactly what the corporation needs to make the world make sense.  The CEO awakens to discover that her corporation has been disintermediated, disrupted, creatively destroyed as she slept.  "Get me a Wurmans," she cries, "For God’s sake, get me a Wurmans."  

References

Green, Penelope. 2010. “The Outsiders Inside Newport: Gloria Nagy and Richard Saul Wurman in Newport, R.I..” The New York Times, September 8. here.  (Accessed September 10, 2010).

Post script

This article by Penelope Green does astonishing things for the NYT Home section.  Have we ever seen a NYT story so rich in information about the personal lives of home occupants? With this as a lead, perhaps we will see the NYT take the Home section in new more ethnographic, anthropological directions.  I am guessing, but only guessing, that the founder of this section, Joan Kron, would approve.  

One thought on “Pattern recognition and the Wurman’s response”

  1. Next up: Hanging at the McCracken McMansion (okay, it probably is NOT a McMansion but the rhyme trumps accuracy). I thought MTV’s Cribs did a good job at using the form to be a little ethnographic (auto-ethnographic?) – I mean, in the 90s we thought we were ZANY to be asking people if we could look in their fridges (and people thought we were pretty zany, to put it nicely), but there it is on TV! Mundane possessions as carriers of meaning and exhibitors (Xzibit?) of identity.

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