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Big Ideas

5 Manifestos for Art, Life & Business

Writing a manifesto can be a powerful catalyst for action. Get the creative juices flowing with visionary manifestos from Apple, Frank Lloyd Wright, Seth Godin, and more.


Manifestos are a powerful catalyst. By publicly stating your views and intentions, you create a pact for taking action. (Movements from the American Revolution to Dogme 95 film to the Firefox web browser were all launched by manifestos.) If you want to change the world, even in just a small way, creating a personal or business manifesto is a great place to start.

Before we launched Behance in 2006, drawing up a set of tenets and principles that would guide the company was our very first objective. Looking back five years on, our “manifesto” continues to prove extremely useful. Whether we’re planning the launch of a major product or making an important call about a new hire, our principles serve as a touchstone for decision-making.Needless to say, developing a set of principles that you believe in and constantly strive to stand by is an invaluable tool.

To spark your imagination, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite manifestos below.

1. The Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright

Via Gretchen Rubin, we discovered this manifesto from architect Frank Lloyd Wright, written as a series of “fellowship assets” meant to guide the apprentices who worked with him at his school, Taliesin. I particularly love number 10, the idea that working with others should come naturally.

1. An honest ego in a healthy body.

2. An eye to see nature.

3. A heart to feel nature.

4. Courage to follow nature.

5. The sense of proportion (humor).

6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work.

7. Fertility of imagination.

8. Capacity for faith and rebellion.

9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance.

10. Instinctive cooperation.

2. The Marketer: Seth Godin

The always insightful Seth Godin shared his “Unforgivable Manifesto” with artist Hugh MacLeod a few years ago. His observation about the short-run vs the long-run in point 5 is particularly incisive, as is the notion that we’re all marketers in point 7 – it’s just that some of us don’t own it.

1. The greatest innovations appear to come from those that are self-reliant. Individuals who go right to the edge and do something worth talking about. Not solo, of course, but as instigators of a team. In two words: don’t settle.

2. The greatest marketers do two things: they treat customers with respect and they measure.

3. The greatest salespeople understand that people resist change and that ‘no’ is the single easiest way to do that.

4. The greatest bloggers blog for their readers, not for themselves.

5. There really isn’t much a of ‘short run’. It quickly becomes yesterday. The long run, on the other hand, sticks around for quite a while.

6. The internet doesn’t forget. And sooner or later, the internet finds out.

7. Everyone is a marketer, even people and organizations that don’t market. They’re just marketers who are doing it poorly.

8. Amazing organizations and people receive rewards that more than make up for the effort required to be that good.

9. There is no number 9.

10. Mass taste is rarely good taste.

3. The Designer: John Maeda

RISD president John Maeda’s slim book, The Laws of Simplicity, is one of my all-time favorites, with broad-reaching insights that apply as easily to arranging your living room as to designing a visionary product. In 100 pages, Maeda elaborates on 10 laws for business, design, and life:

1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

2. Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.

4. Learn. Knowledge makes everything simpler.

5. Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.

6. Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

7. Emotion: More emotions are better than less.

8. Trust: In simplicity we trust.

9. Failure: Some things can never be made simple.

10. The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

4. The Writer: Leo Tolstoy

While they betray a bit of the self-hating introvert, Tolstoy’s “rules for life,” originally written when he was 18 years old, do contain some useful gems. In particular, the notion of managing your energy and prioritizing based on goals (no. 5), and of managing your finances wisely by always keeping a low overhead (no. 9 & 10).

1. Get up early (five o’clock).

2. Go to bed early (nine to ten o’clock).

3. Eat little and avoid sweets.

4. Try to do everything by yourself.

5. Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.

6. Keep away from women.

7. Kill desire by work.

8. Be good, but try to let no one know it.

9. Always live less expensively than you might.

10. Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer.

5. The Company: Apple

When Steve Jobs went on medical leave in 2009 and financial analysts were making dire predictions, Apple COO Tim Cook boiled the company’s culture down to what was essentially an 8-point manifesto. I love that saying no is one of the key points. It’s so hard!

1. We believe that we’re on the face of the earth to make great products.

2. We’re constantly focusing on innovating.

3. We believe in the simple, not the complex.

4. We believe we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

5. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can focus on the few that are meaningful to us.

6.We believe in deep collaboration and cross pollination in order to innovate in a way others cannot.

7. We don’t settle for anything other than excellence in any group in the company.

8. We have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.

What’s Your Manifesto?

Do you have a personal manifesto that you’d like to share?

How about a manifesto that you’ve always admired?

Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (109)
  • Laura Fischer

    It might not be a complete manifesto, but I’ve had the characteristics of wabi-sabi on a post-it stuck to my monitor for almost three years now.

  • GraphicDesignBoss

    Not really a manifesto but here you go more of a mission statement for my blog:

    To help graphic design businesses thrive rather than survive through providing great quality content from experienced practitioners.

  • Story of Yellow

    What started as a personal set of values, eventually became the set of core values my business and organization uses. I guess you can call it a manifesto, but for me, it is more of a way of life.

    Love God. Love People.
    Keep it Simple.
    Be Authentic.
    Make it Personal.
    Give Generously.
    Be Responsive (not Reactive)

    http://www.storyofyellow.com/t

  • ernst

    I promise to myself – To be strong that nothing can disturb my peace of mind. To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person I meet. To make all my friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them. To look at the sunny side of everything and make my optimism come true. To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best. To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as I am about my own. To forget the mistakes of the past and press on the greater achievements of the future. To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature I meet. To give much time to improving myself that I have no time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble. To think well of myself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds. To live in the faith that the whole world is on my side, so long as I am true to the best that is in me. Christian D. Larson

  • Carla Gates

    I haven’t written mine yet but intend too; I wanted to comment on what a powerful idea this is for all the reasons you mentioned. Even the idea of calling it a “Manifesto” – may sound too grand for some – but this is actually key – the grander you make it, the more likely you’ll be to follow it.

  • yanatz

    Beautiful!
    My favourite manifestos are the Music As A Gradual Process by Steve Reich: http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/dra
    and Personal Contract for Composition of Music(Incorporating the Manifesto of Mistakes) by Matthew Herbert: http://www.matthewherbert.com/

  • JStClair

    Saw this in a 60 Minutes interview of the band Cold Play. A list of rules was taped to the wall of their studio.

    1. Albums be no longer than 42 minutes, 9 tracks.
    2. Production must be amazing, but with space, not overlayered, less tracks, more quality, groove and swing. Drums/rhythm are the most crucial thing to concentrate on; diff. between bittersweet and science of silence. [A reference to The Verve and Richard Ashcroft solo]
    3. Computers are instruments, not recording aids.
    4. Imagery must be classic, colourful and different. Come back in glorious technicolor.
    5. Make sure videos and pictures are great before setting release date. And highly original.
    6. Always keep mystery. Not many interviews.
    7. Groove and swing. Rhythms and sounds must always be as original as possible. Once jon has melody twist it and weird it sonical.
    8. Promo/review copies to be on VINYL. Stops copying problem, sounds and looks better. [Ed. Note: My Viva La Vida promo was in CD format]
    9. Jacqueline sabriado, ns p c c, face forward.
    10. Think about what you do with charity account. Set up something small but really enabling and constructive.

  • A Living Thing.

    Be true.
    Don’t try to be something else. With everything you do, do it with all your heart, be open, honest and true.

    Follow your excitement.
    Give all your attention to chasing after things that are exciting, interesting and scare you a little bit. Ignore everything else.

    Trust the process.
    Focus your energy into moving forward rather than trying to figure it out.

    Ohana.
    Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. We are all on this adventure together.

    No Balls, No babies.
    Be big, bold and ambitious. Otherwise your just boring.

    Plus it.
    Keep making everything better.

    Question everything.
    Keep asking questions. questions are the lifeblood of creativity. Final answers kill it.

    Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
    Because people crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones that actually do.

  • Scott Belsky

    There are professional and corporate manifestos. There are also personal ones.

    While in college, I created for myself what I called a “Statement of Purpose & Will” in which I tried to articulate what purpose I should seek when making decisions, and what my ultimate intentions were in life.

    The first draft had a real professional tone with the typical ambitions of any motivated person embarking on a career. But further revisions evolved the document into a more personal goal manifesto along the lines of family and how to manage the most precious commodity of all: time.

    During a recent apartment move, my wife and I were unpacking boxes and I came across this document. It struck a chord via the principles I had adhered to – and the principles I had long forgotten…

    The significance of a personal manifesto that you refer to (or stumble upon while unpacking boxes during a move) is striking.

  • Cass Waters

    Impress no one but yourself

  • Marin Santic

    I like design manifestos. Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity is excellent, but I think Bruce Mao has better one 😉

  • Marin Santic

    Bruce Mau, incomplete manifesto for growth – http://www.brucemaudesign.com/

  • Beth Cregan

    This has been a really inspiring blog post.I am currently writig a leadership seminar for 12 year old students and I am going to get them each to write a personal manifesto. I have enjoyed reading the comments- it makes me feel part of something good.

  • Bjarte Edvardsen

    Mine:

    1. Don’t try to get rich, but work hard and think long-term.

    2. Plan the coming day every evening. Get up 7.30 every morning.

    3. Take pictures every day. Photoshop one picture every day. Work on the archive every day.

    4. Write what it’s about.

    5. Don’t kill your darlings. Redo your darlings!

    6. Be ambitious, but humble. Critical, but bold. Focused on totality, but pedantic.

    7. Always have the best material in the portfolio.

    8. Have, or participate in, an exhibition every year.

    9. Weigh others’ opinions carefully. Only trust them if they know their stuff.

    10. Get your numbers organised the last day of every month.

    11. Work every day, except from sundays.

    12. Get enough fresh air.

  • JuliaG

    Show up.
    Pay attention.
    Tell the truth.
    Let go.

    (Got this years ago from UU minister Tom Disrud.)

  • Anthony Thompson ™

    Epic post. This one punched me in the teeth and stood over me smiling while I coughed up blood. @JstClair made a great addition with Coldplay too, nice job.

  • Gregory Bradley

    Nice post – very inspiring. I’d add to that Scott McCloud’s very simple but straight-to-the-point bullet points from a TED talk he did a few years ago – a ‘manifesto’ of sorts:

    1. Learn from everybody.
    2. Follow no-one.
    3. Watch for patterns.
    4. Work like hell.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/scott

  • Jerry TorrensTorrens

    Not mine, but of the Bruce Mau Design firm. It’s 43 entries long, so I’ll post the link instead of copying them all here – http://www.brucemaudesign.com/
    but, among my favorite are:

    6. Capture accidents.
    The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.

    9. Begin anywhere.
    John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

    21. Repeat yourself.
    If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.

    31. Don’t borrow money.
    Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed. (*this why I am exploring kickstarter.com)

    40. Avoid fields.
    Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

    * my own note

  • professional hater

    The manifesto of Doctor Mario, maker of pictures that no one looks at, and music that no one listens to.

    1. Creativity and money don’t mix

    Pretty simple, huh?

    😉

  • Mark Steven

    When I started my first business, a web design company building websites primarily for the charity sector, my golden rule was this:

    It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must not add to the sum of crap in the world.

    Now I coordinate bigger web development projects at a bigger firm and consult on digital marketing. And all the time this is harder to live by.

    I’m anxious that this very post may be doing just that, adding to the sum of crap in the world, for which the internet provides the richest and deepest vein.

  • Ian Kilpatrick

    From the racecar engineer. =)
    http://www.formulastudent.de/p

  • Janine Lazur

    Here’s a funny one about the structure of manifestos. http://www.kimmok.com/514799/T

  • SheriffShooter

    Here’s my manifesto, it’s called “I Shall”

    I am not interested in being excellent. I am not interested in doing what’s expected. I am not interested in going the distance. I am not interested in being the best there is. There is no such thing. Best is relative. Marginally better. And someday when Best is taking a nap, Better will come along and steal his trousers.

    I don’t want to be a giant. Giants cannot hide. Giants cannot whisper. Giants don’t tread cautiously. A giant can save the day. But that’s not everyday.

    I am not interested in legend. Legends don’t tell their stories. They live on, though they wish they’d be dead. A legend can save the day. But that’s not everyday.

    I don’t want to be what Influence wants me to be.

    I just want to be. I want to feel. And sometimes I don’t. I want to find my quicksand and float in it. And I don’t need help. I can do this on my own. This can only be done once, so it has to be done right. The points don’t matter. There is no scorecard. There is no balance sheet. There are no forms to fill, and no affidavits to write. I just need to find my rhythm. Part of me is there already; it was born with the rhythm. It was born with the rhythm. This is my head speaking; he’s looking for my heart. For the day he finds it and the twain shall meet, that day I shall be born.

    And then, Influence will have no pull on me.

    And if at all I’d like to be known, I’d like to be known for having been myself.

  • jkglei

    Awesome music manifestos. I’m definitely going to share with my musician friends. Great stuff!

  • jkglei

    This is a great one. Love No. 6. Keep the mystery. It’s getting harder and harder to do, no?

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