10 Questions With... Mickey McManus | Eastman Innovation Lab

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10 Questions With...

10 Questions With... Mickey McManus

18 January 2017

At the Eastman Innovation Lab we look to our fellow design and materials experts for inspiration, community, and expertise. In order to get to know them and their projects better, we created a column called Ten Questions With…

Mickey McManus is the chairman and principal of MAYA. He is a leader in collaborative innovation with pervasive computing, human-centered design and education. With over a decade of work as president of MAYA, he has formed a pool of intellectual property, trade secrets—and most importantly talent—that drives MAYA’s agility, adaptability, and success. His work has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune, Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review. Mickey is the co-authored Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology (Wiley 2012) and is on his way to finishing his second book.

What is your company known for?

MAYA is a design company that improves strategy, connectivity and organization for companies to enrich their customer’s experiences.

How do you and your team work through the MAYA space?

The work space is unique, as it has been around for about 27 years and we have moved three times. Each time we move, we evolve the space with what we are doing. We have cognitive psychologists and anthropologists on staff they’ve been studying how teams of interdisciplinary people work for 27 years. We’ve gotten funded research to look into high performance teams, so the space itself is designed as a machine to get the best results out of people.

For example there’s something called a kiva, and it’s named after Native American dwellings in the South-West. It is where you can find a whole community going to gather. You access a Kiva by climbing through a hole in the ground. The kiva would be a round room where the entire community would sit and make decisions. MAYA has now had kivas in our work environment for about 27 years. In them are 20 foot, 45 foot, 10 foot whiteboards, floor to ceiling. If people need to draw on the other side of the room and go to the other side of the room to do so, it is likely they just won’t get up and do it at all.

What is the next project or product that you’d be most excited to explore?

Right now I’m working on a book and I’m super excited about that. It’s a sequel to a book called Trillions, which was a document of the last 20 some years of our research.

How do materials matter to you?

Materiality whether it’s digital materials or physical materials are really important. There’s a level of detail to materials, such as the richness of a good piece of paper. Information has no form at all, so you're always in this quest for embodying it for the physical world.

How do you and the Team deal with challenges?

It’s about being open minded and the way you frame a problem. We are all going to think of things differently, and that is a good thing sometimes, but it’s about meeting in the middle when we find common ground.

What are the themes that you find yourself addressing over and over again?

I think in some ways design for loss of control. As designers, we always feel like we want to control everything.

Who is doing work that you find inspiring?

Pedro Domingos wrote a book recently called A Mass for Algorithm and he looked back over the history of researchers. He’s trying to find the equivalent of Einstein’s singular formula for relativity for machine learning, he calls it the mass for algorithms. He documents all that to the point where today we’re doing things that nobody has ever done before and even high school kids are able to do it. I really respect what he’s doing, and I respect him. He is not only taking us on a journey, but also he’s got his hands in the middle of it as he figures out the hard bits of the science to make it useable for everyone else.

What technology excites you?

I think sensors. We are learning incredible new ways to do things with sensors. We’re inventing new kinds of sensors, taking old sensors and figuring out that there’s more information hidden in those censors than we thought. I saw a video where they took existing footage from YouTube and they were able to use computational programs to detect the micro vibrations from the videos of the things in the videos. You could then go in and reach in and shake a bridge in the video.

What do you think you need to get better at?

Story telling; I never felt like I was a very good writer and I never really understood the power of story, but over time I have learned its incredible importance.

What is your go to reference book?

Any book of sonnets by William Shakespeare.


Coffee or tea?


Droid or IOS?


Kindle or book?


Sketch or build?


What are you reading right now?

I just finished The Gene, which is the history of the idea of the gene. It starts with Aristotle through Mendel, Darwin, to synthetic biology. It exposes a number of interesting design patterns. One of my favorite books is called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth written by Chris Hatfield.