We’re into the 26th week of 2017 and it feels like its just beginning, even though we’re flying through the year.
Have I accomplished anything that I set out to at the beginning of the year? It’s hard to say. I have gained a considerable amount of experience and knowledge in different sectors of the South African economy.
I’ve gravitated towards the Educational side of society. Why? I believe that this sector holds the key to the transformation that everyone (including me) expects from 2017.
Personally, I’m transforming my approach.
I’ve been extremely haphazard with my methodologies when it comes to change management. Expending copious amounts of energy/resources on activities that seem so necessary at the time but the results just fade away, against the backdrop of all that still needs to be done.
In essence, this week I will be using the lens of #transforming to understand the world around me. The society that i depend on to live and let live.
Africans adopting global cultures to solve local problems always inspires me. Across sectors, people are taking responsibility, driving development and creatively making a difference.
June’s #FirstThursday began with a brief and engaging creative exchange hosted at the Cape Craft and Design Institute’s (CCDI) Barrack Street event space. Founder of True Story, a design studio, Danielle Ehrlich shared some of her experiences with the attendees as evening fell.
Cape Town’s infamous economic inequality has ripened the city for implementing a range of sustainability initiatives. Organisations like True Story are tapping into this movement energetically.
Danielle’s design challenges have given her the opportunity to innovate in award winning ways, from permaculture and eco-village design in rural environments to conference participation in developed communities. The different settings highlight the cultural awareness that designers have to embrace in this increasingly globalized, urban world we live in. Workshops, marketing campaigns, collaborative activities and other experience based strategies are some of the ways True Story contributes to Cape Town’s sustainable development.
Bridging the social divide
As much as diversity of culture is to be celebrated, the differences result in captivating challenges when it comes to sharing (and creating) innovation between communities. The key lies in identifying the mortar that binds the individuals that represent these communities. Primary ingredients for solutions are: A shared understanding, clear communication and trust.
“Find what holds us together then create spaces that amplify the act of connecting”, Danielle pointed out, before elaborating on three design tools (below) that True Story uses to develop satisfying intercultural experiences.
1. Active listening
Necessary for effective communication, this tool relies on the communicator’s self-expression and the recipient’s willingness to perceive new meaning, however its presented. This type of engagement allows the participants (community stakeholders) to develop long-term solutions to shared problems. True Story ran a workshop that was part of a larger program, dissecting and clearing the barriers that perpetuate some of Cape Town’s social divisions.
“Using low cost, low key materials, we were able to help stakeholders share their message. Wire avatars made this process less personal but the personal needs became clearer” – Danielle Ehrlich
Danielle recounted the experience of creating a safe environment for stakeholders to share grievances and build relationships that mitigate conflict. Business owners, community leaders, residents, government departments are just a few of the beneficiaries of workshops like these. Workshops that share knowledge between organisations and communities.
2. Public participation
Cape Town’s CBD has a lot of scantly used public spaces. Alleys, public squares and side-streets have fallen victim to passionless use, allowing the spaces to slowly degrade. Adopting Australian and German street culture, The Cape Town Laneway Project basically re-branded Barrack Lane. “We had yoga to the sounds of the morning bustle and street parties with local food and music”, said Danielle, expanding on the activities that helped Barrack Lane win the Design Indaba Your Street challenge back in 2013.
“This is a small scale example of what could happen on a much larger scale. It starts with a conversation and takes a lot of time to build public spaces in an organic, bottom-up way” – Steven Harris
For initiatives like this to gain traction, property/business owners have to recognise the value that their communities hold and these communities have to drive the daily practices that recreate the underutilised spaces. A sense of ownership (and the responsibility that comes with it) ties great ideas to real, lasting change.
3. Conscious moments
The present, brimming with opportunity, is an event in itself. Danielle describes how True Story teamed up with an organisation called Embrace (focused on social justice) to design a series of moments for 1000 kids. Brought from all corners of the city to the Company’s Garden, the kids connected to each other through various interactive games and working together on arts and crafts. The project leveraged those priceless moments to share equality.
Designing with emotional awareness has helped True Story create moving campaigns. “Surprise is an emotion that generates a neutrality that creates an opportunity for something new“, added Danielle, flipping through slides that showed snippets of #GoodSharkKarma (a campaign aimed at demystifying sharks’ murderous motives) and a giant shoe that spurred conversations about up-cycling. Stepping up to the task of environment awareness doesn’t have to be a humdrum routine!
At the end of the talk, True Story invited all the guests to participate in a worldwide phenomenon that draws smiles from ear to ear with an extra set of eyes.
Known as #Eyebombing, this is a way of putting a more human face on our inanimate world. Humanizing the city’s streets, invoking a more empathetic response to our surroundings, googly eyes can be attached almost anywhere.
Until recently, the idea of work has been rigorously biblical. Handed down as the curse of freedom from generation to generation, the culture of work is evolving into something new (but old as society itself) and exciting…
Even though we’ve always combined learning and play, the idea of working and playing has been banished to the playground. The corporate environment favours productivity over employee job satisfaction.
The competitive labour market has ensured a constant flow of employees willing to sacrifice fun for tedious, soul-killing tasks. Basically, if you’re not willing to work yourself to the bone or into a coma (whichever comes first), you’ll be replaced by someone who is…
The scarcity of jobs has driven thousands of educated would-be employees to overturn the idea of work and forge different opportunities. Thus, entrepreneurship was born.
Urged by the instinctual need to survive and eventually, have fun doing it, methods of contributing to society have never been more fulfilling than they are now. The factors that give rise to these phenomena are mainly due to the time we live in; the technology and its democratisation within an ever growing population of ‘super-humans’.
With our ability to live in abstract worlds and recreate pieces of these worlds in our hard reality, we’re able to produce in a way that our predecessors could only imagine in comic books and the like.
As the quality of life increases, creativity is favoured over bland repetitiveness. The ability to anticipate the future, coupled with the agile use of contemporary tools (social media, political will, adaptive learning techniques, etc.) gives rise to a new way of working.
A new way of working gives way to a more complex, evolved way of living.
And so, the flow of work, disrupted by the products of work itself, continues as we reconstruct our culture around the idea of work…
Moving to a bigger city wasn’t really a plan of mine. I just wanted to get away from the boredom of my own small city. So I came to the Tavern of the seas (Cape Town)…all in the name of fun. Now its the equivalent of cross-fit for adapting.
I took for granted all the creature comforts that my own little city has/had. The more I spend time here, the more I realize that my city will have to change with me once I do go back.
So as my ideas about life, reality and the humans that populate my time are crushed, I’m learning to take the punches without too much damage. Not directly. Deflection helps a lot. In this case, it’s about learning how to justify other people’s behaviour. They won’t. I don’t have to.
Unless I want to understand why they do/say the things that they do.
Do I feel like I’m being personally attacked by people I thought I could trust? I used to feel that way.
By gang members in the distance. By badly trained security guards. By leaders of organisations. By beggars on the street.
Maybe they’re just doing what they need to do to survive in a cruel world. Am I being naive in clinging on to my comfort of humanity? Maybe…
So what am I learning about the people that have shown me the different kinds of violence that exist? I’m learning that it isn’t direct in most cases. It’s also backed up by experiences that they’ve had in their past that they can’t help but bring forward into their future.
So like the wind, the past really is just a force that pushes us forward or knocks us down.
It’s time I stopped taking people’s inability to recognise my talent as my own downfall.
Maybe it’s time I turned my back on the obsolete ideologies that still exist. Gather myself and the ones who do recognise me and put the sails up.
This is a form of non-verbal communication that deals with the way we interpret different kinds of messages using time as a lens.
Depending on our cultures and traditions, time adds a subtle layer of information that may or may not be intentionally sent. This layer of information can be misinterpreted easily by the receiver, especially now as we develop a global community with different notions about time management.
An example of unintentional meanings would be someone working under a lot of stress or pressure to perform. Writing an article about a certain topic with a deadline could lead the author to rush, just to get done on time. When this happens, the message itself has changed from what the author initially intended it to be, even though the important points my be included.
A good example of misinterpretation would be the Abrahamic Bible. Messages relayed are subject to over 2000 years of human development. Hence, the actual message becomes increasingly distorted as it is shared across cultures and adapted to the current state of the different languages.
The industrial revolution brought on changes to the way we do business that threatened and eventually destroyed notions about the way we think about work.
Transitioning through the Information Age, the challenge for me is finding joy in the tedious tasks that I imagine will be automated in the future. Tasks that involve the gathering of raw data and processing it.
Raw data could be anything from email addresses and phone numbers to opinions about the way services should be delivered. Processing this means compiling this data and extracting relevant information from it, either to make recommendations to the change management teams (if they even exist yet, a lot of places are still waiting for “The Government” to implement programs) or for personal use in program development.
The problem with this…and also the best part about this is the ACTUAL interaction with people.
I do have a slight anxiety problem that makes me tend to avoid human interaction. As life goes, for collective evolution to happen, humans need to be consulted and actively included. Even if they’re against the changes, for whatever reason. Each person matters. Each opinion counts for something, even if it’s a negative balance.
In certain systems, we can go in with prior knowledge as to why people might be against change. The term being used to describe necessary changes in business is disruption.
Being an entrepreneur, I have to understand as much as I can about the ecosystem that I’m working in. The politics, the emotions, the motives, the values and principles that can only be extracted from the individuals (preferably with their knowledge) who perpetuate the system that I choose to work in. I have to keep overturning those loose stones.
Here in South Africa, a country still in its own version of an ICU after the brutality of apartheid, the business environment is still dominated by teams that seem highly resistant to change.
Stamina: The ability to sustain prolonged physical and/or mental effort
Observing myself connect on a deeper level with reality as we all experience it, I’ve become more conscious of the emotions that solidify this reality (I feel, therefore, I exist here). Sometimes, I want to return to my old habits and completely disassociate myself from my own emotions. To watch them from a distance and have something akin to pity for them. Like shadows on an eternally tiled walkway.
The emotions that work in the same way an earthing rod does. The emotions that keep me kind. The emotions that keep me striving for a better future. The emotions that help me build and maintain relationships with people.
Wanting to let them go when they’re slowly burning my stored joy into ash wouldn’t be the best idea though. As tempted as I am to hold on to the more pleasurable spectrum of the emotional taxonomy, I’ve learned that they tend to stagnate. Bliss stales into boredom and laughter runs dry, forced.
The reason I want to let go of them is because I don’t have much choice but to feel them. Whatever they are, whenever they arise.
The fun ones are mostly triggered by the natural world. Watching squirrels chasing each other in the gardens and butterflies battling against every slight breeze (struggle is real there), just to get that nectar.
Sometimes, people trigger happiness
The children, listening to every word you say and taking it to heart, no questions asked. I remember working at one of the community gardens, school kids would come on field trips and I would learn just as much as they did about this planet I love so much. I remember trying to teach a group how to meditate in a decrepit classroom, one of my proudest moments was when a few asked if they could meditate again.
The grandparents, they’ve seen the other side of the mask, they know how to give solace. They sit there quietly, with those little smiles on their faces. They know the patterns, they’ve lived through them a million times. Just being in their presence, the feeling of safety abounds. (which reminds me, we need to work on programs that care for the elderly)
Then there’s everyone else in between.
This is where the stamina comes in. Understanding that this closed system is just an environment to practice in doesn’t lessen then intensity of the emotions that well up.
I struggled to get my work done today. I did meet two people who shared some ideas with me, that helped. I didn’t really want to talk to the businesses owners at all, to be honest. I guess I’m just tired of the sighs and the depressed reactions that I get from people I don’t even know when I talk about community safety.
I have enough of my own “can’t do” attitude to have to take on other peoples. To the point where my own progress is kept in the shadows because of a reality that I don’t even understand. I keep looking up though, knowing the stars are still shining behind the blank blue curtain helps a lot.
I laugh at “silly” things. I do this so that I don’t bawl about the serious things.
We can’t have emotions in a professional environment. So I hide them. I do my best to capture what’s expected of me, ignoring the truths that slam into my chest with a smile that shields me for a while. Unfortunately, with so much energy going into that shield, there’s not much left for the “real” work. Productivity falls. Shame, guilt, frustration and then anger. Each second of those emotions is like a brick of apathy. Each word exchanged, or worse, left unsaid, become the mortar that binds the bricks.
Fortunately, I have a support system. From the other side of this wall of apathy, people who care. Who diligently chip away at the wall, daily. Popping their heads over and throwing romantic notes and flowers over to me. I’ve learned to do the same for them.
That’s what being an adult is about.
That’s what stamina means to me.
Being able to recognise these people. To keep throwing the little notes back and forth. To start planning doorways.
I like to strive for perfection, even though its rare to achieve, what with being human and all. I’m learning not to let this hold me back though, recalling a lesson shared by my family before I left home, “Start with what you have”, I’m just going to dive in.
I think that the most admirable profession is teaching. I don’t have to back that up but I will if I have to, after all teachers are the ones who give us the tools to free our minds. I also think that as a society, we could do more to show our appreciation for the men and women who dedicate their lives to shaping the future from an institutional perspective.
Along with the healthcare system, I strongly believe that the education system deserves more attention from the people who can make a difference in our world. I intend to make a difference myself and if all goes as planned, this will be my little contribution to the story of our species.
Ideas aside, the reality of the system is that its best to be qualified when dealing with the education system. A lack of knowledge can do more harm than good, however well-meaning the intentions are. There’s a lot at stake in that environment.
Because of this, I’ve taken a backseat regarding the education system and decided to gain some experience in a more sandbox type of environment. The private sector.
Having never really been a fan of capitalism (mainly because I didn’t agree with the motives behind the methodologies), I had avoided this section of reality like the plague as much as I could. Looking back, this was pointless…our lives are based on a whole system, capitalism included. I might as well embrace my demons.
For-profit community development.
People are people, whichever sector they’re in. Hopes and dreams aside, humanity must exist at some level. As I engage, I’ll keep you updated on my progress.
I have found myself neck deep in a community of strong-willed individuals. Individuals with a strong sense of what they want in life and a pretty good idea of when/how they’ll get what they want. Most importantly, who they’ll hire to make this happen as quickly as possible.
A community of entrepreneurs
The entrepreneurial spirit, a pillar of the human mindset that has had many names, is being adapted for the current times and even though it has mostly been used to further corporate goals, there are instances where people are using it for social development. The inevitable merging of the public and private sector means that there’s a shift of this mindset from business to social development. I’m excited to watch this happen, especially here in South Africa with it’s built-in freedom and abysmal education system.
So on that long winded note, I focus on today’s task. One on one communication with business owners on Long Street. Sure, I’ve done some trial runs, getting a feel of the people who own property and businesses, finding out more about their role in the community, in Cape Town and in South Africa. The residents too, playing a key role in how people perceive Cape Town, have just as much power as the business owners…the question is, do they know this?
Armed with a clipboard and an important notice, empowered by prolific community advocates and their ‘never-give-up’ attitude, I will be walking door to door. The aim of the conversations will be to increase the sense of community. A sense of connection between the businesses and the physical spaces that their customers use.
I’m not the first to do this and I doubt that I’ll be the last but this experience will propel my understanding of the dynamics of human relationships in South Africa. This small section of the economy is a first template as I delve into the business of social responsibility and human nature.