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This post is final part of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.

Van Nevel

I am listening to “Utopia Triumphans – The Great Polyphony of the Renaissance” by Paul Van Nevel’s Huelgas Ensemble.

I am in my post-natal depression after having delivered Innotribe Sibos a couple of weeks ago in Singapore. Architecting an event like this is indeed like giving birth to a new baby. Or/and painting.

Jeff Koons Ethereal

Jeff Koons – Easyfun Ethereal series – Guggenheim Bilbao

It was always my ambition to create awareness about what is cooking at the edges of our industry’s ecosystem.

At the edges, but not beyond.

In my earlier, more anarchistic period, it was more about provocation, and I got judged on the externalities of my work. And as I matured, I got – without really planning for this, it just happened through the intensity I put in my work – into higher levels of awareness, with a greater deal of “softness”, humanism, beauty and yes, even romanticism: all unconscious components of designed learning experiences.

Working at these edges – but not beyond – requires some sensitivity and understanding of your audience and their deeply buried ambitions: this understanding is not about their professional business titles and roles (roles like in a theatre play – which it in many cases is), but about the deep archetypes and associated human desires of the searching individual looking for a greater essence of work.

Like a fashion designer, I am very much in the background of our “shows”, only making occasional stage appearances, usually only at the end when the cast and the models left the catwalk, and to leave my gentle greeting as a signature of the architect.

Dries Van Noten Fashion Show Women 2015 Paris, Grand Palais, September 24th 2014
Soundtrack - Oscar and the Wolf "Strange Entity"
Carpet Artwork - Alexandra Kehayoglou

The occasional contacts with the members of the tribe are sincere, direct, and respectful.

This year a woman approached me in the corridor, greeting gently, asking where we met before, and then – quickly shying away – saying: “you have the most friendly face I have met in my life”.

That comment for sure kept me alive the rest of the week, to a point where I tried to connect with it at the moments where I tried to also enjoy myself the delivery of the new-born baby.

The renewed “softness” in my watchful eyes must have shown elsewhere, as during day-4, Adizah tweeted this picture of your servant into my digital slipstream:

watchful eyes petervan

Love that: the “watchful” eyes. It makes me think about the inspiration source for this 10th essay in the Essence of Work series, a little free booklet “Nothing is written, Learning is an adventure” by Johnnie Moore & Viv McWaters” from www.creativefacilitation.com.

cover nothing is written

“Learning is an adventure,” says the subtitle. Already in 2009, John Hagel from Deloitte’s Centre of the Edge, labeled this “Learning at Scale”.

Being at the edge is not about “R&D” but about “L&D” – Learning and Development.

L&D is becoming the Essence of Work.

The booklet explains eight principles to create more engaging experiences that play to human strengths.

  • Nothing is Written
  • Emotional Connectedness
  • Experiences over Explanation
  • Shared peril
  • Avoiding the teacher trance
  • The value of loose ends
  • Getting out of our heads
  • Getting over ourselves

One of the key sentences in the book is about the edge:

“So the focus must be on allowing participants to manage their own experience, so they can be on the edge of their comfort zone, and not pushed beyond it”

During these ideal moments, there is some sense of stillness in the room: the stillness of being pushed, but not beyond. When the audience collaboratively works through the assignments to internalize the new knowledge acquired from the speaker/igniter.

When there is almost whisper in the air.

When the assignment comes natural, unforced, and gentle. When the room and the atmosphere just feel right. “Right” like in Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless Way of Building” and the sculptural integrity that goes with it.

I am reminded here of Spanish painter and sculptor Joan Miró (April 20, 1893–December 25, 1983), whose masterpieces upended the conventions of visual art by giving life to a new aesthetic of vibrant stillness. (from Brainpickings.org)

“Miró’s most potent point deals with the proper gestational period for art and the painstaking care that goes into any worthwhile creative labor. In an age when the vast majority of our cultural material is reduced to “content” and “assets,” factory-farmed by a media machine that turns creators into Pavlovian creatures hooked on constant and immediate positive reinforcement via “likes” and “shares,” here comes a sorely needed reminder that art operates on a wholly different time scale and demands a wholly different pace of cultivation.”

“Miró defies this factory-farming model of art with the perfect metaphor: If a canvas remains in progress for years in my studio, that doesn’t worry me. On the contrary, when I’m rich in canvases which have a point of departure vital enough to set off a series of rhythms, a new life, new living things, I’m happy.

“I consider my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so that the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune.”

joan miro catalan landscape

Joan Miró: ‘Catalan Landscape,’ 1924

“I work like a gardener… Things come slowly… Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water… Ripening goes on in my mind. So I’m always working at a great many things at the same time.”

I leave you with a quote from my 9-year-old daughter, who savours the start of each day with new curiosity.

“It smells so good outside, it smells like it just snowed”

This freshness and openness for new learning experiences and development at the edges is the Essence of Work.

At the edge, but not beyond.

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