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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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Many of my readers know I was trained as an architect. Some of the rhythms, insights and passions of that profession continue to weave into my work and my sense making.

Just over the weekend, I completely randomly bumped into a very well done interview with star-architect Rem Koolhaas in Flanders’ business newspaper “De Tijd”. It’s in Dutch, but I found it so inspiring that I translated the juiciest chunks of that interview, with some personal context around that.

Rem Koolhaas (70) founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in 1975. Besides its headquarters in Rotterdam, the agency has offices in New York, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha and Dubai. He is also a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and wrote important publications on architecture, such as ‘Delirious New York’ (1978), “S, M, L, XL (1995) and ‘Content’ (2004). In 2000 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel Prize for architecture.

322_1rem_koolhaas_oma__portret_portrait__copy

Portrait Rem Koolhaas O.M.A. Office for Metropolitain Architecture shoot for Andy Warhols INTERVIEW, Russia © Ronald Tilleman all right reserved

The interview was made in the context of the opening of the Garage Museum in Gorki Park.

Garage Museum

It was Dasha Zhukova, the 34-jarige spouse of Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich who approached Koolhaas to build “her” museum. Thanks to the deep pockets of her husband, she ensured herself this way of her own name and fame in the international jetset and art scene.

I really encourage you to watch this great promo-video of the museum. It is so inspiring when you start thinking about musea as educational spaces. Look at the wondering faces of the kids in that video. Think on how educational immersive experiences are becoming so key to our understanding and sense making. The Garage Museum is run by the Post-Soviet generation and that is so refreshing. And – surprise – it includes fragments by performance artist Marina Abramovic.

Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. Active for over three decades, Abramović has been described as the “grandmother of performance art.” She pioneered a new notion of identity by bringing in the participation of observers, focusing on “confronting pain, blood, and physical limits of the body.” (from Wikipedia).

It is a coincidence – or probably not – that performance, improvisation and new notions of identity cross my path again, and makes me reflect again of my work as event-creator evolving gradually into experience, romanticism and mystery.

But back to the interview. The journalist kicks off with an observation about the label of “star-architect” and how that is associated with neoliberal money-grubber who designs antisocial icons for the private super rich.

Rem Koolhaas reacts:

“Since the beginning of the 21st century, there is increasing attention to an ever smaller group of architects, of whom one expected to produce ever more spectacular buildings. Especially in high-rise commercial noticeable increasing pressure to make extravagant, rare designs. “

“Since the triumph of the market economy, the relationship between the public and the architect is cut. The takeover of the market economy in the architecture was harmful. The architect can no longer identify as someone who serves the public interest. Previously our inventions benefited humanity. Now that’s gone, like a tablecloth is suddenly pulled away.”

“While architecture previously revolved around the creation of community, to live together, the emphasis on selfish icons wipes that away. Cities can no longer exert as much influence as before, when they had enough money to build projects.”

It makes me think about the work of Christopher Alexander – my all time favourite – who protests against efficiency in architecture and the loss of appreciation for patterns, beauty, and the “quality without a name – QWAN”. See elsewhere on my blog, like here on “The battle for beauty”Like Alexander, Rem Koolhaas is at least as famous as a thinker and writer on architecture.

I think an architect must be a change expert, because you have to shape change. Therefore, you must know what is happening in the world. Before I became an architect, I was a journalist. And actually I’m still investigative journalist. I observe. My life is one big string of anthropological and sociological explorations. I’ve always had a particular attention to what is neglected. So I wrote my book about New York in the late seventies, when everyone had written off the city.”

He also confirms some of the insights that digitization of architecture – but I would expand that to any form of making great work – creates some fundamental flaws in creativity.

“I think some architects have a very simplistic look at the digitisation. For instance, they believe that 3D printing will provide free creativity. That is a myth. Therein lies a fundamental fallacy about architecture. Architecture is not at all about letting your imagination go. You must confront your imagination again and again with the request and desire of your customer.”

And then on privacy, something that becomes most tangible when you are at home, in your house, in your bedroom.

nest

“It dawned on me last year when I was curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale. We have reconstructed the history of building elements, such as wall, floor, heating, and so on. We realized that all of them are on the verge of changing status. Take the thermostat. That used to be a thing that you checked. Now that gives your data to the energy supplier. Such a smart thermostat knows when you leave the house and when you come home again. Before you know it, sensors that follow you anywhere in your home surround you”

“We live in a world which is so addicted to comfort it as undermining our freedom. The dividing line between comfort and repression is thin. We submit ourselves to a huge monitoring system that records all of our movements in a building. We seem almost happy that we have no privacy anymore. For someone of my generation is that strange because we were still in the streets in the seventies to defend our privacy. “

lonely swimmer by Sterling67

Picture of Lone Swimmer by Sterling67

“I travel a lot, and I find that very inspiring. And above all gives me a great deal of privacy. Like swimming, though. I swim every day one kilometer, wherever in the world I am. “

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