“You create your opportunities by asking for them” - Shakti Gawain
As I sit here at Heathrow airport ready to board my 30+ hour journey home to New Zealand, I keep thinking about how important it is to never wonder ‘what if’, but to instead seize every opportunity. And that sometimes, that means you need to create the opportunity for yourself, by asking for them, after all, the worst case is that they’ll say ‘no’.
It’s these thoughts that I’ve carried with me through all of my previous travels and upon reflection of the past few weeks in the UK, these thoughts are still incredibly relevant today.
My trip to London was initiated by a client of Curative’s; British Council NZ (BCNZ). They wanted us to look at an arts, culture and social innovation project; The Edible Garden as part of the Phakama: Velela pop-up festival.
An initiative we look forward to helping implement in New Zealand later in the year. Being over there allowed me to meet amazing young artists from around the world, engage with the local London creative practitioners and even inspired me to explore a bit of storytelling through performance arts workshops. However, my experience with Phakama was just the beginning…
I wholeheartedly believe, that even in an age where everyone feels more connected online, nothing can beat real life face-to-face connections. Which was partly why BCNZ sent us over, to connect, engage and learn first hand about the project and the people involved rather than being sent a well-structured strategy document about systems and processes to re-create the concept in NZ. That would’ve been too easy!
The challenging part, is really getting involved, getting your hands dirty, and getting amongst it all, clarifying the original intentions of each individual, the objectives of the project, learning about what each person brought to the table; both professionally and personally, and understanding the dynamics of the key-players of the project. Which I felt, I was able to grasp whole-heartedly while living on campus with some of the Artists in Residence.
However, it wasn’t just ‘campus life’ that I threw myself into wholeheartedly. While in that part of the world, I extended the ‘business trip’ and took the opportunity to explore the professional landscape of Design, Social Innovation and Social Design in the UK. With these interests in mind, I connected with a few thought leaders prior to arriving; and managed to set up times to meet with them.
Below is a bit of a re-cap, collection of interesting links, resources and little learnings from some of the people I was fortunate enough to meet with:
Stuart Thomason, Senior Associate at The Young Foundation; took the time to talk me through the landscape of Social Innovation in the UK, what part YF played, the innovation spiral and sent me off with a bunch of resources; this publication comes highly recommended if you haven’t already read it, you can download The Open Book of Social Innovation here.
Earlier that week, The Young Foundation was hosting a Social Design talk on Design Ethnography with Catriona Macaulay. Admittedly, earlier that day, I had no idea what Design Ethnography really was, but the end of the presentation, I was looking forward to finding out more and how we could highlight the notion here in NZ.
It was at that talk, where I met the Service Design Lead at Fjords, Noemi Mas. Who was kind enough to have a coffee and take me through their innovation process, methodologies and tools even amongst a big deadline.
I also ran into Noemi at the CreativeMornings London event with rAndom International (I guess the creative industries are small no matter where you are in the world!) Where I got the chance to meet CreativeMornings London chapter host, Drew Smith and share our CreativeMornings Auckland ‘Hello LDN’ video. An interesting, articulate, well groomed creative character that was incredibly warm and welcoming. Meeting industry leaders with extensive connections in their cities, is just one of the reasons why the CreativeMornings family is so valuable to be part of, and again reiterates this video »
Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK; whom I initially met in NZ and gave a captivating presentation at The Kitchen, took the time out of his busy schedule to show me around The Firestation, meet the SEUK team as well as share insights and resources into the beginnings of setting up a similar association in NZ. Once again, I was amazed, not just by his charismatic words of wisdom, but by the physical space. In this one building, they have housed here; School for Social Entrepreneurs, PwC’s Centre for Social Impact, and The Brigade bar & bistro; here they host The Beyond Food foundation, where they are offering people who have been at risk of or have experienced homelessness the opportunity to take part in a 6 month apprenticeship programme called United Kitchen. If you’re interested in learning more about Social Enterprise NZ, contact us and we’ll point you in the right direction.
Social innovation and research consultancy; A Very Good Company’s co-founder and director, Natalie Campbell, was incredibly welcoming given it was the week following A Good Week. She was even kind enough to gift me a book; which is mandatory for all her staff, contractors and interns to read before working with her; The One Minute Manager, a book by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.
At that very meeting I also had the opportunity to catch up with; Kate Andrews, a social communications strategist and design consultant who I had been following the work of online for the past few years. We’re all pretty busy ladies, but currently exploring the potential of a collaborative project, where we can share our learnings and discourse around Social Innovation and Design. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any developments.
And then, there were these next two serendipitous encounters. And the story goes a little like this: A really good friend of mine, Adele Barlow invited me to a launch party of General Assembly where they were setting up a London office and heard there would be some rather interesting characters there… I was right.
Despite arriving embarrassingly early, Tom Hulme, Design Director of IDEO and founder of OpenIDEO was there at a similar time too. I recognised him instantly and on my somewhat swift departure, introduced myself, snapped a pic and he was kind enough to invite me around to their studio to meet with him and his team later that week. To learn a bit more about IDEO, the Art of Innovation their widely recognised human-centred processes, and world renowned guide to designing for Social Impact. Haiyan Zhang, interaction lead of OpenIDEO was kind enough to answer a few of my niggling questions about the agency after the team from Thames & Hudson departed. In which we found out we had a mutual Kiwi acquaintance; Meena Kadri (6 Degrees of separation, that, and us Kiwis are everywhere!)
At the launch party, was also fortunate enough to meet Dees from Mozilla, where we set up a meeting the following week at their new beautiful co-working space right in the centre of town in London; (which from my understanding, Mozilla Spaces is completely free and open to the public for people to work from.) And after realising that Mozilla does much more than create the amazing web-browser Firefox, we then explored the possibility of hosting a Design Jam in New Zealand in the coming year. Again, we’ll keep you posted on any developments.
So, whether it was via phone, email, twitter, launch party or a serendipitous encounter I thought to myself that, "You do indeed, create your opportunities by asking for them.” and fortunately for me it turned out on this trip that no-one said ‘No’.
This mini-mantra has served me right not only on my travels, but day-to-day life as well. I must admit, I felt terrible having to leave Curative, just 6 months new, with the workload really starting to take off! However, I’m fortunate to have a business partner and a great friend in Eddy, who was incredibly supportive of the opportunity and saw the long-term benefits of this trip out weighing the short-term work stress. And it was with this support that I was able to throw myself into the experience fully, knock on every door, ask plenty of questions and let the opportunities open up.
So, what unexpected opportunities have you recently created for yourself by just asking for them?