So here I am in beautiful Austin, and I'll be sharing how I realised that Intention, curiousity, and reflection have underpinned the better parts of my life, both personal and professional.
This all started with my Grandma, Ayeeyo in Somali
I was raised by my grandma, I don't remember too much from my childhood, one of the more vivid memories are of my fingers tracing indentations in walls, shallow ones, deeper ones, funny shaped ones. My grandma was love, she loved everyone, her home was full of warmth, full of a revolving door of characters who I learned sought her out, my grandma made a difference. I later learned those indentations were bullet holes, and the cast of characters were people who sought refuge or respite in her home.
My Ayeeyo raised me through local and regional because she wanted her daughter to complete her university education. My ayeeyo was of simple means, spending her life cleaning households to take care of her 6 children. She experienced and understood that war and hardship are impartial to your means. So Her values of service to others and meaningful human relationships meant that she had a social contract she had with members of her neighbourhood, as a result she raised many kids from the neighborhood, people who till date keep their lips wet with praise for her.
Inadvertently, I kept that alive in me. I've lived a life of movement where I've unconsciously carried that space and need to allow people to feel included and connected through my interactions.
It's all about stories and my Grandma's is one that's informed my path. I became aware of these stories through the help of people, people who wish to serve, to ease or facilitate :) for deeper understanding and more meaningful connections. People in the Creative Bunch who I'll share a bit about, and people like Douglas and Lily who helped me be here to day, and who have created a space for us to forge deeper connections, in hopes that we may better serve others.
As a recovering Human resource professional, when I came across human centred design, specifically when it was utilized in exploring meaningful challenges like designing disruptors to mass incarceration with returning citizens in D.C. it fueled an exploration of the possibilities of designing meaningful interactions in my little H.R. world. So when my wife and I decided to make D.C. a home I went a little overboard using affinity diagrams to narrow down our needs in a real estate agent and the home we want to buy and journey maps to visualize the entire home buying journey and taking agents through personas to figure out where it went wrong with their customers.
I stayed curious and participated in learning circles for Theory U, Liberating structures, Sociocracy and learned about Lead-IN. Where over 8 weeks I spent 2 hours a week with 11 other strangers generating, iterating, and practicing what leadership was for us.
Don't get me wrong, I've had several labels associated with leadership, in one of these roles I joined a company as employee #90 and was responsible for helping recruit and develop 2000 people over 2 years. But it left me drained and unsatisfied. Over the 8 weeks with Lead-IN I was able to reflect and understand that my values, imprinted in me by Ayeeyo, did not align with systems rooted in leadership cultures where humans were resources, units of productivity to manage. As opposed to humans being inherently resourceful, if you design environments that allow for the human to be expressed.
See I enjoy learning the etymology of words, especially in arabic because it's poetic at times. The word Insaan, human, has two roots, 'To Forget' and 'To love, be loved, or relate'
The neuroscience of forgetting and it's importance for mental health is fascinating, and I encourage you look it up. This part of the human equation is what equally fascinates me.
The 19th surgeon general of the United States, on those cigarette label warnings, stated that we have a loneliness epidemic in the United States. I tend to agree, in my role in hr, and in my observations, a lot of the work I did was bridge building and firefighting, whether it be in Humanitarian, Energy and government sectors the loneliness was pervasive.
Think about meeting dynamics, unheard voices, micro inequities and unconscious bias. what is the default state? Let's use a simpler examples. How lonely are networking events?Bring a business card and your 15 second pitch, why is life imitating the workplace? Why is the value of a human being assessed by 15 seconds, whether it be at those events or a scan of a cv.
So when I moved to Dubai, I wanted to be intentional about my personal life, because at this point I understood that what I once heard at a user experience design conference in dc applies to a lot of corners in our life. "If you don't design, you default"
So borrowing from the adaptive positive deviance approach of finding people whose behaviours say "I make the difference" vs "yea, but" I co-opted these 6 PD questions to better understand my needs for building community and I knew I wanted to approach people who say "I make a difference".
Mindset is key, I reached out to design thinking facilitators before arriving in Dubai to co-facilitate whatever it was they were doing and to the creative morning community.
The now friend who accepted my random linkedin message to co-facilitate, also happened to be a speaker for the upcoming Creative mornings event. She shared her story of being a prototype and we started collecting people intentionally, people who thought "I am a prototype" and "I make a difference." The Creative Bunch was born. We brought people who never worked together before and delivered one of the most successful Dubai Service Jams to date, with regional design leads impressed by the quality of work created in 2 days in comparison to week long design sprints they've witnessed.
The group has generated 4 speakers for creative morning, 3 podcasts, improv groups, and has become the port of call for creatives new to Dubai.
It's not all fun and games though the group supported the launch of the first Conscious Consumer research initiative in the UAE which utilized Conversation Cafes and ethnographic studies, efforts that were noticed by the prime ministers office. It's also generated revenue for small business owners who collaborated because of the group, it turned out to be easier to do business when you're doing what Christopher Batchelder terms "slow networking" a "gradually-unfolding-over-time interaction...grounded in a desire for authentic human connection" I surveyed our members before coming out here, and these are some of the things they had to say. And this all started with what I'm about to take you through, it's the Do and not tell part of the program and we'll start by having you throw your labels behind your back.
As you move forward from today, I want you to remember your partner and their needs, be their advocate today, get excited about finding someone that can help them, you'll be surprised how convincing you can be when it's in service of someone else.
As I reflected for this talk, in my work as a service designer and as a partner in Lead-In, I've taken these experiences of forging human bonds through community and used them to structure reminders for clients of that deepest of human needs, the need to love, to be loved and to relate but that's another story.
Her daughter completed her degree in biochemistry, worked as a lab technician, and is currently working as a medical translator assisting refugees in Canada navigate the medical landscape. As it's the blessed month of Ramadan, I'd like you, regardless of label you ascribe to, to send my ayeeyo, allah yerhamha, your most heartfelt positive vibes.
"I'm not a label, I'm a prototype learning to love, be loved, and relate" and from my interactions today, I have no doubt that you design and impart an element of this on the people you serve as facilitators.
Thank you Austin.