24HRS2MASSIVE CHANGE: Brisbane

Not that long ago, in November, I took part in the first edition of the 24HRS2MASSIVECHANGE workshop in Brisbane. Facilitated by none other than Bruce Mau himself, it was hosted by the State Library of Queensland, an organisation that my team at Arup has had the chance to collaborate a lot with in the past.

It’s really no surprise that the SLQ would jump at the opportunity to receive Bruce and Bisi and even less that they would be willing to be the guinea pigs, for what is essentially the pilot class for a ‘design thinking’ curriculum (I hate the expression but you’ll have to bear with me until I find something better to describe it). The SLQ has been reevaluating the mission of a State Library and positions itself more and more as a platform for conversations rather than the keeper of records.

My involvement in the first edition of 24HRS2MASSIVECHANGE started with the realisation that there are no ‘professional accreditations’ for the line of work that I do. To sum up, I work with my clients to help design what an urban development is for, what are the behaviours and environments we’d like to encourage, and therefore, how can we shape the physical environment in response to this brief. We call it Strategic Design, moving the design process upstream to shape the architecture of decision-making in the formation and stewardship of the built environment. Part of that leads to brief-writing but our work aims to be far more strategic and wide-reaching than an architectural brief.

So in the spirit of meeting fellow strategic designers, I signed myself up for 2 days of absolute madness, seminars interspersed with work sessions in groups, all geared to help us answer this very simple question: “What should Brisbane do to lead the New World? How should it communicate it?”. At the heart of this exercise are two realisations (for me at least): one, leadership is design, therefore policy and strategy is design. Two, content and communication are inextricably linked and are generated iteratively from one another.

I won’t go into the detail of the brainstorming, being lost in the woods, finding our way again and content production, but the fascinating aspect to this exercise is that creatives all have very different ways of navigating the vastness of possibilities that lie ahead of them. Not that I give any credence to the Myers-Briggs personality test, there is something about how people like to organise their thoughts in a creative brainstorming process. Whether they fixate on the end product or feel their way through the process. Some people like to be very methodical and sort things into categories, others like to explore the boundaries of possibility and then focus back into the common thread.

Understandably, with a question as wide and open as the one posed by Bruce, there were many different ways the conversation could go. Finding the most sensical and strategic path dependency for Brisbane, either through its seemingly privileged relationship to Asia as exemplified through the Asia Pacific Triennale, or rather its relationship to water, as the theatre of the 2011 floods, or as the capital of behaviour design (which I found very interesting myself), was a daunting challenge to tackle within 24 hours.

The highlight for me was to get to meet great people from Brisbane and beyond. I won’t be able to name everyone but it was great to meet Kevin Finn, Ben Johnson, Tory Jones, Linda Pitt, Steve Pozel, Vince Frost, Paul Fairweather, and many others that were present on the day.

Bruce brings a lot of stories of amazing human endeavour to the table. The idea behind the design of the curriculum and the creation of a Massive Change Network is that all graduates, become agents of change in their own field. Although loosely based on ‘Massive Change’ the book, the curriculum reached further than case studies of amazing ingenuity and inventiveness. Bruce proposed 24 principles that can lead to transformational outcomes. And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, most of them are very personal in nature: “Design the time of your life”, “Love what you do”, are all mantras of the fulfilled and accomplished designer.

I can’t say that this experience has revolutionised my thinking. Rather, I am reassured to know that it merely confirms long held hunches I have been working towards in my own work. But the simplicity of the language and of the framework will help me frame some of my ideas with a lot more authority. But rather than homogenising the way each and every one of us works to conform with the Massive Change view, Bruce’s objective was for us all to gain strength in the network that was created and that will be continuously built upon through future iterations of 24HRS2MASSIVECHANGE.

And now, for something completely different: the beach.

 

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