Reading Traffic: Transitioning Jobs, Lives, and Mindsets
Keywords: Quicksand, great organizations, future, innovation, transition
It’s been just over seven weeks since I joined Quicksand. A rather brief moment in the larger scheme of things perhaps, but for me an important import of change that I should make a note of for some distant future. Used to ‘Big’ ‘Corporate’ organizations, Quicksand is a totally different world for me in terms of the sheer scale of things. Maybe trying to understand Quicksand as ‘Small’ is not the wisest thing to do either. It is a lot more than that, even in these early days. I could ramble on but there are some thoughts I’d like to ramble in specific about. Here goes…
Photographs courtesy Rishabh Sachdeva
Taking a Vocation
One of the first things I realized after I joined was that this was not going to be a story about goal sheets, strategic plans and compensations. It’s something I had to live, day in and day out. If you can’t bring your true unadulterated self into the studio and onto the field, you are not going to be able to contribute beyond a point. Unlike larger, more corporate set ups, where there can be a number of firewalls between you and the world around you, here it is all about being tuned in. As design thinkers, entrepreneurs, disruptors and artists; the value you add is by being first true to your point of view and then throwing it in a mix which can then grow. What makes for a good design thinker? My early answer to that is that the secret lies in being yourself first. For me, the difference between a ‘day job’ and a ‘passion project’ has significantly diminished over the past few weeks.
What makes for a good design thinker? My early answer to that is that the secret lies in being yourself first.
Learning some Polymathematics
One hears a lot about the importance of specialization in today’s world. It’s sage advice to try and be great at at least one odd thing. In the world of perspectives – experience and hours do matter. That being said, I can’t help but consider the thought that actually being great at one thing requires one to be good at a whole lot more too. It is agreed that design thinking is most powerful when it is multidisciplinary. However, to be a good design thinker in the first place, one needs to be holistic as an individual too – bringing in ideas and inspirations from across a range of subjects. Entrepreneurial, small ventures also often force one to multi task. Quicksand’s got both going for it and what it does is encourage individuals to discover more within themselves before they go out there. It’s a dimension not fully expressed in large organizations where departments and levels too often miss connecting the dots.
Valuing the Values
Great organizations that have successfully transformed themselves over generations are often grounded by values that are eternal. There is no mantra in this success – it is first about articulating and living the things you believe in. I have often wondered how entrepreneurs decide on the values they want to live by. So many organizational investments into aspects such as visions, missions, and values, translate into superficial statements that do little to inspire. Well framed values can lay foundations for ideas to grow and evolve. Small organizations often go astray because they lose sight of their core values (if listed at all) or state what is not felt within. Quicksand’s Manifesto (it’s values document) is a powerful set of ideas – authentic and provocative. Before I joined, it was an interesting picture of a place to build in my mind. Now that I am here, i realize that the values stated reflect the way it is. In large organizations, the average employee would have a hard time articulating if not recollecting the stated values. Here at Quicksand, it’s more a way of life.
Bringing the Shutters down
The other day, when everyone else had left the studio and the last of us walked out, we switched all the lights off and locked up the doors. You might wonder what the big deal about that is, but it was for the first time that I was literally bringing the shutters down. At ‘big’ organizations, there are so many layers and so many instruments for everything, that one is left at odds with the space one finds oneself in. That means the level of consciousness you often bring to the table is only ankle deep. At smaller organizations there is the opportunity to fully immerse and shape your surroundings. Looking for office spaces, tending to the dogs, playing with the care taker’s kids are all new found responsibilities for a corporate soul and they are triggers for much happiness. Many friends and family have punned on the name ‘Quicksand’. It is an uncommon articulation of an uncommon vision. In a way, for me, Quicksand represents being neck deep in the common joys that make time at work more meaningful and complete.
On my first assignment with Quicksand, not only do I find myself in another country, I often find myself in the middle of garbage dumps or maddening local markets. Unlike over air-conditioned boardrooms, polished corporate halls and colorful cubicles, the field is a riot of possibilities. There is no separation of work and play at a place like Quicksand. All work is play and all play is work in a way. So, as we try and work out interventions to fight the plastic bag menace in Cambodia (where I am right now), we do not quite draw boundaries on what we observe, discuss and analyse. Reading traffic could be as good an indicator as any while we immerse ourselves into a foreign culture. To be able to design, one must empathise. Empathy is best understood by living the lives of others. In a traditional business set up, the ability to do so is limited. Small companies and not just those in the design field have great opportunities to commit themselves to experiments that may even be considered frivolous by the traditionalists. I wonder how one could harbour hopes of developing any insight without understanding the ‘in’ first.
The future of great organizations is not dependent on the growth of sales and revenue alone, but their ability to seed possibilities that are yet to be imagined.
I am in a dilemma about this one. So much of this piece has been about ‘small’ and ‘big’ that associating dreams with size risks puncturing the intent a little. However, the point that I want to try and make is that organizations like Quicksand – small, niche, diverse and spirited have the opportunity to dream beyond what is possible for the conventional. The future of great organizations is not dependent on the growth of sales and revenue alone, but their ability to seed possibilities that are yet to be imagined. Where ideas flow, greatness evolves. It is a lesson that all small organizations should try and imbibe. At Quicksand, I find myself surrounded by initiatives that are trying to push the boundaries in their field. Innovation is not a separate unit here, this is a unit committed to innovation. That commitment reflects in not just the interactions within, but also in the spirit with which an open network of ideas has been built over the years. Shaping the future is an exciting journey and what better way to do it than to embrace it wholly, deeply, madly.
Transitions are never simple like they say. But, they can educate and I am hoping to learn a lot more as the weeks run along. Need to get back to reading traffic now.