Archive for May, 2011

Reflection on Integrity And Values

This blog is a reflection on topics that I have written about in previous blog-posts throughout the year and will incorporate some of the thoughts that I made myself during the year and the Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in Practice module whilst studying Ma Creative Economy. Part of the assessment for this module was to set up a business of which I experienced a very challenging dynamic between the members of the team Shakers Creative Communications. This post will discuss how I find that much of what I wrote about on my blog has become visible through the process of setting up a business. As the title implies, I have reflected on integrity and values, both in our overall society but also within my business team. I would like to add that any information and thoughts shared about my team is based on my own, individual experience and may not be reflected in the team as a whole.

The Dance by Henri Matisse

Source: The Guardian

Where has our curiosity gone?

Before the Ma Creative Economy I did a Bachelor in Music. During the years of my Bachelor I became more aware of artistic values and integrity and became more assertive of my own, personal values. I created networks, links and collaborations with people who inspired me. I performed in my own music duo, performed with other artists and organised a mini-festival. However, with a Masters in Creative Economy I wished to define my career path further and create a more attractive, even valid (I thought) resume for myself. I felt that my artistic background was insufficient, I needed to get some approved credentials to provide me with a solid income.

Now, looking back after this year I realise that the actual credentials are less important to me. The course rather gave me more confidence and belief in values than what I used to have when I was at the end of my Bachelor, fearing to face the big world lying ahead of me. I thought that a Masters in music wouldn’t get me anywhere so I had to choose differently. Now, all of these thoughts have become quite irrelevant. A piece of paper may give me a job and solid income, but, will it make me happy? I have the power to make sure that it will, but that takes more than a neat resume.

It is worrying how easily we let titles, credentials and physical achievements define and evaluate our potential. If we do not try to seek happiness in other places that physical achievements the credentials only represents broken values and lost integrity.

In a previous blog post Virtual Reality: Defining Identity or Losing It I talked about how, as our technology has developed, our desperate need for everything to happen by the speed of a click has become a reality. This means less effort and less time-consumption. We buy more, we produce more and we want more, quicker and quicker. Slow has become equivalent to poor delivery. We move into the cites where we think that our life will become more meaningful, get a job, earn lots of money and buy lots of stuff. The video Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard illustrates our fast-growing development through the light of its various impacts upon us human beings and how we have to take control of the outcome:

The Story of Stuff

Source: Youtube, The Story of Stuff Project

Happiness has become evaluated upon quantity, not quality. The side-effects of this is an immense time pressure that we create in order to meet the standards we set ourselves and this valuable time that we have available is spent on completely physical and anti-spiritual activities. The cost is that we have less time to cook a meal, spend time with friends and enjoy our mere existence. I included the following video in my RSA Animates post but also wish to display it here because it manages to pin-point so many crucial aspects of how the modern human being is living their lives and my concerns as discussed in this paragraph:

21st Century Enlightenment

 Source: Youtube

As everything becomes so accessible to us, we stop thinking ourselves, we just adapt and accept and go with the flow. We become lazy and it is very convenient to be in that position. It is more so a comfort-zone and safe place to be. Adorno and Horkheimer talked about this fear of mass-culture and criticized the development of commercialism, capitalism and popular culture in a chapter of Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader:

‘The masses, demoralized by their life under the pressure of the system, and who shows signs of civilization only in modes of behavior which have been forced  on them and through which fury and recalcitrance show everywhere, are to be kept in order by the sight of an inexorable life and exemplary behavior. Culture has always played its part in taming revolutionary and barbaric instincts. Industrial culture add its contribution. It shows the condition under which merciless life can be lived at all. The individual who is thoroughly weary must use his weariness as energy for his surrender to the collective power which wears him out’ (Adorno and Horkheimer in Redmond and Holmes, 2007, p. 41)

Source: Ecomwire.com

As we become more and more focused on individual, material success we often sacrifice time with our family and loved ones. I went to a conference at City University on Cultural Workforce Issues where it was revealed that the majority of women who worked in the creative industries in the UK are below their thirties and does not have children. It was brought up to show how this industry is more convenient for those who are single or can simply ‘live their job’. But the need to belong to a social group is still hard to avoid. Our claim of individual success contradicts itself in the way we act. Social interaction is not disappearing, it is just being transferred to coexistence in cyber-space. Almost like a desperate attempt to maintain human interaction we expose ourselves, uncritically, in extreme ways. I am thinking of people who, for instance, share absolutely anything about themselves in virtual environments such as Facebook. The screen has become our café, office and supermarket because we are constantly jaded by time. But the way our primary needs manifest themselves in these external channels and extreme ways, does after all, mean so very little. We fail to seek the truth, live together, listen to our needs, share and being empathetic towards each other. Where has our curiosity gone?

Source: Favim.com

My experience is that artistic and creative ways of thinking often challenges the mainstream. Rather than creating a standard first, the artist create his or her own standard. To create on artistic merits and values can because of this be very liberating. But I do appreciate how an artistic way of thinking could also be seen as completely anarchist and self centred, all though I believe that most of the time the result is that it is not. We can only understand ourselves in order to emphasise with and understand others. And artistic products such as music, dance, art and more often trigger a reaction in us based on certain feelings, emotions, experiences and passions that are projected onto us by the artist. These reactions may be negative as well as positive, but the important aspect is that for the uncommercial artist it will be less important to comply with the unwritten rules of acceptance, because he or she have a strong confidence in and focus on novelty and artistic value. Importantly, as discussed in my previous blog post Creativity and Innovation, I do not mean that these skills are just dedicated to artists or creatives, but anyone: ‘An artist is not a special person but every person is a special kind of artist’ (quote by A.K Coomasawari in Kumar, 2009, p. 47). What the “artist” successfully manage to do is to create an environment for themselves that nourishes creativity: 

‘creativity’ is actually a much more complex, demanding process than simply coming up with bright ideas, being ‘inspired’ or indulging moments of spontaneous invention. Accordingly, while ‘creativity’ is not the possession of a precious handful of geniuses, nor is it something we all have within us, if only we dared follow our impulses. Rather it depends on a combination of processes and personalities which might appear contradictory. Creativity requires that we think irrationally and rationally, that we cross boundaries between different ways of thinking, that we do not only have the ideas but also the resources and inclinations do to something with them. Creative individuals have the ability to hold these different, often contradictory impulses in equilibrium. But the ability to combine different thinking styles and processes is not the sole possession of creative individuals – it is, if anything, more likely to be found in groups of people working together, in teams, networks and systems, bringing together complementary competencies and personalities’ (Bilton, 2007: p. xiv)

The main barrier is that all though we all have this potential most of us are so scared of what other people will think and we are scared to make mistakes. Instead, we act controlled and put on a role in which there is little flexibility left to be adventurous. Piers Ibbotsen claims that if one is not allowed to make mistakes, contribute with new ideas and thoughts without feeling humiliated and mad, there is no or little room for creativity to happen (2008, p.69).

Is Business Not About Making Money?

Much of what is discussed above contributed to, what I saw as a negative development within the business team I was part of during the Design Thinking module. This is not to say that we were a failure, because we did succeed in many ways. We managed to get a client, we delivered a product that the customer was happy about and managed to get a profitable income. But, I dare say that we failed to nurture creativity together. There were various reasons for this.

At the very first stage we were playing with many excellent, different and fun ideas such as cooking course for children, secret pop-up events, old-style chain-letters, mobile app (application software for mobiles) to locate random parties and social get together’s, interactive map app, artist promotion, eco-tourism web-site, real-life social networking facilitator and more. We all felt enthusiastic very soon, but the enthusiasm was also killed just as soon because we were critical to any idea. Instead of a “yes” culture we created a “no” culture. We evaluated and judged our ideas before even trying. I remember that most of the arguments were based on us not having the appropriate experience or tools to do certain things. The brainstorming sessions became a painful process of finding this one, great, brilliant idea that everyone felt passionate and confident about. We forgot to see that the idea would have to be shaped by us, not the opposite. Already in early November we had established that we wished to take advantage of modern technology to enhance social interaction.

Our experiences and skills ranged from technology, events-management, live-arts, publishing and advertisement. You may read more about the team profiles on the Shakers Creative website. But these skills were soon ignored and we were instead looking for what could possibly be done within restrictions we decided upon, before we had even tested and prototyped. By not following up on our common goal we did not create a team identity where we all could exploit our talents and together create a unity. Amabile (1988) suggested that mutual understanding could only be achieved if motivation, resources and management practices would be reflected trough ‘freedom or autonomy in the conduct of work, provision of challenging, interesting work, specification of clear overall strategic goals, and formation of work teams by drawing together individuals with diverse skills and perspectives’ (1996 pp.1156).

 I overall felt that we lost confidence in ourselves as a team. There was no core value defined and enough consistency to stay connected as a team. A lot of the time we operated individually. Contributions of original or creative character were very often dismissed because they were not seen as what a “professional business” would do. Tasks that the team had delegated would be taken over and finished by another team-member in order to present them in a fashion or format that was seen as the common standard, but we rarely discussed what standards we wished to set as a team. In the end, we had no standards because we adapted to those in the team who were more articulate and who claimed to know better. We lost our integrity as a group and we constantly struggled to have all our voices heard. A quote by John Berger in John Berger: A Life in Writing illustrates very well the danger of inflexibility in collaboration with others:

‘The only rule in collaborations is that one should never strike deals and never compromise … If you disagree on something you shouldn’t yield and you shouldn’t insist on winning. Instead you should just accept that the solution is not right and carry on until it is right. The temptation to say ‘you can have this one and I will have the next one’ is fatal’

 All though I have learned a lot from it, I have to admit that I have never experienced to lose my confidence as much as I did within this project. Having to live up to the standards of individuals without achieving consensus as a team became a constant compromise in order to move on and progress somewhere. Realising that your work is never good enough is extremely demotivating. Sadly, we developed a dis-cooperative trend of approaching tasks individually and not as a team. It seemed more important secure profit and deliver our product successfully than actually running a team with its values and integrity intact. Creative inputs were met with scepticism and fear of being seen as unprofessional. In my point of view, these were the most unprofessional, counter-creative and innovative choices we made. 

Christiania – An independent state in Denmark, built on creative and collaborative principles.

Source: Denmark Travelguide

The final days of our business, before a business plan submission and presentation was due, the atmosphere was tense and it was difficult to avoid conflicts. It was announced that certain individuals were not trusted in to present the material, and if necessary, those more competent would do the full presentation alone. This constant anxiety of failing, doing mistakes, not living up to standards and not having the confidence to take risks poisoned our team and our project. It made a lot of damage and prevented collaborative dynamics between us which could have had a much different outcome if we all agreed to let go of our ego:

‘At its most banal, the discipline of the ensemble is the discipline of good manners; it is rooted in humility, restraint and mutuality. The surprising truth is that if you all agree to surrender control then action emerges abundantly and creatively. If you all agree to indulge one another then no one is indulgent; all become energised by the task in hand because space is no longer taken up with the struggle of egos’ (Ibbotson, 2008, p. 36).

I believe that if we had dared to create our own, common, rules we would have identified ourselves as a team more easily and also felt a much stronger ownership of what we were doing. We would have had to listen to each other and tune in with one another. Also, to make assumptions and shape our product on behalf of what we thought that the stake-holders and shareholders wished to receive and what is commonly accepted, did not only underestimate them and their ability or desire to be presented for something unconventional and new, but also our own creative potential. I would have much rather appreciated to split as a team with a product that we were all proud of, no matter if we made any money at all.

I do not claim that to accomplish a successful and creative group dynamic is an easy task. On the contrary, I have experienced that it is a very challenging and hard task to take on. As we become more and more focused on physical and individual success, we forget and even ignore the importance of worshipping values and maintaining our integrity.

In the future I know that I will look for a job that complies with my values and I do not wish to compromise my or any one elses integrity to meet the standards and rules of mass-consumption and popular culture. To avoid challenges and taking risks in favor of the scenario that a product may not follow the mainstream is for me the opposite of creativity and innovation.


An Allegory of Prudence by Titian:

‘From [the experience of] the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future actions’

Source: Wikipedia


References:

Amabile, T. M. (1988) A model of creativity and innovation in organizations‘, Research in Organizational Behavior. Vol. 10, pp.123-167. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press

Amabile, T.M (1996) Creativity in Context: Update to The Social Psychology of Creativity. Oxford: Westview Press

Bilton, C (2007) Management and Creativity: From Creative Industries to Creative Management, p.:xiv. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Ibbotson, P. (2008) The Illusion of Leadership: Directing Creativity in Business and The Arts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kumar, S. (2009) ‘Art For Earth’s Sake’, Resurgence. 257, pp. 46-48. The Resurgence.

Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (2007) ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment and Mass Deception’ in Redmond, S. and Holmes, S. Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader, pp. 34-43. London: Sage.

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May 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment

Gastroanthropology – The Norwegian ‘Vaffel’

Does anyone know WHY waffles are SO popular in Norway? From a food anthropology kind of angle….

Tweeted by  Scandinavian Kitchen, deli in central London, April 18th 2011.

This was a very interesting question that I am going to elaborate on further but first I’ll explain to you what waffles, or so called vaffler are.

Source: Handelsbanken FK

They are similar to Belgian waffles but softer and thinner, and the texture is rather fluffy as opposed to dense.

A standard recipe will include eggs, milk, flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla sugar and sometimes sour cream or melted butter. They are fried in a special iron – ‘vaffel jern’ or waffle maker. They come out with a nice pattern and the iron does so that they are divided (still attached) in 4 little squares or heart shaped pieces, easy to split and share. The vaffel-iron can be bought in the UK at Clas Ohlson, see http://www.clasohlson.co.uk/Product/Product.aspx?id=153070034

Source: Get an hour for Cooking

How do you eat vaffler? Vaffler can be eaten with anything you like or plain. It is very common to have them with butter, jam, brunost (brown cheese), sour cream, nugatti (chokolate spread), sugar, ice cream, clothed cream and more jummy stuff I am sure.

Source: tmorkemo’s photostream (Flickr)

Any Norwegian knows their vaffel and they are indeed very popular. Well, actually not popular as such, just compulsory. Vaffler are served for community events, national celebrations (17th of May), sports gatherings, festivals, family gatherings, weddings and similar types of social events.

Scandikitchen’s question is interesting because it made me think about how certain products have sentimental value and will survive merely because of that. That is not to say that vaffles are not tasty or has a gastronomic value, yes they do. They are delicious! But there is a gastro-anthropoligical aspect about vaffler. They are there when people gather and they are related to festivities, fun, enjoyment and celebration. They make you feel good and they bring people together. If you move away from Norway vaffler are one of the ultra-Norwegian things that brings back so many memories. Perhaps a birthday, first day at school, football match and so on.. Vaffler are just a national treasure and special treat.

So are anyone not earning big money off of this unique product? Yes, the people who sell them at events do. But they usually don’t charge much, 10-15 kr a vaffel I think (please correct me if this is incorrect). And, also, of course the super marked chains have seen an opportunity in this product. I was quite upset the first time I saw an ‘ easy to make’ vaffel bag in the shop. They are really easy to make and if you can afford a vaffel jern, you can also afford (time-wise) to make them from scratch. I think people buy them but don’t think it ever became a huge success. Luckily I have not come across ‘ready-made’ vaffles to this date. Has anyone else? (I really hope not). If so, I can’t see how that would be popular, and that’s for a few reasons:

  1. It is very nice to buy a vaffel from an older lady who knows her recipe, fresh from the iron!
  2. You usually support a local community, sports team, charity or similar with your purchase.
  3. If not served straight from the iron, they are made fresh on the day. A dry, stiff vaffel is a ‘no-no’
  4. Vaffle’s are meant to be eaten on a special day, you don’t pick them up from a shelf in the local supermarket to have for lunch.

Reading Scandikitchen’s tweet I felt homesick. I could feel the taste in my mouth. And I promised myself that my next kitchenware purchase will be a vaffel-iron so that I can serve them to my friends, because everyone should try them! Just like crepes, they could be more or less international, no?

But there is one thing that those who haven’t grown up with vaffler can’t taste, that is the taste of nostalgia. And because of this I assume it must be very hard to make success out of products like vaffler, they just don’t work as well on their own, they need to be served within their context. Well, that is, I would pay quite a lot for a vaffel right now, being thousands of miles from home….but it wouldn’t be the same.. (good thing it is May 17th tomorrow and there are celebrations outside Norway too). And some types of food are meant to be seasonal, in this case, occasional. That is what makes them so special.

I came across the picture below at Kristins Reiseblogg,  a blog about Kristin’s travels where she talks about how she spent 17th of May in Brisbane with her friend. They are both enjoying a vaffel and Norwegian-style hot-dog (another food-phenomena).  The picture just speaks for itself…

May 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm Leave a comment


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