Nollind Whachell

Life in Design

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It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.
W.B. Yeats

Embracing Uncertainty

I don’t understand why I can see connections between things that others cannot see.

I don’t understand how I can share these connections with others so that they can see and understand them as well.

I don’t understand how I’m supposed to support myself in doing this.

Evidently though, the answer to all of these things lies in striving to do them, as only by doing can we learn.

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I can do.

James Tiberius Kirk, Star Trek: Into Darkness

What’s My Identity?

Over the past few years, I believed that my passion in life was systems and my purpose was to heal or optimize these systems. Looking back on my life this has made sense to me because I’ve seen these patterns within it, as I shifted from one system to another.

Growing up, I was immersed within and loved nature as an ecosystem. Later I fell in love with roleplaying games and computer games, both of which are basically social systems. Through computer games, I became fascinated with computers and eventually the Web which are technical systems. Finally through building communities in games, I became fascinated with organizations which returned my interest back to social systems on a much deeper level (i.e. culture, aka values, beliefs, behaviours).

Inspiring People

But recently, after discovering Simon Sinek and listening to him speak about his passion, something changed. I related to his passion which is inspiring other people. This in turn reminded me of my mantra from years back (i.e. Connect. Empower. Inspire.) and made me realized that this was a cyclic way of playing, learning, and working through life.

Still, something didn’t feel right though. I related to him wanting to inspire people but using Simon’s own methodology of discovery, I asked why were we so interested in inspiring people? After thinking about this for a while, it dawned on me that I wanted to help people feel alive because this is what sparked my own quest and hero’s journey of discovery. I wanted to feel alive in my own life.

But still, again it felt like something was missing. I knew that figuring out your passion, purpose, and vision in life, helped you to authentically and creatively express your whole self and thus made you feel alive. But what was the singular word that encapsulated this all and symbolized it?

Reconnecting With The Past

Luckily, just the other day, I was fortunate enough to meet up with an old client and friend of mine who I had helped when I did web design work. During our conversation together, I couldn’t help but see the synergy between us both. Normally when I have conversations with people, I’m seeing things at a deeper level than they are but with Peter, he was completely on my level. That’s because Peter understands and teaches the secret of business which is relationships (real ones that is, one’s that involve empathy at their core).

But during our conversation Peter mentioned a couple of things that stood out for me. He mentioned that my conversations with him during the discovery phase of his website design really helped him to understand what he was all about at his core. He also humorously said in a third person narrative way that, “Nollind was my litmus test for authenticity, consistency, and absence of hype or fluff.” I loved that he said that (so much so that I’m going to use it as a referral quote) because it spoke at the heart of what I was trying to do with my web design clients. I wanted to help them to authentically and creatively express what they were all about in a simple yet powerful way, without any superficial flash or hype.

Sparking Conversations

After the conversation, when I was reflecting upon a lot of what he had said, that’s when something sparked within me. All of this time, I had been reiterating that systems were my passion. And I knew that the trinity of systems were relationships, information, and identity. Even more so, I knew that these trinity of words formed a narrative themselves. People connected and formed relationships, empowered themselves through this shared information, and then finally inspired themselves to action when they saw the collective identity and purpose they were all trying to work towards. In effect, the many become one entity, one collective identity.

That was my passion. Identity. Suddenly when I realized this, many things started making sense and falling into place. It explained why I always loved building characters (i.e. character development) within roleplaying games (both online and off), so much so that I laughingly remarked I could spend the rest of my life doing it. It also explained why I loved playing roleplaying games when I was younger and being the game master within them. I loved putting epic challenges and conflicts before people to see how they would rise to the occasion and react to them which in turn revealed their real identities (i.e. conflicts define us).

This also explains to me why so many people love playing online games today. They get to participate in and contribute to solving epic challenges and conflicts that brings out the best in them, their social potential. No wonder it’s so addicting for them and why they feel so alive doing it, in comparison to a job where they are just told to pull a lever like a robot and they can’t really contribute their own ideas, their own creative self, as a human being.

My Emerging Identity

All said and done, with this new understanding now, everything makes sense with regards to my identity and what value I can bring to others. It even makes sense with regards to seeing myself as a bard whose archetypal characteristics are playfulness, wholeness, and uniqueness. That’s because I help people to see the hero in themselves by playfully discovering their unique identity, thus making them feel whole, epic, and alive in turn. And when that happens, that’s when the social potential within the singular individual and the collective organization are released like a tsunami of social change.

Social Capital

For those who occasionally visit my journal here, to see what I’m up to from time to time, you’ll probably notice that I haven’t been posting here very much lately. The reason for this is that I’ve been experimenting and exploring elsewhere, primarily on Google+.

Google+ has been very good to me. It has connected me to people and allowed me to participate within deep and meaningful conversations that I probably wouldn’t have found anywhere else. In effect, it has shown me that there are many people out there just as passionate as myself in wanting to bring about social change.

But that said though, the more I immersed myself within its conversations, the more I felt like I was losing myself, my focus. Don’t get me wrong though. This had nothing to do with the people within these conversations. It had to do with me and what I was specifically searching for and what my intuition was trying to tell me I wasn’t finding there (yet).

Economic vs Social

What made me finally realize what was wrong was reading a new book by Marina Gorbis entitled The Nature of the Future. Within the book, a chapter on money discusses the differences between economic power and social power. It even emphasizes that our primary focus on money is causing our loss of social. And more importantly, there are things that can’t be achieved by economic power alone but require social power.

When I reread some of these points the other morning, everything seemed to click and make sense, not only with regards to the Google+ conversations but with regards to the conversations with myself over the past ten years or more. The crux of the problem was this all consuming focus on money.

It All Comes Down to Money, or Does It?

But what’s wrong with that you might ask? We need money to survive, don’t we? Well that’s just what The Nature of the Future is trying to tell us. Not only is the way we work changing but the way we are rewarded for our work is changing as well. Social power or capital will let you achieve and acquire things that wouldn’t be possible with just economic power or capital alone. It is the Social Era remember.

But again this is why the conversations on Google+ felt wrong to me. People obviously wanted social change but it seemed like the heart of every conversation eventually led to figuring out a way to make money from this social change. But again I was no better than others, as this was always my focus over the years as well, primarily due to internal and external pressures. Therefore if I wasn’t figuring out a way to make money, I felt like I was societally irresponsible and unreliable.

Missing the Deeper Connection

I think this is why for the most part I couldn’t really connect with people on a deeper level because money was a blockade to creating that deeper connection. For example, I’ve repeatedly told some people that I know that I’d like to create a social group, like a guild, that connects, empowers, and inspires us all with a specific intent. For most people though, they don’t see the economic value in it, as it just seems like a waste of time since “time is money”. Even for myself, this has been a big piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t figure out and articulate to people, that is until now.

I now realize that this social company of people isn’t primarily about making money. It is the deeper social value and support that it brings to all of our lives and what we so desperately need right now to overcome these hard economic times, just as the family of Marina Gorbis had to endure while living in the harsh economy of Russia when she was younger. Even more so, it is this social aspect of our lives which gives us meaning in a seemingly meaningless and chaotic time, as we transition and try to make sense of our way from the old world to the new one.

Moving Beyond Money

What I find remarkable about this is that years ago, when I put my resume online upon Craigslist and indicated I was an online community developer seeking a caring company to help, I actually got a wave of very positive responses. Two of those responses in particular were from small companies, one a non-profit, that I connected with on an extremely deep level but they didn’t have the funds to pay me initially. At the time, I chatted with them a bit but eventually parted ways saying I need money to pay the bills. Now I realize, in looking back, I actually gave up the chance to do something socially meaningful in my life, regardless of the economic value of it.

Going forward now, I’m much more aware of this and will not determine my work on money alone. Like Marina Gorbis indicates in The Nature of the Future, there are other ways of trading and barter services that can just be as beneficial. Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to work for money at all. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. For those organizations who can pay, I will be charging a substantial fee because I believe that I’m worth it. More on that in my next post and what value I believe I can bring to my future clients.

Man of Steel

What if a child dreamed of becoming something other
than what society had intended.
What if a child aspired to something greater.

I have to believe that you
were sent here for a reason.
And even if it takes the rest of your life,
you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

You will give the people of earth
an ideal to strive towards.
They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall.
But in time, they will join you in the sun.
In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Loving Yourself

I have been seeing a variety of very talented people around me lately that are in conflict with the world, who truly need to love and value themselves first before they can love others and contribute to the world. In seeing this though, I’m realizing that we are all on this journey but just in different stages of it.

For the most part though, I think people just want to take the shortcut and prefer someone loving them so unconditionally that they will finally start seeing the value in themselves and thus finally love themselves. But the problem is that it doesn’t work that way because by not living their true nature internally, they continually become angry and frustrated very easily and end up pushing others away from them in the process. And in a way, I was still somewhat at that point a couple of weeks ago as well.

Searching for Love

You see I was listening to a song the other day by Rihanna called Where Have You Been and when she sings “Where have you been all my life”, I couldn’t help but think that that was me talking to myself. Basically I’ve been spending my entire life looking for this person within me that I can truly love and be happy with.

Now here’s the funny thing that I just realized. Often when people look for love, they find someone but then strangely try to change them to be more like them. But you can’t do this, otherwise you risk losing the essence of that person you fell in love with in the first place.

What I find you have to do instead is try to understand that person and their differences that make them unique. When you do that, you begin to see the real depth of them and why they are the way they are.

Don’t Change

In loving ourselves, I believe it’s the same thing. Often we continually try to change ourselves to make others happy, so that we can appreciate and love ourselves. But we only end up losing our sense of self in the process, thus frustrating us and tearing ourselves apart from the inside. What we need to be truly doing instead is fully understanding ourselves, our nature, why we do the things we do.

When we do this, achieve this deeper understanding, that’s when we truly value the relationship with ourselves and begin to truly love ourselves as we are, with all of our beautiful imperfections. In a sense, it’s when we truly start working with ourselves in harmony rather than working against ourselves. So it’s not about changing yourself to be like someone else but understanding yourself so you can change your externally influenced behaviors back to more natural internal ones that are in harmony with your true nature and self.

Wooden Bodhisattva, Sculptures, Wikipedia

Wooden Bodhisattva, Sculptures, Wikipedia

Revealing the Beauty Beneath

For myself, the first step was years ago when I realized I wasn’t the problem but the solution. But I didn’t understand fully how I was the solution, so I began exploring and conversing with myself to figure it out. Through that personal dialogue and conversation, I’m slowly revealing who I truly am, like a sculptor chipping away pieces to reveal a beautiful sculpture that’s always laid dormant and waiting beneath the surface. It just needed the opportunity to reveal itself.

And funnily enough, just like a sculptor, the first pieces you chip off are easy. Yet as you get closer and closer to your true self, the work becomes more refined and detailed, thus taking more and more time. We can’t rush it though. We need to let it reveal itself and emerge naturally, as those final minute details create the essence and aesthetic of who we truly are, like a spirit infusing an empty vessel.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.
I only know what I can do.

Exploring Social Innovation

I remember a while back telling someone that what I wanted to do was to try to help businesses be more human. At the time I thought if anybody heard me say that, they’d probably think I was somewhat strange. But I guess we’re living in strange times now because more and more people are thinking it as well.

Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World is a book that covers this subject extremely well. While I’m still in the process of reading it, I’d have to say that this book comes the closest to synchronizing with my years of thought and research on trying to change the way organizations work. Above all else though, it’s an amazing feeling to know that you’re not alone and others are out there thinking and pursuing the same visionary things that you are.

That said though, that’s when reality returns and slaps you in the face again. That’s because while this is my life’s work (there’s no question of it now), what frustrates me the most is that even though there are a diverse variety of books on this subject now, I’m still not really seeing a change in the way businesses work locally within my own city.

The solutions we need to move forward, to grow, and adapt are not technological innovations, they are social innovations.

Don’t get me wrong though. Vancouver is booming as a digital tech hub and the game development scene is still thriving even with some closures and layoffs earlier this year. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The solutions we need to move forward, to grow, and adapt are not technological innovations, they are social innovations. And for that to happen, we need to rethink the very behaviours, values, and beliefs of our organizations and of ourselves.

But that’s exactly why things aren’t changing. As I told someone else a while back, many business owners and managers would rather let their company die than give up their centralized command and control way of working because they’ve habitually become accustomed to it. In effect, even though it’s slowly killing their company like a cancer, it’s still feels comforting and risk averse to them, so they still stick with it, grandly naval gazing off into the distance as they sail off the edge of the Old World to their doom.

What we need now aren’t people playing it safe. What we need now are courageous explorers. That’s the type of people I’m looking for and the type of people I want to work with in helping to navigate and reach this New World. The obvious question though is does such a company of people like this exist within Vancouver? Or at the very least, are there companies that do want to be this socially innovative in Vancouver but just don’t know where to start in transforming themselves?

Developing Organizational Maturity

A while back I read a highly insightful book by Bernard Stiegler entitled Taking Care of Youth and The Generations that discusses how current marketing practices today are impeding the social and cultural development of young people, thus preventing them from fully maturing as adults. What I find interesting is that I actually believe that we are undergoing a similar crisis within organizations today in that current business practices are impeding the social and cultural development of organizations, thus preventing them from also fully maturing as well.

To understand the cause of this problem though, I think we need to understand the developmental differences between a child and an adult. From my perspective, the goal of raising a child is to help them reach an adult state of freedom and responsibility whereby they are able to act independently on their own in a sustainable manner. In effect, to reach a point where they are no longer dependent upon their parents to support them but they can fend for themselves within the world on their own.

For the most part though, I’m not seeing this same sense of development being applied to organizations. If anything, instead of helping their organization to reach a state of independence, most entrepreneurs are doing the exact opposite, often micromanaging and maintaining their parental control, thus causing the organization to continually flounder in a dependent and child-like state, always needing the support and guidance of their founding birth parent.

We need to learn to let go and allow the organizations that we have founded and birthed to fully grow, mature, and think on their own.

Yet if we truly want to create innovative organizations of the 21st century then we can’t continue with this same approach. We need to learn to let go and allow the organizations that we have founded and birthed to fully grow, mature, and think on their own. Then and only then will they be able to take the next step and carry us into a new world and a more natural way of working together.

The Rising Emergence of Systempreneurs

Once of my greatest frustrations in pursuing my passion, purpose, and vision in life is not being able to easily articulate what my passion, purpose, and vision is to others (even though I understand it clearly myself). By this, I mean easily encapsulating it with just a few words like a job title, that someone within the business sector will easily understand. The reason I can’t easily do this is because what I’m pursuing doesn’t even exist yet as a defined job role, since it’s still in the process of emergence. But there in lies the conundrum, how can you market yourself and your abilities to others when you can’t easily articulate what it is you do?

To get around this issue, I’m continually scouring the Web and reading books to find information that might relate to what I’m trying to do. Luckily I have found a variety of books whose authors are all articulating the same thing but just in different ways. That being that we are in the process of change, of trying to figure out a new way of not just working but of learning as well. Why? Because our old ways of learning and working are failing us and at a rapidly increasing pace.

Yet again, even though all of these authors are effectively talking about the same thing, there isn’t a unifying word from any of them that I’ve found that clearly communicates what they are all trying to do (as words like “Chief Culture Officer” just didn’t cut it for me). Well that all changed today. In reading a Fast Company article describing social intrapreneurs, the word “systempreneur” came up and I realized that this was the simple word that I had been looking for all along.

What needs to be done is to change the entire system from the outside and inside, all at once.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve always strived to be an intrapreneur, trying to bring out a social change from within an organization or company. However, while sometimes I made a difference and brought about some good, for the most part, it really didn’t add up to much because the overriding corporate culture and societal system negated any sort of real substantial and permanent change.

More and more as time passed, I slowly realized that making these piecemeal attempts from within companies was a complete waste of time. What needs to be done is to change the entire system from the outside and inside, all at once. This, in a nutshell, is what a systempreneur does and what all of these authors have been simply trying to articulate. That there is a rising emergence of individuals who are striving to bring about a systematic change to our societal institutions, thus allowing us to learn and work in innovative new ways.

© 2017 Nollind Whachell. All rights reserved.

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