I recently published a white paper that explores the various facets, nuances, and interpretations of what it means to be 'purpose-driven', how it applies in business, whether we're becoming more purpose-driven, etc.
I learned an incredible amount from my little lockdown research project, however I now feel that it behooves me to put some what I've learned into practice, and to share what my current purpose is, what is driving me at the moment, and how it manifests through ColourSpace (my primary project) among others.
In doing so, I hope to show just one way of how I'm linking my personal purpose with that of what I do.
In my journey to date, I've found this to be one of the toughest and most elusive answers to nail down, not least because I don't think there will ever be a single answer; as I change, as I grow, as I evolve, so too will my purpose.
Further still, I've always found it a bit limiting to be defined by a single, simple statement. Whenever I've landed on what I believe is a well articulated personal purpose, it isn't long before it morphs into a something else. Sidebar, I sometimes wonder if the more important word to focus on in 'finding your purpose' is actually 'finding' (more on that in a future article).
So instead, it might be better if I talk about what it is I'm obsessed by, and that is the notion of what it means to be 'human-centric'.
A few years back, I attended a Future of Work conference, where one keynote really stood out for me by Genevieve Bell, an Australian anthropologist best known for her work at the intersection of cultural practice and technological development. She spoke of the major technological trends of the future, of AI, AR / VR, big data, robotics, among others. But the central theme of her keynote was the question: "How do we stay human throughout it all?"
That question resonated soundly with me, especially as it neatly articulates something that I've spent much of my own life thinking about.
For instance, I'm intrigued by what I believe is the paradox of big tech's ambitions towards improve the quality of our lives, while simultaneously makes us ever more isolated. UberEats might be a convenient way of getting restaurant grade food delivered to us at home, but in doing so we've lost some of the human touch of eating out, of spending dedicated time with each other instead of in front of the TV, of striking up conversations with the chef, and understanding their passion for food.
Or in the business landscape, human creativity is considered to be one of the top soft skills required for the future (according to LinkedIn surveys). It is also one of the traits that is difficult for AI to truly address. But what are businesses really doing to cultivate creativity? What's the budget for creativity?
There were a few reasons why I started ColourSpace, but let's start with a personal story.
One day, in my former life as a management consultant, I was walking through the city to a client site with a colleague. We walked through an indoor thoroughfare, one of those long foyers that run underneath office blocks, the walls of which were adorned with dozens of artworks. I remarked to my colleague: "See, isn't that interesting? I wonder if we could have something like that in the office? What if we could turn the office into a bit of a gallery? And have different artists bring their works in?" Her reply: "Yeah! You should totally do that!"
And the rest, as they say, is history.
In a nutshell, ColourSpace helps businesses create dynamic environments that genuinely engage people by regularly changing the art on the display, all of which is sourced from local artists.
There are three deeper motivations behind that however, all of which tie back to 'human-centricity'.
Firstly, at a macro level, I strongly believe that the physical environment we're in has a major impact on the way we think. It's why so many people feel nourished when surrounded by nature, why travel broadens the mind, and why a change of scenery can be so conducive for moods.
We already see many organisations acting on this by incorporating plants and flowers into the environment (biophilia).
What I wanted to also do is create a sense of change, something that demonstrates progress, movement, and newness. Furthermore, the quantitative impact of art on health is also just emerging, with the World Health Organisation releasing a broad-sweeping study in 2019 that demonstrated the impact of art on health and wellbeing.
And thus if ColourSpace could regularly change the physical environment - especially with something creative like art - then we can influence culture, spark new ideas, give people something to connect over, and improve mental health and wellbeing.
Secondly, at more personal level, I believe art represents new ideas and new perspectives. It represents the epitome of creativity, of culture, of storytelling, and of community building. Some of the greatest advancements in culture have come from artists; think of the far reaching impacts of Da Vinci, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, and Banksy.
One small observation I've come to appreciate throughout my time at ColourSpace: I believe there's very little distinction between entrepreneurs and artists. Both chase the fulfilment of a vision that often goes against the grain of 'traditional' societal expectations, often against a chorus of 'No that's not going to work'. And yet those who break through that and succeed can create tremendous impact in society.
Thus if we set aside any convoluted art speak, the act of regularly bringing new art into a space is like regularly bringing new ideas and perspectives to people.
And finally, in order for both of these benefits to be experienced, we need a thriving community of artists. The challenges that artists face are pretty well documented. Having spoken to many artists over the past few years, I also know that for many of them, creating art isn't just a pastime or a hobby. Many create art as a form of cultural preservation, to convey stories, and - in a survey ColourSpace conducted - at least a third of artists create art as a form of healing and therapy.
Linking it back to the concept of being 'human-centred', I believe that art (and all that it represents) is one of those pillars that defines humanity. Art emerges from all cultures and populations, and people from vastly different demographic backgrounds, religion, political leanings, etc, can all connect and appreciate art. It is not strictly necessary for life per se, and yet the creation and appreciation of art is a unique yet universal human trait.
Does that mean we have to accept all art as 'good'? No. Art is subjective, but that's kind of the point. We know how important diversity is in business and in society, but the point of diversity is that it results in a diversity of perspectives. Just as we might not agree with all perspectives, we might not like all art. But the experience of engaging with something we might not like is, in and of itself, the experience of diversity.
That's why I believe it's important for us to continue to support the arts, and the artist communities that create the arts. I want to make art more accessible and relevant in our lives. And by doing so, continue to create an ongoing source of new exposure and economic opportunities that support the creators of art.
As we look into the post Covid world, with the accelerating tide of technology and the changing nature of work (i.e. social distancing and hybrid workplaces), I see more businesses and leaders asking the variants on Dr Genevieve Bell's original question: "How do we stay human?"
Hopefully, in this article, I've been able to demonstrate why I believe art is one of the answers to these questions, and why I continue to be driven by my obsession on what it means to be human-centred.
If you'd like to learn more about ColourSpace, please feel free to check out our site here.
If you'd like to talk more about human-centred ideas and strategies to engage your staff, please slide into my DMs or drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.