People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life... I think that what we're really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive. - Joseph Campbell
Many of my most memorable memories are attached to events that I have participated in or been a bystander to. When I was young, it was sports games and competitions, Boy Scout campouts, and school field trips. As I got older, concerts and music festivals became a core part of my social scene and had a big influence on what was meaningful and memorable to me. It has been in these kinds of contexts that I've come closest to what Campbell describes as the "rapture of being alive."
I also have a history of peacemaking and diplomacy in the communities and social circles I've inhabited. Not to say I'm innocent of ever being a bully or badass, but I remember as a kid more often than not my place was in the in-between, looking for middle or, better yet, higher ground which could dissolve conflicts which seemed to me petty or insignificant. My parents split up when I was a boy and, while completely and mutually amicable, my mom and dad went very different directions with their lives and where they chose to live them. As I grew up, I learned how to thrive in and reconcile both of these worlds. Trying out for basketball my freshman year of high school, I was not one of the eleven players chosen. The coach asked those eleven to select the twelfth and final person for the team, and those chose me. The largest trophy I ever won as a youth was for the "Spirit Award" on my swim team when I was 12 or 13 years old. This recognition was given by the coach to the person they thought did the most to support and cheer the success of others on the team.
In high school and college, as my worldview began to in fact become worldly, I began to wonder about and question some of the apparent conflicts and hostilities that countries and regions held toward each other. During the 80's, as the Cold War rhetoric was ratchet up by Reagan and others, I reacted by taking a fascination (albeit ignorant) in Russia and Eastern Europe. I discounted the political name calling and wondered what the actual lives of people in that part of the world must be like. In January of 1991, two weeks after finishing my undergrad, I left for Svitavy, Czechoslovakia on a six month cultural exchange and English teaching gig. In a town of just under 20,000, I "taught" in elementary school, high school, a textile factory, a couple of pubs and in my apartment that I shared with the only other American in town. We were among the first Americans that had visited, let alone lived in Svitavy since before the era of the USSR. Though I was stunned by just how disastrous the Soviet's Iron Curtain had been, most of my naive beliefs about the people and their values were validated.
After returning from Europe in the Fall, Gail suggested I visit MG Taylor's Management Center in Orlando, Florida and see if there could be a mutual fit of talents and interest with the staff. Though I had grown up around the environment and processes Gail and Matt had been developing, it was mostly at a distance, not directly involved. Once I became engaged from within, I was immediately attracted by what struck me as a perfect union of impact making events with a process for making peace between complex ideas, cultures, and ways of seeing the world. Participants were regularly and routinely finding themselves in a creative flow state with the other participants. There was an assumption that “and” could replace “either / or” alternatives in almost every instance, opening space for further inclusion, and holding empathy for the “other,” without anyone sacrificing authenticity. Further, it was not based on a consulting approach, but through process design and service design. Facilitation came as much or more from the middle and back of the room as from the front. Through various forms of dialogue, expression, experimentation, simulation and modeling, groups were able to create new context, language, and culture around the complexities inherent in their organizations and communities. As I learned the models, modules and such, I became (and remain) enamored with the process of using these as building blocks of collaborative conversation and complex design processes.
What began as a one-year experiment has become a two decade career. Over the 1990’s and early 2000's, I worked with MG Taylor as we took the “system and method” global with the DesignShop process, Knowhere Stores and Navigation Centers, learning how to use it as an application or as a platform into which other processes and technologies could be plugged and to scale it from event and project design to venture design.
In 2006, I joined with Gail to be a partner with her in Tomorrow Makers. Where as the bulk of MG Taylor's work was with corporate and national government clients, Tomorrow Makers was Gail's avenue for reconnecting with the community-based organizations that she'd worked with in her years at the Learning Exchange. While we've only scratched the surface of our ambitions with Tomorrow Makers, the past several years have offered precious time and circumstance for shared reflecting, story telling, concept connecting, new practice inventing. Our thoughts and writings on Wayfinding is one of the manifestations of our time together, and one I - we - believe to be both significant and important to this moment in time across personal, communal and global perspectives.
These writings re not an end point on the subject for us, but a birthing of a whole new context from which we can speak to and practice our design processes. What follows then are our reflections on why Wayfinding at this particular moment in time and what the process offers in creating a resilient future.