As an adult, in everyday life the people you generally come into contact with are settled, established and adding people to their circle takes effort. They have routine, they have stability and are more than often not looking to disrupt their bubble. When you are on the outside, there is much more push to get in than pull. Perhaps it is because you don’t have an abundant selection of good quality friends to choose from so the bar is not so high. But for the outsider, the new friends just need potential, and for the established one, there needs to be something amazing about this new person.
I remember the first time I went to Thailand, back in 2003, I was chatting with a Thai man, and when I said I was from Australia the first thing he said to me was ‘ all I know about Australia is that you have lots of rules there – you have to wear closed shoes in bars, no-one is allowed to sell food on the street, and only two people can be on a motorbike at once‘. Nothing about the normal kangaroos, sharks or loud drunk backpackers, but that we lived in a country where there were lots of rules and more or less we actually obeyed them.
Currently living in Mexico City for the past year and having just returned from a brief visit to Australia – I was reminded of this conversation with my Thai friend over a decade ago about Australia being a nanny state.
A couple of weeks ago was Mexican Independence Day and to celebrate there were street festivities and fire works. The festivities culminated at midnight with the president ringing a bell from the balcony of the palace to the crowd of 100,000 people below yelling ‘Viva Mexico’. During the evening as we were making our way to the centre of the city for the final celebration, we were cruising on bikes up the main avenue. This was closed to traffic and so just pedestrians, cyclists and street vendors selling Mexican paraphernalia filled the divided 6 lane road. Police manned the cross-road corners with their automatic rifles, as they chatted on their phones and ate ice-creams. As we cruised passed them, they waved us on to continue down the main drag as they started to let fireworks off.
I have never been so close to fireworks. It was loud and exciting.
We were smiling giddily to each other as we blew our Mexican plastic horns we had just bought from a sweet old lady. And then I felt things hitting my head… first little black pieces, then bigger bits that looked (and felt) like rubber coconut shells. It was shrapnel from the fireworks. There were kids running around and happily picking the bits up with their parents watching on. I pulled my scarf over my head and face, looked down, and added a little more peddle power. I also thought, why wasn’t it fenced off? Why did the police man wave us on? What if someone got injured? They shouldn’t be letting people go through. Surely there is a rule against this?! If I get hurt, who’s fault is it?
But no – this is Mexico – no rule, just self responsibility and decisions about how close you want to go before you get burnt. Or hit on the head with shrapnel.
This morning I was again reminded of this lack of rules, or alternatively the appreciation for self-responsibility, that exists in Mexico. There was an archery competition set up down the middle of a main street. It had drawn a big crowd and was an official competition, with people in uniform, film cameras, big screens and seating for the spectators. The seating went right along the shooting line, down the sides of the street, to the target. So that some people were standing and sitting about 2 meters from the target itself. No screens, protective barriers, or room for error. Just lots of trust in the shooter and the decision to sit in high risk seats. Again, my solid Australian upbringing kicked in and my first thoughts jumped to rules, protection, safety. But no – none of that here. Just each to their own. Good old, self-responsibility.
While I am worrying about my safety, lack of rules and who’s fault it is when something goes wrong, my Mexican compatriots are just enjoying the moment. Content that the joy of collecting firework shrapnel or watching an archery fly past your nose far outweighs the risk.
Self-responsibility plays a bigger role than formal rules and regulations.
In Mexico City I often feel like I am peeling away the layers of structure and compliance that have been built up over the years. I am re-learning how to make choices in a chaotic society that is not founded on rules and structure. Whether that be what type of shoes I wear into a bar, or if I should eat the street tacos on a second-hand plate made with no gloves. Or should I change lanes without an indicator like everyone else or ride my bike directly under falling firework shrapnel. When you live in a country like Australia, there is a regulation for every one of these instances so there would be no decision to make. Rules and self-responsibility are inverse. So the more rules we have, the less we rely on ourselves to make decisions and take responsibility for our actions. We look to blame someone because we should have been protected from the danger and informed there was a cliff ahead, or a man hole cover missing, or an archery competition on.
Living outside the structure, I am learning to make decisions again. So far it is going well, and I am actually ok at trusting my instinct when there are no rules to tell me what to do. In a society founded on self-responsibility, it does mean that if, or when, something goes wrong there is no-one to blame. Except of course yourself. Who really is the one that should be responsible for all the decisions you make anyway. Just imagine a world where people were not responsible for their actions… or lets not. Instead let’s just focus on bringing back self-responsibility.
I was talking to my brother the other day on Facetime. Having just returned from a run, he asked me how it was. Currently we are living in Mexico City, which is at 2500 meters altitude. So I told him it was tough. The air is thin, your lungs feel restricted and your body has to work harder. Having done a lot of runs over the years, I joked about how I was in altitude training and couldn’t wait to get back to Melbourne and run at sea level. I said ‘I am excited as the rewards will pay off and I will finally find it easy’. In a serious tone, he replied ‘it doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster’. (Which is apparently a quote by cyclist and Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond). Since then, I have thought about this a lot. Firstly, how this applies to so many areas of life.
And secondly, why did I want to find it easy?
Living in Mexico, I am on a mission to improve my Spanish. Everyday I am surrounded by people speaking a language that is not my own. I drive to work listening to Spanish talk back and music on the radio, I sit in meetings with customers and colleagues speaking Spanish, I order coffee, food and beers in Spanish and attempt to build relationships and friendships in Spanish.
This is a constant challenge and I keep telling myself that ‘it will only get easier’.
But after two months here I don’t feel like it has. I still feel like my skills and knowledge are pushed to their extreme just as they were on day one. I experience the same level of discomfort when I feel that I can not portray my true character in this second language. Even though my grasp of Spanish is definitely advancing everyday, I don’t feel any closer to finding my job here easy. And since the conversation with my brother I have been thinking about how the goal of getting to the point of ‘easy’ means I am focussing on the wrong thing.
In regards to my Spanish, on day one there was a whole lot of unknown. As little bits of this unknown become clear, I also learn more about what I didn’t know. And so the cycle continues. As I learn more, I speak more, people reply more, the language we start using is more complex and of course both myself and my amigos speak faster. Although in the midst of it, I miss that they are using the subjunctive, I get confused with the verbs and lose track of the conversation. At then at the end of it, all I remember is that it is not easy… yet.
As we develop a new skill the challenges that we take on grow in parallel with this new capacity to achieve them.
Just like when I was telling my brother about how I was excited to run back at sea level and find myself floating free in this fit, sunny world of easy running, I was hoping to achieve the same with my Spanish. Although I do hope to be able to talk and joke and work like I currently do in English, getting to a point of easy should not be my goal.
I use to also look at Haile Gebrselassie and think how he made the marathon look so easy. That compared to how I huffed and puffed my way around the 42km course he just glides around in world record time with ease. But of course he doesn’t. The pain and fatigue that he feels is probably greater and more intense than the average runner. Running never got easier for him, it just got faster.
So why would I want to get to easy?
Because then I can relax, do nothing and be content. But I am someone who likes challenges, who likes learning and growing. Why would I want an empty to do list, with no actions for further improvements. I don’t. It is just a default response to focus on things that are currently difficult and how much better life will be when they are easier.
Instead I need to enjoy the process of getting faster. Not focus on reducing the energy that is going into the activity but instead on what is being achieved in the process. The little achievements along the way. Like that last week I finished my first full novel in Spanish, and ran in a 16km Fun Run at an altitude 500m above any mountain in Australia. Both of them were definitely not easy… nor fast. But now I am already onto the next challenges. A new book and a longer run. This to do list will never be clear. The process continues. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster.
On Friday 11th April we kicked off our first #_Unbound day in Mexico City. It was hosted by the wonderful team at Extend in their centrally located office on the Reforma. We had a great free form space, a terrace, some food, coffee, wifi, work and great conversation. These guys went above and beyond on their hosting responsibility and they even made up a welcome sign for us :)
As per the original #_Unbound concept the day brought together a small group of people from different backgrounds and organisations to work together for the day. We had people coming and going as it fitted with their schedule, and those who couldn’t be there physically joined by phone and online. The number of people fluctuated between 5 and 10. The perfect number to allow valuable work to be done independently but also enable fluid group conversation involving everyone.
At the beginning of the day we shared our expectations and any key conversation topics we were hoping to cover with the dynamic and interesting people in the room. Although there was no set agenda for the day, we found it valuable to capture these thoughts, questions and challenges on the walls. As new people joined the #_Unbound day they could gain an insight into the minds of the people who were already there or those who had passed through.
The visual display of these expectations also provoked many interesting conversations throughout the day. Some topics which really sparked discussion were the changing role of physical office spaces, the growing gap to employees without smartphones as the reliance on technology increases and the measurement of business value in immature enterprise social networks.
As an individual attending my first #_Unbound day I really enjoyed it. I am, however, use to the idea of working remotely, from different locations with new people. So for me, the feedback from people who did not find this so ‘normal’ was more insightful. Some of the participants were from relatively rigid and traditional organisations. This was the first day that they had ever ‘worked’ out of the office. For them the idea of no set agenda, at an ‘event’ was difficult to comprehend. As a group we struggled with how to deal with this a little. In the feedback rounds at the end it was proposed that next time we would have a very basic agenda to keep the day fluid. For example, allocating individual work time and discussion time. This does sort of goes against the grain of #_Unbound but perhaps it is a way to transition to this new way of working and an approach to make those who are used to more structure feel comfortable attending their first #_Unbound day.
Overall though the day was great, and all participants said they would like to be part of a regular one. So we are looking at doing another one in June.
The #_Unbound concept is iterative. Each event is different. They are popping up in various locations around the world and people are seeing what happens when they come together for the day to get work done outside of their organisational borders. At #_Unbound Mexico DF we shared good conversation, fresh coffee and a valuable work day. Why don’t you run one, see what happens and let us know how it goes?
I am a person who likes lists and being on time. I like asking questions and getting things done.
I like efficiency and feeling effective. I like goals and solving problems. I like the feeling of crossing a finish line and understanding what got me there. So what happens when someone like me, lands in Mexico City. Both the lifestyle and business culture contrasts everything that I know regarding how to get things done. The streets are chaotic, the traffic is exhausting, meetings don’t start or finish on time, agendas are never adhered too and decisions are made in the last 5 minutes of a four hour meeting. But somehow it all works. The events happen on the day they are planned, the strategies are rolled out successfully, and the people you are counting on do turn up. And in a chaotic display of adhesiveness they all have the desired impact.
In this new culture I am adapting. I can not push my previous expectations and understanding of business etiquette, agendas, and timelines onto this new environment. I still ask questions, I still turn up on time (and regularly wait half an hour for others) and I still write lists. But I am trying to change my rhythm to match the beat of Mexico. I am trying to embrace the chaos.
And what I am realising is that when you embrace the chaos there is no finish line.
Just like the new 2km running loop that I am discovering. I always end up back where I started but I have changed. Everytime I go around I see something new and appreciate something that I missed before. Whether it be someone playing music, a woman weaving bags, a man walking his dog. As I run my mind also ticks. I do come up with new ideas and ways to tackle problems, remember peoples names, and practise my Spanish vocabulary. But I am realising that in this less structured and more chaotic environment there is no real end point and even if there was, I am not quite sure what it would be. Things are not linear with a start and a finish line.
When you embrace the chaos you learn. And although you don’t move forward in a predetermined structured way, you have achieved something. You have taken that learning, adapted, stepped sideways and moved towards a goal that is continually growing, strengthening and having more purpose.
Just like how on day one I was too scared to drive out into the mayhem of Mexico City traffic and now I thrive in it. Something about the freedom of driving without lanes or an indicator and being swept into a responsive network of exhaust is both exciting and a challenge. I like that.
I guess that works with my embracing the chaos theory… learn and adapt from those around you but continue on your own journey. Just like a goal, effectiveness is a fluid term that takes on meaning from the environment it is applied to. In a new environment I need to let go of both my previous definition of being effective and approach to getting things done. I need to breathe with the network that is Mexico and avoid creating a finish line for myself or those around me.
I will also just make the most of that 30 minutes I have before everyone else arrives for the meeting :)
We all know that technology is changing not only the way that we communicate, but also the way we organise. Whether it be organise our documents, our thoughts, our calendars or our life events. It is great when you can do everything without leaving your couch, but even better when this is contrasted against its old skool cousin – going local.
In an attempt to be less wasteful, lower impact, and generally more efficient in life while also being more connected to both my global community as well as my local one – my new approach to life is either go local or go online. So far it is working out well. Instead of getting in the car to drive and buy something – I either try to source it within walking distance or buy it online.
In the new model where sustainability and efficiency take priority those businesses in the middle of the spectrum fall through the gap. If they are not tied into my local community or they are not at my fingertips online then I don’t need them.
I tested this theory organising our wedding a couple of months ago. Not only was it organised in a really short time frame but as far bringing together 130 people for a party, it was relatively low impact. Lots of people have asked me for detail on where all the elements came from so I thought I would share that example here. Read on if you want the wedding detail – otherwise let me know if you agree with only going local or online?
In December last year my Mr Right and I got married. Growing up in a house with three brothers I was never a girl to dream about a big white wedding. I did want to have all the elements of the happily married life, the family, the house, the mess and the laughter. But I did not necessarily see the wedding as a critical element in reaching that.
But after 7 years together, a pending move to Mexico City, 2 years travelling, 2 years house renovating and 2 years living with my parents… we both decided that bringing our family and friends together to witness the happiness and love that we share as a couple was something that we wanted. So after making this decision, 8 weeks later, we got married. During this time I was also travelling a lot for work so I guess that cut the time down by a few weeks also. It is funny how such a short turn around seemed incomprehensible to many people. Lots of people have asked me how can you organise a wedding in a few weeks?
I say, either go online or go local.
Melbourne Designer, Rebecca Pocock, from e.g.etal .
The ceremony location
We got married in the gardens of the See Yup Temple. A beautiful Buddhist temple right near our house. So I walked out the backdoor. We gave a donation to the temple for allowing us to be married in this spiritual space.
Having talented family members my brothers both shared their musical prowess on the ukelele and the didgeridoo.
I was lucky enough that my mum not only had a great fashion sense in the 70’s when she designed her dress, but also that I put it on and it fitted like it was made for me.
My parents made an arch out of bamboo from the garden.
Jess from Ivy & Eve did all the flowers. She is located across the road from the Temple gardens. Amazing.
A very talented friend Nat Silber, read a poem she wrote for us as the solo reading at our ceremony.
We were lucky to already know Matt Finch and he added an amazing personal touch to a ceremony that was really ours.
Bicycles. It was 1km from the ceremony to the reception. So what better way to travel than by bicycle!
The reception was at the community hall at the South Melbourne Commons. Great location, hall hire fee goes to the community.
Amazing Latino inspired catering by Let Me Be Frank cafe which is also part of the South Melbourne Commons.
We had a cake table with around 20 cakes made by amazing aunties, mums and friends. Lots of choice made with lots of love.
All our decorations were made by our awesome family members from recycled jars (mainly gathered from the parents at the school where my Mr works), resused wood and locally bought material.
We were lucky again to have talent in the family and our lovely cousin Tori from Tori & Sal captured the day for us.
Dresses for the Special Ladies
Having been tainted by the bridesmaid title we went with term special ladies. The ladies got dresses by Sohomode who is based in New York. They chose their material and style and sent through their measurements and voila, two weeks later the dresses arrived.
Wedding Ring for Her
A second hand 1950s vintage ring with a story from GloryBeVintageWares on Etsy.
Wedding Ring for Him
An eco sterling silver wedding ring from Ephierell Jewellery.
As you can see from this list. We did not give any service to the guy in the middle. Without him, we were efficient, low impact and supporting our local community. We only went local or online. What is your approach?
I regularly work at home, at cafes, co-working spaces or – now it is warming up – in parks. This way of working allows me to be get inspiration from different environments, get silence when I want it, work with people when I need it and also make it to the bank when it is actually open. Last week I also found productivity in a Melbourne laneway (True. Hub Melbourne shifted all their furniture outside for the day and it was superb).
But holding onto this unstructured logical view of the world is difficult when we are educated to look at our surroundings through a lens compiled of rules, processes and formulas that give you the correct answer.
For most things in life, when we have somewhere we want to go or something we want to achieve we regularly check that we are on track. We look up, see which direction we are heading in, and readjust accordingly. We want to be efficient and make sure we are on the way to where we need to be. We taste the cake mix, feel the temperature of the bath, and check google maps.
When we forget to regularly check-in we end up lost, with a bland cake and scolded toes. I hate it when that happens.
When we look up out of our narrow hole of concentration we realise we have gone way off course.
So why has software development traditionally been different?
Long product release cycles, no check-ins, few iterative changes and rarely developed with the end user in mind. Then they wonder why people don’t use the product.
Last week I was chatting to a man at the Connected Enterprise conference in Melbourne. He was telling me how in software development 18 months is a short time between production versions. He nearly fell over backwards when I told him that Yammer releases a new version every week. That at Yammer we roll out small iterative changes to make sure the platform is always relevant and fits the needs of the end user.
To stay relevant you need to be agile. You need to adapt to the evolving environment. A few whispers on the street last week about how Yammer’s development model is being leveraged. Exciting.
On another not-so-agile note, I did a triathlon the other weekend. Like in everything, one of the key things to remember is to look up every five to ten strokes to check your line. I got carried away, relaxed into a rhythm, felt the water between my fingers, steadied my breathing and felt like I was moving fast. When I looked up I was no longer swimming towards the buoy. It was almost as bad as when I forgot to add the sugar to my chocolate cake. Lessons learned. Agile is awesome.