Exploring Your Inner Chicken

The quality in my friends that I most admire is the explorer’s spirit within them.
At the start of my time in Brazil there were a lot of things holding me back from being a great explorer. But I came to understand that you really need to explore the context you find yourself in and the people you meet there, also because it helps you adjust to cultural differences as you understand more.

My interest in exploring came from DesignThinkers (and also from being a great admirer of Richard Branson). I think the most important thing about exploring is the feeling that you can just be free – generally in working life there’s so many emails, ‘to do’ lists, and people just don’t move from their desks, and when you’re on an exploration you never know what’s going to happen. I have come to believe more in serendipity, of being in the right place at the right time, but that doesn’t happen if you stay in one place. If I’d stayed at home where I was a year ago, would I be doing what I am now? I don’t know. But I do believe that if you go on the path less travelled you will always see new and unexpected sights!

For me, a book that really emulates this type of thinking is called Outside Lies Magic and inside this book it explains how the author introduces people to the concept of exploring. On the course Stilgoe teaches, when people come in Stilgoe explains that there is no syllabus and the reason why is that they have to explore themselves, he will give them the tools and guidance to do that but won’t create the syllabus for them. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the approach, and he tells them if that’s how they feel then the course is not right for them and they need to leave.

Looking back on the days when I have had no plans and I have just explored, I have remembered them to be the happiest – having lots of funs and giving you lots of time to reflect, and I’m always a big fan of reflection. But when I’m in my exploring mode, I also find I’m in my mischievous mode, and the friends that know me would say that I get up to a lot of mischief in the quest to have fun with others! Which ends up in some really strange places…

One such week back in Amsterdam with DesignThinkers led from a spelling mistake, to me dressing up as a Post-It Note chicken! I was sitting in DesignThinkers’ studio making a visual report for a telecommunications company in Norway. On checking over the spelling with the DesignThinkers I came across a spelling mistake where instead of writing ‘KPIs’ (key performance indicators) I had put ‘KIPs’ – and, not being so aware of Dutch, my colleagues had to inform me that ‘Kips’ actually meant ‘Chicken’! The DesignThinkers laughed heavily, and the next day I didn’t think more about it until I received an email containing an image of the cover of a book called ‘Where are the Chickens?’ from one of the DesignThinkers.

I received this on the way to work, and thought ‘I’m going to have to either find a chicken to take a picture of or dress up as a chicken, I can’t respond normally about this that would be too easy!’ When I got to the studio I was there for half a day, thinking about chickens, and then in the afternoon a politician came by and I asked him if he would dress up as a chicken for me? But he said no, he was too serious! Then I thought ‘Ah I could dress up in Post-It Notes!’ and remembered that my friend Louise Taylor from the UK (www.sugaredeggs.com) was in Amsterdam and she is amazing at crafting things out of Post-It notes, amongst many other things. So I quickly WhatsApp-messaged her, and within 10 minutes I was dressed as a Post-It Note chicken! This actually led to a business opportunity too – it just so happened that two packaging designers from Norway were passing the studio, saw me dressed up and asked if they could come in and take pictures of me! I even got to pitch the Design Doctor service to them. You can see my Post-It Note chicken outfit below:

I’ve shared this story with a lot of people in Brazil, in the Mozaiko and Design Doctor workshops. It seems to connect with a lot of people there. As I share the story, I start by saying to people that they need to ‘find their inner chicken’ and explore, and don’t be afraid to try something new- and if it doesn’t work, let it go and go down another path. (And always make sure you get up to mischief!)

So, why did I find it hard to explore in Brazil? I know I was getting up to mischief – and one such time involved encouraging the guys from Voël to do a dance called the ‘Danca da Garafa’ to teach me the months of the year. The Danca da Garafa is a bottle, and they had to do a different sexy dance move around the bottle for each month of the year! See my video below…

(only joking guys, I’ll keep the real video for another day ;) Also I was always being very inquisitive and asked a lot of questions, so the only thing I can put my lack of exploration down to was not really knowing where to go in Brazil, not feeling safe and being scared of getting lost – so if I wanted to explore I needed a plan, which wasn’t usually how I liked to go about exploring. However I knew I had to explore Brazil, because it is such a rich place of culture and I had a desire to understand it. Because I had to go out, feeling a bit unsafe in the context because of the risk of security, I designed a cultural exploration tool to help me look at the environment around me. I called it: ‘The Journey of the Chicken’!

During my Journey of the Chicken I would find interesting ways to capture language, norms, taboos, rituals, what’s considered ‘not normal’, what’s valued, religion and beliefs (I spent a lot of time going to churches), statuses and laws in society, social collectivism, looking at cultural integration (how integrated races and sub-cultural values are) and also food. So for me, whenever I went out on a ‘chicken hunt’ I chose two elements of a culture to explore for a day. I did take my camera but that was mainly just to capture memories, my main tool of investigation was my sketchbook. Most of all my plan was just to have no expectations and to feel free to wander around the city.

I used this tool during my visits to Brazilian cities and also in Chile. It really gave me the opportunity to understand how a city worked – for example, in Belo Horizonte when you crossed a road the traffic lights would always stop you in the middle so you couldn’t go straight to the other side, whereas in other Brazilian cities you could go straight over in one go. It’s an example of how the city wasn’t designed for people but for cars, and that the city hadn’t really considered the planning. What I found through using the tool was that time kind of slowed down, more questions emerged, and it gave me a refreshing insight and understanding of the culture. But as with any tool, it is only a scaffold to the way you think and what you can see, and now having used the tool quite a lot I can probably let it go as I feel more free to explore, and to be by myself exploring. But also I can really recommend developing your own cultural tool if you are feeling homesick. And I encourage everyone to consider how they explore, and how they can improve their exploration – maybe by finding their inner chicken!

Out of interest, chickens are becoming more and more important as the walkabout continues. During my exploration I discovered that chickens are a big part of Brazilian history, and having visited Porto de Galinhas? I understand that it was the ‘port of the chicken’ and it was called this because when slavery was made illegal, slaves still came to this specific port and then were traded from there – and those slaves were called ‘chickens’ as code. You will also find all the way through Brazil that people have ornaments of chickens in their houses.

This is the last of my blog posts on my time in Brazil. I will be exploring my inner chicken in Bangalore, India next as I am joining Idiom design & consultancy to work on designing a shoe brand, working with the Dream:In project and prototyping my educational ideas.

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