I take a break from the BIG things and complex systems to talk about the small big thing at the heart of many systems/environments/contexts - YOU! This is meant to be the third of three parts - looking at the individual through futures x systems x design perspectives. This third part is through a design lens - how we move through a world full of intentions and designs - not just in the physical structures and manufactured things, but also in our practices and symbols that we interact with.
Part 1 was about changing the narratives; Part 2 was about starting to change the practices around you and propagating that across communities for wider systemic change. The various pieces stand alone but feel free to go back and read them to understand the context.
Intention and Design are the foundations of our everyday world. If you had wanted to do something, or make something, and you had pursued that, you are a designer, whether you think of it as such. Here the question is not whether you are a designer or not, but what you are designing.
Whenever you engage in some kind of social interaction, you are already designing an experience. Yes, a conversation is also a matter of design. The stories that you are share and tell with others are also design too. It is not a small thing to share about our experiences on social media; it is not merely “talk.” Talk has consequences, and so it would do us all good to think clearly about the social media content that we share but whether we like it or not, there will be outcomes. An individual post might not do much, but repeated postings of something will be like water wearing down rock.
That is why a lot of the things being said have to do with changing stories. Changing the stories we tell of ourselves, of how much capitalism influences our lives - that too, is a matter of design. These stories tell us what we should aspire to, what we should pursue. If we change the stories we tell of ourselves and of others, we are designing new goals and ultimately new structures. If we don’t want to fixate on financial and material wealth, then we have to intentionally change what we fixate on. Here, the diverse forms of capitals are a start as to the other things to turn to, to balance against the single-minded focus on financial capitalism.
- social - do we honour our relationships, and do we invest time in them, and grow them in depth?
- wisdom/experiential - do we grow our intellectual, wisdom, and our skills?
- spiritual - do we grow our spiritual practices?
- nature - do mindfully sustain, and do we try to build/have access to the nature that we have around us? Do we support/participate in efforts to grow our natural capital?
- time - do we give attention to the current moment?
(Taken from playmoolah here: https://www.playmoolah.com/blog/the-7-forms-of-wealth. A related source, but based on a community, is here: https://www.wealthworks.org/basics/explore-regional-wealth-building/wealth-eight-capitals)
For each of these areas of capital, we can design structures that help us to grow them. Checking on friends and having meet-ups is one way to grow social capital. We can choose to keep learning, and build on ourselves. We can find a spiritual practice that appeals to us. We can go on walks, and volunteer on nature-related things. And we can always give our attention to the things and people closest to us. We can design for ourselves in our lives wherever we can. Here I want to acknowledge that not everyone will have equal access to these forms of capital. We ought to advocate for rest, away from work; have legislations wherever we are that put a floor on rest times for any kind of work. People should have a chance to recharge, regardless of their class and their access to things.
We can put in place rituals and habits for ourselves - that turn our mind away from financial goals, and towards other kinds of goals. This is not the usual self-help - this is about figuring out flourishing for ourselves.
As we grow these practices, it very quickly becomes flourishing for the people around you, and for the communities we belong to. The usual thing about our individuals seeking and building communities will again apply here. As we find friends to journey together, we create a movement for flourishing lives and flourishing communities. I have already alluded to legislation on a floor for rest. There might be others. In the systems perspective, I discuss organisations that build health, and social capital. It might be building organisations that build natural capital. It could be networks to journey with other people in similar situations.
My sense of organisations is expansive. It need not be an incorporated entity; I’ve seen how chat groups can flourish into quasi-organisations. If you are in one of those, why not reach out to the admins of those chat groups and see what they need? By lending your own time and efforts to existing efforts, you might bring about an acceleration of the things you want to see.
And as we build more organisations and movements, so current organisations will have to change. School-teachers will be happy to see para organisations for teaching students things that are genuinely useful for life - things like knowing ourselves and our emotions; knowing about nature, and gifting attention - all of these are useful life-skills to have. Our companies will also have to change - beyond just making money, but taking on more kinds of responsibilities firstly for the well-being of their workers and then their stakeholders. This might be a stretch, and will require changes to our financial systems and corporate governance for what a responsible company might look like. It would involve governments having more transparent and clear guidance for what national and community flourishing look like.
All of these will flow into the design of our built environment and the material things we pursue. The things we have around us will be re-engineered for new considerations - endurance and eco-compatibility rather than just convenience and disposability. The circular economy can be realised, but it will also take public support for research and innovation, and to demand that businesses change towards that direction. Our built environments might shift towards encouraging well-being of people - more natural light, more greenery, more ventilation rather than trying to only pack economic activity efficiently.
If you are an entrepeneur, and you are making products or services, you can consider how your business might be oriented towards different goals. You will still have to consider profitability, but how might you turn the business towards other directions? How are you providing some of these other forms of capital for your staff and to stakeholders, and to local communities (however you define)? This is challenging, and it might not always work, but a successful business will inspire others to turn towards these directions. Every new experiment is a prototype for what will work, and eventually all of these will become mainstream - but we must do it together.
The big-level design stuff always big and remote, but it always starts from individuals doing something different, and then aggregating their voice and demanding corporates and governments doing things differently.
This will how it will be, as we combine shifts in individual/personal assumptions and myths, personal engagements and community solidarity for systems change, and voices and action for design shifts - how it will all percolate towards new realities that we can look forward to.
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