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As a commentator remarked, the coronation service of King Charles III brought into sharp relief some of the idiosyncrasies and incongruities of the British. On one level Britain is a secular country, while the coronation process itself is highly religious. The British are generally not known for their flamboyance, assumed tight-lipped and cold; and yet they parade to the world like no other nation. In the confusion of the coronation ceremony itself, I was impacted by one particular aspect: the divestment of the King. In this highly symbolic act the monarch is disrobed; their outer garments, those which distinguish them as a ruler, are taken off. This demonstrates that underneath everything, they are just a human being, like the rest of us.
Whether a supporter of the monarchy, a tolerator, or a republican I believe this is something to be reflected upon; a leader clearly demonstrating their humility. The stripping away of title, structural power, pomposity, wealth, intellect and all the other aspects of human society that tries to set one person above others.
Psychological models demonstrate that true intimate relationships, those that bring people together with true and congruent openness only happen when each comes with humility. Stripping away their ranking stripes, whether in seniority, expertise, age, number of years’ experience and background; is pre-requisite. When this happens the magic of creativity and the art of the possible thrive. It’s a tough thing to do, we all wear our own symbolic robes and masks, those which we hope will keep us safe by hiding our true selves. The more we can divest of these, the better we can work together.
My thinking took this metaphor a stage further. While we are stripping things down, let’s tear down the importance we place upon the physical. While there is undoubted value in the aesthetic and power in iconic objects and structures, in the end true value comes from the people within. We can become obsessed by the physical, by the building. I have observed many times that we have a great tendency to grasp too early for the physicality of buildings - I need a factory, a hospital, a data centre etc - when they are just labels for the human and human-created activities within. In our Design to Value book the introduction includes the words: -
“What if we look past the hospital building and see the journeys of a thousand patients, past the factory and reflect upon the launch of a lifesaving treatment, past the data centre and muse upon millions of connected people.”
We know it is through relationships, actions, innovations, and interactions of people; in the context of the global environment and ecosystem, where value is created or destroyed. The built environment can augment or detract from those value-creating processes, however often the buildings are just like robes, they keep the rain off and the warmth in.
In collaborative design processes, if you can achieve this kind of focus on the purpose of the work and the people who create the value; bringing together client, design disciplines, stakeholders, and experts; each with their ideas, concerns, knowledge, creativity, and humility, therein lies the opportunity for exquisite outcomes.