Courage to collaborate: Milenko Matanovic at TEDxTacoma

Courage to collaborate: Milenko Matanovic at TEDxTacoma


Translator: Patricia Álvarez
Reviewer: Denise RQ I’m delighted to be here. My talk is all about collaboration
and the courage it takes to collaborate. We have learnt from experience that sometimes we think of collaboration as an act where people step into my circle and as long as they do so
we will collaborate. But courage comes in because in true collaboration we need to be willing
to change with our partners other points of view. I will show you images of a few projects. Our specialty in Pomegranate Center is to take neglected,
dark spaces in communities, – a place like this in San Diego, a dead-end street overlooking a canyon, where homeless people camped,
drugs were being dealt — and turned them into this. What you do not see is that this was done
over a period of four months, from the beginning to the end. That community told us what they wanted, designed it to serve their vision, and then the community
returned to work with us in a barn raising fashion. People in this image were trained by us. We train people
how to do this kind of work, and these are some of the volunteers
that built this in four days. The secret of our work
is that we move quickly. What we find in communities now is that people are invited
to [share] ideas [but] they often do not see any results of that work. The ideas evaporate into nothingness
before they are realized. Therefore, part of our work
is to build a momentum that takes people on that journey,
from the beginning to the end. Unintentional encounters
where we bump into each other need to have a place where that happens. We decided, as an organization,
to create such spaces; a dance floor in Walla Walla, the Tuscaloosa project that was mentioned, built with the debris from the tornado, and an amphitheater
in Richmond, British Columbia, where kids can play and see it as a castle but also [fit for]
civic celebrations like this one, where new citizens of Canada
are celebrating their arrival. That is the visible part of the work but what I want to really talk about
is the invisible work. It’s about changing the attitudes and the awareness that each of us is engaged in; weather we want to do
community work or not, we are community members,
so let me talk about that. I think the main shift
is that community work is more like assembling a bicycle wheel. What we find in communities
when we work with them is that everyone is focused
on their spoke. We bump into ‘spokes-people’ who are promoting their ideas
in, sometimes, distractive ways. Meaning that by promoting my idea, I need to discourage other ideas. My idea is more important than your idea. But in assembling a wheel
the game is entirely different. It’s about creating a true wheel
that can roll somewhere. As a bicyclist I know that if you have
a wheel that is untrue, you do not go anywhere. The same applies to our culture,
the same applies to society. At [its] center,
it’s what we call multiple victories. We always ask a question:
“What does it take to have a project that is both environmentally right,
serves economy, it’s good for children, for health,
for seniors and everything else?” We found that that kind
of collaboration is rather new, that we talk about it, but in fact,
the muscle memory is lacking. So here are some ideas. I believe that anyone interested in connectivity
and collaboration in community needs to be first a generalist
and then a specialist. Meaning, we are builders first
and spokes-persons second. I went to a doctor recently,
after I broke my ankle playing soccer, and I said: “Doctor, doctor,
please repair also my knee, I have some ache here.” And he did this and said: “I deal with everything below my hand,
this is somebody else’s problem.” In some ways, as a society,
that’s what we do. We draw the line and say:
“It’s somebody else’s problem.” We define our field narrowly but the big commons, the wheel,
is being lost in the process. I believe — and that’s all based
on 30 years of my experience — that we need more engagement
and less recruitment. One of the things that I’ve seen
in my work with communities is people often want to recruit others to their fixed idea. But, as I said at the beginning,
engagement is a two-way street, it’s about being changed in the process. We share an intent together. But the shape of it will be crafted the way jazz musicians
craft with each other. And that takes courage because I need to allow new information to penetrate my identity. I believe that we need
more creativity and less cleverness, by which I mean that creativity is always concerned with a context. How does an act impact the larger context
in which we find ourselves? Cleverness often exist in a vacuum, and, as we work with communities, we find out that many people
have really clever ideas, but they hover in a space
unattached to anywhere else. And how important it is
to understand the locale, understand the culture, make connections between big ideas and the context in which they can live. If we fail to do that, we can be forever really cool in our work, but it does not enhance the context. When municipalities invite us now
to create a vision for a neighborhood, for a park, for the city,
for a town center, for a new school, — and we are often invited
to lead such processes — what we find is that we mistake
vision for personal likes and dislikes. What people project is [their] version of what the world should be like. I call that prejudice. Prejudice is an unexamined image
of the future where I act automatically and simply burp out this idea
of what I think it should be. But vision is such
a profoundly courageous act of asking what ought to be for all of us not now, but in a future, seven generations to come. That is a very different exercise. I think that the new game, the new dance that we are all
seeking to learn the steps to, has to do with community of place first
and community of affinity second, meaning, how lucky are we
to live in neighborhoods where our neighbor
may have an intelligence about something that I’m ignorant about. We are all smart in some areas but we are blissfully ignorant
about others. If only can we unlock that knowledge and now that knowledge
exists in our neighborhoods, on our streets,
in the communities where we live. The art of turning differences into gifts is probably the main art
of community building. So — I leave you with this thought, “Triple bottom(s) up line.” I think that the change
that we are seeking, that I’m seeking, for a collaborative culture
will start from the bottom up. What we see with some of our leaders is the last gasp of a pathology that clings to rigidity,
that clings to fixed ideas. I think, unless we know
how collaboration works, we will not be able
to demand it from others. The second bottoms up is that, I think, this work
needs to be celebratory, — like when we drink wine together. And the third bottoms up is that we need to practice this,
rather than just talk about it. We need to stand up,
get off our bottoms, and do it. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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