The beginning, day 103

I should really finish this and get outside.

Whenever I start writing, I think of my old roommate, adopted sister, and former Washington Post editor, Emi Kolawole. I think of her reading my blog title and, going, ‘Oh no, must be sharper, cleaner, clearer.’ She probably said about all of the few blog posts I wrote as a d.school fellow, not just the titles. I waited so long to write. The real beginning should have been three years ago when I left the military after 10 years and started this other life. It really should have come when I quit work last August to go hang out in Hawaii so I could take a sabbatical, or Galactic, as I like to call it. And most definitely the beginning should have been 103 days ago when I started this life-changing work with Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Oh well, can’t go back in time. Emi don’t hate me for rambling.

When I found design thinking from my office in Luce Hall, working as a leadership instructor at the Naval Academy, I knew I had found something precious. The curriculum was a list of theories that we were meant to lay down in our students’ brains, assuming that if they memorized some definitions their own leadership practice would experience a noticeable change. I remember trying a bunch of different activities in class, and coming up with all kinds of ideas for alternate ways to engage those baby adults. It ended up being unorganized, completely. It wasn’t until I got to Stanford’s Design School, and had the experience of the process up close that I was able to see what had bee missing.

There is a process to creativity. Some artists have played for so long with that impulse to create, that they’ve refined a process particular to them. But others of us, trapped in a world of work and output that tries to evaluate in points and jam what should be collaboration into a hierarchy, need those hexagons to mark our way through.

I have known for years that I needed to write. To put down in words my experience and thoughts, and just hit publish. For some reason, I felt like I couldn’t write until I had a finished thought, something polished to share. A woman named Rangimarie Hunia shared the history of her tribe and she reminded me that it’s vital to care for our work as it evolves. The word work may seem impersonal, but to me it’s my heart. I’ve always tended to be consumed by my work. Whatever I was doing never seemed to fit in an 8 hour box. What consumes my heart, this work, is constantly re-shaping itself, and I want to pay better attention to each ripple of each iteration.

Ngati Whatua Orakei, Rangimarie’s tribe, or hapu, were the first people to live in the city now known as Auckland. They originally gifted 3000 hectares to the British for their settlement. Over painful years, their land was systematically taken from them, and they were left with half an acre. The beautiful thing is that their people didn’t allow the injustice to extinguish the love they had for their land and each other. Today they have about 3000 hectares of their land back under the governance of the hapu. The facts don’t tell the stories. Sitting in the marae, their sacred meeting houses, they share with each other and strangers alike, the stories of pain and betrayal, hope and struggle. It’s a story of how the notion of connection to land and family evolves. Today they’re asking what a home means, and how you rectify the feeling of home and ancestral land with the modern requirements of deeds and mortgages and the reality of a globally dispersed tribal body.

What can design thinking and creativity offer those conversations? So far I’ve gotten sparks of interest but little commitment from the workshops I’ve done. I respect the wariness and caution; each leader with decision making authority has centuries of history to acknowledge and the generations of tomorrow to which they owe a responsibility. It has taken me this long in the three months that I’ve been here to respect my own need for a pace that allows me time to write. I spent so long in a uniform, and I keep finding I have to unwind myself from those expectations. So linear, rational, all based on the metal one can count — bombs and tanks and ships and planes. I don’t know what value writing this blog will have, it certainly doesn’t erase all the receipts that need to be entered into my travel log, but it’s what my heart needs and that has value.

Day 103, the beginning.

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