The first week of 2012, I was sitting on my couch at home. For fun, I had drawn faces on all of my fingers of my left hand. On my lap, I had a pillow with big stars on it. This led to an idea for a tweet, but to do that I needed a picture of my hand with the pillow as a background. Sounds easy, but have you ever tried taking a picture with an iPad with just one hand? Quite impossible. With some help I finally managed to take this picture, and tweeted about it, saying: ‘Only happy faces and big stars at the Happykamping new years drink’.
It made me think. After I stopped laughing. Yes, I had a lot of fun on my own. I work for companies doing ‘serious’ work in what some people might call ‘consultancy’. I hate that term — not the work, but that seriousness and labels like that. I don’t see myself as a consultant. I like the quote I heard at LIFT more by Maximilian Busser saying that a creative adult is a child that survived. So I decided that those happy fingers better represented me.
Although things are serious, that should not mean everything should be that serious. Fun connects people. So I took a mug shot of my finger and changed my Facebook page, with my happy finger as my profile picture. And decided that it would be fun to ask the people in my network to send me pictures of their fingers with a happy face on it too. I didn’t have a plan really. But I thought that having a collection of happy fingers would be seriously funny. And because I was expecting that the first question I would get in return would be ‘why?’ I wrote a small text about what it would mean to be a Happykamper:
‘Happykampers are people who change things simply by touching them. These people can shift paradigms, change thinking, create both movement and movements, inspire others, make things happen and realise seemingly impossible projects. They have a mind-set that embraces instability, that tolerates — and even enjoys — recalibrating careers, (business) models, and assumptions. What they all share is the urge to do stuff. To travel, not only physically, but also in their heads; connect different worlds; create new realities. All in their own way. Passionate people. People on a mission. They wander from place to place, from discipline to discipline and camp out there. With everything they touch, they make people happy. Happykampers.’
Although the text reads a bit bold, it is not intended to scare people away. It is meant for people that in my eyes do or did not get recognised for what they have done or are doing. And that can be in all layers and varieties. It’s a way of making visible to others that they do special things, in a way a platform like LinkedIn can’t. A compliment.
Asking people for a happy finger in relation with that text caused more than I expected. People were honoured, and a little disturbed in a good way, since it is a rather awkward question probably. So I got a set of fingers.
But what I didn’t expected was, that it was not about just taking a picture of a finger. It caused that people started to think about the kind of face, the colour of the ink, the composition, the background, the setting to even dressing the finger up to have the finger fully match who they are.
Interesting. To be able to share the growing set of Happykampers, I set up a Pinterest page. This amplified the seriousness. The amount of effort to make a nice finger changed, also because people were able to see who else is also part of the group and what they made. The very first finger was just a finger with a face on it. A bit later, they got more considered ‘faces’ and backgrounds and some people made tiny projects from it. Fascinating.
I harvested a nice collection so far. But that’s not important. Quality, consideration and carefulness over quantity. I had a bunch of interesting discussions on what this potentially could be. How this ‘network’ of people should or could grow. Most important ingredients:
It should not be open
We already have a Facebook and LinkedIn. There is no need for another platform that only covers good news and shallow information, or a Rolodex like platform that is about the functions people fulfil. But it should be about what fulfils people, and that requires a safe space that is not open. Inclusive, considerate, conscious.
It is about people
There are 24 hours in a day that determine who you are, what you do. Not only the 8 hours of your job. This should be a place where people could be their 24/7 self.
It is about truthful connections
It’s no about likes or followers. It should be about connections you get through connections, as a hybrid of the physical and the virtual. One great connection can be worth more than 500+ or a swarm of virtual connections.
It is about people who actually make a difference,
because other people say so
It is not about fame, but about respect, passion and everything that happened because of that, the soft side of things. About the value other people see in people and feel that because of that, they deserve a place with similar people. It can be people that having a giant reach, or small — it’s more about the effect on other people.
Fun is crucial. It should be informal. Formal is fun when it’s not too frequent. Fun is always fun. People like to have fun. And also enjoy formal if it makes them feel special. But when formalities take over, people tend to organise their fun elsewhere.
You could see Happykampers more like something as knighthoods in the UK or in the Netherlands. Or Seres Queridos by Victor Hugo Celaya from Arto, an international art project that aims to create a bridge between the residents of a certain neighbourhood in a city and their urban environment. These stories of the loved ones give the streets of the city a new sparkle of life and make them a living space with unique identity.
Ideas lead to more ideas
Continuing the conversation with some people, there were even more ideas. Like, to organise Happy Accidents: informal meetings where Happykampers meet. Which start with a simple coffee but it can go anywhere. Not a conference. Where people come and pay for themselves. Where the value is in the moment and the people present. And, just as crucial: it should be fun and unexpected. And the mix of people should be diverse.
Or, the initially ‘stupid’ things we did at Mastermundo in 2008 and 2009, a gathering of people that also as a group was responsible for the experience of the whole. Stupidity always leads to fun, inspiration and forgetting about the everyday life’s stuff. Just like hide-and-seek when you were little.
Learnings for Happyplaces Project
The collection of Happykampers is still steadily, and slowly growing. Don’t know how big it is going to be and that’s fine. I’m amazed that it are over a hundred already. They brighten up the wall at my studio. But from a small initiative that unintentionally turned into project, I learned a lot from it. The same applies to stories like that of Anton. Learnings that are now also part of or help shape Happyplaces as a project, like:
There are just people. Statuses or roles really don’t matter. If there is a connection between people, what remains is just that — a connection, an open space where it’s okay to share, truly meet and even ask ‘stupid’ questions.
No matter what people have achieved already: everybody is still figuring things out along the way, not having all the answers. Starting something new, is just as exiting or stressful, or has the same amount of uncertainty for anybody else. Of course. And that’s great.
There are stories everywhere — everybody is or has a story that is beyond what we know and see of a person. Unfortunately most of the time, a lot of the stories remain to be untold. Those stories shape a person into who he is, which resonates in what he makes. People are interested in stories, their personal journeys, struggles and victories, fascinations. The invisible, subjective things.
Fame is highly context-dependent.
Even the most apparent simple questions can have a massive impact on people, with an impact beyond what you can foresee.
Slow is great. There is no need to rush things. Slowly growing into a project helps to better understand what it is, where it might lead to.
Most of the ideas for the Happy Accidents are still in place for gatherings I’m now organising, called Happyplaces Moments — not overly planning the gatherings too much seems to be really freeing, liberating. And helps to create better connections between participants.