Building the future from the fringes

As I look back at the two and a half decades of SonicRim I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to travel around the world and be immersed in the real life of real people. When four founding partners of SonicRim came up with the name SonicRim we set ourselves a purpose: to create a “resonant edge” where our clients could experience the vibrations of the emerging future. We intellectually knew that the future manifests itself on the edges of life as it unfolds. To experience the edge through these years has been an adventure.

Our journeys of discovery have taken us to the Shanghai home of a collector of action figures; we have spent a whole night at the world’s most famous Techno club Berghain in Berlin; we got our clients to race and drift at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta; had long discussions about village ecosystems with five wise men of a remote village in India; and had deep conversations with a family in a favela in Brazil.

We have enjoyed participating in a tea ceremony with a family in Tokyo; watched traditional dance of a ten year old girl in the home of a family in Bandung, Indonesia. We took a whole team of executives from Sony visiting from Tokyo to the X-Games in San Francisco and walked another team from Microsoft through the markets and homes of Guangzhou.

We’ve immersed ourselves in the food cultures of the world: had street food in Bangkok, traditional buffet in Indonesia, breakfast in a neighborhood Taparia in Sao Paolo, Hot Pot in Chengdu and kimchi in Seoul.

Lugging a heavy bag of research tools through knee deep snow during winters to meet families in Moscow and Stockholm or climbing seven stories in Beijing or conducting an interview in the middle of Delhi summer during power outage tested out endurance.

Bringing those experiences back home and having endless synthesis sessions with clients has been a rewarding experience. Seeing clients going through a moment of epiphany, or struggling with a feeling of “how am I going to tell this to my boss”, or watching an entire organization starting to speak the language of Co-creation after ten years of multiple engagements makes us feel purposeful in making a small dent in helping our clients embrace change.

It has been an endless journey of self making as much as of challenging preconceived beliefs of our clients.

The Pandemic has changed everything in the real world. We have grown apart from each other. We have learned to work remotely. Babies born during the pandemic are growing up in a severely constrained social and psychological environment.

At the same time people are moving closer to where their heart is: some have undertaken cross country drives in a van; others have moved closer to nature; some have moved closer to their families.

For the past two years we have had to evolve our work practice within the constraints posed by the pandemic. We have mostly worked remotely. I need to respect that my team wants to live where their heart wants them to. I am torn between seeking to preserve the experience of exposing our clients to the vibrations of the resonant edge and the efficiency of conducting interviews over zoom. I feel anxious wondering if we risk becoming a society that will lose touch with the delight of exploring the unfamiliar and learning through discomfort. The ease with which we turn off a zoom session and move on to the next is not how life evolves.

The pandemic has also brought me a few precious moments of insights, inspirations and serendipitous encounters with strangers. I have learned that caring for each other will be key to designing life after we learn to live with future variants of the virus.

I am learning that we must set boundaries for deployment of technologies. As a society we must continue to use basic human instincts and capacities to explore the real world, build relationships and be creative.

SonicRim will continue to organize journeys to the resonant edge for our clients. We will continue to challenge our clients’ beliefs and prepare them to navigate the emerging future with a sense of purpose they have learned from exploring the resonant edge.

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Thoughts and provocations on co-creation, design research and innovation

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Uday Dandavate

Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.

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