Street Mimes and Civil Innovation

“It seems that I cannot escape writing this post. Early on in my foray into the blogosphere I crafted a post all about the street mimes in Bogota,  Columbia, and their instigator, Mayor Antanas Mockus. The post, however, never saw the light of day as my computer lynched itself and shutdown, losing my masterpiece. I digress. But last month, whilst I was attending the Sustainable Cities Roundtable the Mayor and the innovative social experiments taking place in his city were again ignited. The whole situation is fascinating, and provides a real example of social, concept innovation.”

It seems the town of Bogota has been running, for several years, an event called Ciclovia. Essentially, the city closes down 70 miles of it’s busiest roads every Sunday (yes, EVERY Sunday) and opens it up to non-car traffic. Bikes, Rollerblades, walkers, runner and even impromptu games of soccer. This attracts more than 1.5 million people each week (yes, each week). It’s the first example of a city taking a leap and reaping the benefits of real change innovation. The benefits have been large, including better health for it’s citizens, less traffic on Sundays, more trade for local vendors and increased tourism. Whilst the initiative was not of Mockus’ time, it is still indicative of a progressive society not afraid to change up the daily routine.

The real innovation has seemed to stem from Mockus’s rein. The key article, a Harvard Gazette piece,  detailing the events under Mockus rule in Bogota can be found here. To paraphrase the main points:

“The fact that he was seen as an unusual leader gave the new mayor the opportunity to try extraordinary things, such as hiring 420 mimes to control traffic in Bogotá’s chaotic and dangerous streets. He launched a “Night for Women” and asked the city’s men to stay home in the evening and care for the children; 700,000 women went out on the first of three nights that Mockus dedicated to them.”

Pre-Mockus, the city was in a state of complete havoc. Cars and road-users ran red lights without fear of punishment, parked cars on sidewalks and generally ran amok. This lead to large numbers of civil injuries and deaths on the roads. Mockus, to combat this, put in place 400 street mimes to bring attention to law breakers in a jovial manner. The mimes would then help the law-breaking citizens to do the right thing. The move was a success, and lead to the training of the city’s own force of street mimes. Injuries and deaths fell and the efficiency of the roads increased dramatically.

Street Traffick Mimes

This is an example of real, concept innovation. Einstein has been quoted many times, espousing the belief that you cannot solve a problem buy using the same thinking that created it. In many societies and businesses, we can get so absorbed by the problems we face that we are only able to provide piecemeal solutions which follow the same old lines of thinking we are all used to. The real groundbreaking results happens where the concept used to solve the problem has been ‘re-thunk,’ applying a totally new line of thinking to an old problem which creates new and better outcomes for all involved. The ability to think like Mockus, in a profoundly concept-inventing focused way, is something I plan to discuss more and more through this blog. Let me know if you have any thoughts on it yourself!

Pythons and the business world

I am currently watching a David Attenborough documentary on reptiles which is showing on Channel 9 tonight. There are many little interesting things, including the little Armadillo Lizard, which protects itself by biting it’s own tail, thus exposing a sharp exoskeleton. Also, there was video footage and information about a python, which ate a deer. Something similar to that below…


When watching it, I was struck by how many similarities there were between a python digesting an animal that was far to big for it, and a large company that was consuming another company through a merger or acquisition. A few of them are below.

 1) The pythons heart grows to a size about 40% larger than it normal as the creature digests its food. Similarly, a corporate will increase the number of passionate people involved within it’s bowels when a merger happens. Unfortunately for the business, and fortunately for the python, the heart does shrink back to normal onve the digesting is done. In many mergers, the people who cared passionately about their respective companies, end up facing being somewhat jaded by the whole experience. They end up leaving for greener pastures, leaving behind a smaller heart in what is now a much larger company.

2) The python is pretty defenseless whilst it eats its prey. It cannot breathe, save for it’s windpipe, which pushes itself out of the reptiles mouth to allow for air to be brought in. Large companies, too, are quite vulnerable whilst in the midst of a takeover bid. Private Equity raiders, competitors and even new start-ups generate new activity to take advantage of the new opportunities that will be standard once the merger has gone ahead. For many companies, it can be hard to adjust to  the new way of operating, but many of those people left outside the takeover are quite aware of what to expect from the market once it settles again after the ‘digestion.’ They move faster into a position to take advantage of the soon to be new surroundings.

 3) The Liver of the python doubles in size to help digest the prey, as does the number of external helpers and number of Learning and Development people present in a company going through a merge. I’m a great fan of consulting, and think it has a very real place in our business landscape. But, be aware, just like the python expanding it’s liver and draining it’s body of energy consulting fees can leave a company bereft of excess funds used to actually make stuff happen once the merger has finished.

Finally, there were many other similarities, but the thing that struck me most was that once the python digests the prey it may not have to eat again for months, or even a year. Many companies tend to work the same way. They feel hungry for growth, are tiring of the ‘business as usual’ paradigm that often sets in when a mission or strategy dwindles in allure. Once the ‘head,’ or the CEO office, decides that it is in fact hungry the business sets out to consume a new company for energy. Once sated, they sit for a long time after, maybe years, running down the people and energy that existed there during the ‘take-over’ years. Then, they saddle up again and go through the whole, draining process of swallowing another acquisition for yet more growth and energy. Some companies, such as Macquire Bank, seem to be forever hungry as they have teams of people specialised in digesting large takeovers and mergers.

Is this the way we should function as an economy, business and society?

The Experimedia Experience: wifi, desk, ambiance

This is just a quick post I thought I would share before venturing off on a day of coffees and other meetings. I have been chilling out in the State Library today, crunching some work and the like. It has free wifi, cheap lockers to store stuff in, a free (large) desk and an ambiance that is to die for.

I’ve been working in the Experimedia section of the library, which seems like a space created as an afterthought to the structure of the library. If you ever come hear to work, you’ll see what I mean. It is a space juxtapositioned between the main library building and the other wings which have been constructed at different times. It is a little like a court yard, but covered over. That gives it a sense of huge space and freedom that you would be hard pressed to find in town, for free, anytime of the week.

A few tips:

You can bring your bag into the library, so make sure you have a $2 coin for the lockers that operate out in the foyer. They’re very safe, and even serve as a useful dumping point to allow you to de-burden yourself for the day whilst you do what you have to. 6 hour costs you $2 for a more than adequately large locker.

2) The wifi, whilst free, requires that you sign up to become a library member (also free). This is too easy, and well worth doing anyway to access the books the library has on offer. The only thing to be aware of – it takes about 20mins for the registration to process so you have to wait a little while before you can go online.

3) Like any good public space, there is a competition for desks. I found this one easily at about 12pm on a Friday afternoon and it seems like you can always chill on a chair whilst you wait anyways.

Check out photos on my flickr site

 See you there!