How a Year of Prototyping Became a Year of Conversation. Part 1

How a Year of Prototyping Became a Year of Conversation. Part 1

Photo Credit: Self on iPhone. Taken at the Cochin Biennale 2016.  Installation by Raul Zarita: “The Sea of Pain”

Photo Credit: Self on iPhone. Taken at the Cochin Biennale 2016.
Installation by Raul Zarita: “The Sea of Pain”

So what do you do exactly?

“Hmm… I do Salons.”

Interesting.”

Silence. Of the gulping kind. The kind that you want to slice with a knife.

So do you have any experience with hair products?”

“Not particularly, but why do you ask….”

Elevator was not traveling to the top-floor on this non-caffeinated morning.

I mean……. it is kinda bold that you would venture into the hair business.”

At this point, my quizzer took a long breath-filled pause, gave me a once-over, with pointed observations circling around my unkempt head.

I could see inside, politeness was laying siege to judginess.

“AHHHHHHHHHH.”

Einstein- moment. Thank you E to the power of (M)any C Squared.

“No. No!” I rushed to disclaim…. “Not THAT kind of Salon… (as I was digesting the basis of misunderstanding).

I made pointed eye contact to assure my listener, turned interrogator.

“Yes, yes, I am with you. I have no experience cutting hair- although I have tried a few experiments on myself..”

“I do Salons for the Arts and in the Arts.”

Light dawned, fractionally. Puzzlement, now turned curiosity.

“So what does this Salon exactly entail?”

“Well, we gather people, 20–25 large groups. We get together around an artist or artists, we watch performance. We tell stories. We commune and engage in finding ourselves. And then we leave, promising to meet again for more.”

“Sounds like therapy.”

“Well-said actually. Yes, a number of these events have become safe spaces. They can almost feel therapeutic.”

“How have you gotten your audience to get comfortable, to thaw, to ice-break, I mean?”

I was beginning to love this line of questioning. It was feeling like an interview. I have an uncanny fondness for such. Past life externalities.

“Well, it has largely been trial and error. AND- no experience is the same. But we have stumbled upon a very happy, collective coincidence… which is — the arts igniting emotional resonance, curiosity and utter engrossment, to the point, you sometimes forget yourself… the boundaries between you and your neighbor blur, when you are in the presence of solid story.”

“So what got you into this?”

“Prototyping”

“As in — like building a product?”

“No. As in, the spirit of experimentation.”

“Please explain. Sounds nerdy.”

“Yes. Gladly. I took a sabbatical last year. It was much needed after 14 dog-eared chapters in finance.”

Pause. License for continuation.

“During my sabbatical, thanks to a well-timed recommendation from a well-meaninged friend, I read a well-designed book, called, “Designing your Life- How to Live a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” (Burnett & Evans). I discovered prototyping.”

Silence. The absurdity, was that what my listener was thinking….but I persisted.

“I made my life last year, a series of rapid prototypes. I iterated on ideas, I traveled for 170 days, I discovered new things, I met new people — to see what I could gather, by way of insights… data points.. real life data points.The world was the lab, I was the lab-rat.”

“What does this have to do with Salons?”

“Good question….. ”

“I came back after visiting with people from different cultures, places and spaces, and concluded that, we all thrive on story. We all desire to be seen and heard. We all desire to be part of community. We all crave for space where we can be ourselves. So I began collecting stories. And gathering community, who also like stories.”

Pause… digestion in slo-mo.

“What does this have to do with the arts?”

“Good question…. gosh, you will make a ninja interviewer or interrogator, you know.”

No acknowledgement of the compliment. My interviewer was serious as heart-attack.

“Well, arts because, they are uniquely embedded in the universality of human experience. And the universality of human storytelling. Arts are a gateway. The arts help creates space where we can all be just ourselves.”

“Were you not working in finance before. What makes you qualified again? Are you an artist?”

“Technically, I am not qualified.. I am at the baby’s beginning of my journey into a creative life. I am an -in-training everything. Entrepreneurially, artistically….”

Pause.

“Last year was the life of zero. This year is the life of 0.25, a fractional increment from zero. I am slow-playing change.”

“And no, I am not an artist. I am not anything that is defined by what I do anymore… My new life is without designation. My job has no title. This is the no-business card lifestyle.”

You with me, listener?

“I don’t work out of a physical office space. The world is my office playground. In some circles, we are called digital nomads.”

Silence. The symphony of unwanted comprehension?

“My team are a group of collaborators — we call each other the creative cloud. And they are awesome. In some circles, we might be called the wandering feet of the gig-economy. We come together because we share similar values. We come together because we share a similar mission. We come together because we dream and then we do. We co-create culture.”

My hyper-attentive listener better not be turning hyper-allergic. Before any further onslaught of questions…. I added with some terminality.

“AND, every day we come to work, so we can just be ourselves. We are one more face of the radical, rag-tag, remote, diverse and inclusive work-force.”

This post is part of a series on making your life a series of experiments and the unbearable levity of a creative life. Post first appeared on LinkedIn, under same title.