The means to an end, or an end for the means?

“Hyvää uutta vuotta!!!”

Cheers filled the air as bursts of colours lit up the dark midnight. Standing in the middle of the senate square with 30 000 other people, we were busy turning our heads to follow the fireworks that were shooting up from the buildings surrounding us. After the spectacular display had ended, we hugged, toasted over a shared bottle of wine, and then got busy again trying to make our way out of the crowd along with the packs of people.

“That’s it?” I thought. It felt kind of weird, having looked forward to this turn of the year which will signify the conclusion of a very special year for me and the beginning of a second chance, and in the blink of an eye, the moment is over. The joyous atmosphere has amazingly taken an immediate dip, and it suddenly seemed to be just like any other day, or night.

I thought about the days of intense reflection and perturbations leading up to this day, and it occurred to me that those carried so much more significance, and was in itself an experience that I now look back on with gratitude for having gone through. Like many others, this personal audit was fuelled by the realisation of an impending destination – the end of the year. Imagine, if there never were year-ends, and time stretches itself on endlessly with no milestones, would we have looked at it in the same way?

This experience of reaching a much-awaited destination and finding that the moment is brief and passing, and even disappointing to those who had glorified it in their minds, is just like every other pursuit that fills our days. If you consider how we spend most of our time engaged in the journey of becoming/ achieving/ arriving, and the actual moments when we reach our destinations and achieve our goals are but fleeting, you will realize that Life is in the journey.

This perspective somehow shed an ironically different light on the phrase “means to an end”. Between the relationship of a destination and its journey, which is the means, and which is the end? We kept moving along the journey so as to arrive at our destination, and then find that the gold actually lies in the yellow brick road. However, without that destination, we would never have begun the journey in the first place. Which is the purpose of which?

So, how is your yellow brick road? Are you paying any attention to it?



Design – the heart of effective and sustainable solutions

I grew up with a very narrow understanding of the word ‘design’. To me, design was something distant and related to fashion or the arts. It was only after coming to Helsinki that I begin to understand its power. Design is not just an industry or a field of study; it is a lifestyle and a way of thinking.

In her TEDx talk ‘What nature can teach us about design’, Jane Fulton Suri reminded me about some of the lessons that I have observed at different parts of my life, and I realized that at the heart of it all lies just one word – design.


Design and environment

I was privileged to have spent some time with the passionate team of Kampung Temasek in the initial stages of the project’s development. In gathering inspirations for the school’s building and for potential programs, we were invited to spend the weekend at Mawai Eco Camp where we were introduced to the underground sewage system and structure of the buildings. It was actually more fun than work! We spent the day having lessons from the forests and tackling the pond’s obstacle challenge course; the night, rowing in the river beside fireflies and chatting in the open-air canteen over a cup of hot milo and a guitar.

It was during this weekend that I first realized how nature has all the answers to our design of buildings and activities for team-building or conflict resolution etc., if we would only look and listen hard enough.

Design and learning

Halfway through my professional career in the field of training and facilitating, it became evident that the design of programs and learning experiences was more important than the skills of the trainer himself. A program that is heavily reliant on the trainer is often empty or motivational at best. The age of the ‘guru’ is over, much of today’s learning seem to point to a more dynamic structure of exchange and collaboration.

How can we design for learning experiences that provide deep and sustainable transformations, and is not dependent on a single teacher?

Design and social systems

In the video, Jane pointed out some lessons on restructuring organisations and leadership gained from a project with a large US council. Through observing the success of nature, the team designed a new system that replaces top-down directive orders with bottom-up cohesive actions.

I am reminded of leaders who display characteristics of the higher stages in the Tribal Leadership model (get your free audiobook if you haven’t already done so!). Both point to similar things – the need to move away from a controlling style in leading and communicating, towards a more facilitative style of encouraging networks and connections.

Why design?

Because to design is to leverage. It is setting the context and system for success to happen. Dr. Edwards Deming pointed out that 94 percent of all problems and improvements could be attributed to the system, not to the incompetence of a worker or person. If we don’t know leverage and system, we work too hard. We will be spending our lives filling and refilling a jug which has a leaking crack.

By the way, Helsinki is World Design Capital 2012. Tervetuloa!

Now that we know all these in theory, how can we apply it in our daily lives?

Don’ts, from the ancient wise ones.

Don’t cry over spilt milk.

Don’t cross your bridges until you come to them.

Sounds familiar? I am guessing that these words might have appeared in your life more than a few times. These old proverbs are nothing new to me. Yet, when I came across them today, placed side by side, they suddenly threw light on a deeper meaning – to live in the Now.

One teaches us about how to interact with our past, the other about how to interact with our future.

Renewed lesson: Learn to accept the past, to forgive ourselves, to leave the worries by the bank, and to bask in the present.

How about treating yourself to another glass of milk while you are approaching the next bridge?

Pause. Today.

“What?! Today is Monday. It is the day when we are all supposed to pick up the pace and get back into action. The weekend dream is over, that is why they call it the Monday Blues. And you are asking me to… pause?”

Yes. Precisely because it is Monday, the day when we are most likely to tumble into another week of routine and mindlessness, that I am suggesting for all of us to pause, today.

Sometime between now until you go to bed at night, find a quiet place and time where you can trust that you will not be disturbed, and just sit with yourself for a moment.

Too often, we let Today be just like any other day.
Too often, we are so busy with stuff, that we do not realize how insignificant some of them are.
Too often, we do not know what we are doing, and why we are doing them for.
Too often, we value things over people, and get upset at people over things.
Too often, we invest in things that don’t last, and turn our backs to those that do.
Too often, we chase after things which, ironically, bring us only temporary or little satisfaction when they are in our hands.
Too often, we make (new year) resolutions that are not what we truly want.
Too often, we stay small and comfortable, unwilling to challenge the status quo.
Too often, we put on a smile for the world, yet the dissatisfaction creeps in when we are alone.
Too often, we fail to notice that the world is passing us by, and that our time is passing the world by.
Too often, we take for granted that there will be a Tomorrow.
By the way, how do you know for sure?

Too seldom, we breathe in the magic of the morning.
Too seldom, we see how the mere fact that many things around us are in existence is a miracle.
Too seldom, we question what we do, and why we are doing them.
Too seldom, we say ‘hello’ to the stranger that passes us by. Is he really a stranger?
Too seldom, we notice that the environment around us has changed, and still is changing.
Too seldom, we notice that there are a few more lines on the faces of our loved ones.
Too seldom, we work with purpose.
Too seldom, we dance, we laugh, we sing.
Too seldom, we step into our magnificence and brilliance, leaving mediocrity only for Yesterday.
Too seldom, we look our fears and emotions squarely in the face, listening to what they have to tell us.
Too seldom, we put aside time only for ourselves, and no one else.
Too seldom, we are silent, really silent enough, to hear our soul’s voice.
Too seldom, we live Today.

What is your bigger role in this world? Who are you meant to be?

Are you becoming that person?

What will get you smiling through the day?

The first word that came out of my mouth today was “sh*t”.

It was one of those days when you wake up to the light coming through the window and realise that you are late for an important event at work. Not a very good start. I spent much of the day swinging between berating myself internally for this, and trying to move on from the mistake to be fully present to my work and the people I interact with. The event finally ended successfully to a toast of champagne, and I took the chance to reach closure with my team mates about the morning’s incident. Everything was fine after all.

source: Kelley Bard Photography

As I made my way home, I passed an elderly lady who was sitting alone on a bench. A smile and a greeting were exchanged and I continued on my way. A few metres away, I stopped. I looked at the colourful bunch of flowers (and leaves) which I had brought from the event and a thought came to me. Pulling out an orange stalk of flower, I walked back to the lady, handed it to her and simply said “for you”.

Her face burst into a myriad of expressions! It went from surprise, to realisation, to joy, and a whole lot more unidentified ones. The most beautiful and youthful smile lit up her face, and she started speaking excitedly in Finnish, to which I could only smile and reply in English that I do not know the language. She hugged the flower close to her heart, and continued with what sounded like a selection of key words. All I could pick out was “kiitos… kiitos…” and “rakas”. She was in so much joy she looked close to tears. I walked away with a huge grin that couldn’t be contained, and suddenly, it seemed that the day has only just begun, for real.

The one thing that got me smiling even until now, is a simple act of kindness.

I do not know how the lady is feeling now, but as a giver of that act, and a recipient of that pure joy and radiance, I have definitely been deeply touched and inspired.

Somehow, it is seeding another thought in me – how possible is it, that we can inspire ourselves? That we can spontaneously create situations which fuel us and give us energy?

Finally, thank you, Iunia, Boca, and Silviu for having been an inspiration with your story The lady with the flowers and the rainbow train. You are creating ripples!