Reflections from Day 2 of #PUBLICsymposium

#PUBLICsymposium was an amazing event, and a rare and much appreciated opportunity in WA. A deep bow of gratitude to FORM and sponsors who footed the bill for most of us.

Here are some of my reflections after Day 2, which add to the reflections from Day 1. The same disclaimer applies as for Day 1: I wasn’t paying much attention to the visual art aspects, and didn’t attend some of those sessions.

  1. Form enables function. To balance my pun from Day 1, form (and FORM!) enables function. Even when there is so much emphasis on the digital and virtual, our awareness of the influence of physical spaces (including built and natural) on our learning and creativity is increasing. We heard evidence and stories from multiple presenters about how creativity is learned and realised in enabling spaces: coworking and innovation at Brodie’s Spacecubed and Leon’s Creative Factory, good design through Carly’s Open House of architecture, and Paul’s emphasis on the characteristics of a high functioning classroom ‘space’ for creativity. Without physical form, our embodied learning would be disabled.
  2. Tensions held, enable creative emergence. It’s in the unknowing, indeterminate, unplanned and unfinished story that creativity emerges. Theaster emphasised the questions, the inquiry and holding of not knowing in both his art and also urban regeneration projects. Mat emphasised this element of emergence, sharing stories about how new beer brands through to brilliant parties and new economic alliances emerge from being very open to how things are unfolding. I also read this lesson into some of the things Brodie said, as he emphasised both lowering the barriers so we have 20,000 people new ventures blooming, and at the same time raising aspirations: we should grow a few billion dollar organisations over the coming decade. In innovation ecosystems, holding that tension is what enables emergence.
  3. Sustainability and social enterprise are dead, and long live both of them. Neither sustainability nor social enterprise really got a mention directly, however both were like ‘givens’ in most presentations and conversations. That is, the aspiration to enable humanity’s cultural and economic development justly, within ecological limits was a major driver and organisations structured as social enterprises were the vehicle for most of the initiatives. It’s like both those topics have been so promoted, debated and destroyed that there is resistance to discussing them directly, yet are more relevant and challenging than ever. As a case in point, consider how both topics are relevant to FORM themselves, the corporates that fund them, the % of the audience who paid full price for the conference, how that might affect PUBLIC next year? (Note: Thanks to Alan AtKisson, and the French from 1422 for the ‘dead, and long live’ reference).
  4. Networks as the new organisations, enabled by conversations. I don’t work in the same organisation (or even city) as anyone else at PUBLIC, however absolutely consider many people there as my colleagues. We work together as partners, clients, suppliers, funders, sponsors and through various networks of trust. Trust is built through getting things done together, and also conversations: over lunch, while walking, and on social media (though yelling memes at each other on Twitter doesn’t count as a conversation). The same dynamic is observably pervasive, within Leon’s Creative Factory filled with collaborative micro-businesses, and at another scale in his pan-European network of creative business incubators.
  5. Creating value must be valued. Whether it’s government strategy or someone’s individual work role, actually delivering value (not just describing it) really matters. Jesper spoke of mandatory internships so that government policy-makers had some context for if and how their work would value, enable or disrupt frontline social service workers. Leon and Geeta also both described their use of alternative currencies and social impact bonds as new ways to send a market signal about the value of social services. And several speakers commented critically about the role of government strategies, funding and whether it totally ignored creative industries or social ventures despite their obvious contribution. In WA that might mean a conversation about “How many tonnes of creativity will we export?”. That is, without creation of social value being appreciated, far less will be generated.
  6. The journey of our cities might be like a round-the-world yacht race. FORM’s intention for the symposium was to explore value of creativity in building dynamic places. My intention was to explore the conditions enabling of learning as cities, and from each other’s innovations. The overarching metaphor and image that emerged for me was like a yacht race:
  • Cities (and the regions they are independent with) are going to be globally competing for talent and resources (e.g. Perth vs Melbourne)
  • Cities are designed and built differently to suit different local conditions (e.g. Maxis vs. Lasers) , however in a shared global journey we are all affected by prevailing winds, conditions and will sail through the same territory differently (e.g. GFC).
  • Navigation, maintenance and even rebuilding are constant. We can’t just set a course (e.g. strategic plan) and turn on auto-pilot (e.g. policies) if the territory is unmapped and our vessel (cities) are both historical artefacts and also emergent and co-created.
  • Your crew can jump ship and move with increasing ease, so there needs to be some sense of a ‘team’, identity and culture that’s appropriate to the sort of talent you want to retain.
  • We are connected, in communication and there are lots of benefits to collaborating in our navigation.


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