Bad boys rule. Hacking the deep social web in Medellin
Innovation is not about technology. It helps, but it´s only an extension of human abilities. After a shower of Social Innovation input at the Hong Kong Innovation Forum, Medellin has been a fruitful experience.
First real contact with the reality of slums, guerrilla aftermath and bottom up social violence. In the year 2012 I had the opportunity to share with Les Ateliers de Cergy a beautiful experience in Raipur, India, as part of a panel of experts trying to help with fresh ideas for the development of the new city of Naya Raipur. Now, in 2015 I will be sharing the piloting role for a new group of experts , this time in Medellín, Colombia, with my counterpart, Susana Brugés, a Colombian Urban Planner, and the interesting urban and social researchers Veronique Valenzuela and Flora Dancourt.
This week of previous (preliminary) exploratory approach has been an eye-opening experience.
The further I focus my own work in advanced architecture and technology-linked city planning, the more I am aware that Innovation, with capital letters, refers to the human side much more than to any other thing. And the human side starts in the real inhuman low bases of society.
Geer Hofstede establishes 6 parameters to identify the social behavior of a country in his intriguing and practical Culture Compass method. Even if you can not stick strictly to all of them in every case, it´s always good to see how a society works in general terms. In the case of Colombia, I will focus on the second parameter: Individualism.
“At a score of 13 Colombia is amongst the lowest individualistic scores; in other words, it lies amongst the most collectivist cultures in the world, beaten only by Ecuador, Panama and Guatemala. Since the Colombians are a highly collectivist people, belonging to an in-group and aligning yourself with that group’s opinion is very important.”.
This means that they present a really cohesive group in which the belonging to the group and thinking in phase with it is critical and that even if leaders remain hidden, the loyalty to the group is as strong as the opposition to external actions.
It means that it is by nature a Bottom Up society, in which it´s not easy to accept a Top Down power. As Hofstede claims you need to understand these aspects to face the problem, you can not apply methods that worked in other societies to solve problems. This behavior, with a pretty positive side, is quite common to many latin societies.
Happily, the last municipal governments in Medellín, and also part of Colombia, provided clever professionals that faced the background social problems with an intelligent approach. In Colombia you have three actors for a social action (let´s call it Urban Planning, Social Investment or whatever): the private sector, the administration and the hidden social power. Of course, from a politically correct point of view we can´t call the armed actors that killed hundreds of people and imposed their strength with the means of weapons, as nicely as “the hidden social power”, but if we don´t change our point of view we won´t find new solutions for the problem. If the facts don´t fit the theory, change the facts, as Albert Einstein said.
The truth is that you can´t face problems in Latin America as you do in Europe, North America or Asia. I admit it´s daring from my side to comment on a society I met shortly, but I trust my intuition. Once the three actors started to talk, things started to move on in Colombia. Let´s try to think of the positive sides of this so strongly collective society. Besides, and behind, the “formal” city, the “formal” society and the “formal” planning we find informality. We find spontaneous slum developments and a self-organized face-b of society. Nowadays, we have to admit that the only way to advance and sort out the problems carried out by this situation is to get them to be a part of the so called “formal” society. Better to address things the way they are than bump your head over and over against a wall. Medellin understood this and since the years of Sergio Fajardo and even before, a new way is being opened.
In the new era of the “Third Industrial Revolution”, as Rifkin says, the most valuable assets will be the “Creative Commons” and a “Bottom-Up” society. Didn´t we comment about this concepts before? Yes, Medellín has got them. It´s natural to them. Something that other cities and countries will last take to achieve is already flowing in the Colombian society. Just take advantage of it.
I know they are “bad”, they have no education and no means, millions of people surviving in dirty slums with almost nothing to feed their kids, thousands and thousands of youngsters closer to a Glock gun than to a Maths book, but let´s give them a chance, let´s approach them in the correct way and let´s lay some trust on them. There is nothing to lose and a lot to win.
Creativity comes from a collective work, the romantic myth of the lonely genius is no other thing than a myth created by the ruling Individualist societies of the middle-north of Europe, chiefs of the world in the romantic age of the eighteenth-nineteenth century. Not too creative societies, by the way. Other skills for sure, but not exactly innovation and freshness in thinking.
Don´t you think that if you approach a gang of “bad” youngsters with the challenge of giving them a Smartphone to hack, a 3D printer to build or a game to develop they will be, with some guidance and formation of course, as good as those ones in Silicon Valley? I do think so, I´m absolutely sure.
In NER group we are around 2.000 people in 25 companies, all different. We work on the basis of trusting each other, no vertical hierarchy, no classical bosses, no firing or scolding, each one is responsible for his/her work and every worker is a real shareholder. It´s all about trust, all about lack of fear and illusion for the future. And it works. We are growing 10% each semester inside the European crisis. Medellin is growing too, and still a huge opportunity in front of them.
Thank you so much Colombian people, I learned a lot about society looking at you for some days. Yes, good urban planning is important, technology is critical too, but Innovation is led by people; innovation as a catalyst of social, environmental and economical sustainability.
An article by Juan Sadaba – director of nerei emotional intelligent