July 16, 2021

Education and sustainability: how do these go hand-in-hand?

Transcript: 05 - Education and sustainability: how do these go hand-in-hand? — with Censu Caruana

With us today there is Censu Caruana. Censu’s mission in life is to inspire people to take action for a better self and a better world. He is currently a full-time lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Environmental Education and Research. Censu has for the past 35 years been very active in the Social and Development scene.

He describes himself as curious and determined so the purpose of this call today is to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. So that we may be able to achieve both personal behavioral changes as well as a genuine transformation of our economic systems.

We will be defining this in terms of sustainable development goals, particularly 4.7, which states that by 2030 we need to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including amongst us ways through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and nonviolence, global citizenship and the appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture is a contribution to sustainable development.

Censu, this is by no means a simple task to achieve in the few years that we have left until 2030. So first of all, how are we going to start? I think that is my first question.


When you asked me to describe myself and I thought about the two keywords, curious and determined. I think in a way they give us a bit of a clue in the sense that we need to remain curious to understand both what the problems are and what the solutions are.

Then it's important, I think, to have a genuine determination to be part of the solution. I always stumble a bit when people start talking about problems, problems, problems, because sometimes they keep on feeding the problem and of course, we need to understand the problem.

For me, the best starting point is understanding the problem but making sure it is just a steppingstone to investigate solutions.

And then once we are happy with some solutions, at least choose one and act on it.


Well, wise words indeed. Today the main subject really is going to be sustainability in education or education and sustainability. Yes, we have to be curious and determined as you have mentioned.

This goes hand in hand, so we need to understand what sustainability is, we have to, you know, yes, we don't have to focus on the problem, focus on how we're going to come out of the problem, but we need to appreciate how we can go about this.

One of the main things I think to understand the problem is to inform people what could be the problem. So how do you see sustainability in terms of the educational scene?


Yes, in my past life I was a mathematics teacher and I used to teach mathematics for 30 years and you know these pen diagrams where we have circuits that meet each other at some point, and in my mind, I always imagine three big circuits. One is called education; one is called sustainability and one is called values.

I tried to look at that point in the middle right these three intersect. So, for me of course, sustainability is an important issue, especially when it is directed towards the wellbeing of people, and even because of the planet.

The means to do it is through education because education is both about the knowledge, but it's also about the values and that is where I put a special ethics for values because the mindset and the values that will extract could have a huge impact. At the end if we have a vision for the future, which is not conducive to wellbeing. Do we want it to be sustainable?

In the sense, you know, so I really think we need to have a foundation, a worldview based on values and then I think like these three points intersect, we can dance, we can play to make sure that something concrete comes out.


Yes, I like your vision of this diagram and the intersection between these three, so to speak, pillars of what we're trying, you know through which we're going to be trying to achieve wellbeing.

We have to be careful I think because sometimes morals and values could be a little bit misguided and possibly whatever we do or there might be a possibility of things being rather superficial and you know we hear words about greenwashing things not actually being sustainable, but just given the label.

It's as if you know you get a gold star and you put it on your product, and it becomes sustainable and therefore possibly the wrong kind of education could lead to maybe superficial interventions of sustainability and wellbeing. What are your thoughts on how we could possibly prevent this from happening?


You're completely right. There is a particular environmental educator called David Orr and in his PhD speech, he actually said that the people who are ruining the world are people with MBA and PhD's. So basically, it's not how much education you have but it is actually the quality of their education. It is whether the education that you have today is actually relevant for the challenges that we face today.

I can take the agriculture curriculum of 50 years ago, if I am still teaching that curriculum, is it relevant to the challenges of climate change?

So, I think that's a very good point. It's about quality of education and not about the amount or type of education. Then of course there's the question of greenwash, which you mentioned. Today, the consumer is becoming more conscious. Today, more and more consumers are asking for ethical goods, so some businesses are seeing a business opportunity to respond to the consumer based which is more aware.

So those that are willing to reevaluate their structures, it would lead to real change. Those who just do it as an excuse to increase their pocket right? Then there's no change within the organization.

It’s just another means to bring about profit and that leads to greenwashing. So, you remove a bit of the harmful chemicals and say this is my eco brand, but it doesn't really bring about any inside change in the organization.

So, at the end again, it does come to the mindset to the values, to the worldview that the organization hosts.


Yes, and this is, I think, a very important issue because you don't only need to have the good intentions of doing something, but you really need to believe in something deeper than that and therefore you can actually bring about change you.

You mention being an agent of the change, you need to really promote this, and it starts from within a sustainable company, even the way it treats its employees, the way it behaves within the general economy does not only do that, but it will also be taking a step forward at all of the services and products that it produces, it will be towards the common good.

Yes, it could be like the utopian idea of what is common good, but I mean who doesn't want to be happy and healthy? Let's face it, no? That is what we were here to strive. Within this framework I think it's important to point out that we're talking about the environment as a complete concept of the environment, so including the natural, the social, economic, the physical, there are many aspects of it.

One thing that maybe you can give us more information about is the cultural perspective, because different cultures will see sustainability in a slightly different way. How would you go about understanding different cultures?


Basically, context is key. If we look at the development of the concept of sustainable development.

First, you have the environment development, so it was a sort off two pillar; and then we said yes, but the economy is okay what about society and the distribution of wealth across the economy. So, we start talking about the three pillars of sustainable development, the social, the economic and the environmental.

For some time, we were happy with that but because of the need to translate such ideas at a very local level. It was actually the local councils that composed the fourth pillar which is the cultural pillar because they said that the ideas are nice, but they need to find that translation into the daily lives of people, into the rituals that gives people meaning, into the routines that give people meaning.

So, for me, this again points to the need of a very bottom up approach starting with where the people are so that any intervention is culturally appropriate, and it is not by coincidence, and it was the local councils that pointed this out because it is exactly the concerns at a very local and territorial level that can lead a genuine model of sustainable development that is nearly reflecting the needs of that neighborhood, of that society. The needs of neighborhoods are sold so quickly. So, we cannot stay with these very high up concerns, we need to find ways how to translate at a very local level.


So Censu, you said a very interesting word “translation”, that for me is basically communication. So, do you think that we have an issue from many sides? Because we were talking about the business side that for me, that is marketing. Do you think we have an issue with communication and even in the education, what are your thoughts about that?


One of the things that we actually train our students in is to organize participatory exercises. I was somehow involved myself for example, when the Design a Cluster in Valletta realized that you’re going to have a new art center, where many people from the outside will be coming in and they were concerned on how this will impact citizens around. The people who live immediately around. So, we had a discussion and we actually had meetings with people in the street using an open space technology where people could come out with their own ideas with their own concepts. Even coming out with what meaning they can give to the place it says and we did it in a really participatory manner, knocking on the doors of the residents that lived around this design center. So, for me the idea is that if we had a mindset of authentic and genuine participation we actually do start listening to the people and then of course this can be built up into an action plan, in points to follow up.

So, in the sense, our main concern was to reach out to people. The only way to do it was to actually knock on the doors. We had it in the same street so that we will not have many obstacles for attendees. We created an office space technology so that we don't set the agenda ourselves and who are willing to listen to the agenda of people.

So, I think the clue for me would be a mindset that privileges and acknowledges the importance of citizen participation.


That is really interesting because it's something that we have been talking about ourselves as well for a while and I would like to home in on this particular point, because we're talking about education, but we don't mean necessarily formal education in a school. Education is a far broader term and so some people might say about, you know, education from home, education from your family, education from school and obviously there’s tertiary education.

There is also an education through a community. The herd so to speak your tribe, how they give you information. How you're going to then pass it on to your own children eventually. So, how can we promote ways to encourage good education aside from the formal scholar, school setting?


This is a great question, because actually I am very much interested in the youth and community education.

Schools are wonderful because you have a certain age between 5 and 16, which is obligatory. So, if you have a decent curriculum, in a way you are guiding that people who passed through the system, we get a decent education. But we also realize that it is adults that are taking decisions today. We also realized that we want to talk about youth empowerment but where are the youths? What opportunities do youths have to actually voice their concerns?

So, in a way, you are right that adult education has remained a bit of the cindrella of education.

It’s underfunded compared to formal education, there are less initiatives going on. However, when you actually talk to people, many for example, adults refer to the opportunities they had in their youth to do volunteer work as something which was live changing and that helped them choose their career.

So that is actually what I understand by non-formal and formal education. Creating actual spaces for youths to experience the reality in a different country. The reality in my own country, which is perhaps not the reality that I grew up in and creating new links, new friendships.

Many times, this type of education, which has the advantage that you can process your learning in a group because you’ve got a group meeting regularly, you can share with people your age is an extremely important part of education, and actually I myself always enjoy it when I get invitations from civil society organizations to support them in sustainability and campaign advocacy. Anything which I think is useful because I really believe that non-formal education and education for youth is what we really need at this point in time and of course schools still keep they’re important goal but not at the expense of the community.

We are perhaps sometimes too quiet. You know, in the sense that we don't know from where to start. We hear, an overdevelopment here, an overdevelopment there, we feel that things are getting out of control, but actually we have had examples of good practice.

Recently some 90 NGOs were not happy with the changes that the government proposed in the new (16.50), and they gathered together as 92 organizations to ask for a re-draft and this re-draft was given.

So, the moment these organizations found a way to come together, they actually brought about change.

So, when you say education for advocacy it's not something in the air. It actually is this capability of coming together with a common aim to bring about change.


Of course, in whatever we're doing, we're not only doing it for the people who are with us now, yes? We're doing all of this because of the future generations. You know, the youngsters now, as you've mentioned, your passion in enhancing their knowledge of how they can take care of Mother Nature, so to speak and adjust society such that they can live in a better society later on.

I think this is where education needs a bit of an attention because the education needs to be future oriented. It has to have a perspective that doesn't only satisfy whatever we have now, but also what's going to maybe happen in the future.


You know that sometimes when I'm invited to these talks, I always say one of the biggest problems in Maltese society is the lack of opportunities to envision a different future together.

We have so little possibilities where we come together to envision the future that we want, so we keep on fighting because we haven't come together to try and understand. This is how my city can look like, this is how Malta can look like.

We sort of remain on autopilot and keep on doing what we have always done, and sometimes we see that the problems are too big for us to deal with, and they are moving forward in spite of us and at a fast speed.

In the meantime, we do not really know when we are going. I remember when I was in my teens, I read a book that if you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else and this is what is happening to us. We do not know where we are going, and we are ending up somewhere else.

So, one of the actually exercises, for example, that I do with young people when I'm given the opportunity, is to actually create future visions. We usually talk about possible visions possible futures and then we ask our young people, like from all of these possible futures which one do you think is the most probable? Like with a business-as-usual scenario, which is the most probable? And if the most probable is not my preferable, it’s a bit of a game with the three p’s here, possible, preferable, probable you know? If the most probable future is not my preferable, then we need to steer the direction where we're going. This requires both or personal change but also community solutions also challenging sometimes economic direction.


Indeed, because sometimes the focus could be on the now rather than the then, and we are only solving problems that we see now and not thinking what our decisions now are going to be, you know how they're going to be part of the future. In a way, I guess one of the ways as you have mentioned, you're involving young people. We're talking young people as a group, but this could happen with all levels of society or ages or genders or everything, or races.

How can we empower people to actually say I want this change; I want my future; I want it to be this way. How can we empower them to actually do something about it?


From a very young age in schools when we talk about pedagogy when we talk about the methods we use with children, but then we can apply this to you, and we can apply this to the community. We always say more knowledge does not necessarily bring about a change in behavior.

So, we always try to move beyond knowledge, beyond even awareness and then we go into values. We go into skills and we go into actions. In reality, if for example, I am teaching young children to appreciate nature. To dirty their hands in the soil, we start by growing a crop. Which in 3-4 weeks will give me a result because that is empowering.

I feel that I managed to grow my own radish, I feel that I managed to grow my own basil and it is important to celebrate these many successes and use these many successes to go on to somewhere more challenging.

So, for me empowerment is starting perhaps with something which is achievable, celebrating success and using that success to go into something which is more challenging and keep on going in this dynamic session and at the same time I really think that we need mutual support.

One of the issues I have invested a lot in the past three and a half, four years is what I call peer mentoring.

The idea that peer to peer in a horizontal wave, teacher to teacher educators to educator, youth worker to youth worker, we mentor each other, we support each other because it's so easy to get caught up in the status quo to get caught up with busyness to actually wear busyness as a badge of honor and then we don't have time to reflect.

So, I think this idea that the solutions are also created in a group, and you need the group not only to create solutions, but also to keep the hope alive, also to mentor each other, also to support and challenge each other especially when we feel that the issues that we are dealing with are just too big.

One of the people who has influenced me a lot in her writings is Vandana Shiva. She's an Indian activist, a physicist and activist. She always talks about how can we retain our joy while fighting against injustice and fighting for a better environment?

For me this is really important because instead of empowerment we can end up with burn out. This is not where we need to go. We need to retain our joy. Why? To envision a better future and focus on the solution.


This is, I think, one of the main takeaways for today really is to remain joyous, right while keeping the positive attitude of a change agent, of a person that would like to bring about change. But I guess there are other takeaways that people can take from our discussion today.

Say for example, in education, educators, people who are in a position to directly affect you know, generations, what do you think?

How can we inspire them? What can they take from today?


Being an educator myself, I always say that my role is to sow seeds. Some will grow, some might not grow, some a bird will eat, and then we'll carry very far away, and it will grow without me ever knowing.

Some people say that most of the trees are nuts, this isn’t in the Maltese context, but most of the trees are nuts which squirrels buried, and they forgot about. So, they didn't go back to them. They forget about them and, but a tree grew.

So, I think for an educator it is about sowing seeds and then forgetting. So, that's so not to remain attached and tense to the outcome you know, but to keep on sowing seeds hope.


Yes indeed, and I guess similar, in a similar fashion sowing seeds, but maybe sowing a value of an economy we can translate this into business. That business should not only be seeing the profit margins but should be going deeper like we've mentioned before. So, business owners need to look into other ways of being sustainable and taking their message through.

What do you think Censu?


No, actually I am completely in favor of economic initiatives within the solidarity economy and within the social economy where we couldn’t be making, I don't know like opposition to all forms of discrimination, ecological sustainability, acting in solidarity etc.

I mean the whole idea of the triple bottom line within businesses. I think it is something which we really need and one of the advocacy points actually is to have a stronger voice in Malta so that the white paper on the social enterprises will become law because we want and make law to make it easier for organizations to act within this social economy.


Of course, and we've also mentioned you know the designers earlier on I'm trying to look at you know the main people, the main parts of society that could really benefit out of what we're chatting today.

You've mentioned cities before, and to make a city sustainable, it does not need a person only, it needs a society, it needs people to work together. I know that you are not a designer Censu, but your little words of wisdom, maybe for all those who are struggling to become better in in the way they do things.


Yes, I'm not a designer and recently I’m dabbling a bit with permaculture which is a bit of a design principle to try and mimic nature.

It’s a design principle built on fairness to people, fair shares, fairness to the earth and so on. However, I am pretty much actually influenced by an architect designer, a certain Buckminster Fuller and he said some very beautiful things that have always impacted me.

I think he's the inventor of Geodesic Dome if I remember well. He says at one point that when you tired of fighting the system, just create your own so that you automatically make the old system obsolete. He also says that when struggling with a problem, he doesn't focus specifically on beauty, but when the end result is not beautiful, he says then I know that my solution is wrong. So, perhaps this could be some guidelines for designers.


Goodness me very heavy, very deep. Yes, we need to take a few steps back and look at the at the macro vision and sometimes we focus on the little things so much that before we get the context in which our little things are within our society. Yes, I couldn't agree more with you or Buckminster.

And last but not least, I think we have mentioned you know bottom-up ways of doing things of really engaging the community, really understanding them, and perhaps also knowing how to ask questions because, you know, asking of the questions and being curious as you've mentioned at the beginning is a is a very vital part of what we're doing, but we can't not mention that there is going to be some sort of top down.

The authorities need to also, you know, guide in a sense because it's not just communities on their own, but it's the country that needs to function and the world needs to function on its own. So, we need authorities to put their weights in it as well so.

So, some ideas of how this can be done in terms of authority Censu?


Yes, so actually at some point I already mentioned the importance of involving citizens. The importance especially from public authorities and politicians, to learn how to listen more and talk less.

I think that would be a great takeaway because it is the people that are mostly affected by the issue under discussion that have the most to say about it. If it is a rural development plan; I have to listen to the farmers and the farmers don't come. I have to go; I have to listen.

So, I think that is crucial, however, I have also been myself influenced by a certain book by Robert Chambers. The title of the book was, ‘Whose Reality Counts.

I think that when it comes to authorities, it is very important to ask this question. Sometimes we see nice statistics and I have learned to reverse the statistics. So, if I read 95% of children here have been given a quality education. I read 5% of children has not been given a quality education.

I learn how to reverse this statistic and then I asked the question does their reality count? And of course, then it means to give special attention to those that are being left out and actually started in reference to the Sustainable Development Goals and actually the Sustainable Development Goals are about not leaving anyone behind.

So, that is for example, that is what I see is the main take of authorities and of course this fixation of economy gold and gross domestic product (GDP).

I think we need to shift a bit more towards what brings wellbeing, what brings happiness, what are the qualities of our relationships, what is the quality of our environment, what is the quality of my air, the air I breathe, and so on.


Censu, I hope all of this, comes to reality, and it'll be all our reality then. It will be all our reality that counts. Thank you so much for being with us today. It's been an immense pleasure.

This was Censu Caruana and you are listening to The Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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July 9, 2021

Curiosity as a tool for sustainable brands

Transcript: 04 - Curiosity as a tool for sustainable brands — with Gage Mitchell

With us today, there is Gage Mitchell. Gage sees everything as a design challenge. Whether it's designing new business strategies, designing to solve community problems, or designing your life to be more fulfilling. He's the founder of modern species and the Evolve CPG, where he helps better for the world brands grow through purpose-driven strategy, design, and community.

He describes himself as an impact designer, and today's call will be talking about how to inspire people to ask more questions and to be more intentional with their work and lives so that we can collectively design a better world.

So, Gage, we were talking about how to inspire people, and one of the things that you mentioned is asking more questions and how can we do that? How can we give more value to the art of asking questions?


One of the first pieces of advice I give people wanting to do purpose-driven work or sustainability or impact-driven stuff is curiosity. Just be curious first of all because if you ask yourself, how can I better connect with this person? How can I make this person life better?

In which ways can this project be more sustainable? What happens to this thing after it leaves the consumer's hands? You know, no matter what industry you're in, if you get good at being curious, you'll think of a bunch of questions that you can ask and asking those questions will hopefully help you find the answers you're seeking that will help you design a better solution. But, what's awesome about asking questions is that you often get something back that you weren't expecting that you weren't looking for.

Some brilliant, amazing insight from the awesome person across the table from you that you're asking the question of that will inspire you to do something different that you would never have thought of on your own.


So, Gage, if we extend this to brands, which benefits brands can get from questions from, you know, asking more questions, can you give me some detail about that?


For brands, if I am a brand manager, let's say, and I am trying to figure out how to grow my brand, sell more product. I think the version of curiosity that works for them is being more curious about your customers and consumers.

And asking them a bunch of questions instead of thinking that you know everything and go out there with some assumptions and survey your email list, ask to look at the data in your social media. Do actual live consumer you know quantitative and qualitative studies.

To figure out what makes them tick and what about your brand they resonate with and what about other brands they resonate with and why they buy certain products and what motivates them and what gets them excited in the world.

The more you know about your consumer or your customers, the more you can make sure that your products and your services and your brand itself can help them be the person they want to be in the world, and therefore they'll see you as this great option to achieve whatever they want to achieve and lock their dreams.

So, the more you can know about them, the better you can serve them, and the better you can serve them, the more they'll trust you and love you and be loyal and buy all your products and whatever else you sell and tell everyone else about it. So, I'd say the moral of the story on both sides' is don't assume you know everything. Assume you know just enough to ask the right questions and then go talk to people and figure out what's going on.

Because just getting a little bit more understanding of the space you're working in, or the people you're working with can work magic. The insights that can come from really good questions will unlock a ton of potential for you as an individual for you and your brand or for whatever business you run or you as a student, a learner in the world trying to find some more expertise in some subject you're interested in.


So how do you think this line of questioning could actually help in developing sustainable brands, businesses strategies, because some people might not know what they want, you know or how to be sustainable even. So how can we help them understand what they'd like through questioning? What's your take on that?


Yes, good question. There's a lot of great tools out there, and a question you just asked is the reason some fellow collaborators and myself wrote, The Path to Impact. It's a workbook that we put together for AIGA, the professional Association for Design.

Well, it's this workbook that we got sappy ideas that matter grant to produce. It's a little banged up because it's been well-loved, but the idea in this workbook is that we kind of guide people through what impact looks like.

The types of impact you can make environment, social, culture and the economy, and then in a design familiar process of going through step by step. So, we help people envision what kind of impact they're going to make, and the reason I'm bringing this up is because, within this book, we have a bunch of questions about the beneficiaries about the conditions you want to change, about the stakeholders you're trying to engage.

Instead of writing it out in some sort of very theoretical or very academic way, we tried to write it in just plain language so that by seeing that word beneficiaries and then the question next to it, like who's this project intended to serve you're both learning a term that maybe you didn't know before maybe you did.

If you work in impact space and it's just helping you to think of some of those questions, you can ask. So, this whole workbook is full of a bunch of those questions or prompts that get you thinking in the right way. But it's not necessarily designed for you to ask and get answers to all of them because that would take a very long amount of time.

Probably a good year or something to go through that whole book but flipping through that book and figuring out where you are in a certain stage of a project or where you're getting stuck. So, if you'd pull some of those questions from there, it could really move some mountains and get some obstacles out of your way and help you point in the right direction.

Then you'll probably think of a bunch of your own questions you can sprinkle in there as well, but exactly to your point, we created that workbook, these materials that we created with it just to give people a place to start if they don't know what questions ask. So, with that said, there's lots of other tools, resources, websites, books that are on sustainability or on impact or on social justice.

If you pick up some of those books, attend some events, go to a conference, you know you'll learn a little bit every time you engage in that community. Eventually, you'll have a stronger vocabulary and a stronger idea of what questions to ask, but if you just need to start somewhere, there are lots of resources out there.

The IGA path impact is one possible resource that you could look into.


That's great, and I guess all of these questions can also apply to, you know, the everyday life of a person.

It's not just you know applicable to brands and enabling brands or empowering them to get somewhere through this line of questioning, but also to, a bit of an introspective aspect to it as well that you can apply to a person, maybe, and develop a personal brand or you know, just self-development really.


Absolutely, Yes. We've actually used that book when we were in the testing kind of design writing phase, we were just trying to figure out where all it could be applicable. We definitely found it applicable to nonprofits like boards like designing themselves or to work with their community.

To design better solutions for the community, which means it also works for businesses or brands trying to make more impact but what we found that was kind of shocking to all of us was that it also works personally.

You can ask a lot of these questions of yourself and figure out how to design your life or your world, or your business in a different way that will help impact you, your family, your friends, your community, your customers in a better way.

With that said, there's; also, I've always wanted to write a book on life design because I'm a big believer in applying design everywhere, and I was relieved from that duty when I found that a couple of Stanford’s professors that have been teaching a life design class.

I guess it's one of the most popular classes at Stanford, but they wrote a book. I think it's called, Designing Your Life. I've got it up on my bookshelf somewhere, and they have their process, my process is a little bit different, but you know theirs is super valid.

They have a process that they walk you through in that book on how you can be a little bit more iterative and prototyping and so on and so forth. Kind of using design thinking methods on your own life, and so that could be; in what kind of career, you want to pursue? It could be where you want to live or how you set up your priorities in life.

So, you're living with more balance like there's just so many different things. So many different questions you could ask yourself to figure out ways to tweak your life in different ways. That'll make a big impact for you and, again, your loved ones or friends, family, etc.

So yes, I would say being curious and asking questions applies to basically everything.


Yes, that's really true. When you start asking yourself questions, you start thinking of ways how you can get better. There will be ways that possibly have not considered yet. So yes, starting from somewhere and then maybe evolving that line of questioning depending on which part of your life you'd like to, you know, develop because there are different parts of your life.

There's the personal one, the professional one and as you said it, goes across borders. Going back to the line of questioning from designers, there is a responsibility that comes with questions and not only with the questions to empower people to answer you and how change is going to come from the person.

But also, a responsibility of how you're going to be using this information. So now designers have a very important role I think there which is possibly sometimes misused or you know through no fault of their own, maybe because they might not have enough information.

But yes, I mean, we believe that designers have a very important role in even defining a culture or defining the thought process because design is all around you. It is in the architecture; it's in billboards, it's in books, it's in everywhere. So how can we help designers understand the responsibility? I think that is where the key lies.


Yes, that's a very good point in that any time somebody has the power to make decisions, I've believed that comes with the responsibility to make good decisions that are good for all, but then also designers are in a position of influence too. So, we don't just make decisions. We also make decisions that will influence.

As you said, people live, cultures, businesses, etc. So, if we're in this position of influence and we have the option to either sell more cigarettes that are going to kill a bunch of people or sell smoothies that are going to save a bunch of people lives.

That's one area of responsibility that I have personally chosen, the path of health and wellness for my career focus. I work mostly with better for the world, brands, and a lot of that is in natural organic products. So, I believe that you know, not only can we reverse climate change through the work that we're doing because all the studies show that food-related problems are some of the biggest struggles we're facing right now.

We can also help empower people to live better lives by giving them better choices at the grocery store or helping inspire them to live a better life just at home if they're making their own food.

So that's like one area of responsibility is who are you going to work for? Granted, I see that that's also a position of privilege, by which I mean I have the freedom to choose who to work with, but not everyone has that freedom. You know, sometimes you're getting started in your career, and you just need a job, and you don't get to tell your boss that you're not going take that Coca Cola project or that you know Nike product.

Whatever company that you think is doing some evils in the world and granted a lot of companies are turning a leaf and becoming better in making more of an impact, so there are fewer and fewer companies to call out as evil anymore. But you know there are still a lot of terrible products out there that are making people's lives worse, not better.

So, if you have the power to make decisions around who you work with, I think that's one area of responsibility: who are you giving your superpowers of influence to, and what are they doing with that power?

Are they helping people and making better lives? Or are they sucking people's money, damaging their health, destroying the environment, and making the world worse off for your children, grandchildren, and everything else? So, you're really hurting yourself in the whole world if you're making the wrong choice there.

So, I think if people think about the fact that their decisions and their behaviours have long-lasting impact and outcomes, hopefully, they'll start asking the right questions about what kind of impact and outcomes their decisions are making.

And you know, if they're in a position of privilege to be able to make the right decision, that hopefully, they'll realise that making that right decision has long-lasting impacts that go way beyond their short time on this planet.

So that's like, choosing who you work with but then even if you work for some evil company. So, let's just say cigarettes because I think we can all agree that that's probably bad, and they're not going to be good anytime soon.

So, let's say you're working for a cigarette company. There are still choices you can make in that process to help people and help the planet. For example, let's say you want to make cigarette packaging more sustainable like they're usually wrapped in plastic, right?

Maybe there's a different way to wrap those boxes so that they're not in some plastic that's going to get ripped off and thrown in the street and end up in the ocean somewhere or eaten by a bird or something like that? You know, maybe that wrapping could be compostable, something like that.

There are also questions you could ask yourself about the package design or the advertisements that you're making for a cigarette company.

Are you designing those in such a way that purely sells the product with no nod to the potential side effects? Are you selling those products in a way that's appealing to children or kids?

You're making it look cool or aspirational, like something that younger people want to like, be like that person in the ad.

There are lots of decisions along the way that even if you're selling something bad, you could be doing a little good with it by reducing the negative impacts as much as possible, and you know, letting people choose from there.

So, there are lots of different ways I think as a designer that we can help make decisions, help push companies or brands or people in the right direction.

But of course, we can choose to use those powers for good, or we can choose to use those powers for evil, and I think it's up to each person to decide how they define good and evil and then up to them to decide, like how much of their career, they're whatever they're willing to risk to make those good decisions.

I think there's always ways to push people forward. Even if you're working for a quote-unquote evil company, you can always pitch sustainability or impact as a profit-driving method because done right; sustainable design should actually save money or make more money.


It's not just the wrapper that packaging, the product, but it's also the advert that you put out to accompany that. Whether that has a positive impact or a negative impact depending on the message that you're trying to put forward. So, the responsibility of designers is not just designers themselves, but also how they link with marketing, how they link with ad agencies, and how this comes together as one.

You know, as one project basically to be not just environmentally sustainable but also socially sustainable, and I think this is a very important point to mention in today's world, no? In the world we live in.

My other thought was, I mean this is, it can all seem to be a little bit doom and glume, no? We can all be quite worried about how to do this, and we have to be realistic about stuff. We have to be realistic on how much people can absorb, how much people can change and how fast they can change.

Also, we have to be quite positive in a way because, you know, just going out there saying in billboards that the end is nigh and we're all going to die out of a tsunami.

It's very pessimistic, and I think people don't really take on that well if you're going to be attacking and highlighting the bad bit.

So, how can we use curiosity and all of this, what we've talked about today to make it positive to give a positive message and maybe get more out of the experience of this question asking?


Yes, that's that is so true. One of the struggles I see with the organic movement, for example, in the US at least, is that they like to sell organic by just talking about all the bad things that they're avoiding in by you choosing organic. It's just funny to me because they never seem to want to talk about all the good stuff you're getting. Like all other brands that are successful, right? Nike doesn't tell you about all the crap they left out of your shoe.

They tell you about all the cool stuff they put in your shoe and everything you're going to get to achieve by wearing their shoes, so I think a lot of better for the world products or better for the world, brands or companies or whatever get stuck in this idea of us versus them or this whole competitive or negative kind of mindset is one of the problems. They think that all we have to do is educate people to let them know how bad the thing is that they're currently consuming, and then they'll want our thing.

That's a big assumption because not everybody wants to be educated. Some people just want to be entertained. Some people just want to feel cool. Some people want to have hope for the future etc., and you telling them a bunch of negative stuff isn't necessarily going to influence them.

That's a big assumption because not everybody wants to be educated. Some people just want to be entertained. Some people just want to feel cool. Some people want to have hope for the future etc., and you telling them a bunch of negative stuff isn't necessarily going to influence them.

It's not meeting them where they're at, so to use behaviour design principles, you have to understand people, existing motivations, what they already care about instead of trying to make them care about something new.

You tap into what they already care about if you can find a way to position your product, your brand, your movement, you're whatever. The thing that you need them to do to make their life better in the world better.

If you can tie that into something they're already motivated about, you can get them to actually consider it and then once they're buying it, using it, whatever, and they become a believer in it. Then they'll seek out more information, and then they'll share it with the world as well.

So, hitting people with just negative messages, hitting people with education, hitting people over the head with stuff they're not ready for is not usually a good growth strategy or a good advertising campaign or anything like that.

Figuring out what your target customer, beneficiary, whomever it is that you're trying to change. Figuring out what really motivates them and then figuring out how your product, your solution, your whatever ties into that and positioning it in that way, I think, will move mountains compared to just telling them all this negative stuff like the world is ending or whatever.

So, I think that's one method to think about if you're interested if the listeners are interested in behaviour design. There's a professor out of again Stanford. I guess I'm a Stanford fan, apparently.

He's called Doctor BJ Fogg, or he just goes by BJ Fogg. Still, he's been studying behavioral psychology for a while and has some different theories, philosophies, and tools around behaviour design that can help you wrap your mind around it a little bit easier. He just came out with a book called Tiny Habits that's really more about personal behaviour and influencing your own behaviour.

Like getting yourself to floss or getting yourself to, you know, exercise in the morning or whatever, so but those principles also can apply to designing stuff for other people.

So maybe check that out. But yes, I totally agree the world can be super negative. I think it's better to be a realistic optimist. By which I mean I understand that things are broken, and not everything is great, not everything will be great, but being optimistic that it can change and being hopeful and curious enough to be part of that change.


Yes, this is super interesting. I mean, there are three types of people in the world. There are the believers, the people who are actually doing something already, the borderline cases, you know. I call them the borderline cases. There are people who are really interested in doing something but are a bit lost at how to start and then the non-believers. The people who you know you can get angels dancing and just did not believe that you know that's the way forward and really and truly in time, more of these quote-unquote non-believers will probably transition into being the believers, but it will take some time.

I think that is why the inquisitive approach that you were mentioning before is very important because they will start realising themselves that this transition or this change needs to be done in order for them to be better people living in a better place, in a better city.

So that is, you know, really interesting. So maybe by way of summarising what we've just said today. Could you perhaps give us your takeaways that the general public could take from business owners or maybe authorities?


I would also just echo that comment that you made first about the, you know, the believers, the people who are already sold and then you know the people in the middle and then the non-believers.

There's a tech adoption curve. I think it's been called multiple other things, but it's all about jumping the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority and then the late majority and then the laggards. I think the non-believers are often those laggards that hold off and don't want to move and don't like kind of, kick and scream and don't want to change until they absolutely have to.

The funny thing that I've seen is with at least my own experience is sometimes those non-believers, those laggards, if you can really connect with them and find a way to position whatever it is that you're doing from their perspective and let them be heard, often they become your biggest most vocal advocates afterwards.

So, while they are harder to win when you do win them, they'll scream from the rooftops about how amazing you are.

So, don't completely ignore them, but yes, of course, you got to first start with the early adopters, get them sold and then get into the early majority before you can reach the rest of the world again. So, I guess I would just hit back to this idea of curiosity and observation.

So, if you're observing, like paying attention to your own body, for example, how you're feeling.

Like most people, just ignore it. You know we don't get enough sleep. We don't get enough water. We don't get enough whatever, but we just keep telling ourselves we need to power through, power through this moment that we're in and, you know, whatever we'll sleep when we're dead, or we'll catch up over the weekend or we'll whatever.

Whatever the answer is that you're telling yourself, and we ignore ourselves and our body and our intuition, and so on and so forth. All the time, but if we can pause every once in a while and just observe and ask ourselves, how am I doing right now? You might notice that you're a little tired. You're a little hungry; you're a little anxious; you're a little whatever.

If you can dig deeper into that and figure out well, why am I anxious? Why am I tired? Why am I whatever? You might start getting curious and asking a bunch of questions. I guess it's because I didn't get enough sleep last night? Is it because I haven't been drinking enough water? Is it because I've been drinking too much alcohol during this COVID lockdown or something like that?

Is it because you know what? I've been stuck in this desk for so long I haven't got up and walked around in a while? I haven't gotten hiking. So you know who knows, like whatever it is that really brings you energy, you might not be doing that as much.

So, I would say if I could leave people with one piece of advice, it would just be pause every once in a while and just observe whether it's observing your coworkers, whether it's observing your family, whether it's observing your consumers, your customers, whatever, or even just yourself.

So,If you just pause and take a moment and observe, put yourself in their shoes or put yourself in your own shoes and think about how you're feeling, how they're feeling, how they're doing, and what context that lives in. Then, hopefully, you'll start asking yourself some very interesting questions that could lead to some life-changing insights.

Either for you or for them, it all has to start with that observation and then ask the right questions.


Wow, you've given us some homework Gage here.


Yes, I'm good at homework.


Well, yes, and to be honest, I think this, what you just said applies across the board right in your personal life whether it's in a business and possibly even for authorities to understand how the community is behaving, what they require of the community, and you know, to really home in on what is important, not just for one person, but from you know, from a resilience point of view, from a societal point of view.

See how this could get better in time and continue to ask questions and fuel this curiosity. Maybe one thing that you know reminds me of having my child here is she's always asking why things, you know.

She's just curious. She just wants to know more of the world and perhaps that we have to, you know, forget that we're adults sometimes and go back to our childhood and really tap into discovering for ourselves why things are the way they are and how we'd like them to be.

Maybe you know, put our heads together and understand how this can be done better in whatever way in whatever sphere that we want to address this.

This has been super interesting. Thank you so much for your insights. It was wonderful having you with us.


Thanks for having me. It has been a fun conversation. I appreciate it.


This was Gage Mitchell, and you are listening to The Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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June 18, 2021

Project Management: Stakeholders

Transcript: 03 - Project Management: Stakeholders — with Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi

Hi. Today we're here with Dr Dalli Gonzi. She is an architect and civil engineer with a specialisation in project management. Together, we'll be speaking about the project management of construction development. We'll be going through the phases over the next few videos.

So, today we'll be talking about stakeholders. So, what are stakeholders exactly? I mean, we all heard the term, but it's a bit of, you know a terminology. It's very academic, almost terminology. How is it exactly? What does it mean?


So, when you talk about stakeholders, they are all those people or entities that are directly at some point engaged throughout a construction project. We generally use two terms. We use what we call direct stakeholders and indirect stakeholders.


Okay, so the direct stakeholders would be the ones that are well, by implication of the name, I guess, right? Really directly involved in this.




I guess the client would be the first one, right? The person who's actually commissioning the development.


Yes, so, as you said, correct. Direct stakeholders are stakeholders throughout the project that are directly influencing the decision taking steps during the project.

So that's the client, the contractor, the STO, the, even the authority. Obviously, because you need to get your permit through the authority. And that is a summary of direct stakeholders. But we also have what we call indirect stakeholders. And those are people or entities that are involved throughout the project but not directly decision-taking entities. So they're not decision-taking people in your project.


Okay, so for example, if we were to take the planning authority process, there's a part of it which neighbours can also give an opinion on the project, right? Object or otherwise.




Would those be considered as indirect stakeholders, for example?


Yes. So neighbours in your street are not actually taking decisions on the space layout of your building if you're designing in a street. However, at some point, they could be influential, especially during the initial stages of the permit. So they could, as you rightly said, object at some point. If there is something that does not align with the rest of the street or the neighbourhood.

Another example would be a business. Say you're opening up a business on the streets, and there are other businesses in the streets. Again, they are not taking decisions on your space layouts and how the construction process is going to happen, but if it comes up to parking, parking issues, the business that is also sharing the streets due to different parking slots, yes there could be some impact at that point over there.


I see, and the construction process is quite long, right? And it can actually be divided into certain categories or phases even. Within which, most direct and indirect stakeholders will have an effect on it or an influence on it. So the first phase is the…


What we call initiation.


Exactly, yes!


So, the construction process is split into four. Four stages. You've got the initiation phase, and in the initiation phase, you've got all the conceptual parts of the project. The sketches, the 3D's so, perhaps collecting data that you might need for your site and so on.


Surveys possibly as well.


Yes. Possibly a survey would form in the initiation phase. So you're basically putting everything to brainstorm and give you an idea of where you wish to take your project. Whatever that is, if it's residential or commercial.

Then we follow this with the planning stage. Now the planning stage, we shift from the conceptual part to the data, more paperwork. So, now we're slowly gearing…


The formal bits really?


Exactly, gearing towards a permit. So obviously, more data required, more drawings and detailing structural details. So construction dates, and who is going to take care of your site, excavation and so on.


Okay, so those go into paperwork of not just the planning authority but the building construction agency and all of the other paperwork, the health and safety, all of that.


Yes, paperwork. All paperwork. So it also includes contracts, signing dates, project milestones for those of you who might be familiar with project milestones but we can explain that at a later stage. So, anything that concerns you knowing physically on paper where this project is taken to.


Excellent. So then, we finalised that, and we go into the?


The third stage.


The exciting stuff?


Which is the crazy stage! That's project implementation. Now project implementation, anything we've had on paper now comes to life. So, we start by site hoarding, site preparation, then the excavation.


I see, we start mobilising on site.


We start mobilising on site that’s it.


Then? Drum roll...


After that, as long as everything sort of goes according to plan and on schedule and then you've got project closure. Which is the fourth stage. In some project systems or processes, you might find not four but five stages, where we also add what we call project monitoring and control. Which is the, which would be the fourth out of five if we're talking about five stages, but the last will always be project closure.

In project closure it's a critical stage to any project because it's the place where we can understand what went right and what went wrong.


I see, okay.


We can, what we call, implement a lesson's learned exercise. So, apart from that, there is obviously the closing of contracts, signing of payments, so there are a lot of things, warranties get started and so on. But more importantly, it is really a stage where we can bring everything together, and if there is a handover stage, that is the stage where everything has to be prepared to carry out this handover.


So basically, it goes from contractor to the client again, right? When the keys are with the client and, therefore, the project finishes, theoretically finishes, right? Because then it kicks in the responsibility period for both the designers and the contractors, no? So the liability period which is then defined by law.




Excellent. Thank you so much for that. This is Rebecca Dalli Gonzi, and you are listening to the human agenda. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode.

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May 27, 2021

Sustainable Business Models

Transcript: 02 - Sustainable Business Models — with Alec Miller

Joining us today is Alec Miller. Alec's life goal is to give artists the means and platform to create what they are most passionate about without middle management while being compensated well for their efforts. He is currently doing this by running a creative collective, serving the tech and gaming industries and producing short films. He also describes himself as the principled pirate. Discussing this in light of sustainable business models, Alec we could kick off with the word sustainability: When we mention sustainability, we're always talking about changing the world, and this is rather a big challenge, and my question is this; are we really embarking on changing the world when we mention sustainability?


Yeah, I think so. I think that it's a pretty big way of changing the way you look at life, at the world and that, for me, the people in it. I think the way that works though is, you can change the world by simply changing a few people's lives. I think in some ways being an example, so that's the way I approach it, it seems really daunting if you think; oh my gosh, we're never going to get everybody on board we're never going to get the whole world that's billions of people that all have to suddenly change their mind, but that's not really how things work as it's not like you have to get everyone to change all at once. Oftentimes what you can do is you can kind of create a positive reaction, right? A positive 'virus' as it were, and it could spread from person to person and this way you see it happening all the time with any sort of large social movement that's been successful is, it's been a few people pushing hard getting, putting good ideas out there better ideas and the ideas that are currently there and those ideas spread based on their merit and based on the viability of which the people that adopt those ideas see the results. So that's kind of how I take the daunting task of changing the world for any good movement and break it down to something that is less obtuse and less daunting and challenging.


We're talking about sustainable businesses, and of course, businesses come in different sizes, and some entrepreneurs might think the bigger, the better. Let's make more profit; the thought is that the more people we've got on board, possibly the more profitable we are; but is that really successful? In your opinion, is it really a successful business model, the bigger, the better?


Yeah, that's my whole goal to challenge that mindset, that mantra. I think as humans, we tend to fall into this trap all the time, and it happens on an individual basis, it happens on a societal basis, and it happens all the time in businesses which is; we never set a clear goal or clear cap for ourselves or what ideal is what enough is and therefore we can just continually consume forever. The problem with that is, it's not sustainable, and it's not ideal. Essentially what you're doing is, that's what cancer does, right? It just keeps spreading and spreading and spreading. We don't want to create cancer within us. This is what happens if you continually take in anything too much it's bad for you, right? Too much of a good thing is, in fact, a bad thing, it's poison. The joke about poison is; everything's poisonous is just dosage. So even something like water you can become over hydrated, right? You can have too much salt; you can have too much of anything, and so I think when we don't put these caps on us, and we are a creature that's kind of more similar to the virus in some ways where we can continually always spread, we have to put limitations on ourselves. So when it comes to business is what you see happening, the storey is as old as time like everybody knows this storey. Which are you have this great business and a really great concept that takes off and everybody who's in love with it and then it gets to this really awesome middle size where they are innovating constantly, they're doing great things, the ownership is still within the company and then usually what happens is that company goes public and then once the company goes public there's a switch that happens that suddenly everybody kind of starts to hate that company. It suddenly becomes this villain, and it has the same ideals often, it has the same goals, it has the same services, but what makes it kind of go from being a company everyone loves and is cheering for to being a company that now is creating issues with their audience, is oftentimes because they are aiming at infinite growth.

So when you're aiming at infinite growth, there's a few things you have to do in order to keep growing. So let's say you hit your market share, right? You hit the top of your market, you're someone like a Coke or Pepsi or something in the US, and you pretty much are at every store you could possibly be at. Everyone knows your name; you can't do any more marketing to get more people. You have to find a way to keep growing without being able to increase your market size. So that means you either have to keep raising your price and keep making that go up. Which can happen with inflation; we understand that, but if you really want to see growth, you want to see this like 2X growth every year that people want to see. You got to start finding ways to cut corners. So that means cutting employees' salaries, that means replacing employees with automation, that's also going to mean maybe, cutting back on jobs in customer service or quality control. You start diluting your product that's the only way to continue to grow if you hit, you're in your market base.

What I like to see, my favourite companies are in fact smaller businesses that are like local pubs. These are places that can run for hundred years, for a hundred and fifty years, way longer than most corporations ever runs. Most corporations only run about, I think, five to eight years, maybe twelve years if they're good. Most family-owned smaller businesses, a larger percentage of them that make it at all, there's plenty that doesn't make it at all but the ones that make it usually run longer around twenty years. I don't have that data cite, but you can look it up in something around there.

So what I would like to see is that. I like to see these places I can serve the community; they know what that community needs and then continue to do that over and over again. If you measure the input or you measure the profitability or any other metric you'd like to measure, you can start to find that those are actually just as profitable but over a larger amount of time and much more slowly, and I think that we see this just in life anytime you want to fast change it has a high cost, and I believe in slow, steady change. I think it's one of these again, the stories that's been with us forever and that we keep kind of ignoring.


So, in your opinion, what are the smallest businesses doing that corporations are not?


Yeah, so one of the biggest ones is you're thinking about the future. So a large company, it's really hard to think about. I mean, outside of profits, usually have an exit plan. So when someone develops a tech company, you have what's called an exit plan. Your exit plan is how am I going to leave this thing and make my money, right? Oftentimes it looks like selling to a larger company, and that company that's larger is often already public. The other option is to go public, and so either of those allows you to kind of cash out on what you done. When you when you're running a small business, your concerns are less internally focused or less about how do I click monetisation switches, as to be how do I have this thing be profitable from day one because I'm using it to live my life, right? This is what you'd call lifestyle company, and a lot of people kind of look down on lifestyle companies, especially in Silicon Valley, especially with these big tech companies that want to change the world, right? So you should have this big lofty goal. Maybe your goal should be to provide for your neighbourhood, to provide for your family and leave something for your kids. If that's your goal, well, what you're going to leave your kids is the company which means it needs to still be around when your kids are going to be there. If it's for your community, it's the same thing. I'm not looking to exit my community and suddenly leave them.

Hey, I'm using you as a way to retire, it's instead I'm looking to use this company to build up my community, I need to leave it here in the hands of someone else, so the systems have to be good enough I have made this clear enough, I have to have it working on a regular basis, on a small enough basis that can be managed by a few people. So then I can leave it in the community in the hands of someone else. There are a few companies locally that are this way that I really love, and they're very profitable. There are millions and millions of dollars of companies that have multiple stores, but they've stayed mostly local, and they've been able to do to keep it private. That's been, for me, one of the biggest things just watching that continually happen.


That's amazing; not many people possibly think that. It's actually contrary to the popular belief that remaining a small company is generally much better, and I think what when we're talking about growing a company, this is not only about its financials but also the human resources that need to go hand in hand. The larger a company gets, it would need to maintain productivity which is good enough. To be able to keep to increase the profit, you need to reduce the expenses, possibly jeopardising quality. Do you ever think that the smaller companies could outperform the larger ones in the long run?


I think they already do. I think it depends on what you're measuring, that's been one of our biggest problems which is, numbers are very easy to measure and so we really like judging ourselves by numbers. We judge ourselves by the amount of followers we have; we judge ourselves by the amount of money we're making. We judge ourselves by anything that we can measure, the amount of hours that we work etc. It's like McDonald's; it's like a billion-dollar burger served, right? Yet why is that the metric we're using? If you look at most small businesses, these lifestyle companies like again that some people look down on, they might be way more successful in other metrics. Like the amount of vacation time given, why don't me measure ourselves on that? The amount of time spent with family, amount of picnics in the park. There's plenty of metrics you could measure ourselves on that are far more valuable to people than money. Money is just a means for some of these other metrics ends.
So let's say you have a company that's more sustainability-focused, right? It's like a number of community housing projects finished; why isn't that your main goal instead of just fought up probability.

The other thing is, I think a lot of these large companies their profitability is usually in quantity, right? So usually, it's low margins but high amounts versus a lot of these smaller businesses they exist with smaller amounts of sales but higher margins. So they're making more money per sale. So you could also look at that as a metric. How much money am I making per product, and so there's many things that I'd much rather see, right? A lot of these companies have been around for a long time. Even if they're bigger companies, there are going to be a lot of luxury products that exist in the same sort of way. It's going to be things that we can go; oh yeah, that's that wine company that's been around for years. They might be pretty big, selling millions of barrels a year, but usually, they're still family-owned. I'm a big fan of whiskey, for instance, and that's how that is; tequila is the same way. You have people handing it down from grandfather to son, to grandson, so on and so forth. What I love about these companies is that they have this heart and this soul and this character that these large corporations don't, their kind of soulless.

They can't treat anybody; they can't treat any product with any sort of care because there just isn't the time. I love business; it's not like unless somebody is sitting here, I don't like the fact that I have Amazon and I can get anything in a day. That's not what I'm saying, but I think the focus has been long on that, and because the goal is usually to exit, people have been so willing to hand their companies over to these large corporations, and they haven't thought what would happen if I kept running this for another five years, or I handed it to my kid instead, or I hand it to my mentee, or I maybe have someone that's an understudy of mine that I can give the company to them.

I think that'll be a much better way to change our focus, and we'd see a lot more companies that we actually fall in love with. If I asked anybody right now what's a company that you love, I can almost guarantee or service you love. I guarantee it's not going to be a government service, and it's not going to be a large corporation. It's going to be somebody that can take the time to reward you to know who you are to know your name. You're going to be like, there's this restaurant right down the street. I go there every Thursday they recognise me when I walk in. That's what Starbucks was able to recreate on a scale for their first, like, probably five years. I think after that, it kind of went downhill. They used to have what they called star skills, and these star skills were pretty much; when a customer walks in and if he comes in more than twice, you should know their face, their name, and their drink. That's how they trained their staff.

There are still places that do this, but you get too big, you can't continue to have that same quality. They were really big on that for a long time; they let that slip, they expanded too fast. They had to close two-thirds of their stores because they expanded way too quickly. They couldn't train people fast enough to give them those star skills. So now they have to cut back, readjust, and it's something that I think hits a lot of companies. We get so in love with seeing these numbers go up and seeing that ROI that we get distracted very easily, and it's because it's so easy. It's very easy to measure based on numbers. How many stores do I have open? How many employees do I have? How much money are we bringing in? As opposed to how happy are all of my employees? What's the quality of life I'm creating? How happy are my customers? Then what's hilarious is, when people go to measure that, they measure it also as a metric. It's like here, take this questionnaire and answer these sixteen questions for me. The people that are going to take the time to answer the questionnaire, they're people that are either such big fans of yours already, or they have nothing better to do. I really question the validity of those things, and yeah, we just get stuck on these number again.


It's amazing that you touched on some points that are really important to us. Sometimes when someone calls cooperation or company, or you're trying to get a service, something's wrong with a product or a service that you’ve bought, you get an answering machine, and you have to press one and two and press a hundred and a half an hour later you probably still on the phone and not knowing what to do and more frustrated than when you started off with. So this is really the people part of the company, and what these companies are missing. When people stop being people and become numbers, then that is when things start not quite going in the direction of the sustainability path. We need to get to know people and addressing the soft versus the hard metrics. I mean, this is such an interesting and inspired conversation.




You mentioned something very important. You not only need to know the names of the people that are working with you. You much ensure that they feel part of the company; when you know the names, you know what is happening with them at home, and you try to help them in any way. If you share your goals with the team, they even engage and participate with you in this long path and they want to see you succeed. The other thing which happens when you have a big corporation is that the employees do not know the management. They feel that they are just a number, and they know that they need to be paid at the end of the month. That's very sad


That's exactly correct. I don't see a solution for these big companies other than to get smaller, to stay smaller or break up into smaller companies. I wish more companies would voluntarily break into smaller companies. I think they would see a lot of benefits from doing that, even if they all keep the cash flow going the same place if they could split the company up. Google's kind of done this in a decent way. It's not as small as it should be; in my opinion, I think it needs to be even smaller, but they went from being this one giant company to then splitting up into alphabet, to then sub-splitting everything else up smaller from there.

You've got to be able to look someone in the eye when you do business with them. You never know if someone's trying to take advantage of me or they are exploiting the system, or are they simply customers that hard on their luck this month or they found something that's valuable to them. You don't know that unless you can talk to them in person. That's the beauty I think of smaller being better.


Yes, I agree. Thank you very much, Alec. At this point, I don't know if you can give us some takeaways for the general public, business owners.


There's one thing I want to leave with. There's an idea I want to start propagating, so this is my little mind virus I want to put out there, and I hope people start using this term. Feel free to use this on the podcast in the future; you don't have to credit me for it. There's a thing I want to call invisible ROI, which is the invisible return on investment. These are oftentimes the greatest return on investments; this would be investing in people, this would be in your own personal life travel is a fantastic example.

I cannot tell you the amount of return I've gotten by travelling when I was younger by going to different places and experiencing things I would have never experienced. It's opened my eyes to so many things, giving so many new ideas; probably one reason why I run my own business today is just seeing the different ways that people operate and realise there's more than one way to do things. So that's a big investment though, that's a few thousand dollars to go someplace and to stay someplace.
There's no immediate return, you don't get that back right away, and you don't know what that money is or what it went to, but then somehow, all of your life gets better. It simply is too hard to track if we could track what we would, I'm sure there are people trying, but there's a bunch of things that are still invisible ROI. There are still these things that you can't see the return on investment, but it's absolutely there.

So this is what I try to challenge people to do. You could force your employee to work the full eight hours, nine hours or whatever it is they're obligated to do or at the end of the day, if you really have nothing to do, you could let them go home. Now that's an investment, right? You might be losing those man-hours, but you're probably gaining that back two or three-fold the next day when they come in happy and cheerful and remember that. If it's their birthday, rather than having the office buy them a cake and forcing them to sit through a cringy song, give them a day off or half-day with their family. Again that's a little bit of an investment, but the next day you're going to see the returns on that in again ten-fold, twenty-fold when a competitor comes around, and they go; hey, I want to hire you for ten thousand dollars more and take you away from this company, and they go you know what? I really love it here; I don't really want to go. I've watched employees do this with places they love; they just say no, I refuse to leave because this is my family.

So that invisible ROI is something that I think people need to start thinking about and looking for. Whereas there's something that I'm not seeing that I recognise consistently in my own life and other people's lives. I've seen this turn to be very beneficial, but there are no real metrics to attach to it, there are no numbers to track, and therefore I avoid it. So start looking for those opportunities; I think you're going to find that that's one of the number one steps for sustainability is places we do not realise because we can't track them, and they can't grow infinitely and so o because of that we tend to avoid them, but I think they have some of the most value.


Thank you so much for that.


Thank you for having me on. I really enjoyed it. I really appreciate being able to spread some of these ideas that I really want to see take root.


This was Alec Miller and you are listening to the human agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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January 12, 2021

Architect vs Engineer? Why raise the question? Why debate it.

Transcript: 01 - Architect vs Engineer? Why raise the question? — with David Knight

Good morning everyone. Today we will be continuing our podcast talking about architecture, civil engineering… basically the built environment and all the materials and the way that we ought to be designing such that we aim for sustainability and wellbeing to whomever we are building for.

Today we have David Knight, from Cake Industries, and together we will be discussing the role of architects and civil engineers and how this ties in together with the design process and to clients, and well, not just clients but students and whomever it is within the industry going to be partaking within it.
So, Dave, what’s your take on this? I mean, architects and civil engineers are very separate in the UK, they both have very distinct professions. But yet again they are both working towards a common goal. Right, so?


Absolutely. It is an interesting discussion. This discussion has been going on for years. And historically we started with architects being the master building – the overall guiding mind of a building project or a construction of a church say, or a castle – and that was the one guiding mind that later became the architect role. And, through the Victorian era we sort of saw specialism, we saw the role becoming too big for one person and education becoming specialised, and engineers particularly, becoming specialist in making things stand up – in the case of a structural engineer – or in the case of a civil engineer which obviously is a separation from the military engineer, but civil engineer will be looking at drainage, roads, making sure infrastructure works. And that specialism and that gradual branching is something that meant that more and more of the works that traditionally were the architects’ role were carved away into these other professions. And that has caused issues in the UK but it is a function of how specialist knowledge is that we are required to have.
So in the UK we have separate degree courses - although that's changing in some of the universities - that we have we have separate accreditation bodies and separate processes for becoming an architect with a capital ‘A’ or an engineer with a capital ‘E’. And that separation has led to sort of try confrontational experience sometimes between engineers and architects appointed to do different things and see their role in a different light. What I feel and you know, I as well as Jeanette, have worked with people who feel this as well is that really the best projects come when that aggressive confrontational approach doesn't exist and you're there is a collaborative way and you as an engineer are there to support, to challenge the architect but also to understand how they work.


Yes, well in Malta it was slightly strange because the way the professional works here is that it's almost the other way round, right? So until a few years ago students graduated as architects and engineers and then they sort of, you know, find their way into the specialisation they would like to go into. And fairly recently there has been a marked difference, so we seem to be going slightly against the flow of what is happening in the UK. But what made me think was that civil engineering encompasses all sorts of other engineering - the bracket of civil engineering is very vast as you have mentioned. There is structural, military, coastal and all sorts of engineering. But it is called ‘civil engineering’, and I think sometimes we forget what the ‘civil’ bit means. Because ‘civil’ is actually ‘for the people’ and sometimes we actually miss the wood for the trees really. I mean, if we are designing for the people and we are doing civil engineering, is it really that we're designing for the people. And this is where I think that we need work particularly with architects but also with other professionals that deal with people because we need to understand them to be able to design for them.


Absolutely. Yeah, and if you look at the UK, the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is the awarding body for chartership and their charter talks about civil engineering as the arts of (I may get the words wrong here) taking the great forces of nature and harnessing them for the benefit of mankind. In that summation of what civil engineering is, the human aspect - the mankind bit - is so important and we need to always be thinking about that. It's so easy when you're doing a civil engineering project to think “well my job here is to do what the client wants”, but actually in especially in our current era when we are talking about climate emergency, wider thoughts, policy thoughts or environmental thoughts or contexts thoughts should come into and need to come into what we do as engineers.


It is fascinating that sometimes we focus upon trying to breakdown the professions rather than making sure that you know things are seamless and there is some element of ego perhaps and people want to shine in the design rather than prioritising other aspects of the design that are important. In fact, I've looked up quotation by Jean Prouvé which I thought was really on point with regards this this particular topic and he says: “Architect? Engineer? Why raise the question? Why debate it. The important thing is to build. Why can't the builders of aeroplanes or dame, etc. be called architects? it immediately makes one realise that the architect has to be an engineer otherwise there's no defensible idea. My opinion precisely is this: that the question does not rise in the first place.” And it is true really right? He said this in the beginning of the 19th century and it is really still pertinent today.


There was couple of things that jolted in my memory one; of which is about how we talk about things and one of the outcomes in the UK is this split of the profession is that we talk in different languages. You know, as engineers we talk about bending moments, we talk about stresses and strains, and we worry about differential settlement, and all of this jargon that is really vital in what we do. But we don't talk about feeling and the effect of a building on someone which is how architects talk. One of the things that I was taught at University; I think it's one of the things that stuck with me; is that to be able to contribute in those situations you have to understand you have to learn the language of the other parties and for me that's been the ability to listen and talk back about architectural concepts in the language of architecture. And the best architects I work with also have that skill they can talk back in the language of engineering and understand when I say “I'm not sure that’s something that can actually be built and/or how can we fabricate that”; and you get to a stage in those relationships where there are no divisions between engineer and architect. You are doing the same job, you bring your particular skills and there is a necessary specialism sometimes it is in being very, very good at your core engineering skills and the same with architects being very, very good at the core architecture skills. You bring all of those skills into the ring, you shut the door you forget who's labelled what, and you have ideas. You work out what's going on and the best projects are the way you can't really identify who made that decision that really changed the project. It was all of you.


I completely agree, and I think that the best pieces of work as we've seen are when you can't really tell what this architecture and what is engineering, and the two fuse so perfectly well that there are no frills, there are no extra bits. You can't just say “I'm going to take this away”; you can’t because the entire thing works so perfectly well, so beautifully well that there is no architecture without engineering and there's no engineering without the architecture. So precisely this is what really we ought to be focusing on especially from the early stages of the design because this can't happen when you're just trying to fit in and solve a problem to an architectural project.


It's almost a truism isn't it that there is no architecture without engineering and no engineering without architecture - but we do see too many projects where the structure is designed in isolation to the cladding and the cladding feels like it's clipped onto the outside or the converse, that architecture - the shape, the form - is designed before anyone has thought how does this stand up, and the structure looks like it's clipped on and that's where I think we fail as a profession. We come into this project and seeing that its ultimately my job to make it stand up, that's a flippant way of saying it as a structural engineer is my job to make it work make it stand up. But that isn't your job, that is job of the project – it has to stand up - and your role is a structural engineer is to verify that it does; but that is massively under selling what you can bring to the project if you're in the room at the right points or if you are, as I say, speaking the right language to contributing to the right discussions, you can elevate the whole project beyond a clip-on façade.


And obviously, I mean, the way that possibly this could be solved is that from earlier on in the design process we ask the question “why?” Why is this thing like that? And then why not try this? Then how are we going to make this better? Rather than, you know, just talk about calculations, numbers and bending moments from the part of the engineer. So it's less of a linear process we need to go back and forth, right, with ideas, tossing things around to see how they work. And I think it is really important that we don't lose sight of the fact that if the engineers come on board early on or they are involved in the design earlier there is a huge cost-effective design that comes through as well, because we can really tailor-make materials… And this in the context of climate change, sustainability, we just don't use them as frivolous words, we don't just pay lip service to these words; but we actually are applying them in what we are trying to do.


And the important is to appreciate that's not an easy thing to do, it's not an easy thing to do as an engineering. It feels very exciting to be in those early meetings but to be effective in those early meetings you really have to know what the consequences are of the decisions that you make and that requires experience or knowledge of how you go through a project. But also you have (and I am very much looking from an engineering point of view and I appreciate some of the audience might not be engineers but) you very much have to have the confidence to engage and we have to have the confidence to push forward your ideas and to say “No, I really think we should think about that” and those are all skills that need learning, and needs thinking about, and need teaching. The creativity that we talk about with engineer's ability to have new ideas and new ways of thinking about it is something that sparks into that. And it is hard for an architect, those early meetings if you're used to being the master builder, being the person that has the idea and then just sends it off to an engineer to sort out, that's a very easy way through it, and if you prefer to do that it’s the easiest thing for you. It doesn't make it good project but, sometimes it very rarely makes it a good project, but you have to give something, you have to allow yourself to be persuaded, and allow yourself to listen, and allow yourself to collaborate. And though those I think that's the thing that we often forget when we are going to be in the room, we need to be there early, we forget that it’s hard, we forget that we need to spend time working on being better at it.


And I think you touched on a very good point – it’s the collaboration – it’s not just one person leading, it’s the entire team. And we were talking about architecture and engineers but I mean engineers even in the wider sense of engineers because there are building services engineers, mechanical, electrical and all sorts of other disciplines within what constitutes a successful building; and successful not just in how pretty it looks but, you know, that it really performs a function, that it actually gives something back and yes, to a certain degree there needs to be this interdisciplinary approach, right, understanding other people's points of view, seeing how they apply to a project. As were saying before this to-ing and fro-ing seeing how best to tailor make this.


There's a parallel there with character and in the UK engineers are often seen as quite quiet people, they're quite insular they don't and it is a caricature really of what an engineer is. But there they're not the kind of people that are extrovert and are able to engage in those meetings. I think sometimes we hide behind that, and especially we hide behind that when it comes to our place in the wider world and we're talking about projects and but our engagement, say with policy, with where we should put high speed rail lines, for example, or how we deal with climate emergency. We have technical knowledge and skills as engineers and we need to develop those communication and collaboration skills beyond working with architects in the project to engaging with civic society and bringing all of that knowledge and hopefully helping a wider gamut of the of the world.


Yes… I mean… it is very far-reaching and it is not easy… I mean that's why they're called ‘starchitects’ perhaps because they tend to be the more flamboyant (maybe) characters within the project but I think as you said text engineers need to pluck up courage really to take a bit of a stand in the beginning to say “my input is important at this stage as well” in whatever project that that maybe. And, yes, basically we do need each other and perhaps we need to aim to be more of an ‘archi-neer’ maybe or an ‘engi-tect’? I don't know, some hybrid to understand each other!?


I kind of disagree I think (J: Oh dear! D: chuckles, makes good conversation, doesn’t it). I think there is space for interdisciplinary practises so people who are on the boundary between the two but I think you still need specialism and Chris Wise talks about a ‘T-shaped professional’. So that someone who has the breadth to engage across disciplines say with architects, with mechanical engineers, policymakers, with planners, but that's a sort of shallow bit of knowledge – it’s enough knowledge to communicate it's not enough knowledge to do their job. But the equally important bit of the ‘T’, the stem, that depth is your skill and that's what you bring you need to have some people who really do know about the details of the steel codes and looking at bucking of steel webs in bridges. It's really important that those specialisms exist and if we were all interdisciplinary, we wouldn't have enough time to have that depth knowledge and the skill of being at competent professional really is to take your knowledge and transmit it and communicate it to others. And we're all on a spectrum, you know, I'm probably slightly less in the specialist end and I'm more in an intermediate zone but something by now much more in the specialist bucket but without the crossbar and the ‘T’, without the ability to communicate doesn't mean anything. If you really know about the codes but can't tell anyone about it, so what, it's just going to stay in your head.


Yes, of course, there's not just one architect or one engineer working on a project; there are teams of people so obviously every person will then be contributing to the project in whatever way he’s specialised in. I mean communication is also a speciality if you were to look at it in that way.


That’s quite interesting.


To co-ordinate and to see how things flow together is almost a speciality because not everyone can do it, not everyone is able to, maybe, communicate with an architect or with an engineer; so it goes both ways, I think.


It's something that we don't pick up enough on in large projects and I know you have work on large projects, Jeanette, I have too where you have teams of hundreds of people in lots of different practises, different organisations working on a project and what we, I suppose, this sort of social science side of how you make that teamwork effectively is another skill and we often … well there's lots of things about engineering but that doesn't really work; but one of them is that we remake those teams every time we have a new project so you've never very, very rarely do another project with exactly the same team. So you're constantly learning, you're constantly working out how you work as a team and also trying to do the project. But we also don't think well we need to build the team, we need to concentrate on how the bits of the team go together, and we need to design how we interface to get the best out of each other. And so for some people that's not face-to-face meetings; that's emails or reports and for some people it needs to be face-to-face or it needs to be over a piece of sketch paper to really communicate.


Where do you think we should start off from? Is it something that needs to be, you know… we said that we do not really teach this thing at universities, but it is something that we should? It is something that we ought to be doing during the chartership preparation (we call it Warrant here locally, but it's basically the same thing being ready to practise in the industry) or should it be part of CPD? Where does it fit? I mean, because I think it should start right from the beginning perhaps, right?


Yeah well and it's very interesting what you were talking about how the process in Malta and you appear to have a much better system in many ways than the UK where we are so divided in our University degrees and as I mentioned briefly at the beginning there are some universities – Bath, Leeds and Sheffield particularly – where they are doing combined degrees so they are giving you a Bachelor degree in engineering and also a part one in architecture within your first, undergraduate course. And that's a really good idea and the people who come out of those courses are able to speak both languages and choose which direction they want to go in if they still want to decide change their mind. But it allows them to specialise within that and say well “I'm more on the structural side”, say, and I can specialise. But that constant communication, I am now told that the Bath courses sort of the exemplar of that and it’s currently run by Professor Tim Ibell who talks a lot about creativity and about how to engender the kind of things that we're talking about. And it was set up by Ted Happold of Buro Happold as a way of trying to address exactly this problem - that architects and engineers don't speak the same language. And I think it has to happen at University and I had a specialist engineering course; it was actually general engineering course so I learned a lot about mechanical engineering and fluids and all of these other things which are less important now but in the same way that general engineering course allows me to talk to specialists in other engineering fields; and that was a great thing, it's less built environment focused but it still has that ability to speak different languages. Yeah, I think it would be very old fashioned now to have a course an engineering course where you don't have some part of it dedicated to speaking to other people working in teams with architects to develop a project, just because that reflects how we work day-to-day and I think you're right, though, that we need to be thinking about it in CPD, the initial professional development stage as well because too often graduates come out…


It feels that it gets forgotten, everyone gets so focused in trying to achieve the specialisation that sometimes the ‘T’, the top bar of the ‘T’, gets watered down and I'm not much importance is given to it. And then you find yourself in a project and you're in a bit of a loss, because you know a lot about buckling of whatever it is and not much about what the architect language is. And true, it is just learning another language.


And I think that’s… you know, you run a practise, I run at a small practise, it is sort of beholden to people like us to remember that about being a graduate engineer, and to remember that one of the real downsides being a graduate engineer that you're seen immediately as something that's profitable, you were there to do work and that work that you can to is often quite menial – they be doing computer modelling or it could be doing basic calculations and all of that is good learning. It takes a very long time before you see the consequences of what you do and are involved in the decisions that really affect projects. And it puts a lot of people off! Lots of people go into practise as graduates and say well why aren't I involved in all this wonderful stuff that I learned about at university and if you find your way through it and you find the right mentors then you eventually have a great career and you do do amazing projects. But if you don't, it can be really quite a treacherous path and we need to remember that graduates need that breadth, they need to be trained in that breadth, they may not be able to do it straight away but they need to have that experience otherwise later on they won't develop it.


I think we've mentioned so many aspects of this interaction between professionals that one really needs to practise it to be able to understand what we mean. And perhaps one little thing that people could keep in mind, professionals or even the clients, when they are speaking to (because clients are involved as much as) the engineer and the architect in the initial stages; is to think of the end products of all this work. It's not just designing a column, or putting cladding on something… What is the building going to do, what is the structure going to do, and I believe (I may be wrong but I truly believe) that if we keep sustainability and wellbeing of the end user in mind; and beyond the professional, beyond who you are and what you're trying to achieve, if you keep that in mind and always aim your efforts towards that general direction, I think somehow there will be some synergy that happens within the team.

So yes, thank you so much David for joining us today. It has been amazing talking to you and maybe this will be one of the many that we will be doing together. Thank you!


Thank you, it’s been great.


Have a lovely day!


Thank you and yeah thanks for inviting me.

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