In search of new rituals

This is a slightly altered version of a short pitch I gave to minor students of the Co-Design Studio. Besides working as a coach in design projects, I’ll act as one of the hosts during their ‘dedication week’ this year. Coaches pick a theme that is close to them. Students pick a coach they want to work with. I intend to spend my dedication week researching and designing new rituals for organisations.

When I got a kid last year, and when I got married this year, I realised nobody really prepared me for these new roles in my life. I suddenly became a dad. And later on a husband. Now what?

Of course there were big changes in my life before. I left home when I was 18, graduated university when I was 25. But now I felt that I had to make these transitions differently. With more attention. Or by making some more profound changes, maybe.

I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot lately. What interested me is the apparent lack of a strong passing on from father to son, or from generation to the next, and little attention to the effect or importance of big life events, in our modern society.

We aren't taught how to be warriors by our elders. We don't go on quests to look for insights. We don't come together to discuss the new phases we enter. We aren't separated from our mothers, or our old roles. We don't focus, don't really pay attention and just move forward. (At least, not many of us. And as far as I understand, about the same goes for girls, becoming women, mothers or wives.)

Last month, when I was on honeymoon on Malta and Gozo my wife, my son and me visited the remains of an ancient temple. It occurred to me how little our culture has really evolved in the past 5000 years.

Somehow this small civilisation decided what they really needed was to gather some big rocks, put them on a hill and build a temple. An immense undertaking to build a sacred space. A place to come together and mark special moments. With rooms dedicated to making fire, to display figurines for some reason, and to make offerings to the gods.

It came to think of modern organisations. I believe organisations have immense potential power. What is more powerful than a diverse group of people, spending most of their waking life together, working towards the same goal or with the same vision? It’s incredible and honestly quite shameful that so few live up to this potential. I believe too many people in organisations are detached from a sense of purpose, a notion of real value, from themselves and from each other.

The organisational rituals I can think of don't nearly cut it. Signing contracts, sharing stories at the coffee machine, exchanging ideas at the water cooler, having lunch together, an occasional Friday drink, an annual outing, meetings, 'brainstorming' sessions or awaydays for new strategies. I think we can and should do better.

I’d like to explore the idea of new rituals. I'd like to research this further, come up with ideas and test prototypes. With clients and friends. For organisations and the individuals in them.

I hope some of you will join me.

I will try to share our findings and involve friends, clients, and anyone who's interested in our process, as I've already started doing on Facebook. Your thoughts, criticism and inspiration are highly appreciated at erwin@thewrongsongs.com.