This spring I participated in two “City Classes”, organised by Stroom The Hague.
I am interested in questions like: what can organisations learn from the way cities are developing? Can cities be an inspiration for organisations? The first trip went to Amsterdam Noord where Luc Harings of the “I Love Noord” blogging community guided us. The second trip was to the industrial area De Binckhorst in The Hague. Here artist Sabrina Lindemann (“OpTrek”) was the host.
8 lessons I learned during the ‘City Classes’:
- Take your time to build relations
Sabrina Lindemann is a self-appointed artist/ change agent. A couple of years ago she started in De Binckhorst. An old industrial area, with a lot of empty offices, small workshops, buildings filled with young entrepreneurs etc.
She said: I used the first year-and-a-half to connect to the people, to get to know them, before I took any initiative.
Where in organisations can you take a year-and-a-half to go around, to get to know the people and the business, before taking action?
- Do not fight the authorities
It is no use to complain about the authorities. The government and the municipalities work very slow and bureaucratic. Take this as a given, and find ways to work with/ around/ without the authorities. New ways of working and old regulations do not go well together. With patience and persistence (see 7) a lot can be accomplished.
- Be independent
Many change agents in the cities are independent. They can start initiatives without having to defend their plans to bosses and committees. Their independency helps. It also raises questions. Why are you doing this? Who are you representing? What is your earning model? It takes courage to stay independent, and it can lead to frustration (“We are doing all this work, we should get paid”). Where are the independent change agents in organisations? Are they tolerated or quickly removed or encapsulated by the system?
- Transition time is valuable time
In the past city developers used to be drastic. Preference was to totally remove old industrial areas, and then replace by new developments. The clean sheet approach. The Binckhorst in The Hague is a good example. The plans were big, but the money to realise the plans was not available. What happens in the meantime? Maybe sometime in the future there will be money. How can the transition time be used in a valuable way? Is a more gradual transition between old and new possible? What if transition is permanent? Cities are in permanent transition, and organisations can learn from cities what a good approach is when transition is the status quo.
- Go with the flow
In Amsterdam Noord a group of bloggers writes about this part of the city. They address issues that come on their way.
Is there a way the movement of people on and off the ferry to the city centre can be made less chaotic? Who has ideas?
When there is a good idea, the bloggers try to implement it immediately. The ferry owner is flexible and is willing to listen.
Is ferry logistics the highest priority? Maybe not, but here are people with initiative and ideas, let’s follow them and go with the flow.
- Use what is available
How can old office buildings be transformed into centres for creative entrepreneurship? How can a petrol station be used as a pop-up store? In organisations often ‘new’ is the norm. If more time would be spend to look for existing practices that can be re-used or scaled-up, a lot of time and money can be saved.
- Be persistent/ Never give up
This is a clear credo everywhere. Change drivers with a mission never give up. The time horizon in cities is interesting. Not months or years, but often it takes a decade or more to realise substantial change.
- Growth is not a driver for everybody
During the trip in The Hague we met some interesting entrepreneurs. The founder and owner of the mobile espresso machine. The bicycle repair man. They were happy with what they were doing. The tour participants came with suggestions for growth. Why not sell sandwiches next to the coffee? Why not start bike rent services? The coffee man and the bicycle repair man were not very interested. They were happy with what they were doing and it provided the income they needed (I assume).