Social Innovation as Capoiera
When I was at university I came across Capoiera, and have been to a few classes. It’s physically demanding, making you hold your weight with your arms and legs down on the floor and working your core muscles. It’s one of the few physical activities that really made me watch the clock to figure out how much more to go because it’s such a hard workout! It has a fascinating history, originating with slaves in South America who wanted to be able to practice fighting but were prohibited from doing so, so they invented this form that they called a dance but incorporates martial arts like elements. The result is an intriguing mix of dancing and fighting, competing and collaborating, and which one it is more of changes from moment to moment in a fluid real time way.
I find this useful as a metaphor for the work of social innovation, where we attempt to facilitate and influence social and systems change to shift society and communities towards a more equitable and empowering state for everyone, and especially those most unjustly disadvantaged. It is part dance, part collaboration, part tussle, and can cause discomfort when norms, habits, capabilities and mindsets are challenged and stretched.
For example, I am focusing on growing, developing, and testing the Participatory City Approach within Auckland Council at the moment. It can be challenging for both staff and community members as they are asked and invited to work in more collaborative ways, that require more negotiation, push and pull. It’s challenging for me as an innovation coach as I facilitate this process and support staff and community to grow collaborative capability to innovate together. Something that I’ve discovered about myself recently is that I fit into a typology developed by Imi Lo known as gifted, intense, and sensitive. This means that while I have the ability for deep thinking, perception, and insight, this comes with intense emotions and “thin skin” which can make it hard for me to handle the inevitable tensions that arise in social innovation work. But I’m learning to partner with grounded individuals as well as building my capability in self-regulation.
What metaphors or lenses do you use in your innovation work? What mental models do you find helpful? How do you find your rhythm in the dance, and what do you use to regain balance when something knocks you sideways?