Magnus Carlsen, a Chess Grandmaster once opined that “Without the element of fun, it’s not worth trying to excel at anything.”. It's an adage that I try to deploy in my work.
Many of the challenges I have faced in my career have been complex and important tasks. Whether that's trying to get trains to run on time at Merseyrail and in Kent at Network Rail, leading a rail franchise bid, developing or reviewing rail reform proposals, or critiquing performance strategies, the efforts can be material and the outputs significant in terms of what happens next. Sometimes that challenge and trust placed on you can appear a little daunting, and the task massive in scale. My role as a leader is to help the team with which I am working understand the human perspectives of the challenge, support their structuring of the examination, and bring some positive passion and emotion to their work. Fundamentally, I am striving to create great work book-ended and permeated by the human experience.
What's this got to do with transport and streets?
Just as I relish a new consultancy challenge, I find great interest in understanding the mundanity of human life—the choices we make, the assets we use, the experiences we enjoy, and the legacy we leave. Through this understanding, we can make decisions to improve sustainability, deliver greater equity, nurture wellbeing, grow economies, and drive efficiency in the performance of our investments.
So a weekend of comparisons and learning about the human experience is the joy of travel. Whether that's comparing the branded rubbish trucks of London to the brutalist garbage trucks of New York City or how public city agencies try to help people navigate their unfamiliar streets and transit systems. One advantage to the Steer global family is the opportunity to reach out across our 26 offices and ask that daft question "How do you..." and "can you send me a picture of...".
As we continue to develop our 'new norm' post-Covid pandemic, we will need to understand and respond to human experience and behaviour ever more closely. We will need to seduce people back to our cities, to our public transport, and to our offices. We will need to give them reasons to visit and enjoy themselves while offering absolute confidence in the mundane. I suggest that we can and should do more to continue embracing local identity and fun through:
- Being creative and open-minded and considering the experience of other places
- Reimagining our pop-up retail and showrooming experiences
- Supporting community use whether that's exhibitions, boot fairs, summer carnivals, space for marching bands
- Driving destination style-experiences in our spaces
- Removing, replacing or modifying unsightly and detracting assets
- Providing platforms for local creativity, identity and above all fun
At the bottom of this opinion piece are some illustrations of communities embracing history or humour to lighten the mundane, to offer identity, and to contribute to a sense of place and experience. They're not necessarily massive investments, but they do take creativity, effort, and support from those who own the station or street.
So I argue that as we encourage people to travel once more and as we support our communities, we may be best placed to do this with creativity and, on occasion, a sense of humour. To succeed, we will also need to understand decision makers and persuade them as to the value of fun and human experience. In summary: be thoughtful, deliberate, and happy in creating fun!