The Hero’s Journey of Chris Jackson

What is the best thing that I love about my work? 

Working with a diverse range of people is one of the best things about my job. I’m lucky to be connected to great thinkers and practitioners all over the world, as well as working with great clients. The second thing is working in complex and emergent problem spaces, and helping the people we work with to make sense of things, solve problems and work our way through the fog.

What is my idea of perfect happiness? 

I think happiness is being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it. For me, that’s also finding a good balance between family, leisure and business life.

What is my greatest fear? 

I recently completed Seth Godin’s altMBA, during which, we had to answer this exact question. Originally, it was being perceived as a failure if We Create Futures doesn’t work, as it’s a new venture. Through the process, I realised that every day is a success for me and other people’s opinions don’t matter. There’s not much I fear at the moment.

What is the trait that I most deplore in myself? 

I can be a bit snappy when I’m under stress, which my family see, but no one else. I’m trying to be better at managing stress at the moment, which is a combination of meditation, better sleep and exercise.

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire? 

I try and not focus too much on an individual profession now, as I find it limiting. I love the work of the Chef Monique Fiso and her restaurant in Wellington, Hiakai. She is re-framing Māori cuisine by fusing traditional knowledge and approaches with fine dining. The quality, creativity and level of detail of her food experiences are amazing.

Anab Jain is doing inspirational work in the speculative futures space. Stuart Candy’s work in experiential futures is similarly inspirational. Dave Snowden for anthrocomplexity and Simon Wardley for strategy. Anyone who is developing new praxis in an area of practice that interests us.

What is my greatest extravagance? 

Probably travel. Living in New Zealand travel is important to connect with people here and overseas. With the climate crisis, this will change significantly. I do minimal commuting currently and minimise travel as much as I can. One of the things we are developing at We Create Futures are approaches to working with overseas clients whilst reducing the need for travel.

On what occasion would I lie? 

In my professional life, and as a business, I take pride in acting with integrity and am a steadfast believer in being truthful, no matter what. As a parent, I have been known to tell the odd white lie to my children, mainly about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. Ensuring the wonder of childhood is something I’m willing to compromise on.

What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work? 

In terms of strategic design and foresight, it’s hard to communicate the value of what we do visually. Websites, brand and products can always be nicely wrapped up in imagery, which is very seductive for clients. Strategic work is more messy, less photogenic and has a long tail of value – so even though it’s more important and critical for success, it’s harder to sell. Similar to design, everyone thinks they can do strategy, and it’s just a matter of pulling a template from the internet. You get back what you invest in.

When and where was I the happiest, in my work?

Now. Starting We Create Futures has been one of the best things I have done. We are operating at the intersection of foresight and futures, customer insight, design and strategy. Not many people are doing this, and it’s not something I could have done anywhere else and we aren’t like anyone else. We are working at the bleeding edge of interdisciplinary practice, and follow our own rules to create new approaches and value for clients.

If I could, what would I change about myself? 

I’m too conscientious sometimes. I wish I could say “to hell with it, that’s good enough”, but I find that very hard. We don’t work on timesheets at We Create Futures, we focus on making a difference for clients, so we’re committed to achieving the best outcomes and go out of our way to do this. We’re playing a long game, and we’d rather build relationships over a long period to create trust than strike out on short term gains.

What is my greatest achievement in work? 

Moving across design disciplines across my career. The common thread through that has always been working on complex problems, strategic projects, creating new approaches and bringing communities together to create change.

Where would I most like to live?

I always say that if I were in my 20’s it would be in one of the five Boroughs of New York. I’m from the UK, but I love living in Wellington, New Zealand. We have a view of the sea and South Island and I have a skateboard ramp in the backyard.

What is my most treasured possession?

My skateboard and probably my skateboard ramp. Although I’ve had the occasional hiatus, I’ve been skateboarding since I was 12 and it’s always something I come back to. It’s shaped my personality, my friends and network, my understanding of people, my aesthetic, my taste in music. I don’t think there’s anything else that has such a profound effect on my life, except for my design education and my family.

What is my most marked characteristic?

Fun and Laughter. I love to see people smiling and enjoying themselves. For me, it’s a prerequisite for good work. If you want to do insight or strategy with some stuffy suites in a power play, that’s not us. If you want creative leadership and to create great work whilst enjoying your work and life in general, come and see us.

What is my most inspirational location, in my city? 

I’m lucky to live in the southernmost suburb of Wellington, New Zealand. The coastline around the city is epic and a walk on the beach always provides inspiration, clears the mind and nourishes the soul.

What is my favourite place to eat and drink, in my city?

There is a little spot in Newtown near my house, called the Ramen Shop. I did a retreat in Japan with Jan Chipchase, and it always reminds me of that experience. It’s my design research comfort food. For coffee, The Empire near my house is great, or Lamason Brew Bar in the CBD. For beer, the Fork and Brewer do their thing on-site, or the Garage Project Bar is great to connect with close friends.

What books influenced my life and how?

I don’t read a lot of fiction, I’m pretty obsessed developing my practice and that of the company, so the books I read are often about strategy, design, foresight or business. Just before starting We Create Futures I was reading the Three-Body Problem by Cien Liu. The time-arc and narrative traverse 200 years. The idea that stories can change people’s perception of the future and what’s probable, plausible and possible was inspirational in starting We Create Futures.

Who are my favourite writers?

I like John Kolko’s writing on design. I’ve always thought Bill Bryson’s writing is lovely. Accessible, funny and compelling.

A lot of my favourite writers are probably lyricists and rappers, who create bars and narratives through words and music. I’m currently reading a book on Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers “Chamber Music” by Will Ashon, which I’m enjoying. We went to see “The Streets” recently in Wellington. I saw Mike Skinner described as the “Ian Dury” of a generation, which I think is apt.

You Only Die Once. What music would I listen on my last day?

UK Grime. When I started my own business, I was listening to a lot of BBK and their whole vibe is about DIY, owning and controlling your destiny. Otherwise, it would be Wu-tang Clan 36 Chambers or The Streets, who recently played an amazing gig in Wellington, as I just mentioned.

Can I play some house music or techno as well?

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction?

I grew up with Star Wars, so Han Solo is someone who I find heroic. The combination of charisma, not always getting it right and his reluctance to become involved with something greater than himself creates an anti-hero quality. I think the nemesis of Bobba Fett was also part of that attraction.

Who are my heroes and heroines in real life?

This sounds trite, but my wife is a heroine of mine. She’s an amazing parent and artist and is now developing her art practice and doing super well. I have a few heroes in skateboarding, but as I get older I get less transfixed on heroes. I’m more excited about meeting people who create or do things that appear modest but make a difference to the people they touch.

Which movie would I recommend to see once in a lifetime? 

I’d have to say either The Empire Strikes Back or Blade Runner, as I’ve revealed my Harrison Ford man-crush.

What role does art play in my life and work?

My wife is an artist, so we are surrounded by art, whether it’s on a wall or in-progress. I also have two small children, who are also obsessed with art and creativity. Hopefully, it’s their parent’s influence. I travel to the states in a few days, so I’ll be spending an afternoon in SF MoMA, which is one of my favourite galleries – so art is always influencing our practice.

Who is my greatest fan, sponsor or partner in crime?

I’d say my wife again. We try and support each other in our creativity and share the emotional load. In terms of work, I have a few people who I collaborate with and have great relationships – Anais Ardid and Hamish Gow. I’m doing a lot of explorative work on futures and complexity with Chris Clay and working with Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa (IDIA) on a project decolonising design methods alongside our friends and whānau in Taranaki.

Whom would I like to work with in 2019? 

We aim to work with responsible brands and organisations who want to be more experimental in their strategic thinking and make braver decisions. We are focused on the sports leisure and tourism sectors, who face multiple strategic challenges with the climate crisis (as do most industries). I’m personally keen to work with street culture and lifestyle brands that I’ve grown up with, but closer to home, Mons Royale is a Kiwi merino apparel brand where I believe cultures align.

Which people in my profession would I love to meet in 2019?

I’m very lucky that throughout my career I’ve either ended up meeting or working with people who I look up to; Dave Snowden, Jan Chipchase, Liz Sanders, Andrea Siodmok. I’m lucky to be doing some work with Wendy Schultz at the moment, who is a luminary in Futures Studies. I’d like to meet Jim Dator, who is the godfather of Futures Studies.

What project, in 2019, am I looking forward to work on?

Working on a large comparative futures scanning project with a team that’s dotted across different parts of the globe.

Where can you see me or my work in 2019?

If this comes out before the 21st of August, you can see me talking on the main stage at the IDSA’s annual conference in Chicago.

Our work is strategic, so it’s often not very visible. People working on brand or product always have nice visuals to show off their projects, whereas that can be a bit different for the type of work we do. An idea I am pushing is “Objects as Strategy”. I’d love to create an exhibition of strategic objects at some point. You can read our thinking on the We Create Futures blog on the website – blog.wecreatefutures.com

What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me? 

On the one hand, if you are lucky enough to do something you are passionate about, it never feels like work and is something that is ingrained in the fibre of your being and becomes compulsive.

On the other, If you are lucky enough to pursue what you want as a passion, then recognise how fortunate you are, and maybe spend some time trying to raise others around who are less fortunate.

Which creative heroes should Peter invite to tell their story?

My friend and co-conspirator Chris Clay. He has an interesting background through education and technology through to strategic foresight and complexity science. Also, Penny Hagen doing great work in participatory design through The Southern Initiative in Auckland.

How can you contact me?

You can contact me by visiting the We Create Futures website – www.wecreatefutures.com, and find us on Instagram @wecreatefutures or Twitter @futureswecreate

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