#50 The cultural designer

It's my pleasure to introduce my friend Lynsey Smith. Lynsey was one of the driving forces behind Creative Edinburgh. It was so unfortunate that I only discovered her as she was moving to London and when she decided to move back to Scotland I moved down south. I miss her. Lynsey is now Programme Manager of the Creative Economy at the British Council and she also knows many clever things about skin care (it has taken me 30 years to realise I have to learn how to wash my face properly)

Lynsey works with people like Indigo Trust, Hivos, Goethe-Institut, Nesta and & V&A to develop strategic programming. She worked with colleagues in South Africa to develop a Digital Arts Festival, which has now been running for three years; Watershed to develop Playable City Lagos; Indigo Trust to develop a Civic Tech project in Uganda; and helped curate Nesta’s FutureGlobal content for their annual festival, FutureFest.

She loves books and animals. Here's what Lynsey has to say...

What's the biggest lesson you've learnt over the last year? 
 
There's truth in the cliches, every day really is a school day…if we choose to see it.
 
Firstly, that I am exactly where I am meant to be. I don’t mean this in a pious or self-indulgent way, quite the opposite. I’ve always been one of those people who never quite knew what they wanted to do career wise, flitting from one idea to the next (from wanting to run an animal charity, be a children’s TV presenter or educational psychologist to being a writer (I’ve not quite given up on this one yet), spy, embroiderer and moustache magnet maker!).  All I really knew was that I wanted to help people and work with nice people to do that.  I constantly wonder where I’m meant to be, particularly as I get closer to turning 40, when in fact, I am exactly where I’m meant to be.  We’re rushing so much to get to the next thing that we don’t stop to enjoy what we’re doing just now and we’re doing great things just now.  I know that when I’m older and I look back on my life, I’ll be proud of what I did right now, so why not be proud of that now, rather than waiting until I’m older.  I’m not sure of where I’m going, but I’m going to try and enjoy the ride, rather than fret over the destination (cheesy as it sounds).  As my friend and mentor, Jim Galloway says, ‘trust in the messiness’.

In addition to this, when I get stressed at work I do two things, I verbalise ‘no one’s going to die’ to get a bit of perspective (and I'm instantly grateful for people in professions that have to deal with death on a daily basis!), and then if it’s really bad, like a level 10 stress, I ask myself ‘will I remember this on my deathbed?’.  I know this seems really weird and quite morbid, but it seems to give me perspective. If I’m fretting over something that’s not going to mean anything to me at the end of my life, then why does it mean so much to me now - get perspective, sort it out. 
 
Secondly, people are the fabric of my learning.  I’ve learned everything I know from the people I have met in my life.  People inspire me, anger me, frustrate me, ignite me…no matter what they do, they get me thinking, and that’s always a good thing.  Probably a good thing then that I’ve landed in a cultural relations role. I have been really lucky to experience different countries and cultures in the work that I do, learning about cultural contexts and sensitivities from colleagues and partners overseas.  The importance of being patient and a good listener – acting, not reacting – helping colleagues translate programmes into their own context, which can sometimes be very different from mine, has been a very humbling experience and one which I am constantly learning from.  Intercultural miscommunication can happen if you aren’t clear, aren’t aware of cultural sensitivities and believe that one way is better than the other – communication across cultures, languages and continents is an art which I’m still learning, but one which I’m really passionate about.  I have been blessed with colleagues that have guided me through this learning, and continue to blow my mind with their in-country achievements. No matter how different cultures are, it comes down to being clear, honest and patient with one another. The ‘people’ element has to come before the ‘timeline’ element, ‘no one is going to die’ if you delay or extend something – everything is always sortable.  I think I’ve learned to listen more this year and I really love this quote;

Culture is the future, it’s about freedom of opinion, you form your own opinion rather than sucking up opinion.
— Vivienne Westwood


 
Thirdly, alone time for yourself and quality time with the people you love, is super important.  I really like to have Lynsey time, whether it’s reading, travelling by myself or thinking time, I honestly think I would implode without it and I’ve learned to be more confident in being a loner these days.  I think the book Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus was actually written with me in mind! It makes me appreciate my time with the special people in my life more.

I’ve realised this past year that my alone time is integral to the rest of the relationships I have in my life.  It’s very easy to get caught up in life, but I think time on your own is a very important part of our spirit and one we should acknowledge more.  I’m one for saying ‘go into the cave’, we humans should retreat to the cave regularly, it’s good for us and everyone around us. I truly believe my other half has benefitted from me taking time out for myself and I think it has enriched the quality time that we spend together.  My relationship is also my top priority and absolutely nothing (work, commitments, life) comes before it.  They say that behind every strong man is a strong female and vice versa.  I have a strong man behind me who enriches my life and helps me steer the Lynsey ship in the right direction, particularly when it’s dark outside.

lynsey_smith_redjotter

I’ve also learned that I really can’t handle it when people say they don’t like animals or flowers, I’m not sure how to compute this! Please don’t tell me this!  I'm sentimental to a fault. I’m (very slowly) putting together some children’s stories which focus on the theme of ‘remember not to forget about the animals’, a passion project of sorts.  Animals make the world go round. Word.
 
Finally, I coined a phrase ‘paradise begins with charity’ recently.  It comes from the idea that we all sometimes feel powerless to make a change single-handedly.  However, if every person did one good thing every day, then it would truly cause the butterfly effect and the notion of a ‘pass it on’ culture.  You help someone onto the bus with their groceries, that person gives someone an apple, that person says their partner looks nice – everyone benefits.  We need to break down the huge global problems into personal bite size chunks, where we feel we are doing something good, easily.  If we look after each other, the rest will follow.  I truly believe this.


What's your burning question of the moment? 
 
SO many!

When will more policy makers and high-level stakeholders truly recognise the importance of the creative economy and what a rich resource it is in solving some of the world’s problems?
When will the UK redesign their democratic system? (there really has never been a better time!)
When will tampons not be taxed and even better, when will they be free?  Period poverty is real and women are suffering. Period.
When will flat hierarchies be the only system that exists within the workplace?
When will anyone ever know what I do for my job?  (that’s maybe a bigger question, my mum still thinks I work in marketing)  
When will it be the right time to have children…?
And the list goes on!

lynsey_smith


 What's the most inspiring thing you've seen, heard and read in the last year?
 
I spotted an amazing Nelson Mandela quote when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg recently (there’s so many, it’s hard to pick one – that man knew how to captivate thought).  ‘Courage is not an absence of fear but the triumph over it’.  This is so true.  Accomplishments don’t come without a bit of fear, people don’t make things happen without worrying about something along the way and we shouldn’t think of people as being ‘lucky’ when they accomplish their goals, they have most likely faced many personal demons along the way and their true grit and spirit is what we should be applauding and recognising. 
 
When Theresa May recently said that she didn’t have a role model, I couldn't relate to that.  I have so many role models – my other half, my family, my friends, icons – people that stir something inside of me – particularly women.   I have the pleasure of working with a variety of strong women and men at work, in the UK and globally, and I also share a studio with two amazing women.  People constantly inspire me.  Cindy Gallop spoke at FutureFest last year and as well as blowing shit up, she blew me away.  She mentioned that ‘women get employed by proof, while men get employed on potential’ – a really interesting evaluation which has had me thinking ever since.  Gender equality has become more and more important to me and something I’m more and more aware of in both my professional and personal life.  Gender equality drives innovation in the workforce and it’s something we all have to get better at supporting – particularly when women begin to have children (I salute the amazing Joeli Brearley here for her amazing and much needed Pregnant then Screwed campaign).  One of a few changes that our team have made a pact on, is that we won’t speak on a panel or at an event if there isn’t an equal number of male and female speakers. Which is why I'm really proud of my friend Lauren for the amazing work she is doing with #upfront!

I find it really inspiring when youth rise, question systems and affect change.  Thirteen year old Zulaikha Patel from Pretoria, South Africa, became the face of demonstrations against High School policy regarding black girl's hair - 'I was fighting for every black child in this country…raising awareness will lead to change' Zulaikha said.  There are many people across the world that are doing this, in their own way, which we should be supporting and applauding.
 
Reading is one of my favourite past times and over the last year the most inspiring (and entertaining) books I’ve read will probably include: The Challenge for Africa (Wangari Maathai), Autobiography of Malcolm X (Alex Haley & Malcolm X), Detroit City is the place to be: the afterlife of an American Metropolis (Mark Binelli); Civilization (Niall Ferguson); Flaneuse (Lauren Elkin), Super Freakonomics (Stephen J. Dubner), Porno (Irvine Welsh), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and Elena Ferranta's Neopolitan Novels. Next books I want to read include: Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela), Night (Elie Wiesel), After Auschwitz (Eva Schloss), Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life (George Monbiot) and The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux (St. Therese of Lisieux).  Right now, our book club is reading The Lesser Bohemians (Eimear McBride).  I have informal book clubs with some of my friends too, where we send books to one another that we think we'd like - there's nothing nicer than a surprise book arriving through the letter box from time to time!  Film wise, I really loved Joy.  Boxset wise, definitely Transparent.
 
What would be your one piece of advice to students out there? 

 Typically, I have a list.  I do like lists, I’ve realised this recently too.
 
1. Don’t be afraid of position.  One thing I can honestly say is that I’ve never been intimidated by people’s positions.  Don’t construct barriers that don’t exist – even if some people want you to think they do!

2. Question things.  Just because something hasn’t happened before, doesn’t mean it can’t happen now.  Equally, just because one person hasn’t been able to change something, doesn’t mean you can’t

3. Always be accountable for your mistakes.  It’s ok to make mistakes, but make sure it’s clear who made them. 

4. Be strong and push yourself.  You think you can’t do something, but is this the reality?  Try it.  You’ll learn from it either way.

5. Just get on with it.  Don’t spend lots of time perfecting something, just get it started.  Allies will show their face soon enough and help you steer the idea to the finish line together.

6.  Get a mentor.  I have had a variety of mentors throughout my career – some short term and some long term, and I can honestly say that they have been like guardian angels in my professional journey.  Wendy Niblock (freelance arts publicist) has been my mentor (and very good friend) for more than 10 years.  While short-term mentors have included Stuart Cosgrove (Channel 4) and Philip Edgar-Jones (Sky Arts).  Jim Galloway (City of Edinburgh Council) has become my most recent mentor.  Together, these souls have offered their time, expertise and support throughout different periods of my career, which have proven invaluable to me.  I can’t promote the idea of mentors enough.

7. Never assume anything.  I have always caused trouble for myself by assuming things e.g. that person knows what I’m talking about (when they don’t); that person knows that they will cover this part of the project (when they don’t); everyone knows what they’ve got to do (when they don’t).  Sometimes it’s worth double checking for clarity, for everyone’s sake!

8.  Be supportive of fellow females.  I have benefitted greatly by female leaders who have supported fellow female colleagues.  This is not always a given. 

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