Co-creating cultural artifacts

At Jaxzyn, Open Mic is a biannual tradition. By tradition, I mean that we’ve done it at least once before but intend to do it again, which puts it onto a long list of esteemed Jaxzyn traditions including Burger Friday (RIP), Acai Thursday, Huddles ✎, Carpark Parties, Tim’s Toolbox Talks, The MoMoMe ☑︎, The Happiness Wall ☺︎, Board Meetings ✌︎, Can You Kick-off? ☞, and Tea Time ☕︎.

You might be familiar with Open Mic as it’s more commonly known: FedEx Day. As far as I know, Atlassian first popularised the concept of developing and shipping a product overnight with 24 hour coding events that encouraged their people to brainstorm, prototype, and pitch their own ideas. It’s since become a tech start-up staple for sparking innovation.

Our version is a little different. Instead of 24 hour delivery, we set our time limit for a far more civilised 8 hour work day. We’re also a little less focused on the end result, and more interested in the process of creation. It’s a chance to try new techniques and mediums, explore, experiment, learn, and make something without the usual commercial constraints. I can’t remember exactly why we named it Open Mic. Probably the parallel with bravely putting yourself out there with equal possibility of fame or failure. Failure mostly, TBH.

In our previous Open Mic (by previous I mean the first and only other one) we split into two groups. One team with set about creating a stop motion video to celebrate ‘the few who move the many’. The other group set out to simplify the process of how waves form.

This time around, we all came together to create a zine ✄ from concept to production, with one devious caveat — no technology allowed. Yep, no internet, no computers, no phones, no cameras — just five brains, ten arms, and a photocopier. The content was inspired by typical things that make up our worklife at Jaxzyn.

After squandering several hours eating pastries under the pretence of a brainstorming session, we split into groups of two to develop content. At around 1pm we figured we should probably start making something.

This is where the real fun began. By fun, I really mean trauma. Over the next four hours I witnessed everyone go through what can best be described as a technology-deprivation grief cycle. Questions were left frustratingly unGoogled, and adrift in a maelstrom of glue sticks, scalpels, and collaged elements, perfectionism was quickly abandoned, and all hopes of a reasonable-looking end result were jettisoned. There was anger, there was denial, there was depression, and there was certainly an embarrassing amount of bargaining (“Maybe we could use the internet once, just to work out how this bloody photocopier works…”). How many Gen X’s does it take to use a photocopier? ⚐

Finally though, there was acceptance. And the way the team worked through unfamiliar challenges together, and the creativity that emerged, was far more glorious to behold than the end result. Best of all, it was done without regard for role — creative, strategic, admin — it didn’t matter one bit. Heck, Nadeen, our finance and administration officer, scored the coveted centre spread with her striking illustration of Angry Horse / Neutral Face Horse. Special mention also to new Jaxzynite, Jess, who threw herself headlong into uncertainty like a veteran (read about her experience here).

Unlike the parent with the unfortunate-looking baby, I’ll be the first to admit that the final product might kindly be described as naïve, realistically labelled as crude, and if you’re particularly heartless, you might even call it ugly. But beyond the benefits of the process — it’s only in hindsight that I realised we’d inadvertently co-created a wonderful cultural artifact through a collaborative cultural experience.

We have a Jaxzyn culture book. It has all the typicals — vision, mission, values, and maxims. It looks nice. It’s written well. Ahhh, but this magnificent monstrosity inspires so many other possibilities…

Culture, vision, mission and values will always originate at, and filter down from leadership. Great leaders demonstrate these values and behaviours, communicate them effectively, and find and foster them in their people. But there’s something interesting in the idea of a co-created cultural artefact. Especially when an experience brings people together to live the organisational values and produce something that means something to them — an interpretation of culture that could never have come from leadership or corporate comms. Something that they have ownership over.

For us, this zine perfectly encapsulated our lead value: Creative Ideation. It also encompassed a swag of our maxims: Better by Design, Relentless Enthusiasm, We Fly our Banner Proud, and Capable of the Most Magnificent Failure. Ugly, perhaps, but also a remarkably accurate snapshot of life and culture at Jaxzyn.

What could your co-created cultural artifact be?

The Jaxzine. Revel in it's unashemed ugliness. Such creative though. So cultural, also.

✎ Huddles: rapid-fire morning meetings where everyone declares 3 intentions for the day.

☑︎ MOnday MOrning MEeting: an extended version of the huddle that includes 3 weekly goals for each person, and a comprehensive breakdown of weekend activities.

☺︎ The Happiness Wall: All new recruits add 20 photos of things that make them happy to the wall. A less bestial way of peeing on the tree, as well as sharing interests and establishing commonalities with the rest of the team.

✌︎ Board Meetings: lunchtime surfs.

☞ Can You Kick-off?: Kick-off meeting at the start of a new project, heralded by the sounding of A Tribe Called Quest’s 90’s hip hop anthem, Can I Kick It? We most certainly can, and do.

☕︎ Tea Time: Began with Buddha’s Tears, an aptly named tisane because of the tears Buddha must’ve cried when he was told how much 50g of his delicious tear-duct juices cost. Replaced with Russian Caravan for budgetary reasons.

✄ Zine: A magazine/fanzine. Typically a small-circulation, self-published, handmade or illustrated publication using low-fi reproduction like a photocopier.

⚐ Five.