Experience by Design

Designing Empowerment from the Inside Out with Thibault Manekin

Episode Summary

Thibault Manekin has had a life of putting himself in uncomfortable situations. Through that process, he has learned a lot about what change looks like, and when you need to take "No" and "Can't" as signs of being on the right track. Thibault visits the ExD studios to discuss his new book "Larger than Yourself." We talk about his work in South Africa with the Peace Players, using sports to bridge social divides. We also explore his company Seawall, and his attempts to redeem real estate. Finally, we talked about what qualitative change looks like, and how to keep pushing when it feels like the world is pushing back.

Episode Notes

When the world can feel more divided than ever - whether polarizing politics, climate change or economic uncertainty, ethnography reminds us to come back down to earth, and into the lives of people. Because the truth is, if we want to see systemic change, and address issues larger than ourselves, we actually have to start with everyday experience. And being willing to go against the grain, challenge the status quo.

Thibault Manekin has a habit of putting himself into uncomfortable situations of the extraordinary kind. In his new book Larger than Yourself, he chronicles the various moments in his life where seeking the uncomfortable was the path to not only his growth, but increased opportunities for others. At the heart of each of these stories is the rebellion against those who warn “You can’t” or tell him “No.” Hearing these phrases lets him know when he is pushing hard enough to do something truly revolutionary. If you are not struggling, what you are trying to do is probably too easy to begin with.

While perhaps laudable, such an approach can easily become misguided. Putting oneself into uncomfortable situations can easily become self-serving. Such an approach can slip into a person using others to feel growthful and even a thrill seeker. To embed the action into impact, it becomes more important to align the idea with the desires and goals of those in the setting. We have to build and make change from the inside out, getting input from the various stakeholders that exist in the space in which we are seeking to make a difference.  

This means a rebalancing of power, whether it be in an organization, an institution, or a community. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The question becomes how to make people more equal in the relationship. While a CEO and a janitor may have different roles and responsibilities, they are not unequal in their tasks. Sanitation workers, not physicians, would have curtailed the plague. Physicians could perhaps treat the symptoms. Sanitation workers could remove the causes. Thus, each has a role to play that is not any less important than the other. Ultimately each has a perspective to add and value to contribute. Organizations and leaders need to do better to make that possibility a reality.