Author: luziata

Writer, mother, ever lasting curiosity, innovation and learning professional working in São Paulo, Brazil.

Analogical thinking: exploring the borders of creativity

(post originally written for linked in)


We recently had a very interesting experience during an innovation project on logistics. The group had a creative epiphany when making an analogy between their work process and… coconuts! Yes, the famous brazilian coconut is a logistic wonder! It has such properties that it can be considered a symbol of economy of resources, inteligent packaging and flexible transportation.

But all poetic thinking, and analogy in particular, is an underutilized capacity in the management world. Although we still use it on a daily basis to explain to a kid, for example, that the subway is like an earth worm, we tend to be very literal in how we describe reality in organizations: business is business. The risk is that we tend to rusten our ability to correlate different groups of perceptions and concepts, and thus bring a whole new understanding to our world and our problems!

Distant universes, such as logistics and the coconut, could be enlighting when connected by similarity ou by difference, as I’ve proposed in the image above. Are the works of Rivane and Kapoor different or similar? The dryness of Rivane’s work, that reminds us of dry skin, and the mirror effect of Kapoor’s ball, that reflects our image, aren’t they both ourselves? Don’t they remind us of who we are: skin and image, real people and seductive reflections in a mirror (or on facebook)?

Of course I’ve cheated, provoking your brain by puting two round images together, and thus forcing some immediate similarity. But we don’t always have that. Analogy doesen’t come naturally: it is an exercise that we must undertake, because all creative process and all innovation, is based on our capacity to open our minds to the different, the divergent, the unusual, be they other realities or other people.

But hey? Why are you posting such phylosofical stuff on linked in? this is supposed to be a professional network!

That is exactly why. My question for all of us is: how can we recover our poetic capabilities and therefore reconnect our minds to the immense creative possibilities of the world around us? How shall we engage people in building innovative images of how our products, our processes and our future might be?


We must change ourselves to change society after all

This blog post is part of a dialogue with Augusto Cuginotti on his post Bummer, We Can’t Change Society After all.

Augusto is very skeptical on how apt we are to change a system we are part of. If are part of a web of conversation that formats the way we live, think and event shapes our brains, how can we change that system? Fishes are not aware of water; they’re immerse in it as we are in consumism, materialism, modernism and many other “isms” that paved our way to the present disaster.

But I disagree with Augusto in some way, and that pleases me, because we usually agree so much that our conversation might not be creatively relevant J. He’d agree that variety is the basis of innovation (to use Paul Pangaro’s words).

My point is that new language emerges not only as adaptation to changes in the environment, as my friend argues. I’d point to some possibilities of emergence of new language, conversation and societal innovations that might be of another nature:


The first one, of course, and very dear to me is art. Take literature, take Nietzsche for example. His words are certainly not reactive, although he cannot speak from anywhere other than where he stands: German society in the second half of the 19th century. Says him:

“When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason.”

We usually find in things what we have put in them, therefore we are trapped.

Maybe that is what Augusto means when he says we must step out o four own world to try to see it more clearly. That is exactly the operation proposed by Maturana with his powerful question “how do we do what we do?sharkspan

Now Nietzsche is a philosopher. Take Leonardo, or even contemporary artist Damien Hirst and his intriguing piece called “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, featuring a huge white shark that seems alive against all possibilities. We cannot imagine what death is, even when facing it. All we can think of is “it looks alive”, we cannot feel death even then.

So being close to artistic perspective is today more important than ever, because we need to dare, we need odd questions, enigmas. We must imagine the unimaginable.

Analytic imaging

On the other side of the spectrum there are “analytic guys. I’ve never been so fond of engineers and programmers as I am today. In the classroom I can feel they are good listeners (be logical and convince me, them I’ll follow you) and can be highly creative.

In his book Program or be Programmed, Douglas Rushoff proposes we must crack the codes of society, we must understand what is behind the life we live, specially after technology blurred our consciousness of how things work by offering beautiful digital interfaces. That is a job for hackers (not necessarily evil, as most people like to imagine), but it’s a job for all of us. It is time to hack ourselves and that is a lot of work. It is about asking all the “why”s in the world and letting go of some usual “hows”.

My last post (in portuguese) about servicizing as a way to build innovations that really matter for sustainability is about building new “hows” after understanding important “whys”. Engineers, economists, scientists led Spree, author of the video, to combine math and imagination. It is all about calculating what will make the most difference to our world at this point and building public policy around it. Why not? Creativity applied to that as well. We need all intelligence we can mobilize.


And then we have this marvellous ability to ask questions. Neruda’s “The Book of Questions” is Always with me.

“Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?

Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?

Who hears the regrets
of the thieving automobile?”

We have children to remind us of questioning all the time and in my consulting activity with innovation teams, mapping questions is one of the best ways to spark a creative process.

We must find the relevant questions before looking for answers, and to find those answers we must meditate.


In Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, the bottom of the U is about meditation. In that state we can have some contact with a kind of wisdom that maybe goes beyond consciousness. But event if you are not fond of meditation, you might annotate your dreams or take surrealist writing exercises to get in touch with your inner language. We are crossed by fluxes we might not even imagine, our creativity is as mysterious as that. I am a mother, a professional, a girlfriend, a crazy woman walking on the streets of my neighbourhood. There are many perspectives within me.

How much we dare to access the unknown in us, and to engage in conversation about what really matters? It is painful and it takes stepping out of our daily trance. But I really believe that this is another path for new language to emerge. Of course, as Augusto puts it, conversation will be creatively fruitful if we have diverse people in the room. But it all starts with us facing our own internal variety.

So my guess is, we must change ourselves to change society after all. It’s the obvious, but inevitable.

Lets make it happen, somehow.

Leadership and Innovation: The new role of leader in network contexts

This post was written with some questions in mind: What does it mean to lead an innovation team in a network context? How can one be prepared for innovation management, talent management and performance delivery? After all, does this challenge change when we consider that relations are configured as networks and this configuration might facilitate the emergence of innovation? Is it possible to manage emergent innovation?

The intention here is to outline some ideas on this subject.


Managing a team: Competences or Talent?

Most multinational and big size companies use a competence evaluation matrix derived from the company’s strategy as a means to evaluate their professionals. We’re talking about a very useful and consolidated tool that guides important processes, from recruitment to career assessment. It is meant to guarantee some uniformity in performance evaluation, facilitate internal hiring and career planning.

But these competences might have little (or nothing) to do with how each person sees his or her own talents. Think of it for a moment. How would you tag your own talents? Are your tags similar to those your organization uses to evaluate you?

One usually finds very similar competences in companies that operate in different business contexts and even different countries. They mostly represent the common sense of professional profile with some bits of differentiation according to the specific organization they are applied to.

It is useful, but overall, this tool subjects people to a gap analysis and reinforces an external reference as a basis for assessment. People are permanently “lacking” something; therefore they should seek development to fit the organization’s expectations. This pattern of evaluation might contribute to professional anxiety, something that our society is abundant in.

We might be missing something very important, especially when innovation is concerned.

Now let us focus on talent, a notion deeply linked to abundance (something that our society is lacking). Understanding talent is realizing what overflows and wants to be expressed by each person. It has to do with the uniqueness, the life history, the emotional structure and the mental maps each one creates. It is related to finding one’s singularity, which is usually a slow and lifelong process. Talent is a much more fluid concept than that of competences, more difficult to catch and hold.


Managing Emerging talents

That said, we can distinguish competence management from the management of emerging talents, considering emerging talents as the unique potential that results from the complex combination of occurrences represented by:

  • The diverse roles each person plays and has played in life (from which individual talent results) and
  • The encounters and talent combinations of a specific group (the talents that can emerge in a team).

Emerging talents, when expressed:

  • Might surprise the person and the team
  • Increases the creative energy
  • Enhances the odds that innovation will come out.

It is part of the innovation manager’s role to facilitate the identification and the connection of the team’s talents, having the mission and the vision of the organization as a framework. Is this complex? Yes, but it is also simple. Anyone can learn to tag his or her own talents, although the total number of tags will certainly be much broader than the number of corporate competences.


Innovation Management


The manager is also responsible for innovation management, often using corporate tools, such as stage gates or portfolio management. These features are critical for the organization to distinguish the most valuable projects and to validate them. It is necessary to have clear criteria for the comparison of these projects and to have consolidated tools for decision-making. Nonetheless, these tools may have little (or nothing) to do with the actual pace of innovation, which is based on the connection of internal and external talents and can include leaps and connections that take time to mature. This fundamental nonlinearity of innovation is called slow hunch by Steven Johnson in his very popular video: Where Good Ideas Come From.

So now we can picture the situation of the leader: different tools, rituals and control codes and, at the same time, the challenge of living in a network that is increasingly enhanced by social media, where each person seeks for talent expression, connections and meaningful production. The bottom up component of innovation becomes increasingly important.

The trapped leader


So what “tools” does the leader have to deal with the bottom up characteristics of innovation? How will he or she manage emerging talents? How can innovation projects based on emerging talents be fostered?

We don’t intend to propose that organizations drop all existing tools and start from scratch. This is not a Zero-One question, but a matter of learning to operate in grey scale and to deal with paradoxes. What we cannot avoid is the fact that it is up to this generation of leaders to seriously address the issue of emergence in organizations and to seek for new lines of action in the “micro-contexts” of innovation that the teams represent.

But how?

Here we intend to present a list of useful practices that might inspire new forms of leadership and complement the control tools that dominate life (and the way of perceiving life, which is more serious) in organizations.


8 Ideas for managing emergent innovation


1. Identify and support the emerging talents: what each person says he or she knows is more important for innovation than mapped competences. Based in the mutual recognition of talents some truly original combinations and innovations may arise. Maybe that’s what Google is looking for when it offers 20% free time for people to meet and create new projects.


2. Give visibility to what the team does, give context to what emerges. The leader may be a mirror, a catalyst that allows the team to see its achievements and to put them into context. For those who want to learn more about this, it is worth reading Margaret Wheatley. But visibility is also making it happen! Once an innovative idea is brought to life, a gate is open. The team must pass the gate and execution then becomes the name of the game. Although accidents might lead the team back to problem solving.


3. Creating contexts for good encounters. What do we want when we meet somebody? According to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who interprets Espinosa, good encounters happen when two bodies affect each other in composition, so energy grows. But in organizations, people meet for many different purposes, encounters are not free, but have very specific purposes. Paul Pangaro, in his critics of the excessive faith in design thinking, proposes what he names conversation design: the creation of conversation contexts and dynamics for different purposes. Setting goals, creating solutions and finding relevant innovation questions will require a specific design.

The leader might have an important role here, not only on setting up the design for conversations, but also on helping the team to be conscious of its own dynamics. How do we do what we do? What happens when we meet? Does our energy grow or decrease?

Even though consultants may be hired for this, the leader will increasingly need to think about the adequate space, dynamics and context for each different intention.


4. Create an open language, easily translatable that can be appropriated by the team. It’s amazing how rarely we stop to create new questions, open semantic fields (ie, conversations to share emerging questions and build new metaphors). There are teams that don’t even stop to build a deep understanding of the organization’s strategy. To create new language is a cornerstone of innovation because we live the mental maps we create and these maps are based on language and images. An open language, in beta, in permanent composition, as in open programming, is an opportunity for new types of appropriation and creative work.


5. Assign responsibility and seek responsiveness. On one hand, YES, there is performance to be delivered and the team is responsible for it. But responsiveness is related to the ability to creatively and timely respond to business challenges. It has to do with the ability to surprise and at the same time be relevant. Good relationships and trust among members of the team must then be combined with execution skills.


6. Create boarders, not limits. As Maturana and Avila put it, limits are walls, and boarders are like mobile fences that can be explored and moved to some extent. It is the leaders role to keep the boarders clear and open to creative exploration. Not everything is possible, but it is fundamental to foster new questions and at the same time give containment.


7. Search for meaning. With the volume of information and connections we have today, sensemaking is one of the biggest challenges for all professionals who want to be engaged with networks that are meaningful  for their work areas. Harold Jarche mentions the abilities to Seek, Sense and Share as the basis of personal knowledge management. Not by chance is sensing the central process. The team could be “the” place to share the knowledge being generated in the networks of each person, and to discuss the filters that were used to process information. After all it is in conversation with peers who can challenge us that we generate knowledge. The leader may have an active role by creating context for dialogue and collective information mapping. He can also help the team understand what is most relevant. It’s easy to get lost when the forest is dense, and networks are dense.

Storytelling, something so valued these days, is also an important part of sensemaking, but we are talking, in this case, about making sense collectively in a team. What is the story we are all building together as we do our work?


8. Recognize. The more people share their thoughts out in the open networks, the more necessary to recognize the authorship of ideas. Thoughts are on a network to be appropriated by others, but giving credit is the basis of long lasting sharing. That is, for example, the principle behind the creative commons license. This so called “hacker ethics can be applied to the team context in the sense that people will increasingly share if they feel recognition and connection to others’ ideas.


There are many other ideas that would make a great debate, but I’d like to attempt a synthesis: the organization can be a platform for the expression of emerging talents and leaders can be the conversational weavers of those platforms. Innovation is a natural consequence.

Are you prepared?


Open Innovation: Cracking the black Box

We are opening the Black Box of innovation. In fact, social media is forcing many black boxes to open based on a more free way of making large scale conversations. Open innovation is part of this movement. It is not only a matter of amplifying the search for ideas or the interaction with clients and suppliers. Open Innovation is part of a greater movement, of a Zeitgeist based on open creative fields. But what does this new concept tell us? If there is open innovation would there be a “closed innovation”?

Black Box Instalation by Tom Friedman

Last month we had a Conversation Jam sponsored by Dobra on this theme and our guests were Caspar Bart Van Rijnbach and Caio Vassão at JuntoSP coworkin.


“Closed Innovation”?

According to Caspar, this closed concept of innovation comes from Industrial Revolution, and the creation of the intellectual property is its cornerstone. This vision was dominant at least until the 1990s, when the greatest reference on innovation was 3M and its ultra secretive product development process.

A strong opposition to that idea only emerged after free software. Richard Matthew Stallman, or rms, founder of the movement preaches that all information wants to be free. But that started only in 1985, getting stronger during the 1990s and being crowned with the Cluetrain Manifesto (1999), that introduced the “open” philosophy in the business environment via marketing.

So the idea that a highly innovative production system can be based on the absence of intellectual property is very recent. It generates a radical inversion: those who do not open their innovation process are losing time. Sharing multiplies knowledge and thus makes new possibilities emerge.


Why Opening?

Caspar also stated the difference between open innovation and open ideation. The open ideation shares, and therefore opens, problem solving or idea generation processes of an organization, but the greatest impacts of open innovation do not come from this type of initiative.

In order to access the greatest benefits of open innovation, it is necessary to think about how the business strategy develops over time, understanding why and in what level it makes sense for the company to be open.


Lessons from free software

The development of free software is based on the voluntary engagement of talents to solve problems in the benefit of a community (of users and developers themselves). There is no money involved, but anyone can use it. “Do your best and be recognized”. Self motivation is the key and reputation is the necessary consequence.

But are organizations prepared for this type of self motivated free engagement, at least on innovation matters?

Are organizations able to foster the intelligence of their internal networks?

From a people management point of view this is a radical idea that shakes systems such as career and performance management, to say the least.


Innovation and Motivation

For Caio Vassão, the central theme is: what motivates innovation inside a company? How are innovative ideas validated?

But we can go even further: a key challenge to the open innovation process is to listen to innovation perspectives brought by partners from outside the company´s boundaries.  Does the organization let itself be modified by its network? Or is it going only as far as its own questions allow?

According to Paul Pangaro, variety is one of the most important conditions for innovation. Activating this variety in a collective creative process is a big qualitative leap for innovation networks. Caio Vassão argues in the same direction: innovation is a change in the ontology of the organization. It refers to the categories the company uses to organize its processes, its relationships and the routine discourses. The ontology determines choice mechanisms that can limit or amplify the variety the organization accesses to innovate.

Ontologies in a network are emergent. It is very complex for an organization to deal with them when its planning and management systems are based on pre existing taxonomies. Conversation usually goes around “growth pillars” and “strategic vectors” everyone should follow.

At the same time, there is enormous potential to that. There might be many innovation possibilities that are just not perceived by the mental model and the installed conversation patterns.


Innovating is dealing with paradoxes

So it seems that innovating in an open way means dealing with a fundamental paradox: being connected to what emerges and, at the same time, being able to make sense of it through strategy.

Since the ability to deal with paradoxes is one of the fundamental properties of complex adaptative systems, it seems we are getting somewhere. That is how it works in nature: clarity of purpose and deep connection to the environment at the same time.


A new mindset

An interesting view was presented by designer Ihon Yadoya at our Jam: “I don´t feel limited by the work environment. Innovation opens itself naturally when we solve our problems.” For those who think that way, the company is not a limit. Openness is inherent to innovation, something that is always available when we need it. This is an important mindset change. From the individual´s point of view, there is no closed innovation.

For those who work in connected environments, an idea generates a series of interactions and compositions. There are no boundaries to this. One more challenge for organizations facing the so called Y generation, one that lives in remix, and in eternal beta.

“Ideas belong to those that put them to action”- says Ihon. It´s as simple as that!


Who is ready?

The challenge is this collective authorship of ideas. And here some fundamental ideas on open innovation and strategy introduced by Caspar might help. He brought the example of companies that take part on the Battle of Concepts, promoted in Brazil by Terraforum. They are obviously worried about intellectual property.

But how do companies get ready for this new reality? Strategic thinking, says Caspar.

Kip Garland, brings his contribution and makes some important distinctions. For him, there are three levels of open innovation: sharing, building and decision making. Opening the decision process is the most complex level and sharing challenges is the less complex. Sharing refers to creating a collaborative network, building refers to bringing in each member´s strength and decision making… well, that´s where the greatest dilemmas are.

Caio agrees: making distinctions and choosing what to open is key. A reductionist view does not generate a process of collective construction. If the open innovation project is designed exclusively to profit from “Lei do Bem”, a innovation policy in Brazil, the benefits are reduced. The open mindset does not penetrate the culture.

Caspar presented the Phillips Innovation Camp case, which brings together many partners of the company to an environment where architecture contributes to make people meet and exchange ideas. There are no cars. An open culture emerges.


Shortening the thought-to-action cycles

Caio considers that open innovation is related to a short thought-to-action cycle. Somebody perceives a new reality arrangement, new ontologies emerge, unseen opportunities arise.

Kip brings the Visa Vale case to the table. The company was conceived by an ABN Amro Real bank executive who understood the consequences of a change in Brazilian regulation laws. In Five years, a 2 billion dollar business was created… outside the Banks boundaries. The institution could not evaluate the executive´s proposal of a new business when he was still an employee. It was a path that could not be analysed by the ontologies the company had at that point.

The challenge therefore is: how do we present business concepts that don´t yet exist? How are we able to listen to the proposals open innovation can bring? How do we distinguish what is relevant?

For the group that was present at our Jam, one of the most important answers is creating prototypes that materialize these possibilities. There is a certain simplicity to that: creating prototypes is storytelling to present ideas.

Caio suggests: then it is not a question of what we have to build, but of what we have to take away for motivated people to be able to present their ideas. It is about building open platforms and short cycles of prototyping inside and outside organizations, labs of new realities in which creation and action are closer and closer.

So much to do!

I Love Idea Jams!


All cconomy can be creative

We live in perhaps the most creative and serious moment in human history.

We live in an “era of abundance, but still carry the mentality of scarcity”. We are able to acknowledge the complexity of the world and also have the tools, the power and the desire to handle it.

This complex world is born out of unprecedented connectivity, growing information flow, diversity coupled with the prospect of unity, and a chaos that can lead us to disintegration or to the discovery of patterns that we could not see before.

We hurry.

We must hurry to preserve the planet, hurry to avoid further wars, rush to find conditions for the expression of individual power at work, leaving aside the terrible paradigm of pain as something that elevates the human being. We want to carry a certain smile behind what we do, not denying  pain, but knowing that pain is a state that can pass through us like the water from a river that knows its own destiny.

Love and pain, power and collaboration, we have no more time for plain oppositions,we want mixtures. We hurry.

Through the computer screen we seek good encounters. We desire to touch those who share the same vibe: it’s possible to love life without being too innocent.We can use all the technical, scientific and cognitive conquers in composition with the joyful, urgent and practical dictates of the so said Generation Y. In Y we have choices.

The desire of these new combinations will then inhabiting projects: striking actions, which pervade the world based on open listening and the contemplation of complex maps. Old ways don´t disappear by collapse, but because they become obsolete.

Wherever you are and whom you can talk to, you´ll hear the same story. We want a life that has meaning. Hidden under the tables in business meetings, stretched out on bar counters and on the drawings made by coaches and pupils, lies a project perspective that will enable the emergence of a new world. It is to these projects that we want to devote our energies.

We hurry. There never was so much inspiration and so many “loose” people in search of good agency that helps them to exert their power. There has never been so much pressure to melt together our knowledge, catalyzing authorless innovations that are born in “between”, born in relationships, but with collective authority and resources. Virtual and action collapse.

Innovation can then seem a magic word, a contemporary holy grail that everyone wants, but nobody knows where it is. It is so because innovation is the possibility that inhabits the present, it is the Zeitgeist, is all over the place for those who have eyes to see, ears to listen and desire to perform. To innovate is to make relevant changes to and from the networks we inhabit. It is a way of living in which an expanded and elusive present challenges us to act with consistency and to amplify the generation of value. Where cities, schools and organizations need an accurate acupuncture for small points of light to gain strength and overshadow what consumes us (and what we consume).

We live up to what happens to us, if we’re up to the present events.

All economy can be creative.

(this post was based on the recent events of CICI 2011, international conference of innovative cities, and The Network Society and the Creative Economy Seminar, sponsored by VIVO- in Curitiba and São Paulo respectively; plus infinite readings, links and posts that invade my life every day. It is possibly the most appreciative thing I´ve ever written.)

Holistic Approach to Learning

I´ve recently read the post by Frédéric Domon at the ecollaborative blog site. He describes in a very precise manner the origin and the consequences of the 70-20-10 approach to the design of learning strategies and budget allocation.

The concept is not new to me, but something caught my attention in this particular post. As Frédéric puts it: “Rather than think of these three forms of antagonistic professionalism, rather than leave the informal to other aspects of the company, the model should be thought of as the cornerstone of organizational development. As the Princeton group advises, imagine a holistic approach integrating both formal and informal. An approach that enables strong development of that 70% of experience learning, that takes advantage of the relational 20% and that designs using the yardstick of the 90% informal and 10% formal training.”

The word holistic here is not a metaphor. It means that learning professionals must consider the full experience and the learning environment to design and adjust their strategies. As a consequence, it is necessary to consider not only the 70-20-10 paradigm, but also the culture of the organization, the past experiences with learning resources, the available technologies, established KPIs for learning, the predominant leadership style, and so forth.

I´ll give an example to illustrate my point. Recently, we visited a big construction company who is facing a major problem on workforce education. Their need is not to build knowledge management nor to introduce some sophisticated new tool, their problem is plain and simple: they need to recruit around 4000 new professionals, such as masons and foremen in 6 months and there is simply no availability of those professionals in the region they are building their new operation.

Plus, in Brazil there have been some serious problems in big infrastructure constructions, including riots, because of work conditions and lack of systemic coordination of such constructions. Learning is only one of the challenges being faced by such companies.

Going back to my client, we´ve made a proposal that included utilization of the good professionals they have internally to start a learning program that had a very important informal component (since there is no time to format and deliver formal programs). The reaction was surprising. The HR person seemed not to understand what we were talking about and we had to present the proposal two more times. We had presented a totally unusual approach to learning! The culture and the environment in that company could not fully understand what we were talking about, and so our proposal was refused.

Sometime later, me and my fellow consultant sat down to chat about it. We had read on the paper about the problems the company was facing which were, in part, caused by their poor response to this kind of problem. But hey! We had also lacked a good holistic understanding of their learning environment! Mea culpa. We too had come with a readymade pill! We can´t just go and introduce the 70-20-10 model into the construction business of an old Brazilian company!

So that is my point: the great challenge of this model is not only to build learning strategies around this idea, with which I totally agree by the way, but having the sensibility to understand the conditions under which a certain system can absorb this idea.

When I read Domon´s post it immediately brought me back to my clients table, and the face he had when we presented our sophisticated thoughts. We are hoping to find open minded organizations and have good conversations to solve the problems we have in this country around education and learning. The model might be something we keep under the table.

What it feels like to be brazilian in 2011- a view from São Paulo

Here I am. The “studio like” heavy rain hits the window of my apartment, in São Paulo, from where I can see one of the golden towers of Paulista Avenue. I love to watch the rain.

São Paulo is the big financial Center of Brazil, and suffers from a double  trouble: it  accumulates the paradoxes of the country, but in many aspects can be closer to New York than to Bahia. São Paulo is like an island.

Surrounded by two extremely important Rivers, Tietê and Pinheiros, the city suffers with terrible floods. A total of 1500 km of rivers, streams and fountains where covered with the worst asphalt you´ll find in the whole world to form this huge traffic jammed city. Of course the rain water flows with some violence around here. Nature was buried in São Paulo.

But what brings so many people here? What makes it possible for apartments to have had an appreciation of more than 300% in 10 years? Why are so many Brazilians and foreigners interested in this mess?

In the city center, Bolivians where found to be working in slavery. The contradictions of the world are right here right now, but are mostly invisible. The periphery of the city is far away, and although there are poor neighborhoods close to luxurious apartment buildings, the situation is radically different from Rio. In Rio, the hills are so close do the shore (and to the more noble areas of the city) that is looks like the shanty houses are going to fall into the sea any minute. In São Paulo the situation is different.

According to IBGE Institute, in 2010 there were 20.309.647 million people living in the extended area of the city. A Photographer friend of mine, Iatan Canabrava, who has for a long time taken the periphery as the theme, told me of his sensation on a helicopter ride. As he got further away from the city center, the buildings were substituted by a brownish colored neighborhood of houses. Most of them are left unfinished and are not painted at all (although they have TV sets and now an amazingly great amount of web connected computers). As the landscape turns brown, police turns away and transportation becomes scarce. Ferraz de Vasconcelos, Capão Redondo and Itaim Paulista are places most of the medium class people like me have never visited.

In São Paulo, it can take a regular worker 1 or 2 hours to arrive at his destination in the morning or in the afternoon. And that applies to the rich as well as to the poor, except for those rich enough to fly helicopters to work, and believe me, there are lots of helicopters in this city, 420 to be precise. Traffic jams are literally in the air.

So, after building enough walls around houses and apartment buildings as to make them look like prisons, finally, under the heavy rain and in the traffic, we all are trapped together. Be rich or poor, we are part of the same fear and immobility.

At the same time, Sâo Paulo is one of the most interesting cities in the world. In his movie Blindness (2008), Fernando Meirelles pictures one of the most chaotic, and therefore spectacular views of the city, a viaduct nicknamed “Minhocão” (that could be translated as big worm). And so it is: nasty, crawling, fetid, but brutally vital for the city traffic. It is almost a metaphor of what São Paulo is for Brazil as a whole: a brutally vital ugly mirror.

But last month I finally went to Brasilia: an amazing experience. Incredibly blue sky, Niemeyer buildings vanishing in real estate speculation, a mixture pot of races, especially of people from the northern country. Brasilia is beautiful in many ways.

It was Thursday. Huge abandoned corridors and empty meeting rooms illustrated what the “loneliness of Power” means in the Congress building.  Power itself was alone in the building, with a couple of public servants and an army of waiters serving coffee from a huge “coffee factory” in the basemen that looked like a sweat shop.

Yes, there was a session going on. In the silence of the corridors, so much happens. But that is how it feels to be Brazilian. Even if all of us were to shout in those corridors, there would be no guarantee that we would be heard, except by deaf waiters who serve the people that are supposed to serve us. We have democracy, but not a democratic system. Everything is designed for the perpetuation of a system that does not help anyone taking a 2 hour ride to work for a salary of U$250 to have a better journey, a better life or pay lower taxes embedded on products.

Being Brazilian is not knowing how to change things and yet, smiling. It´s to have the desire to fight, but being too busy for it, it is to dance the dances of time while the Japanese sleep (or die). It is being Italian, Portuguese, African, Chinese and Dutch. It´s to dance a Gilberto Gill song that used to call everyone to embark the Express 2222, which in the seventies announced the year we would finally be important. Being Brazilian is suddenly being interesting to the world, and yet being so late for that. Our problems as are as ancient as they can be in the New World.

So we are late to get ready for the World Cup, late for the Olympics, late to be ashamed or lazy. Every Carnival tells us we are capable and ready.

Being Brazilian is also to know that, in the division of archetypes among countries, it is our job to be the big mixture pot of ethnics and ethics, the place where people run to when they are desperate for love or in need of a hiding place. It is being hope, and also a huge picture of frustration, it´s being the strange exotic brother of the tall blue eyed guy. It´s being more Dionysos than Apollo.

In a Matisse like dance, we are seen in the picture for the first time.May we know what to do next.