Within each of us resides a maverick spirit. This series delves deeper into those people who's maverickness paves a way forward in business, creativity and sustainability – awakening our own inner maverick.
Dan Burgess has redefined what it means to co-create. Recognising that for many, being creative for the good of others was a counter-culture ingrained in us from early on, from being led to believe that success and happiness comes from getting ahead of everyone else, he co-founded the Good For Nothing network, which is now a global source of ideas, activism and innovation. We caught up with Dan on what Maverickness means to him and why it's so important to challenge the expected.
Words by Dan Burgess | Good for Nothing
Could you explain what you do?
Oohhh. I’m a bit of a mash-up. At heart, I’m a designer - blending systems thinking, conscious innovation, creative communications, creative activism, ecological intelligence and co-design. I love ideas, and stories and new possibilities, I like bringing unusual combinations together to dream up and build new things that could make the world more beautiful. That has included products, campaigns, technologies, ventures, creative interventions, new ways of working. Over the years I’ve learnt how to co-design, to design and co-create ideas with others, be it users, communities, brands, organisational teams, kids, networks.
I’m most alive working at the edges of change and working openly from the heart. I worked as a DJ and in the music business for many years after leaving school, then into web startup in the late 90’s, just before the first internet bubble burst. Then inevitably into the world of brands, design and creative communications.
The last decade has been journeying deep into exploring sustainability and what that actually means, nature connection, (rewilding myself), becoming ecologically literate, asking deeper questions, experimenting with social and eco-innovation, values-led business, collaboration and participation culture.
I work with big global business, NGO’s, activists, artists, creative mavericks and misfits, technologists, nature guides, storytellers, social entrepreneurs, grassroots innovators, startups, campaigners, the more diverse the mix the more possibilities.
I currently lead a portfolio life, as an independent thinker, doer, speaker, along with Wild Labs - a comms, innovation and venturing unit focussed on collaborating with nature, developing creative experiments, collabs and regenerative solutions that help us reimagine our relationship with the natural world, respond to that new knowledge and thrive.
I continue to guide the development of Good for Nothing as co-founder and we pop up with our Swarm product when there’s interest in a cross-sector collaboration like last years work on accelerating climate change action. I also really love baking bread, walking in the woods, trail running, growing veg and surfing. And I’m a dad of three kids and have a pointer puppy, so life is very full! But I’m enormously grateful every day.
What is the generosity movement?
Well, it’s how we think of the Good for Nothing (GFN) project, it’s about finding ways to increase the gifting and giving away of creative energy, skills and ideas to those who really need it. GFN has been popping up in cities all over the world for the last 7 years, an open source chapter based idea, it brings together diverse creative talent and big-hearted citizens to support and accelerate the work of local activists, and epic projects of social good. A think, hack, do creative collaboration event thing, teams self-organise and make stuff fast, gifting their gifts, doing good for nothing in an evening or a 24hr gig.
Doing stuff for nothing often seems counter-cultural in the monetary paradigm we’re living in - where almost every human relationship has been monetised and turned into a service, but Good for Nothing makes giving fun, social, and often local. It feels good, you meet new folks, learn new skills, widen your lens on the issues that are out there in the world, get inspired by brilliant changemakers, put yourself out of your comfort zone and participate in co-creating a glimpse of the world you want to see.
With all the political, social and climate issues that seem to be ever-present on our news-feeds, how do we go about tackling them, where or how do we start?
Start with yourself is what I’ve learnt and where I keep coming back to. Self, community, nature. Those are good places to start exploring. Activism inherently is about change. But trying to change the world and others is often itself destructive and not regenerative. But you can notice what is happening right in front of you, in your life, your own actions, community, network, family, work, place, the land and non human world around you and you can start there, show up, be present, active, notice, participate, experiment, connect with your place - if we all took action there, in our own lives, the healing could be transformational I reckon.
How do you take an idea from inside your head and make it a reality today?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “All life is an experiment, the more experiments you make the better" - This is my guiding principle, lead life as an inquiry, you have to take steps to bring your idea to life, start small, create a slice of the idea, even if it’s just a basic prototype, put it out into the world where you are, see what happens, show it to people, get feedback, listen to it, iterate and go again, this is how I believe most of nature works, more spontaneous, responding to feedback, adapting, but always awake, experimenting, sensing, conscious to what is unfolding.
What role does or can creativity play in society today?
I think we’re all creative beings as humans. Creativity, love, generosity they are inherent human qualities, when you spend time with young kids you notice that they are flexing their creativity constantly and love is always in the mix. But it gets sucked out of many of us as we get conditioned by the dominant institutions and systems as we grow up. I do believe that creativity and generosity can be dialled up in everyone's lives, they come through practices, we just need to work on them, build new habits. We need a surge of creativity and new stories in civic life right now. Creativity is our ability to imagine, dream up, respond and adapt to problems and challenges, but it’s also about courage, to put things out into the world, to take risks. Interestingly to me, the root of the word courage is cor the Latin word for heart - so creativity is for me about working more from the heart - which after all is an organ of great perception very much undervalued in our logic and rational obsessed society.
Generosity plays a huge part in the Good for Nothing manifesto, how have you seen the effects of generosity within the work you do and the people taking part in Good for Nothing?
Yes as I said earlier, it’s counter-cultural, many of us have been led to believe that success and happiness is about getting ahead of everyone else, so our ego often struggles with the concept of giving our time or ideas away. But once you start practising and playing with generosity, it can be transformational, we’ve seen it massively with folks that participate with GFN. So looking for ways to integrate generosity into things is interesting to me. And I often talk about this to business, it doesn’t just have to be charity, you can find ways to be generous in your product experiences, in your communications, in your ways of working. Again when you look at nature, you see there is much giving away, much co-operation, (of course there is conflict as well), but there is definitely generosity at play, most of the non-human life that is creating the conditions for us all to live, breathe, have healthy water and soil is doing the work for nothing, giving it away.
I also think that this combination of creativity and generosity is where we can find well-being, connection, energy, possibility, community and I believe there is enormous regenerative potential here.
At Millican, we're on a quest to find meaning in what we do and how we travel, have you got any advice for finding more meaning in your work and life?
Self, community, nature - start noticing, exploring, inquiring and experimenting in those areas.
What is Maverickness to you?
Being spontaneously yourself. Giving a shit about the world around you. Leaving things better than you found them. Laughing, loving, crying, giving - often.