This is the second part of “What companies can learn from Janwaar”. The first part you’ll find here.

While the first part was more about how to set-up the transformation process in order to succeed (=principles), here in the second part I summarise the main learning in form of a few rules. Combined these rules and principles are a blueprint for change.

As many of you know I’ve been in India for many years and my name there became synonym with skateboarding and Janwaar. India’s first skatepark in a rural village has triggered far reaching changes in the community. Social barriers were broken done, learning became something worth doing and income opportunities opened up. Most importantly skateboarding has given this village an identity – something every villager is pround of and can bond with. It has created a sense of unity in this so desperately caste seperated Indian society.

This video which briefly explains what I did was shot 2016, two years after the skatepark was established:

The approach I’ve taken in Janwaar – DISRUPT. OBSERVE. CO-CREATE. LET GO – is very much the same you take in any organisation if you want to drive significant and lasting change. Below I’ve sumamrized nine Janwaar rules that companies can benefit from when striving for transformation.

  • 1. Dare Contradictions. Contradictions make a deadlocked system move, because they disrupt. If companies want something to change, they should therefore set counter poles to the given. This creates movement – without movement there is no change. Disruption means setting impulses, confronting people with something new, something irritating, but then giving them the space to let something new emerge from it.
  • 2. Neither Exclude nor Marginalise. Any disruption or experiment should be located at the centre of the organisation and be accessible to all who are interested in participating in it – or reacting to it. In other words, an open system is desirable. Outsourced labs or so called “spinner departments” or “innovation labs” on the other hand, divide rather than advance companies. They privilege those who work there and neglect those who do not. They give away potential because they exclude or segregate. 
  • 3. Set Clear Rules. Rules create a framework within which new things can emerge and grow organically. “No School, no Skateboarding” and “Girls first!” were and are the rules in Janwaar. They formed the “hard poles” in the otherwise open project. Such few clear rules are also important for companies. Not as restrictions, but to mark out the framework of the process within which action can be taken. This means that there are clear announcements for example about the budget or human resources, the process and responsibilities. If, on the other hand, the framework is not clearly defined, many new ideas will fizzle out. It is just like when the last line of code isn’t written, the program won’t work.
  • 4. Do Not Set Targets. Beyond the rules, organisational disruption should be completely open-ended. Predefined targets restrict the creative space and waste important potential. It is important to note that such an open-ended process is not contradictory to a vision. The leadership of the company should know where the journey is going. In Janwaar, too, the skatepark was not meant to achieve anything; the calculation was to break up old structures. However, it remained open how exactly this process would take place.
  • 5. Change Is Gradual. Change processes never run stringently in one direction; compromises and setbacks are part of the process. The “old” will resist and try to maintain its position. So things don’t just continue in a linear fashion, the way forward will unfold organically.
  • 6. Welcome That There Are Different Realities. People have had different experiences due to their individual socialisation and therefore have different perspectives on things. This should be seen as an enrichment. It is important to listen and, if necessary, to endure contradictions and irritations. Tensions will never completely disappear, and that is a good thing, because they keep the whole thing going. Employees, projects and companies grow from friction.
  • 7. Be Resilient And Allow For Mistakes. If you don’t allow mistakes, you “close down”; the process is complete, there is no room for manoeuvre. If you are resilient instead, you create yourself a space for manoeuvring. In Janwaar, we had no choice but to allow mistakes. For example, we never had skateboarding coaches. The children trained themselves. Nevertheless, Janwaar has the biggest skateboarding team in India and has won the most medals in the championships so far. Allowing mistakes means betting on potential!
  • 8. Be Clear About It: Everyone Is Replaceable. Disruptions should be designed in such a way that the initiators make themselves obsolete. In plain language this means: stay out of it! Because only then will the new become self-sustaining. Only then will the participants really shape things themselves, create things themselves, take responsibility, in short: experience empowerment.
  • 9. Strengthening The ME That Best Serves The WE. We have strengthened (empowered) the “MEs” who can shape the best “WE” in Janwaar. And these were not always the best skateboarders, the strongest boys or the standouts in school. These were people who were strong in the so-called soft skills, who had empathy and emotional intelligence. A huge challenge for HR departments in the future: they have to completely rethink how they select and evaluate employees.

And this video was taken after COVID, one year after I had left India – the stories continues:

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