The Hermeneutic Dimension of Living Organisations

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Sometimes management consultants activities can appear to be quite abstract, especially those who utilise schemes such as models and frameworks of the organisation. When these forms of models are applied to an organisation, people are framed in terms of the model, and in interviews and surveys etc, people and their attitudes and opinions are discussed in terms of the model, i.e. they are forced into the framework. Often people will respond with comments such as ‘no, in fact here it is not like the way you are describing’ but the consultants want reality to be a certain way because they have brought a framework from outside.

In the 1960s, a number of students of physicist David Bohm’s, including Henri Bortoft, took his conceptualisation of wholeness out of quantum physics and into organisational design and change management, using the hologram as a template for thinking in a new way about wholeness.

Credit: Frank Defreitas Holography

Credit: Frank Defreitas Holography

Each person in an organisation is seen an expression of the organisation as a whole, so the whole organisation comes to expression to some degree through their role in the organisation. If the whole comes to expression in the parts, the way to understand the whole is through the way it is expressed in the parts, instead of trying to stand back to get an overview, and trying to make the parts fit together into a pre-conceived framework.

When you explore the whole organisation in this manner, it can sometimes seem as if you are entering into another dimension of the organisation compared with the usual way of thinking which can often seem quite abstract. What is needed from leadership is the capacity to see from within the whole of the organisation in which we work and live.

It is this dynamic way of seeing which we describe in our book Holonomics, and which is the same hermeneutical movement of thinking that Gadamer describes in Truth and Method. This dynamical way of seeing is also the same movement upstream that Goethe utilised in his organic understanding of the metamorphosis of plants and the coming-into-being of colour as described in his Theory of Colours.

But one thing Henri always warned about was not to confuse the contents with the container. Don’t confuse the fundamental movement in thinking with the way in which it is expressed in different uses in different philosophies in different eras. In many ways, an organisation is not like a living organic plant, since organisations are created by someone in a very short space of time, and people and resources and processes are brought together under conscious design, as opposed to organisms which have evolved over millions of years.

What we do though is require a new organ of perception for understanding how parts belong together, so that the whole organisation, its vision, strategy, brand and essence can come to full expression through the parts. We can say that organisations are living in the same way that Gadamer understood the meaning of a text to always be unfinished, therefore in some manner ‘living’.

Sustainable BrandsThis may all seem a little philosophical, a little abstract. On 4th November Maria and I will be sharing for the first time a real case study in which holonomic thinking was introduced into the heart of the sustainable strategy of a large organisation. This will really help you understand what Holonomics and holonomic thinking looks like in practice.

If you are unable to attend, our plenary session will be broadcast live. You can subscribe free via this link: www.sustainablebrands.com/events/sblondon14/live/register/

How to watch Maria and I live at Sustainable Brands London

Sustainable Brands is bringing more global business and brand leaders together than ever before. This year, you have the opportunity to join a remote audience of sustainability analysts, brand strategists, and design innovators for an exclusive live streamed event from London, UK, November 4-5. Hundreds conference attendees from 23 countries will share how better brands will shape the future by keeping tabs on the changing playing field.

Sustainable Brands Live Feed

Those that cannot attend in person can still watch plenary sessions live, or on demand, for free: www.sustainablebrands.com/events/sblondon14/live/register

There are five central themes at SB London ’14:

Sustainable Brands

Maria and I will be giving the opening plenary session Holonomic Thinking: Upgrading Leadership Skills and Systems Thinking for the New Economy:

HolonomicsSimon and Maria’s book, Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, describes a new way of thinking that teaches business leaders how to adapt in innovative ways. To fully know the world, nature, people and phenomena, the book argues, we need to use four ways of knowing – thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition. We also have to ensure that the five universal human values of peace, love, truth, right-action and non-violence are genuinely present in each part of our organizations, ecosystems, and most of all, ourselves. By expanding our view accordingly, Simon and Maria will claim, we can come to realize that brands are not a thing to be known or controlled. They are a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced. We therefore need to shift from measuring economic brand value to holonomic brand value. This talk will explain how to apply holonomic thinking to both business and brand strategy, while exploring the nature and essence of truly authentic brands.

The link above also provides you with the full line-up of inspirational speakers who will be sharing their knowledge and insights during these opening plenary sessions. And if you cannot watch live, the sessions will also be available later to watch on-demand.

Social Entrepreneurism, The Launch of Ashoka Changemakers in Brazil and the film Who Cares?

Maria and I were guests last night of Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs founded in 1980 by Bill Drayton, and which now has around 3,000 Ashoka Fellows worldwide. While Ashoka have of course been active in Brazil over many years, last night was the launch of the Brazilian Ashoka Support Network, a group of prominent business entrepreneurs around the world that support Ashoka and the Fellow Social Entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.

Quem se ImportaDuring this event the 2012 Brazilian feature length documentary Quem se Importa (Who Cares) was shown. This very emotional, evocative and positive film, directed by Mara Mourão and narrated by Rodrigo Santoro, is about people changing the world for the better through social entrepreneurism, and features the following inspirational people:

Muhammad Yunus -creator of microcredit – www.grameen-info.org

Bill Drayton – counder of  Ashoka – www.ashoka.org

Jehane Noujaim – cinema for peace – www.pangeaday.org

John Mighton – mathematics and self-esteem in teeenagers – jumpmath1.org/john_mighton;

Premal Shah – internet microcredit – www.kiva.org

Joaquín Leguía – ground for children – www.mundodeania.org

Isaac Durojaiye – toilets for Nigéria – www.dmttoilet.com/aboutus.htm

Joaquim Melo – community banking – www.bancopalmas.org.br/

Eugenio Scannavino – health and happiness in the Amazon – www.saudeealegria.org.br/

Oscar Rivas – restoring degraded areas – www.ashoka.org/node/3840

Dener Giovanini – fighting against animal trafficking – www.denergiovanini.com.br/

Vera Cordeiro – improving family life – www.saudecrianca.org.br/

Mary Gordon – empathy in schools – www.rootsofempathy.org

Wellington Nogueira – clowns in hospitals – www.doutoresdaalegria.org.br

Karen Tse – ending torture – www.ibj.org/

Rodrigo Baggio – IT for everyone – www.cdi.org.br

Al Etmanski – the end of isolation – www.aletmanski.com

Bart Weetjens – rats which save lives – www.apopo.org/home.php

Mara Mourão, Joaquim Melo, Vera Cordeiro and Eugênio Scannavino

Mara Mourão, Joaquim Melo, Vera Cordeiro and Eugênio Scannavino

After the film was shown, there was a question and answer session with Mara Mourão, and three of the Brazilian changemakers featured in the film: Joaquim Melo, Vera Cordeiro and Eugênio Scannavino. They were all clearly passionate speakers, sharing further insights about both the challenges and great rewards of their work.

Joaquim Melo for example spoke of his frustrations of the way in which the Central Bank of Brazil clamped down heavily on his efforts to set up small community banks to help with the re-urbanization of the neighbourhood Conjunto Palmeira in Fortaleza, a city in the north of Brazil. He said a great quote which was that the great Brazilian business schools and universities had not come up with this as an idea, the idea had emerged in the shanty town of Conjunto Palmeira.

In the Q and A session I asked Mara what she thought the most important aspect of the film was in terms of inspiring people here in Brazil. She answered that the first point was we have to put an end to illiteracy about social entrepreneurship inside schools in Brazil, and that she hoped her film could teach children and young adults about the notion of social entrepreneurism. There was an interesting part of the film which pointed out that if a child was struggling with say maths or language, the parents would be immediately concerned. But what if the child was not becoming a changemaker? The parents would not even notice. An interesting provocation certainly.

Daniela Carvalho, Zoraide Stark and Maria Moraes Robinson

Daniela Carvalho, Zoraide Stark and Maria Moraes Robinson

Maria and I were joined last night with our good friends Daniela Carvalho and Zoraide Stark who are the founders of Empower – Investing in Women. Empower are a partner of Ashoka here in Brasil, and they are doing some amazing work supporting female entrepreneurs from all walks of life, be they women who require mentoring and training to overcome the challenges of working in extremely male dominated business environments such as banking and IT, as well as also having social programmes to help female entrepreneurs from low-income families develop and grow sustainable businesses.

Qualquer pessoa pode ser um empreendedor social, não é nenhuma bênção divina, você não toma um comprimido para virar um empreendedor social. Você simplesmente se conscientiza do seu poder de transformação.

As one of the quotes from the film says, anyone can be a social entrepreneur. It is not a divine blessing, and you do not have to take a pill to become one. You simply have to be aware of your power of transformation.

Quem se Importa is an excellent film, highly inspirational and one I can certainly recommend for anyone with an interest in social entrepreneurism. I wish the Ashoka team in Brazil the very best of success. As I always say on my blog, Brazil does have many amazing people doing remarkable projects under extremely challenging circumstances, and each and every one deserves huge recognition and celebration of their great efforts and achievements.

Links

Quem se Importa – the site of the film where you can order a copy of the DVD

Ashoka Brasil

Empower – Investing in Women

 

Noticing the Details – Thoughtful Touches of Smart City Design in Buenos Aires

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

It has been some time since I last wrote for The City Fix, and I am very happy to note that São Paulo finally seems to be constructing a significant number of cycles lanes which is excellent.

This week was the first time I have seen the air monitors report “pessimo” levels of air quality, and never has there been such a need for people to be switching to cycles en mass.

I also saw a video on Facebook which showed a female cyclist confronting a car which had been driving along one of the new cycle lanes. Clearly in Brazil there is still some way to go before drivers start to really respect cyclists, as they do in more mature countries (and Spain deserves a special mention as a country where I have ridden on country roads and been extremely impressed with the care of drivers there for cyclists).

This woman was brave, as obviously in Brazil where violence is high, the scene could have turned into something quite dangerous. In the UK, there are still encounters between angry cyclists and idiot drivers, but the greatest danger is that there will be more of a punch thrown than anything more sinister.

Also in the UK, there is an excellent Youtube channel called “Silly Cyclists” hosted by a cyclist called Gaz, which shows the top 10 videos of the most reckless and silly riding caught on head-cams each month. In the UK we still have some way to go before all cyclists manage to ride and share the roads with the same level of respect that we would hope other motorists have for us cyclists.

This week I have been in Buenos Aires, and while walking along the streets near my hotel I did notice a couple of very nice design details relating to bicycles here.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

The first is this junction in which you can see the cycle lane. This is a two way lane, for cyclists riding in both directions, and as you can see there is a raised protective strip to stop vehicles making incursions into the lane which is great.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

What I also noticed was this single bollard some distance to the front of where the cycles have to stop. I really liked this detail in the design of this junction, since this single bollard forces cars which are turning right or left to steer clear of the stationary cycles, giving them further protection. This is a small detail, but one that I think really works well and which other city designers would do well to study as I have not seen this elsewhere.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

And one other detail I discovered was delightful. While walking past a cycle shop called Canaglia Bicicletas, which at the time was closed, I noticed a woman filling her front tyre with air. The cycle shop had provided an air pump for anyone to use. This helps cyclists who may not have brought a pump with them, and it obviously attracts cyclists to the shop even if they do not need anything at that particular moment, so everyone one wins.

As cycling in São Paulo and elsewhere in Brazil continues to become more popular, I hope these little details inspire others to think what extra facilities they could offer people. These little details can make a huge difference, and so we always need to be inspiring each other, in order that we can live in cities where we can all have good fresh air to inspire, including our bikes.

Book Review: The Illusion of Separation by Giles Hutchins

The Illusion of SeparationMy good friend Giles Hutchins received worldwide critical acclaim for his first book The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience which articulated a new paradigm for businesses seeking to operate sustainably in a volatile and interconnected world.

It seems a long time ago now when Giles sent me his proposal for a new book he was planning, which at the time remained untitled, and for which he was looking for feedback and commentary. Over the following months myself and a few other friends and colleagues would receive a new chapter to review, and so I had the great pleasure for the first time of seeing Giles’ thoughts mature, evolve and reach their final expression into what became The Illusion of Separation, in which we are taken on a deep walk back in time through the history of human thought and consciousness, to find the roots of a world view that has instilled in us an artificial reality which imprisons us in our minds. Then with equal clarity and vision we are shown a pathway for the future.

Giles’ aim is to lead us back into a mindful and participatory level of awareness, opening up both our receptiveness to nature and empathy to others. He does so through a wide-ranging narrative of humanity which combines and integrates perspectives from quantum theory, ecology, phenomenology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, indigenous wisdom and spirituality.

At the heart of The Illusion of Separation is the thesis that rather than the Western paradigm being the grand solution to all our problems – economic, social and ecological – its very nature is actually fuelling the multiple crises we find ourselves in. The way in which we frame our experiences leads us to construct “logical boundaries to help our understanding, and yet in the process we close ourselves off from truly making sense. We create an illusion of separation that then deludes and imprisons us.”

The book’s narrative is divided into three clear parts – firstly, a look at the way in which we are currently living within the illusion, secondly, the thinning of the veil, in which new ways of relating to, and understanding nature are explored, and finally in part three, a vision of a new way of embracing life, in which we complete the journey of self-realisation, breaking the illusion and repairing “our estranged relation with ourselves, each other and Nature”.

Part One starts with a short analysis of modern consumerism, where “hollow whims taken from focus group research are then magnified through sophisticated public relations, advertising and marketing media.” Hence consumerism is the first aspect of the illusion, which plays up to and satisfies “our fickle desires of the egotistic self.”

Giles’ tour of human consciousness through the rest of Part One is at first disconcerting, being a backwards narrative through time, starting with Gregory Bateson’s critiques of Darwinian evolution, the emergence of dualism following the Enlightenment and back to the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato and then the Presocratics, for instance Pythagoras for whom “Nature was imbued with the unfolding patterns and processes of the Divine.”

The disconcertment comes with the mirror Giles holds up for us to see ourselves and how we currently participate in and with nature. His insights are combined with an exploration of the scientific and philosophical theories of Owen Barfield, Steve Taylor and Iain McGilchrist which Giles draws together in his analysis of ‘ego-consciousness’ which “sees the ‘I’ as separate and in fearful competition with others and life, breeding a self-fulfilling and self-deluding anxiety of over-analysis based on a detached, abstract view of reality.”

The ‘illusion of separation’ can therefore be understood as a fall from grace, resulting in what Taylor termed the ‘Ego Explosion’. In understanding the fall, we are shown the path back into what Giles describes as ‘participatory consciousness’, an ecological consciousness in which “we perceive the aliveness of the interrelating way of Nature, which in turn allows for a sense of reverence for all of life.”

Part Two explores Nature’s ways of relating, quantum theories and many different Western schools of thought such as phenomenology, panpsychism, panentheism and pantheism which can help lead us to the insight that rather than our bodies being disembodied, as they are in Cartesian philosophy, our bodies are “resonating within a flux of interrelations. We are engaged within a continual dialogue of sensing and responding through the semi-permeability of ourselves with each other: intuiting, sensing and rationalising through our interactions.”

In constructing a new paradigm which brings us out of the separation of illusion, Giles applies the work of Alan Rayner, a British scientist whose theory of Natural Inclusion is a revolutionary way of perceiving reality:

We start to intuitively feel and perceive the world as it really is – spatially and dynamically continuous – rather than numbed by our own abstraction. This helps us shift from a purely self-centred, power-hungry, manipulative, ego-centric engagement with our world to a more empathic embodiment of our world. Our disposition becomes one of care rather than of control.

For me, the great insight from the concluding chapters is the way in which the solution to the illusion of separation lies in the way in which we attend to reality. This insight, as Giles acknowledges, can also be found in the work of Owen Barfield, who had the ambition of setting us free from our current ways of knowing the world, the phenomenological philosophy of Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and also Goethe’s ‘active seeing’, a receptive and phenomenological way of perceiving the aliveness of Nature, leading to a more direct experience of love:

As we allow for our receptivity to deepen with trust, we may begin to feel more engagement with all that we attend to. We may start to learn to love life through our unadulterated, direct experience of it. The realisation that we are co-creative participants in this enchanting synchronistic dance of life starts to dawn on us. As we open up to our true nature, our creative potential flows freer, allowing for an even greater intensity of beauty, wisdom and synchronicity to be revealed. This in turn heightens our responsiveness which is vital to any creative interaction; it is our authentic response to our engagement with life.

Giles is explicit in acknowledging the ambition of his work, which although focusing on the Western paradigm, fully embraces indigenous knowledge and Eastern spirituality. The Illusion of Separation is a richly evocative journey which teaches us how we can rediscover our humanity, and become inspirational leaders and authentic co-creators.

Further Information

To see more information about The Illusion of Separation and read the opening pages please see the book’s page at Floris Books. And below is a video of Giles discussing The Illusion of Separation.

How You Can Put Holonomic Thinking Into Practice Successfully – The Organisational Learning and HR Perspective

Now that quite a few people reading our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Maria and I have been receiving many wonderful emails and comments from readers. We have also had some great and inspiring conversations too as you can imagine.

Maybe the most common question is regarding the way in which both Maria and I are putting holonomic thinking into practice. We do this in any number of ways, and of course Maria and I have different backgrounds too, with Maria having many years of consulting experience in strategy, change management and balanced Scorecard, and myself with customer experience design, new media, product development, product marketing, branding and business development.

Maria opens the Strategy Execution Summit 2013

Maria opens the Strategy Execution Summit 2013

So for example Maria has built holonomic thinking into the courses she gives on change management and strategy. Maria also crafted the agenda of the two day Strategy Execution Summit here in São Paulo last month around the insights of Holonomics, ensuring that there was a profound narrative centred around the evolution from sustainability being a peripheral activity, to one where sustainability becomes a central pillar of the strategic process and map.

We both say that it is often the case that you do not have to leave behind the frameworks, tools and methodologies with which you are already working. What we are doing is expanding people’s levels of consciousness so that they can gain the original insights from those people who first developed these tools and techniques. Often people try and implement tools and methodologies in a linear manner, treating them as templates where you do step one first, fill in the checklist, move to step two, fill ion the checklist and that will be the path to success.

Service Design Talks, São Paulo, 2014

Service Design Talks, São Paulo, 2014

But often the use of methodologies alone is not enough to guarantee success. When it comes to Design Thinking for example, designers may already have a deeper way of exploring phenomena, but if they are unable to communicate the value of their processes and ways of knowing to the wider organisation, their ideas and designs will not receive the attention they deserve and their operational execution will not be successful.

Holonomics is not a new methodology, and neither is it a tool. It is an expansion of consciousness which allows to see more, see the whole organisation. In order to implement holonomic thinking across a whole organisation, we therefore need to rethink how we implement communications activities and training sessions.

My own company Holonomics Education uses four key techniques which are dialogue, story telling, gamification and experiential learning to take whole organisations from a traditional mindset to a transformational mindset. I also teach Holonomics at Sustentare Business School in Joinville, in the south of Brazil, and so I thought that I would share some of the recent feedback I received from HR professionals who had recently participated in an intensive two-day module on holonomic thinking:

Before attending the module, my mental model and way of thinking only saw the negative features of complexity, seeing only limited possibilities. Complexity has come to mean knowledge, a set of provocations that result in change. It is the possibility of expanding the consciousness to the whole, to make sense, see answers and different ways of thinking. It is the possibility of recognizing the characteristics that relate to thought, sensations, feelings and intuition. For me now complexity means an increase of possibilities, a wealth of options that lead to the results. It is the ability to undress our mental models and experiment, creating new possibilities.

I enjoyed the concepts relating to nature. The way we see animals allows us to take lessons back for the organization.

Before the course I understood the concept of complexity as being linked to uncertainties and contingencies. After the module, I now define complexity as opportunity. It is the opportunity to be an adaptive, creative, dynamic and more agile in our organisation.

In the organisation where I am, every day I am going to seek to raise awareness about how important it is to have a systemic view. I will now always remember how much better it is to share ideas and co-create solutions. In terms of our communications process I’m going to look for trainings and exercises which show that people do not always see the same thing as we are seeing. I will seek ways to translate these trainings into a form that help people understand the company and its culture more deeply.

One of the things that became very clear was how people see things, different mental models see different situations and solutions. I also absorbed the leader needs: make sense, be humble, tell stories and be aware of yourself.

One of the most impressive things was known organizations using organizations of animals, insects and micro-organisms as a basis for creating new models of systems and business.

One of the things that became very clear for me was how people see things, the way in which different mental models see different situations and solutions. I also absorbed the four key qualities leaders need: sensemaking, being humble, telling stories and being mindful of yourself.

As you can see, these students are saying that holonomic thinking can be powerful and empowering, opening their eyes and minds to new possibilities. And these insights are coming from the deep work they did exploring the dynamic way of seeing, which is probably around 50% of our book Holonomics. You need deep insights first before can begin the implementation and the change process.

Students from Sustentare Business School

Students from Sustentare Business School

My module on Holonomics at Sustentare provides the foundation for a number of MBA courses, including Business Administration, Innovation, Design, Leadership and the course Education, Organisational Training and Development. Students on this final course generally have an background in Human Resources, although there are consultants and psychologists who attend the course as well, amongst others. Maria also teaches one of the modules on this courses, as she too is a lecturer at Sustentare, hence her joining in for this photo at the end of a course I gave last year.

The Holonomics Platform

The Holonomics Platform

The Holonomics module, and in fact all the work we do on holonomic thinking is centred around the Holonomics Platform of mental models, systems models and business models. Often in business people like to jump in and introduce a major change in their organisations based on a new trend or methodology. But where Maria and I start is at the very fundamental level of seeing. We then take students or clients through a transformational process, finally allowing them to really experience the dynamic way of seeing, a way of seeing which Henri Bortoft characterised as ‘going upstream’.

Seeing

Seeing

This is not a temporal process, but one in which you begin to appreciate appearance, the way in which phenomena appear to you in your lived experience. This can be quite dramatic, since it starts to develop in people a deeper sense of the other, and hence opens up new ways of thinking about both our relationships and how to authentically engage people. Often when we are discussing resilience and sustainability, the dimension of people is lost, and hence we have to examine to role ego plays in the dynamics of our interactions (and hence me in recent blogs discussing ego and leadership a lot).

This dynamic is also why I wrote recently about what I am calling knotwoks – networks with ego. I see a lot of people discussing co-creation, collaboration and the sharing economy, but often people who use these terms are stuck in ego, and hence the actual dynamic that plays out, maybe even unbeknown to them, is that the traditional command-and-control logic is still in operation:

Others can co-create but I am going to be the one that stays in control of events and I will decide what is and is not co-created.

I want others to share but I am not going to share myself.

This isn’t authentic co-creation.

The Ladder of Seeing

The Ladder of Seeing

So how does this play out in practice? How can we take a whole organisation up the Ladder of Seeing, developing an authentic sense of wholeness in an organisation, where the brand or purpose or essential essence of the organisation is expressing itself authentically in each an d every part?

There is no escaping from the need for deep experiential training across the whole organisation. Because of this, Maria and I see that the role of HR in organisations is becoming much more strategic, in that it is the HR department who can play a more central role in helping their teams, colleagues and departments to develop holonomic thinking, developing stronger working relationship with those in strategy, business development, innovation and planning.

The key theme of next month’s Sustainable Brands summit in London is Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate. Maria and I will be sharing with many of the world’s leading brands the way in which are introducing holonomic thinking into national and multinational organisations in Brazil. Our opening plenary session will be broadcast live and will be sharing for the first time in public one of our actual cases of implementing holonomic thinking into an entire organisation. We will also be running a three hour workshop at Sustainable Brands where we will have an opportunity to go much deeper into the details as we explore Holonomics and sustainable leadership.

Sustainable Brands

We hope to be able to see some of you there, and for those not able to attend, we hope that our work will inspire you to continue developing your organisations, strategies, products and services from a level of consciousness where both people and planet matter.

Related Articles

On Creativity, Ego and Transformational Leadership

Beware of Knotworks – Networks with Ego

Guest Article: The Transformation of Strategy, Leadership and Sustainable Brands in Brazil – Maria Moraes Robinson

This is Service Design Thinking – the 2014 Service Design Talks, São Paulo

The rather enjoyable Brazilian silliness that is Vai Que Cola

Any quirky  tour of Brazilian pop culture that I have already embarked upon will inevitable at some point in time need to jump off at the bus stop marked “Vai Que Cola”. I have had various conversations with Maria on how to translate this phrase, and maybe it is something like “Let’s hope it all works out fine”. Well in terms of this article – Vai Que Cola!

I know things can be a little deep sometimes on Transtion Consciousness, and I have after all just written about Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical masterpiece on hermeneutics Truth and Method. But hermeneutical analysis applies not just to obscure historical texts which are only of interest to fusty professors, but also to silly things too.

Having already written about the asurdist comedy of Porta dos Fundos, I now need to turn my attention to this really quite remarkable ensemble piece which has no real comparable analog in UK television.

Credit: Multishow

Credit: Multishow

Vai Que Cola is a sitcom which launched last year and is now in its second series. Each series has no less than forty episodes, with new episodes being broadcast daily on the Multishow channel. With over eleven million viewers, it is the programme with the largest audience on paid tv in the last ten years in Brazil. But how to explain?

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola

The situation of the comedy is that all the action takes place in the pension of Dona Jô, played by Catarina Abdala. I am not too sure how to translate pension as we don’t really have them in the UK, but it is a kind of guest house with semi-permanent lodgers. The cast, as you will see in the first picture, reads like a Who’s Who of Brazilian comedy, with many also taking part in Porta Dos Fundos.

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola

Voa Que Cola is filmed in front of a live tv audience, and although of course this concept is nothing new, what is amazing is to see the level of interaction between the comedians and audience. This begins with the entrance each night of each character, most of whom enter on their own to rapt applause. It can get quite intense.

For example, Marcelo Medici, who I have already written about in his excellent comedic portrayal of Joel in Joia Rara, plays Sanderson, a quite realistic Corinthian supporter who has come to Rio de Janiero, and the last time I saw him come on stage a small group of Corinthian fans in the audience went a bit wild and launched into a ridiculously intense chant for their team. I am not entirely too sure they realised that Sanderson was a character and not an actual real person, such was their connection.

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola is not a subtle comedy, with some extremely larger-than-life characters, such as Fernando (“I’m a concierge not a janitor!”) played by the hugely enjoyable Marcus Majella, the motormouthed Lindinha, played by Cacau Protásio (who was also in Joia Rara), the hyperactive Jéssica and her more lackadaisical boyfriend Máicol played by the brilliant Samantha Schutz and and Emiliano D’Ávila, and of course Valdo played by Paulo Gustavo.

Minha_Mãe_é_uma_PeçaI mentioned Paulo Gustavo briefly in my piece on Porta dos Fundos. He seems to be omnipresent on Brazilian television, and like Fabio Porchat, has a work ethic which appears to defy the space-time continuum. In 2006 he appeared in a self-penned play Minha Mãe é Uma Peça  which could be translated I think as My Mother is One of a Kind. I was watching an interview with Gustavo, and if I understood correctly, this play has not stopped with Gustavo performing every weekend for packed audiences. This play was recently turned into a film, and I swear Gustavo turned out a Grammy or Oscar winning performance in which he plays a harried mother Dona Hermínia, a character inspired in a large part on his own mother.

If I mention Gustavo in detail, it is because he is the largest star of the show. However, for me the show is eminently watchable because as I said at the start, it is truly an authentic ensemble. The is written by Leandro Soares and directed by César Rodrigues and João Fonseca. While Gustavo is a huge celebrity and star, when watching it is as if each and every actor manages extremely successfully to leave their personal egos behind, and you can not really sense any kind of hierarchy, either personally between the celebrities, or in relation to the comedy in which no single character dominates.

In addition to this dynamic, when watching there is another dynamic which also to me appears natural, authentic and improvised, as opposed to cynically written in. It seems that the combination of the number of episodes together with the intense workloads of many of the cast mean that lines are fairly regularly fluffed, forgotten and generally messed up. Although it does seem that many scenes are refilmed, since we see the bloopers at the end, many are left in. In one scene, Gustavo was trying to get through quite a long monologue while sitting on his bed, and eventually just gave up and speaking to no-one in particular just asked to stop there and move on to the next scene. The audience love it.

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola

There is a wonderful comedic chemistry between the cast, and as well as messing up lines, it is refreshing to see them really enjoying themselves so much. Pretty much every show, the punch lines are so funny, or the accents so silly, that they make each other laugh, and sometimes struggle to really keep a straight face through their scenes. This is of course more opportunity to connect with the audience.

Really, when Maria and I watch, I really think that this is one show where everyone totally seems to be absolutely having a blast recording it. It’s a show where you think it must be absolutely amazing to be a part of, and I just wish I had even a modicum of comedy talent that these guys have. I really am not very funny English, and pretty much non-existent in Portuguese, although a few months ago I did manage to summon up one witticism which raised a modest smile in Maria.

Oh, and there’s one more thing.

The stage.

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola

While most of the scenes are centred around the open-plan kitchen and living room of the pension, the stage is circular and it rotates. This happens in real time, and so when one scene comes to a close, the stage starts to rotate to a  bedroom or the backyard. There are sometimes these little tiny random skits with one or two actors for example miming out a scene maybe at the front porch or bathroom which are slithers of the circular set. I am not too sure if I have explained this clearly, but it shows an attention to detail in the audience experience of the rotation of the stage.

Fabio Porchat on Vai Que Cola

Fabio Porchat on Vai Que Cola

I have not mentioned every single character and comedian who form part of this delicious ensemble (take a bow Tatá Werneck, Júlia Rabello, Fernando Caruso, Fiorella Mattheis and Sílvio Guindane) and there are also occasional characters, one-off appearances such as the lunatic loan shark played by Fabio Porchat, and special guests too. If I am honest, sometimes the plots never seem to quite be tidily resolved in the end, often descending into confusion, but more often than not fancy dress and a group dance.

And a selfie. The show always ends with a group selfie which we are always shown.

Vai Que Cola

Vai Que Cola

It’s interesting as next week, Porta dos Fundos moves from its home on the internet to Fox. Multishow has been dominating Brazilian television comedy for some time now, with other shows such as Paulo Gustavo’s 220 Volts. Fox it would appear is low down in terms of ratings, so it will be interesting to see how these two giants of Brazilian comedy play out. Vai que cola, né?

Related Articles

A British Look at the Brazilian Absurdist Comedy of Porta dos Fundos

In Praise of Joia Rara – Brazil’s Buddhist Soap Opera