Contemplating Parts and Wholes with a Walk Down São Paulo’s Most Enchanting Street

Maria and I were back at Sustentare Business School this weekend teaching MBA students about chaos, complexity, holonomic thinking and strategy. One toy I have that makes a great visual impression is my Hoberman sphere, which starts as a compacted ball, but which you can extend into a large interconnected sphere.

Hoberman Sphere

Hoberman Spehere Sustentare

It is a fun way to talk about the way in which we perceive parts and wholes in organisations. Many times we are so focused on our teams, our departments, our projects and our products and services, we fail to understand the organisation as a system. We fail to see the interconnections, relationships and processes which impact on both ourselves and the organisation as a whole. This dynamic also extends to seeing our organisations as self-contained spheres and not perceiving the way in which our organisations interconnect organically into the wider ecosystem.

While the Hoberman sphere is brilliant at introducing the theme of the relationship between the whole and the parts, at the end of the day it is still a mechanical device. What we we need when we dive deeply into the systems view of life is a more organic way of comprehending the relationship, and for this we need holonomic thinking. We need to move into a way of seeing which sees the whole as an ‘active absence’ – a stance we take in which we do not step back to see the whole, but plunge into a contemplation of the parts in order to encounter the way in which the whole expresses itself, comes-to-presence in the parts.

Credit: Fernando Peire

Credit: Fernando Peire

One programme we discussed on the course was the Channel 5 series The Restaurant Inspector with Fernando Peire, who each episode visits a failing restaurant to offer his expert advice to the owners on what is wrong and what they should do. In this When talking about the dynamics of seeing, this programme is brilliant for showing the contrasting ways in which Peire perceives the restaurant from the owners.

His approach is entirely from the experience of the clientele, something which the owners often really struggle to understand. More than this, in this quote from Peire, we discover his whole mental model of the restaurant which affects every aspect of his work:

Peire takes an almost paternal, nurturing interest in both the restaurant and the Club. For him, it is always about creating the right atmosphere, the right ambience, so that the particular, Ivy magic can emerge. How does he describe what makes the Ivy special? “It’s the conversation. The Ivy is all about conversation. When you read about the Ivy, people talk about the buzz. I’m very proud of our staff too – they are an integral part of the Ivy. But it’s people talking to each other – even married couples talking to each other…”

Source: London Book Fair

Restaurants are of course incredibly sensory experiences, and recently I discovered an incredibly enchanting street in São Paulo that really epitomised the way in which an owner of a restaurant understands the experience of the clientele. This example really helps me to explain the concept of the dynamic relationship between the whole and parts, and of the active absence of the whole.

Avanhandava Street (Rua Avanhandava) lies in the heart of São Paulo, and the only way to introduce it to you is with this story of the street from Walter Mancini. In 1980 Mancini opened the first Famiglia Mancini restaurant (Mancini Family) but his vision was greater than just one single restaurant. He thus began the first project in São Paulo to renovate an entire street, and in this video he will show what it has now become.

The street is home to five restaurants and two shops, and the experience for visitors begins at the very entrance, which comes into its own at night with the street lights and fountains. In this second video Mancini shows us around probably the most famous restaurant, Famiglia Mancini, which sees queues of people waiting for a table every single day of the week.

The restaurant has been created and developed since 1980 with great love and devotion, as you can see from the great enthusiasm of Mancini. The details are astounding, it is truly an experience of near sensory overload, and both Maria and I will definitely be returning to be able to take in all those aspects which we will have missed on the first visit.

Madreperola is their sea food restaurant, and as the camera pans around, see how much detail you can take in:

As you would of course expect, there is a pizza and pasta restaurant, and in this video look out for the innovation which stops the pizzas from humidifying when taken out of the firewood ovens:

In introducing Il Ristaurante, Mancini focuses on just one aspect, the music:

Mancini clearly has an artistic eye for detail, both a skill and great love which inspired Calligrafia, a name which was inspired by his love of handwritten lettering and calligraphy.

I hope you have enjoyed these short videos. If we go back to the original theme of this article, it was the relationship between the whole and the parts. It allows us to contemplate what Famiglia Mancini is as a whole.

Famiglia Mancini is not simply the totality of the physical parts. There is something more about Famiglia Mancini that we can not write down, we can not touch and feel, but which to us exists and which we encounter through a sensitive contemplation of each and every part. This allows us to experience Rua Avanhandava as an authentic whole, where every part belongs together, creating an unbroken experience we can delight in.

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

We can only really grasp the whole in our intuition, and so this is why it is important to contemplate the four different ways of knowing: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition. In this mode of experience we are discussing, we are moving from the sensory to the intuitive, and in our intuitions we will discover the meaning of Famiglia Mancini.

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

Credit: Famiglia Mancini

It may seem obvious that a restaurant owner understands the experience of the client, but in so many cases this appears not be the case, as it was for Maria and I who went to a restaurant recently where the staff seemed to be happy to play music from a radio, with adverts, and as such we decided to leave. The restaurant we did discover was one where the owner also owned a farm and who used all his own ingredients in the food, which was extremely tasty, and we will certainly be returning very soon.

I will be returning to Rua Avanhandava as it has inspired an idea for a photographic project. It would be amazing to meet Walter Mancini and I will see if it will be possible to speak to him to se can put into words what Famiglia Mancini means to him.

But regardless of how he chooses to express the whole for himself, it is clear that his love for art, food and his continual attention to the experience of his clientele has resulted in the one of the most delightfully curious and enchanting experiences it is possible to have in São Paulo. The Mancini family certainly deserve the highest praise for their restaurants, for creating such a wonderful experience of the parts and the whole for us to explore, contemplate and plunge into.

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