The Risk Factor: How Sense of Safety Affects Our Work.

Morning is a funny time in a city, the early hours where suits carry briefcases, junkies wander the sidewalks, dogs walk their owners, storefronts open up and shame walks home simultaneously.

But not every city can boast the serenity of this confluence like Toronto. Wandering through the streets of Toronto en route to the TAXI office this week, I felt a particularly noticeable contrast to being in South Africa last month.

First point of distinction: I was walking to the office. Period.

My personal danger-o-meter varied from city to city in South Africa, influenced by peer warnings to remain accompanied at all times. The warnings were not unfounded, nor rooted on the side of caution. They came from a respect for reality. A guy in Cape Town told me he had been mugged six times throughout his life and his descriptions of the experience left me on high-alert for days. Another woman in Johannesburg told me she would never walk around alone, day or night, as a man or as a woman. So my natural instinct to explore felt stunted while I was in South Africa, losing out to the desire not to get mugged or die and to, in fact, carry this project on to five additional countries.

Thankfully I only interacted with kind, warm and welcoming people across South Africa and personally never encountered any crime during my month there. But I also wasn't much of a risk-taker, given all the safety warnings I had been handed.

In Toronto, by contrast, I feel quite certain I could dump the contents of my computer bag across the sidewalk, scattering computers, cameras, credit cards and cash, and Canadian citizens would stop to help me put the valuables back in their rightful place. Cruising to work in the morning alongside all walks of life and kinds of individuals, I don't feel threatened or unsafe. Everyone seems to mind their own business.

En route to TAXI this morning, I began to reflect on the degree to which our feelings of personal safety factor into the quality and kind of work we produce. Especially in an industry such as advertising, that is so emblematic of the culture of a country.

When I asked what made advertising unique in South Africa, I repeatedly heard from their industry pros that a different breed of innovative work comes out of an environment where people have life-altering problems to solve every day. When daily reality is a clash between first-world and third-world existence, and the disparity between the two is as drastic as it is in South Africa, the job of an advertising or communications agency is not easy.

But the folks in South Africa would argue that this improves their work and sharpens their edges. Some said they would be bored living anywhere else. Given that the majority of folks I spoke with worked at South Africa's most awarded agency, the industry as a whole seems to agree with that assessment.

So what effect does it have to work in an environment where your personal safety rarely (if ever) feels compromised? What opportunity does that present to one's mind? Or, on the flip side, does it create a level of comfort that lulls and dulls the edges?

I don't have the answers, so please enlighten me and share your thoughts.

Canadians: what makes the work in Canada unique? How does (or doesn't) your level of personal safety factor in? Have you ever even considered that fact?

South Africans: imagine you were working in an environment where it was uncommon to consider your personal safety. How would that change the work you do, the way you approach or consider solutions to problems? Would you be "bored?"

There isn't a "wrong" answer when you're sharing perspective and experience, so please weigh in and join the conversation!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brianna, interesting post. Here's my take as a creative currently living & working in South Africa. Prior to returning to SA I spent a couple of years co-founding a small agency in Kuala Lumpur. In hindsight, the sense of safety I felt living in KL translated into a "disconnection" with the city's culture, strangers ivariably remained strangers. To borrow from your asssertion, I reckon this was because "people minded their own business". South Africa, to my mind, fails in similar ways because design can only solve problems it is familiar with, the SA creative community at large creates their own fear-induced seperation which prevents them from creating relevant work. I'd therefore argue that the factor at play is not that of safety, but rather "connectedness". And being truly connected demands that we drop our guard.