by Jonathan Hanwit
Imagine relocating your day job from Southern California to the heart of Mexico City for a week of culture, exploration, and inspiration. Sound amazing, right?
But what if I told you that your entire office of 15 people would be going with you, you’d be traveling, working, and staying together 24/7, and you were the one who had to organize it?
During the week leading up to our trip I was in full panic-mode — trying to work out all of the logistics and wondering what had I gotten us into. This trip was a follow up to two years of our PARALLAXploration program, but with a cardinal difference. Whereas everyone in previous years had travelled solo (and was responsible for everything themselves), this time we were going as a group. And I was responsible for each and every person on the trip.
We were going to share insights with three other agencies, visit three different cities, and paint a large mural on the side of a local building — part of a series of art projects that aim to promote equality and diversity. As I decided to organize the entire thing by myself, the success or failure of the trip was on my head. (Note to self: remember to delegate next time.)
However, once we’d made it across the border, onto the plane to Mexico City, and to our first destination in Cuernavaca, I began to relax. Everyone in our group showed that they knew how to take care of themselves and my planning had actually worked out. Our house I’d arranged to stay in was beautiful, secure, and private and we even had our own handyman and chefs on hand — ensuring that our week would be amazing on all accounts.
We woke up on our first morning and travelled to the town of Tepoztlan, a colonial town nestled in the mountains south of Mexico City. As our first experience together, we hiked to the top and then explored the town (and its rich marketplace) after. Walking on the cobblestone streets, I remember talking with Maddie, our videographer, about how it almost seemed surreal — that all the sights, smells, and sounds were exactly what I’d imagine for a majestic Mexican pueblo. By the end of the day there, we’d all enjoyed a rich cultural experience that would kick start the following week of our journey.
The next days in Cuernavaca we spent with Ideograma, one of the leading branding agencies in Mexico. We shared insights about everything from processes, pitch work, and agreeing on pricing with clients. We met as a large group (about 30 of us in all) and then individually, with people on each team with similar roles to share specific tricks of the trade. Ideograma are masters of the branding process. They follow a refined three step process in their work, with each team strategically involved at key points and working together so harmoniously with the client that project managers aren’t even needed. (!!!) Their projects weren’t as varied as the ones we deal with at thinkPARALLAX, so it is easier to streamline, but that was one of the biggest differences we encountered in the workflow. It was great to see how another awesome agency goes about their work.
Time apart from Ideograma was spent painting our mural – #seemeasIseeyou (or in spanish, veme como yo te veo). This piece of art was our first in a series of murals to promote diversity and equality. It was definitely a joint effort but special thanks go to our designer Allen for leading this effort. It was great to see him taking on a leadership role and his first bigger step into something larger. Our time in Cuernavaca finished with a wonderful fiesta with Ideograma that couldn’t have been much better. We “made party” with them into the wee hours of the night. Fantastico.
We made our way to Mexico city the next morning, where we spent the next three days meeting with two other agencies — Sol Consultores and Insitum. Sol was more like a traditional branding agency where Insitum centered their work around research-heavy design thinking. The methodology and thinking behind it all was fascinating and like the other two agencies it gave us a new perspective for our approach, thinking and improvement of our own process. The rest of the time in Mexico City was spread between walking through the neighborhoods, eating the most fantastic food, catching a Lucha Libre wrestling match and getting to experience the culture of this diverse, rich, and vibrant city.
We ended the trip Saturday night at a great restaurant in Condessa, the hip part of town where we were staying. As we dined, we reflected on our experiences — both together and individually. People had shown new skills, a deep level of camaraderie, and everyone had learned something new about everyone else. We truly felt like one family. In our day to day work, we often work with clients to help define and foster their corporate culture. Based on our experience of PARALLAXploration 2016, if we had to prioritize values, I’d say we put family right at the top.