Building spaces that inspire: Four lessons from the first 2 years of The Village by Tim Mahlberg

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a bold experiment inside one of Australia's big banks. On the 25th November 2013, The Village at National Australia Bank opened to it's customers and the public in the new 700 Bourke Street building in Docklands. What unfolded over the years is truly remarkable and something that I am still so proud to have been involved with.

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On leaving a job that I love by Tim Mahlberg

I believe that each day you get out of bed and head out to work is the day you choose your current job. It's an active, daily choice, rather than just a decision you make when you put in your application, have the interview and score the role. The day you start thinking that you want to do something else, or dream of the next stage, is the day you should start to create that next move. 

After I announced to my work community that I was moving on from my amazing role as Host of The Village, many people couldn't believe that I would leave. After all, it is clearly a role that i loved and was proud of (and still totally love it). When you find (or in my case, create!) your perfect role, then why would you choose to give it up? 

And just why did I love it so much? Well, because I was paid (by a bank!) to:

Photo credit: Kate Hanley

Photo credit: Kate Hanley

  1. Bring my whole self to work every day, and invite others to do the same. (Somedays that just meant being a dag)

  2. Build a community based on inspiration and empowerment

  3. Work with some of the most awesome people I've ever met (small business owners, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders and big business innovators... what a mix!)

  4. Help other people to imagine more for themselves and their work, and build courage to act on their dreams

  5. Hold a vision for the community and the organisation that supports it (in this case, a top 4 Australian bank)

Yep, it was a pretty special gig, and definitely not your standard job description (I'll admit that the "official" one wasn't so inspiring)

So why would I leave it? After all, people can go a lifetime toiling away at work that they are not passionate about. Well, I believe that this work is just a stepping stone to something even bigger and I owed it to myself to explore that. I wanted to create the space and time in my life for that next big thing. In fact, I believe that it has been preparing me for something even more exciting. 

There was a quote that played on my mind as I contemplated leaving:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for

J. A. Shedd

If The Village was my harbour, and I was the ship moored there, then really, it was an easy choice to leave. The very nature of the harbour and the people visiting, whispering stories of seas yet sailed upon, and lands yet explored, did nothing but feed the growing curiosity of what is possible outside. Being surrounded by amazing entrepreneurs and innovators does that to you!

I wanted to feel the waves on my bow, the wind in my sails, and the sun on my face. I definitely didn't want to be safe, because that's not where the fun is. So, after a year and a half of building the harbour and the ship, I was off sailing. 

Sailing has been a powerful analogy in my life ever since I learnt to sail with my Mum when I was 10. There is something raw and majestic about battling the elements in a small boat across rough waters and being confronted by the awesomeness and power of nature. When I was a teenager, there were a few moments where storms had overwhelmed me and my boat, and I felt like it could be the end, or at least the sense that death was a possible outcome if things were much worse. The destructive potential of nature captivated my imagination and grounded me in that moment; a mere child mesmerised by unknowable forces that ruled the world, and a complete surrender to fate. 

There is something about letting go of what is known and controllable with sailing that I find so empowering. It reminds me to imagine what might be, remain in awe of the mysteries of life and be open to surprise and the ever-present serendipity. There are so many uncontrollable forces at play in life that we would be fooling ourselves to believe that even with our hand firmly on the tiller, we are never truly in charge of our destiny. 

This is one last quote that I hold when I make my life decisions. Making big calls in life and work isn't easy for anyone. It takes courage and risk. But, the rewards are worth it, and there is something reassuring and beautiful in falling asleep each day feeling that you have chosen that day in all it's entirety and wouldn't change anything at all.

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 

Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

Reflections on 2014 by Tim Mahlberg

Wow, what a year. It started with a small number of members who had signed up to our experiment of The Village. We honestly didn't know how the year would turn out. I mean, what would make people want to come into a bank to work, meet others, learn and be a part of a community. Reflecting back, it really was a bold and courageous gamble. And what a result to date. 

1st Birthday celebrations in The Village.  Photo credit: Damian White

1st Birthday celebrations in The Village. Photo credit: Damian White

Thinking about how we've approached the experiment, and what has made it work, I think about where we and I continue to draw the inspiration and motivation, which is from each one of our members, the customers that the bank is here to serve. I've never met a group of people who are so passionate, so driven in their endeavours, be that running a small business or a social enterprise, working in nonprofit, or creative and innovative industries. Each of our members has such an inspiring story behind them, which we just love hearing and supporting in any small way. I've had the true privilege of watching many of our members grow and share their successes with us over the year, and it's an honour to host you in The Village. 

I often think about what the most important or most powerful part of The Village experience, which seems to make the most difference for our members and guests, and what brings the most joy for me, which I believe is The Invitation. It starts with what The Village is. On the surface, it is a place to work, learn and connect in a community. Over the year, it has become clear to me that it is so much more, and many of you might recall me saying this to you. It is a place to experiment in, celebrate success and failure in, play on the edge of your business or organisation. It is a place to be inspired and inspire others with what you are passionate about. A place to bring your whole self, not just your work. It is an invitation to imagine more for yourself and your organisation. 

I've realised that this is not something we are invited to do in many places, if at all over a lifetime, and so is very powerful. For me personally, there is no more amazing moment than when you invite people this way and you witness a light switching on on their eyes; a creative spark perhaps, where they envision more. I just love it. Clearly!

The amazing thing is that we've been able to share this invitation with more than just our members. Their guests, our own employees, school children, and many more in our growing network. I estimate that approximately 25,000 people have experienced this over the year in some way which is just awesome.

Something very special also seems to happen when you bring a whole community of people together under this invitation; it seems to magnify. You might have heard me talk about Accelerated Serendipity; when the right person or solution presents themselves to you and just the right time. It might all sound a bit esoteric, especially for a bank, but I've witnessed it all too many times for it to be simply coincidental. Maybe its something about setting the higher intention of our community that not just anything is possible, but actually more probable here together. 

So, with the close of the year, we now have well over 1200 members representing over 1000 businesses and organisations. I'm excited about what 2015 has in store for each of our members, and The Village as a whole. My focus will be on preparing us for greater growth in members and exploring other sites across Australia. We've started conversations for The Village in Geelong and Sydney, so stay tuned for opportunities to be involved as our sandpit gets bigger! I'm always imagining more for our community and exploring a vision of The Village where one day we have 10,000 members, or even 100,000! What kind of impact could it have in bringing more small business and big business together to innovate and create together? How might The Village help to bridge our regional, metropolitan and suburban centres together? How can we hold transformative conversations for our non-profit and welfare organisations? How could The Village role model the way that we will all work together in the future? They are just some of the questions that I feel we are starting to answer, and I'm excited to continue to share all the important conversations with you into 2015. 

Serendipity by Tim Mahlberg

There are special moments we get to witness with increasing regularity in The Village... when two people's paths cross here when they least expect it. There is a sense of bemusement that the world can seem so small, and wonder at the interconnectedness of life.  This is a short story about one of these moments.

Last week, one of our small business members, Dan Donahoo, invited around 100 students and teachers from Billanook College to The Village to have a glimpse of the future of work. There is something about the energy of young people that leaves the place buzzing. Here is a pic of the morning briefing. 

Before we started the morning, I noticed one of our other members, Chris Kemp speaking excitedly with the school's Principal. Chris has recently joined The Village to work on his start-up non-profit organisation. It turns out that this was Chris was a former student of this school and he had only just weeks earlier been back to visit and present to the students, and many of them recognised him. Furthermore, Billanook College was his first school to partner with him in his organisation's endeavours. When we presented to the students about The Village, Chris was able to bring it to life and help the students connect with how the space is used day to day, and the support it provides that he wouldn't get working from home. Students, teachers, and hosts alike were left thinking "what are the chances…"

On one hand, it seems that these encounters may just happened by chance. However, as our community grows, moments of serendipity like this are on the rise, and I like to entertain the idea that it's a sign that we are onto a good thing.

Just ask me about the person that 5 people said I had to meet who last week turned out to be my new neighbour! I still can't get over that one.