Breaking the rules

Recently, as part of a Postgraduate class, I listened to an experienced business practitioner, and adjunct professor, give a presentation on creativity and innovation. One of the key messages from his presentation was “Break the rules”. It’s a good message, one that challenges us to reach beyond what we know, where we feel safe, to a place where growth and development happens.

I do not disagree with his argument at all. But even so, there was a feeling of concern lurking on the periphery of my consciousness, a suggestion that something was missing from the picture he presented. And then he showed an image of a world map with New Zealand at the top.

upside down map

What do you see when you look at this depiction of the World? What are you thinking, what are you experiencing as you take in this image?

For many, this could very well challenge what you know to be an accepted truth, seen to be outside the norm, an unusual perspective from which to see our world. For me this was a provocative image, but not because it was outside the norm. For me this was the norm. This represented the Māori worldview.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with our creation traditions, this perspective relates to the hero-figure Maui and his fish, Te Ika a Maui, otherwise known as the North Island of New Zealand. Looking at the North Island, the head of the fish is where Wellington is located. The fins of the fish are represented by the East Cape and Taranaki. And the tail of the fish is Northland.

The natural orientation of the body will be to locate the head at the top and the tail at the bottom, making Wellington “up” and Northland “down”, the complete opposite to the map representations we are familiar with.

This positioning is reinforced by the language Māori use to indicate the direction we are going when travelling through the North Island. For example, travelling from Auckland to Wellington, in English you would say “I am going down to Wellington”. In te reo Māori however, you would say you “I am going up to Wellington”.

Revisiting that world map again, it is perfectly natural in Te Ao Māori, for the North Island of New Zealand to be facing upwards.

That unsettled feeling I had as I listened to this speaker, the feeling that something was missing was resolved when I realised that I was looking through a Te Ao Māori lens, a Māori worldview.

When faced with this reality, the question that then surfaced in my mind was this: who created the rules that we are being encouraged to break? Who sets the boundaries we are encouraged to push against? As you might imagine, these were quickly followed by a series of other questions.

But the big question for me is this. Does the Māori worldview, and I suspect other indigenous worldviews, have the potential to break new ground and realise opportunity within a contemporary context and current accepted practices? I think so. I think a Māori worldview, and indeed other indigenous worldviews, have the power and potential to be the next evolutionary step in our development as a creative and innovative society. Because a Māori worldview, by default, breaks all the rules. At least, that’s what I see when I look at that map.

What do you see?

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