Finding Freedom | A Q&A with Cultural Innovator Adah Parris

15 April 2019

After she came to SC Towers to chat to our team, we interviewed futurist, cultural innovator and board advisor, Adah Parris. With over 20 years’ experience in creating transformational change, using a human-centred approach, Adah shares with us where her philosophies came from and the wonderful work she continues to do.

Hey Adah! Could you summarise what you do, for those who haven't had the pleasure of being introduced to you yet?

I teach leaders how to transform organisations by focusing on culture.

Wearing my Futurist’s hat, I create and run bespoke four-phased learning and development programs and experiences, based on a proprietary culture-change framework called The Four Freedoms™.

The programs and experiences teach people how to nurture and grow cultures of trust, transparency and efficiency. To create a framework for continual personal and professional development, including those skills and competencies needed to grow the business. It also equips leaders with the building blocks for succession planning and to create a holistic culture of innovation.

Your ethos centres around people and identity. What inspired this?

I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick, how they express themselves and connect with others.

In 2012, I went to my first Burning Man, which is an annual event in Black Rock City, a temporary city and global community in the Nevada Desert. It is more than a festival, which is what some people think it is. It is more of a cultural movement which is based on 10 core principles, which all attendees are supposed to adhere to (sadly some of that seems less mandatory for some of the more recent attendees).

Could you tell us what the 10 core principles are?

Yes! The 10 principles are:
• Radical Inclusion
• Gifting
• Decommodification
• Radical Self-reliance
• Radical Self-expression
• Communal Effort
• Civic Responsibility
• Leave No Trace
• Participation
• Immediacy

The principles that really stood out for me were, radical self-expression, civic responsibility, participation and radical inclusion.

Most people look at photos of Burning Man and think that people are costuming, but it’s more than that, well for me anyhow. It was the first time that I can remember that I could fully express myself, my identity without fear of judgement or trying to compare myself to anyone else. All of that was stripped away and I just was.

Everyone was welcome and formed a global community.

We were Human, not the labels we wore on the outside.

That sounds amazing, Adah! Have you been more than once?

I went three years in a row, 2012, 2013 and 2014, spending about £3000 a time to be completely myself for one week of the year. The maths didn’t add up and so I decided to bring the 10 principles back with me and find a way to embed them into my everyday life, but also to help others to do the same.

We now live in a time where identities are more fluid than they have even seemed to be. Or, maybe it’s just that we are more aware of that because of things such as access to digital technology and the internet. They have given us to access to bottomless pits of information and the ability to share our own views, opinions and stories of who we are and to form global communities regardless of time, distance and space.

The more that I became involved in the area of digital technology, and more specifically as a Futurist, the more I became passionately curious about the impact that technology has had, and will continue to have, on our sense of identity and what it would mean to be human. It felt like a natural progression for me to start to take a philosophical look at perspectives, identities, human potential, roles (including the concept of work), responsibilities, power and the implications for governance and the idea of freedom.

When you came in to see us, you talked about "The Four Freedoms" as the foundation for driving innovation, sustainability and culture. What does that mean in practice?

The Four Freedoms™ is a philosophy and framework that I have developed, which takes organisations on a journey of transformation by initially focussing on the individual humans.

It addresses the mindsets that may create gaps between external stories and internal behaviours. It creates strategies to bridge those gaps and then gives people the tools to transform the culture to innovate and become more impactful and sustainable.

The Four Freedoms™ creates shared stories that begin by recognising the impact and fluidity of identity (individual and collective), culture and economics on the wider ecosystem. (I deliberately use the word ‘ecosystem’ because it’s more organic and fluid than the idea of networks).

On a most basic level, it creates a space for different perspectives to be seen, heard and acted upon.

On a wider societal level, it provides a framework for us to challenge and address issues of inequality, power, governance and sustainability.

You have worked in a variety of industries. Which have been your favourite, and which most challenging?

One of my favourite projects was working with the British Film Institute (BFI). We started working on a granular level to understand the problem that film serves to us as humans. In order to understand the impact the organisation could have on their current and potential audiences we needed to start by re-defining the problem they were attempting to address, the purpose, role and responsibility of each individual within the team and then expand from there to their culture and economics (measure of success and key performance indicators) which then transformed their processes and environment.

Industries that I would like to work with are some of the old establishments especially education, finance and politics. Ones that have hierarchical structures that are fundamentally being disrupted by digital technology, external innovators and entrepreneurship. These are also the sectors that have the potential to fundamentally change human potential and notions of freedom.

If your audience could take home one key message from you, what would it be?

Freedom, is the ability for different perspectives to be seen and heard. When those voices are recognised new and impactful cultural stories can be told.

And finally, what's next for you Adah?

I’m currently doing some research into human-centred key performance indicators and measures of success that can enhance human potential. Ones that take into consideration the diversity of human wants, needs and desires. For example, ones that aren’t biased towards gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, neuro-diversity, or socioeconomic background.

For further information or to book one of our speakers, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070  or email .

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