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  • Nicole Brown

Creating Space

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

There is so very much I could say about the under-appreciated value of space. I function best at either extreme: uncomfortable, silent, still space, or mass chaos. I wrestle when I find myself in the middle, typically opting to push for less space instead of identifying the noise and reorganizing for efficiency. I have an exercise I intend to implement to help me move through the clutter and think deeply when my mind doesn't want to work beyond the surface dust. More on that later.


A couple of months back, I asked our setting team for a favor. We had just opened our Mosaic gym location and I was seeking creative ways to encourage our customers to share their experience. I developed Gram-A-Bloc (a totally unoriginal program). The concept was to set a polarizing, provoking boulder each week, slightly outside the realm of typical commercial consumption, and ask our customers to film it and post it on their Instagram account in exchange for an entry into a membership draw. Setters rotated each week, having full autonomy over their Gram-A-Bloc.


I consider the program a success if members indicate disappointment at its completion, which they did. An ulterior motive I didn’t convey deliberately was this natural creation of space for routesetters to stretch. The unique confines of the problem combined with full creative license really made for a challenging, enjoyable process. The section of wall we used, and we only used one for 12 weeks, was a training board of which was only 8’ wide and 10’ tall, incorporating an arete on one side and a perpendicular panel on another. Problems ranged from silly to committing, accessible to impossible.


From what I’ve seen, setters in commercial facilities are rarely given the opportunity to breathe, reach, explore, and think. Most days, weeks, and months are the same, which sounds like hell to me. I’m sure some would scoff, but we allowed each setter 4 hours to set this single problem. They weren’t given an assignment other than to put up something they were proud of and eager to share. They set alone, and forerunning involved very little exchange of information, primarily merely a grounds for observation.


What was fascinating was watching their process refine over time. The difference in limitations (landscape as opposed to time or opinions) resulted in a shift in communication, process, and ultimately product. The language they used, the challenges they generated, the experience they cultivated, and the skills they brought to the table were vastly different from what I’m used to seeing. To my shock, the ‘contest’ amongst the team was not to set the wildest move, but to have their problem shared the most.


I learned more from the experiment than perhaps they did. Flipping the entire environment of which they’re accustomed to, not removing all confines but imposing novel ones, forced them to stretch in new directions. I intend to regularly incorporate exercises like this that allow for greater independence and a broader vision, encouraging leadership in an organic, incremental way.

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