Reflecting on the Summer Project

summer project blog

One of the best things about having taken part in a Spark+Mettle programme is that you begin to discover a vast extended family, that you hadn’t realised existed before. Of course, it’s not blood or genetics that have brought us together as a collective; but the prevalent familial feeling within our tribe left me thinking a lot about leadership, as the two are inextricably intertwined.

Let’s rewind a bit.

Taking part in last year’s Summer Project, was a tactical decision with regards to my own learning. Having spent significant time away from higher education in an attempt to recuperate and rebuild resilience; it was time that I posed myself a very direct challenge.

Being given free reign and a blank brief, being thrust together with a handful of people you’d never met, being only occasionally guided through a negative space of creativity proved to be a valuable exercise in flexing mental muscles hadn’t seen stretching in some time.

The initial phase perhaps more than anything else was cause to dig deep and rediscover an attitude and approach to co-working and teamwork, that I hadn’t encountered since being a teenager. Strangers rapidly trying to find a common language, cutting away at non-essential assumptions to both express and identify your new relationship and values. Acceptance and vulnerability.

We began as four at the outset, and our roles shifted and changed every time we met. Sometimes according to how familiar someone was with specific territory we were covering; sometimes just to take a fresh perspective. I don’t think we ever discussed leadership within the group specifically, but it moved fluidly, as we felt similarly accountable and driven by common purpose.
The way we found a way to break barriers to hear and trust each other; the way in which a healthy family can find a way to support to each member; the way in which we as participants were invited to be critical and heard, making the relationship more horizontal; these are perhaps the greater lessons about effective leadership I was able to take away. Acceptance, inclusion, empowerment.


There’s a stereotyped heroic idea, where decisiveness and cleverness are the crucial factors for choosing a single figurehead to take responsibility. We still select politicians and decide on who we want to steer the systems we live by this way; governance that we elect to act on our behalf. But the tools we have today also afford us more agency and liberty as individuals, than ever before.

Our own personal realm of experience once mapped is totally unique to anyone else’s, meaning that each of us, if confident and willing, are an authority and expert. More importantly, each of us can lead, by communicating those insights whilst accommodating other perspectives, opening ourselves out to be vulnerable. This way we find and build our new ‘extended families’, where the roles shift but it always feels like we’re heard. There are a couple of essentials; empathy, honesty; but by and large, there are few skill-sets with such great payoffs in impact for such reasonable investment of time and thought.

What is more, in my taking part in the Summer Project, there were many things that I was able to re-learn and rediscover:
• Communicate, communicate, communicate…
• Whether you’re working on a group task, or you’re just figuring out a way for all your mates to have a great time next Saturday; everyone is put in a better position, and builds a clearer picture, when you voice what’s happening from your perspective.
• It works two ways! Communication is a process of feedback and response to the information we’re receiving; so being open to listen, empathise, and take on other perspectives is just as necessary as making yourself heard clearly.

Invite, like there’s no maximum capacity
• Nothing is lost, and much stands to be gained, simply by being inclusive and reducing the amount of friction and effort between yourself and someone who could be a participant in a process or discussion. Exclusiveness can build value too sure, but only so far as the limits of those who are ‘in’.
• In truth, there’s an upper limit on everyone’s resources, whether it be time, energy, attention or money; but by creating an atmosphere and ethic that is open and approachable, it’s easier to Identify where those resources are worth being channeled; and whom is responding, proactively seeking to collaborate.

Write things down
• No seriously, do it.
• I don’t know why this one is something that I hear so often being profoundly rediscovered midway through careers and post-school/college. Maybe it has something to do with the context and applications in which we’re used to developing note-taking or thinking-through-writing as a skill and habit. Regardless, history has shown how revolutionary turning thoughts into written language can be, and for the small investment of time and focus, the powerful results make putting words on paper a consistently worthwhile activity.
• Doodle too. Drawings, diagrams and graphs can capture ideas wonderfully. Never forget that there’s no one single format that can convey everything perfectly – just a whole range of different forms.

Keep a calendar, watch your time, be accountable.
• Be sure to allocate time in which to not be accountable too, in good measure.
• You’ll get things done, more importantly, you’ll get them done in time for when they need to be done by.

Be honest.
• With yourself, first and foremost. There’s no point living in delusion.
• With others,
• like when you say you’re fine, but you’re actually struggling;
• like when you asked to hear more about someone else’s plans (which you’d heard a thousand times), when actually you wanted to propose a genius idea of your own to them;
•  like that time I said I’d be in touch and send that email, when I’m actually lost for a reason as to why I would ever send it.
• Honesty, having a critical eye, is often a reductive process. But it isn’t a synonym for ‘a constant stream of criticism’; and a too much of a useful thing, directed in the wrong way, can wreak havoc. So use it wisely – both on yourself and with others.

Dream, disrupt, do.
• If you can envision it, imagine it, there’s probably a good reason.
• If you’re afraid of it, feeling cautious or restricted by something, there’s probably a good reason.
• If you’re not doing something about it, not overcoming or solving or fighting or creating – there’s no good reason to justify… Unless;
• You’re vulnerable, or alone, or injured, or unwell, or depressed – Then you know it’s time to ask for help, so that someday you can be in a position to help someone else.

Written by Muhammad Khaleel Jaffer.

To get another lowdown on the Summer Project 2013, please click here.