Design thinking, improv theater, and systems thinking walk into a bar. Just kidding. It’s Andres Marquez-Lara. And he’s got a pretty cool story to tell about entrepreneurship as process of personal and social development. We explore his history and the various serendipities that led to his current becoming. We ask big questions, like what is the connection between psychodrama, performance activism, building a business, and helping organizations come up with creative solutions to complex problems.
Topics of Interest:
- What are some of your roles and endeavors? [3:14]
- What is your connection to Latin America? [05:32]
- How did you get to where you are now? [7:20]
- East Side Institute and performance? [11:56]
- How can people embrace the idea of performance? [13:12]
- Examples of work you do in Promethean Community? [15:47]
- What is the intention behind your activities? [19:42]
- What are some examples of clients you’ve worked with? [22:14]
- What do you appreciate about yourself? [24:13]
- Did you find the work or did the work find you? [25:43]
- What is something you wish you knew when younger? [27:31]
- How do design thinking, improve theatre, and systems thinking connect? [29:41]
- Design Thinking [29:50]
- Improv Theatre [30:53]
- Systems Thinking [31:28]
- Are you involved in any broader systems change endeavors, communities, or organizations? [33:27]
- How many people are involved in Promethean Community? [37:24]
- Where do you see Promethean Community in five years? [39:08]
- Who are you becoming? [40:42]
- What message do you have for young entrepreneurs? [42:53]
- Where can people find you? [43:50]
People and Organizations Mentioned:
- Andres Marquez-Lara
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/amarquezlara
- Promethean Community
- East Side Institute
- Lois Holzman
- PlayBack Theatre
- Developing Across Borders
- Bill Eggers from Deloitte
- FSG, Reimagining Social Change
- Zaid Hassan, Social Labs Revolution
- Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of a Lifetime
- Performance of a Lifetime
- Angel Zambrano
- Dr. Erin Fletcher
Art Assoiants: Andres Marquez-Lara is the founder and passion catalyst at Promethean Community, a social enterprise that helps organizations enhance collaboration internally and externally. They work with teams that want to improve their efficiency in tackling social and environmental impact projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. Andres has also faculty at the Executive Master in Policy Leadership at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy and a guest lecturer on leadership at Georgetown University Institute for Transformative leadership. He’s a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership and he’s collaborated with multiple national and international organizations that include the Inter-American Development Bank, Global Giving, and the Organization of American States. In 2014 he was named one of the emerging social innovators of the year in North America by Ashoka and American Express. 2011, he received the George C. Askew award from the National Academy of Certified Public Managers for his exceptional curriculum. This man is amazing. I had a fantastic conversation that he and I co-created. We talk about the story that led them to where he is now and especially of interest is how performance, design thinking, improv, theater, and systems thinking all fits together in his work. He really embodies the spirit of an entrepreneur. Without further ado, Andres Marquez-Lara. Andres. Hello. Have you and I ever met in person?
Andres Marquez-Lara: Once, at Performing the World 2012, I think. At least I have a memory of saying hi to you and hugging you.
Art Assoiants: Oh, okay. That happened. Good. That’s important. And it’s one of those things where we belong to the same communities, in terms of the East Side Institute, the associates. I’ve heard a lot about you, but until the moments of having this conversation with you, I never really took a deep dive into who you are and what you do and what you’re all about. And so I’m grateful. I feel privileged to have learned all I learned prior to even talking with you, doing the background research. Let’s help our listeners get to know you a little bit as well. Describe for us some of your current roles and endeavors.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Sure. Well, first off, I also want to thank you and Chris, for organizing this. I mean, as you said, we are a group of creative performance activists all over the world and some of us may have closer connections and know about our work, but there are many that we don’t. We know each other’s names. We’ve run or heard great things in general, but I love that you’re giving you an opportunity to our community and the general audience to learn more about what we do. So thank you for that. So to answer your question, some roles and projects that I’m currently working on. So I’m the founder and passion catalyst at a social enterprise called Promethean Community. And what we do is we design experiences that support collaboration in teams that are trying to address social and environmental challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean. And we do that through designing interactive, playful workshops that help build trust, improve communication, and enhance collaboration.
Art Assoiants: Why the Caribbean?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I feel there’s an interesting connection between Latin American and the Caribbean. In some ways I feel that we have similar challenges, obviously different regions, different language. But actually, I appreciate that question. I never thought about it particularly. Part of me, honestly is like, I feel like if I’m working in the Southern hemisphere, it needs to include the whole region. And I’ve always felt that the Caribbean is part of the region of the South and therefore, you know, should be included. I also feel there’s a unique opportunity to the Caribbean that is different than in Latin America. And that is you’re working with a series of decentralized islands, you know, that don’t have any kind of like centralized government. And I feel if we’re able to crack the way to help them cooperate and collaborate in challenges they face that are similar, I think we can learn something about how to organize decentralized groups in different regions that are in the world.
Art Assoiants: And so, you also mentioned Latin America. I know you through a personal connection, but for our audience, what’s your connection to Latin America?
Andres Marquez-Lara: So I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. When I was 11 years old, my family moved to the U.S. My parents were doing graduate work. We went to Lyft in Boston where I went to middle school. Then my parents continue their graduate education in Ohio where we went. My brothers and I went and I did my high school there in 2000. Then I had the opportunity to either go back to Venezuela, by myself while my family was here or go to college in the States. And so, after some soul searching and talking to my family, I decided to go to college here in the U.S., I went to school in North Carolina. And the year after I went there, my family went back to Venezuela to take care of my grandmother. So in 2004, after I finished college, I decided to go back to Venezuela to kinda reconnect with my roots. I had this identity crisis, am I Venezuelan, am I American? Who am I? And I felt there was a good opportunity for me to do that. And so I went back there 2004, and I came across a program in clinical community psychology. And it really blended my passion for the psyche, the soul, the clinical elements, and then the community elements as well. And, that program changed my life. And in large part it was actually because it introduced me to the East Side Institute. One of my professors there, Manuel Lloren’s is an alumni of the International Class. And Maritza Montero, a professor, also has been involved with them. And she was the one who let us know about the East Said Institute and Lois’s work, and that stuck with me back in 2004.
Art Assoiants: And for the audience, Lois is Lois Holzman.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Yeah, Lois Holzman.
Art Assoiants: I see. That’s the connection there. Why don’t we just dive in. Let’s talk a little bit about how you got to where you are now. So you mentioned going to college, what did your take in college?
Andres Marquez-Lara: So I studied psychology in college and I got a certificate in human development. The way I described who I have become over the past few years is starts actually in high school in Ohio, where improv saved my life.
Art Assoiants: Saved your life?
Andres Marquez-Lara: It saved my life, in the sense that I was 15. I had just gotten into a new private school and for some reason I signed up where I was assigned to a drama class. And I remember we were having one of our first classes there. And Mrs. Robbins, the English and drama teacher, had us playing different kinds of games, and one of those games was freeze tag, where you two people start a scene, and then somebody in the outside will say “freeze.” The person will come on. And then whatever this person says, that person that just came on the stage, then the other person that stayed behind has to say ‘yes and” to whatever the offer is. And I found myself freezing the scene and going on stage and making these really weird, dark kind of perverted offers. And it was so liberating. I don’t know what was, I mean it was so, at the moment I didn’t know why, but it was so liberating to have people play with these weird and dark offers. You know, years later when I look back at that, I realized that my life performance up to that point was I had the performance of being the gentleman, the scholar, the student athlete, the kind person, all these performances that are good, but there was no space in my life to be the jerk, to be the asshole, the shadow side, if you will. And the stage gave me permission to bring the shadow out and play, and then people could see me, not just the good side, but they could see aspects of myself that I felt were not seen by anybody else. And something about that allowed my soul to breathe. I could finally, “ah,” and that stuck with me. That was when I was 15. Wow. After that experience, which is, as you can tell, very powerful for me. In grad school, I came across psychodrama, which was the combination of psychology, and improv, and theater, founded by Jacob Levy Moreno. And I saw how through improvisational theater and these performances in group could support a person healing from traumas they’ve suffered in the past. And then I would say the next evolution of that was when I came back to the U.S. and I was working at a mental health clinic in D.C., I reached out to a professor of mine. I said, “hey Luis, what’s the type of theater to help disenfranchised communities have their voice be heard?” And he said, “check out something called playback theater.” Now for those of you that don’t what playback theater is, it’s a type of theater where you have a teller share a story about who they are, and a particular setting or situation. And then the improv actors on the stage improvise back that story. And basically then you have that story be witnessed by an audience that are there for their first seminar. Just getting to see this. And in a matter of 60 to 90 minutes, a community of strangers becomes so well connected. And just by chance, when I Googled this, I saw there was a group in the area where I lived and I went to that first show and just fell in love, completely became their biggest fan, went to every show. After six months of going into every show, they finally let me audition, and I acted with them for three years. And so what happened is I had this experience of improv and performance really feeling like it healed me, like at an individual level, it really supported in my growth and healing. And then in college I had this experience of seeing how therapy could heal groups in the psychodrama. And then I saw how playback could really help heal communities. So it went from an individual, to the group, to the community. And then I came across at East Side Institute, which provided this overarching framework of performance, and it could help me understand how performance had helped me and the groups develop in each of these particular examples. And that I would say is inspiration that led me to create my social enterprise called Promethean community.
Art Assoiants: We’ll jump right into Promethean community. I really want to explore this conversation around performance with you. What was it about the East Side Institute and the term “performance” that clicked, that made sense to you?
Andres Marquez-Lara: It gave me flexibility, it allows me to play with different aspects of myself. It allows me to bring to the stage new possibilities that I didn’t think were possible. And it also allows me to play and explore those performances that perhaps are not so helpful or perhaps can be hurtful even, and then I can play with them. But it creates this perspective basically on the safety of the stage, you’re able to explore and play with different roles that we take on.
Art Assoiants: And for the average person going about, let’s make an assumption that one out of the two people that listen, out of that two total people listen to this. My cat and you. I’m kidding. One person is not in the performance realm, is not connected to some of the communities we belong to. What would it look like for them to take on, or embrace, or enact, or dare I say, perform, this idea of performance?
Andres Marquez-Lara: You know, I don’t think it takes much. I mean, I think people can recognize that they behave differently in different scenarios. They way they speak to their significant other may be different than the way they speak to their boss, the way to speak to their child, the way they speak to their cat. In some cases that that way of engaging, let’s say, you know, the way you might engage your cat with a silly little voice in the kind of playful way is very different in the way you might engage your boss at work. You could see that and you can kind of consider that a type of performance that you’re engaging, depending on the context, depending on the other, you engage them differently. And I think, it doesn’t have to be that, “Oh, I’m an actor or no, I have to do it on the stage.” It’s more like taking a step back and looking at how are you talking. How are you acting physically? How are you engaging others in different settings? And realizing that you can choose and organize situations to act in different places in different ways. Now I know it sounds a bit abstract, but I think what I’m trying to say is essentially that, you know, for somebody who hasn’t done no acting whatsoever, they can imagine themselves when they’re singing in their shower by themselves. You know, that’s a particular performance that perhaps would feel very uncomfortable to do in the middle of the workplace. But there may be situations in the workplace, karaoke, an after work party, a happy hour where they may be able to perform that singing, if you will. So you can kind of see how the performance can kind of depend on the context and can be taken and can be organized in different settings.
Art Assoiants: And so you mentioned the safety of the stage. That’s what comes to mind when you when you say this. And I mean the stages is metaphorically speaking. I mean, the workshops you have don’t literally have stages to do, do they?
Andres Marquez-Lara: No, not usually. But I do say that the safety of the stage is not safe because it’s a stage. The safety of the stage is an activity that gets created by the group to be able to try those different performances. And that’s usually how I mean the safety of this stage. Because, as a group, we’re able to support each other in trying something new, and taking risks, and trying things that we’re not comfortable with. That sense of safety, we create a sense of safety that allows us to be more vulnerable and try new things.
Art Assoiants: What are some examples of, or concrete exercises perhaps, that you do with Promethean community that you do with some of your clients?
Andres Marquez-Lara: So actually one I did recently, and this I borrowed. So one of the things I think Dan Fridman says, quoting a hip hop artist, “everything’s a remix.” You know, so a lot of the methodologies that we use, we kind of been kind of taking from different schools of thoughts and kind of bringing them together. So this particular exercise comes from the world of psychodrama, which essentially, they have something called the social atom. This concept that, in this social atom, imagine this concentric circle, and in the middle you have yourself, you’re like a little circle of you, and then around that you have people in your life that influence you. I took that concept and I brought in, and I used, inspired by the work of Dr. Adam Blatner, a mentor of mine, in the psychodrama community as well, designed this kind of activity, kind of that I called like your internal advisory board, where essentially I had students create a concentric circle of the voices they hear in their heads. You know, so perhaps, and one thing I love about this is that, I know it’s a bit tangential, but there’s a movie out there, if you haven’t seen it, please see it, it’s called Inside Out. It came out about a three or four years ago. It’s a children’s movie by Pixar. It’s amazing. The reason I love it so much is because prior to that movie, when I talked about voices in your head, people thought we were just talking about like people that have a mental illness or whatever. But after that movie, it helped kind of bring into the mainstream this concept that we all have inner narratives and those inner narratives can have different voices. So it’s been a lot easier for me to sell that to people after that. But essentially what I do is I help people map out what are the inner voices in their heads. And I ask them to kind of think of two variables. One is how much power do they have in your decision making ability? How close are they to you? And then on top of that I ask them, “is that influence positive, negative, or so-so, in between?” And so I have students do this individually, and then I had them share it with each other what is this like? I usually ask them to think about it like, in what situation has the advisory board really been active? And then depending on the workshop, I usually then ask for volunteers, anybody who wants to bring their advisory board to life. And essentially what I’m doing there is I’m bringing the world of the psychodrama where, you know, like putting that into the stage, making the implicit explicit and the activity can be deeply moving. Because, you know, I had this happen last week when I was doing a workshop at Georgetown. Where one of the students said when you have the other colleagues or students say the voices out loud, they sound a lot harsher than they do in our heads. You know, when you’re actually able to have them perform those voices with the attitude or whatever description they create, it has a big impact. And sometimes we don’t realize that those little inner voices in our heads that are saying “XYZ,” like that has a big impact on that. And the other thing we can do is we can then play around with moving the voices on the physical space. So perhaps I have an inner voice of a particular person that’s just like driving me nuts. That’s very critical of myself. And what we do then is we’re able to, actually say, “well, what would it be like if we move this voice and push it further back? And we brought in another voice that was more supportive.” And so again, on the safety of the stage, we can play with different possibilities. And in the process, we discovered new things about ourselves and the group.
Art Assoiants: And what is the intention behind this? You mentioned broadly, to collaborate, to build the group, to learn more about ourselves. And I was thinking, you know, in a linear fashion, and I apologize for that. What are you wanting to see happen?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I mean, the intention behind the activity is twofold. One, to help individuals get more awareness about what are the different voices, if you will, that impact who they are and decisions they make. You know, if we have a voice that’s constantly telling us that we’re not good enough, we’re not good enough, we’re not good enough, we won’t be able to hear when other people tell us, I love what you’re doing. And it’s very easy to talk about it. But actually, when you see that in action, you can kind of see how that voice overshadows other people’s ability to tell you positive things. The other is to help the group learn about each other. You know, because then I begin to learn about, “Oh, this person has a really strong voice that says a particular thing.” So, you know, something just to be aware of. Essentially it’s helping the group be aware of who they are, what are some of the triggers, if you will, and then support each other in trying and incorporating new voices. And actually the ultimate goal goal, if you will, of this activity is to help the group incorporate their peers voices in that circle. So I did this class this past week. I had seven students and it was a wonderful class. And you know, one particular exercise, this person was describing a particular harsh voice that she had and all her peers though had a different perspective. And in some ways it was like imagining that their voices was in your inner circle. You know, how would that voice play out and crowd out this other negative voice? So, isn’t the same way that right now, I think, you know, I’ve been in something called Developing Across Borders, which used to be called Globotherapy. I’ve been now in that group therapy now for six, seven years. It’s been awhile, but I would say that the voices of my therapist and my other colleagues, slash friends, slash patients are in my head. I hear them when I’m about to make a decision. I hear them when I’m being too critical, they challenged me. I think that’s what I mean. I want people to begin to increase the variety of voices that they hear in their head.
Art Assoiants: How’s that for a podcast encapsulation. This is not to be heard off script. There’s a context to this. Wonderful. And so, I dunno if this is too personal or private. What are some examples of clients you’ve worked with in terms of Promethean community?
Andres Marquez-Lara: So most of my clients will probably not go this kind of level of depth, because that’s not what they’re hiring me to do. So my clients tend to be a large international development organizations, multilateral organizations, like the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, other large nonprofits, like Global Giving, or the Pan American Health Organization. So these are institutions that are working internationally. Most of them have a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. And what tends to happen is they hire me usually to do some sort of team building, team development, conflict resolution, communication, kind of support their communications, et cetera. However, when I’m there, I bring all this performance background. And I push as far as they’ll let me, they know me. And my clients know that like I’m willing to come up with different ideas. They know me, that I bring in theater and performance. But then we’ll co-create to what extent are we comfortable doing this or that. All of our workshops are co-created. So, you know, and I think that’s one of the more powerful things about this experience. They told me, they really appreciate how inclusive the process is and how adaptable I am. It’s not like I come in with an off the shelf workshop and say “we’re going to do this from nine to five, and that’s it.” But everything is more like, “here’s the agenda we co-created.” And then depending in the moment as to what’s happening, we’ll adapt, and we’ll shift.
Art Assoiants: There’s a concrete ask of you in the moment to be flexible and adaptable.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Yes. And I think they appreciate that a lot. That’s one of the things that people have, at least the feedback I’ve gotten, is they really appreciate that.
Art Assoiants: I’m gonna steer wildly to a different direction. What do you appreciate about yourself?
Andres Marquez-Lara: When I appreciate about myself is my holy doubt. I remember this from a Patch Adams workshop we did at PTW. I think where we met and maybe the one after that. Where he talked about the role of the holy fool, that really kind of helped people question things. I’ve always been a person that questions a lot of things. I questioned myself for a long time when I was younger. And in my teens and twenties that didn’t feel so comfortable. That constant questioning was quite challenging. But through the process and the experience of questioning myself and questioning a lot of things, I discovered new things. And I think one of things I’ve learned to appreciate over the past couple of years is my ability to create with others and take situations that perhaps would be frustrating, would be challenging and, create a silver lining with others. So that’s something I really appreciate. My ability to kind of just co-create with others, be curious and that holy doubt, that seeker, I guess, seeker is more like description, like that attitude, just constantly seeking. I would say that.
Art Assoiants: I mean, to me it feels like a description of yourself is also description of the work that you do. So, you know, chicken or the egg. Did you find the work or the work find you?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I love the question. I think in some ways, like I didn’t start a company thinking, “Oh, let me start a company or a business so I can make money and make a living, et cetera.” It was more like I’m passionate about mental health, and the psyche, and the soul. I’m passionate about community organizing. I’m passionate about improv and performance. And here is this way of engaging others that allows them to see themselves and connect with each other. It allows them to love each other, you know? But I had no business background, so I just kinda was just trying things out. And one of the best advices I got it was from actually another member of this community, Cathy Salit, the CEO of Performance of a Lifetime. I remember back in 2011 I had this idea of starting this company. I kind of had a phone conversation with her and just told her the basic concepts of it. And she told me Andres, just try it out and see what emerges. And for somebody who’s a perfectionist in recovery like myself, who, one of the inner voices in my head is that I need to be right, I can’t fail, et cetera, et cetera. Having her tell me “it’s okay, try it out, see what happens,” gave me the permission I needed to embark on this journey, which has changed my life.
Art Assoiants: And the perhaps irony of that is that she was part of your community that allowed you to do that.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Yes.
Art Assoiants: What’s been three things, I know looking back it’s a little tough, looking back to 2011, when you just founded this experiment, let’s call it, what are some things you wish you knew if you were to go back and to talk to yourself. What would you say?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I wish I could tell myself, cause, an experience I’ve had is when you’re entrepreneur, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. And when I’m in the lows, when things are difficult, I can be very anxious about, “am I gonna have income in the next three months, are the clients coming?” Et cetera, et cetera. But I always tell myself I’m doing everything I can and that’s what I can do. So essentially the activity doesn’t change. But my subjective experience of the activity can vary widely. So I wish I had that ability to kind of tell myself that, “Hey, Andres, just keep doing what you’re doing. And I know you’re anxious, but like, just, you can’t do anything different. Just keep doing what you’re doing, everything you need to do for that.” That’s one thing. The other thing is I wish I also could savor the moment more. I think I was always moving from one project to the next, always looking for the next thing. I tend to be impatient. I always want to go from point A to point B, and the journey, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t savor it, as much as I think I can. And I think over the past seven years I’ve really kind of slowed down and really kind of began to enjoy more the possibilities that are emerging, instead of just like the next big thing. Those are at least two concrete things that I wish I knew. And yet I don’t think it would tell myself that because I think the experience of it has allowed me to savor it even more, right?
Art Assoiants: Of course. Taking a step back, thinking maybe more globally, your website mentions that your work is a dynamic, inclusive methodology that blends approaches from the world of design thinking, improv theater, and systems thinking. How do these things fit together? Let’s do this, design thinking, improv theatre, systems thinking, and then we’ll see how they connect.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Sure. I mean, so from the world of design thinking, which I came across, I think in 2012, at a conference. So for those of you that don’t know what design thinking is, it’s essentially is a problem solving approach that’s geared towards innovation. That would be my short description. But at the heart of design thinking is empathy. You know, really getting in the shoes of the person you’re designing for. Really understanding what motivates them, what gets them delighted about something, what really frustrates them. And when I came across design thinking, I was like, “Oh my God, all these listening skills and empathic skills that I’ve learned as a therapist have of place in the business world. How cool! And it’s valuable.” And so, then it added though this element, I’ve always been creative, but it added this prototyping mindset that I found really valuable, have a bias towards action. You know, “show me, don’t tell me.” You know, let’s do something quick and dirty so I can show you what I mean. And then you can give me feedback. And so from the world of design thinking, we really kind of bring that kind of like empathy as a starting point. We bring in the constant prototyping, rapid prototyping. Those are some of the principles we bring from design thinking. From the world of improv theater, we bring the whole concept of performance, which is to help people collaborate, and kind of, what we talked about earlier in the interview today, like what are the different roles that people play in a team and how are those roles keeping people from actually trying new things, communicating differently, et cetera? And then improv is a type of prototype because when you improvise, you’re prototyping something, a way of engaging, and you’re in the moment, you can learn and iterate. You know, if we improvise something, and it doesn’t work out wonderful, let’s change it. What do we need to change? Boom, let’s try it out. So it has also that prototyping mindset. And then from systems thinking, it’s really just having that holistic perspective, that ecosystem. You know, there’s no one thing that’s going to have a direct impact, that’s going to lead to like one particular thing. It’s multi-variable. So like if you’re working with a team, it’s the group is creating, has different dynamics that are impacting what’s happening. It’s not just one person. It’s not just like one thing that happened. So it’s just kind of having a broader perspective. And when we’re trying to tackle social challenges, we have to be mindful that is not just government, it’s not just a private sector. It’s not just the citizens. Like this is an ecosystem that is impacting each other. So having that more broader holistic perspective is something that we don’t want to lose sight of because otherwise we’re going to go down a rabbit hole that’s too far down and what’s not really going to. Let me backtrack, if we don’t have the zoomed-out perspective, we don’t have that holistic approach, I think we lose opportunities. We miss out on opportunities that could support transformative change.
Art Assoiants: And so your work is primarily, teaching people how to better do that.
Andrews Marquez-Lara: I would say so. I mean it’s a learning experience. It’s a transformative experience. That’s what we’re trying to do. We do with these workshops to help teams be able to collaborate better so they can be more efficient in what they do. And we also coach them. If they want to do more of a systems change, we support them and coach them through that process.
Art Assoiants: So there is a consultancy piece in this too.
Andres Marquez-Lara: A what, I’m sorry?
Art Assoiants: A consultancy piece. Like a business consultancy piece.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Yes. I mean we’re a business consultancy. That’s our business. That’s our business model. We’re a fee for service.
Art Assoiants: I see. Okay. So apart from teaching others how to do this, are you yourself involved in any kind of systems change endeavors and communities or organizations?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I mean, it depends on how you define systems change endeavors or what do you mean by that.
Art Assoiants: So for instance…
Andres Marquez-Lara: Cause I think what we’re doing is a systemic change right now. Where we’re creating this podcast, you know, could have ripple effects in this community. And we don’t know what’s going to happen. It depends how abstract or concrete you want to get.
Art Assoiants: Would this be concrete or abstract?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I mean, I think it’s pretty concrete.
Art Assoiants: Yeah, me too. Yeah, I’m talking more concrete. I’m talking in terms of, do you have affiliations to innovation organizations? Do you belong to any projects that are tackling social innovation for instance, or mental health from a systems lens, sort of side hustles, so to speak.
Andres Marquez-Lara: So within Promethean community, you mean that’s our goal. We want to be able to get hired to do these more social system projects. We’re trying to organize, we want to be, to use the term from Bill Eggers, who’s at Deloitte. We want to be the ecosystem integrator. We want to that person or that group of people that’s able to bring different aspects of the system out around a particular challenge and support them coming together. The challenge is that these kinds of projects are very difficult to get off the ground. One because usually there’s a lot of relationship building that needs to take place before the actual project quote unquote starts. Even though that’s actually a huge, important part of the activity, which is the building community, that organizing, et cetera. Oftentimes that’s not valued by some of the clients. That’s not paid work. I think that that’s changing more and more. And I think, you know, there’s groups like FSG in D.C. that are using collective impact. Zaid Hassan, the author of the social lab revolution has a consulting company called Rios. He used to be at Rios Partners. Now he has something called Roller, and they’re also doing these kinds of projects. I think we’re moving into direction. But for Promethean Community, I mean, that’s kind of our, our ideal project. We’re trying to be a catalyst for this ecosystem to come together and facilitate them in co-creating solutions for social problems. We’re closer now than we were seven years ago, much closer. We have language, actually have connections that I think are interested in this kind of stuff. But it still is still difficult. Besides that, I mean, I am also involved in other social justice initiatives in the area as a board member or as an advocate or volunteer. And I would say also that just being part of this community and supporting, you know, colleagues in the performance activism community, that is also a way that I’m supporting social change around the world. I mean, very completely speaking. You know, like I have multiple friends, Paola, Miguel, Jorge, Marianna, they’re working in El Paso and in Juarez. And I’m sure you will probably have other podcasts, with some involving their work, but they’re doing some amazing transformative work in their border between the U S and Mexico. And I feel very directly involved in data given that every Sunday I meet in Developing Across Borders with them. And I am actively participating in supporting their development. And the same way that I’m supporting them, you know, Elena and Esben, you know, they’re doing different work. So I feel just being part of this community is a way that I’m actually concretely, very deeply involved in systems change.
Art Assoiants: That’s beautiful. Thank you. Curiosity. You talk about, Promethean Community with a we, how many people are involved?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I’m the main full time employee right now, but my right hand person, his name is Angesl Zambrano, he’s in Venezuela. And he’s been with me now for about two years. I mean, it is such a stark difference between the before and after, like being able to work with him and the support has been just transformative. I also have a team member, Dr. Aaron Fletcher, who was a friend of mine, who I went to college with, who I contract sometimes on particular projects depending on the project itself. And then I have an amazing team of just people who are volunteers and supporters. You know, like right now I’m working with a couple of people that, I mean in some ways, I’m so grateful, and it’s just like so humbling that I have two people in my life right now that are, I asked them to interview past clients to help me identify what is it that my clients find valuable. And these two people, Melissa and Camille just said “yes.” And they’re volunteering their time and it’s just amazing. So when I say “we,” it’s involves them, but it also is kind of the becoming we, the future we, that I embody for my organization and the community that I’m trying to organize.
Art Assoiants: This really relates to a question I’m gonna ask you shortly, but I want to just park it for a quick second. You know which one it is. Where do you see this organization in five years? What’s your best hopes for this organization?
Andres Marquez-Lara: I don’t know, man. I mean, and that’s the thing. That’s the exciting and the scary thing about it. When I set it on this path seven years ago, I’ve never have imagined that I’d be doing the kind of things I’m doing. I would have never imagined that I’d be engaging the kind of clients that I’m engaging now. That I would have the possibility to work on projects that impact the lives of thousands. And I feel like I’m like this close to engaging some of these projects. But so it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell. All I do know is that in five years I want to be able to do something creative, where I’m able to create with others, where I’m able to experiment. And where I’m able to help people see each different aspects of themselves. I want to create environments where people can see each other in the same way that I was seeing when I was doing that improv when I was 15, that it wasn’t just the good side, but the people we can see and different aspects of ourselves and just hold that space, hold the contradiction that we are as humans, hold the living paradoxes that we are.
Art Assoiants: Yeah. I didn’t mean to take us in that direction of depth. But I’m grateful that you went there. In this process, looking back, you know, you’ve seen yourself over the past seven years and prior to that, you have a story for how you got here. Who are you becoming?
Andres Marquez-Lara: Who am I becoming? I think I’m becoming a more patient, compassionate person to myself in particular. I’ve always been caring and compassionate to others, but I always was so critical of myself, so harsh. And I liked that this entrepreneurial journey, and not just the journey, the community that I’ve helped create, and build, and continue to organize, has really helped me just breathe a little bit more, just smile a little more, just be more grateful. Because I really do feel that I’m doing something greater than myself. I feel that, I mean, I feel that I’m part of something greater than myself. And there’s this experience of transcendence, if you will. I mean, you can call it God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, it, whatever your worldview and framework fits for that. But there’s magic in this experience of being an entrepreneur and trying to create something from your passion with others. There’s something magical. In fact, I’m in the process of trying to write a book called Entrepreneurship as a Rite of Passage into Leadership, because I feel like this ability… And when you’re an entrepreneur, you’re constantly becoming, you’ll constantly challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. And lo and behold, you’re supported by people that encourage you. And when you look back, it’s like, “Oh my god, how did I get here?” And so, I don’t know where this journey will continue to take me, but I feel that one thing for sure that is helping me is I’m becoming more curious and becoming more patient and more compassionate for myself and others. And I think that’s something that, regardless of what I do, is going to support me and how I am as a husband, as a father, as a friend, as a professional, and as a global citizen.
Art Assoiants: What message that you have for young, eager entrepreneurs that are just starting on their path?
Andres Marquez-Lara: First of all, I was like, “congrats.” Keep it going. You know, like it’s scary and exciting, but so worth the ride. My number one advice would be reach out for help. Reach out to people that, reach out, period. People want to help you. Nine out of 10 people, I would say nine and a half, nine out of 10 people I reached out to, almost 10 out of 10, when I asked for help, they would give me help. And perhaps they couldn’t give me what I asked them, but they could refer with somebody who could. And I feel that if you embark on this entrepreneurial journey thinking that you alone can do it, you’re going to find yourself burn out and very exhausted, very quickly. So find support, reach out. There are people that want to help you. They are communities of people that want to help and support. It’s just a matter of just like reaching out. That would be my number one advice.
Art Assoiants: Okay, fantastic. Well thank you Andres, it’s been lovely getting to know you more intimately.
Andres Marquez-Lara: Thank you so much for this opportunity and wonderful to be a part of this. And thank you.