Shiro Muchiri: “Leadership is the ability to influence people into doing the right thing”

To know when it is necessary to think fast or think slow. I love problem solving and getting an answer or solution to everything effectively. On one of my projects, the structural engineer discovered that the contractor had used the incorrect mix ratio for a reinforced floor plate/slab. The whole thing was done, the reinforced […]

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To know when it is necessary to think fast or think slow. I love problem solving and getting an answer or solution to everything effectively. On one of my projects, the structural engineer discovered that the contractor had used the incorrect mix ratio for a reinforced floor plate/slab. The whole thing was done, the reinforced concrete was in the curing stage. This had the potential to throw the whole project off course and off budget by a huge margin. Rather than panic and start a frantic recalibration of the effect this would have — I decided that this would need a very long, slowly thought solution by everyone in the team. No panic, just structured, and constructive thinking.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shiro Muchiri. Shiro is the Creative Director of SoShiro. Trained in Milan, she worked worldwide and has 20 years’ experience in the design industry. Shiro has been creating working and living environments that leave a progressive depth of engagement between the space created and its users — a staunch philosophy Shiro has held. Having worked on projects which cover the UK, Europe, Asia and Africa; the words global and aesthetics of humanity define Shiro and what SoShiro will continue to pursue and bring to life.

Born in Nairobi, Shiro currently lives between London and Florence and forms project design teams around the world wherever her design work takes her.

Shiro is currently collaborating with over 25 artists some of whom are based in Hokkaido — Toru Kaizawa, Havana — Alexandre Arrechea and Saigon — Bùi Công Khánh, as well as numerous craftsmen dotted around the world, each of them working in their specialist art with a SoShiro twist.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always interested in the detail of objects from when I was very little. I would take my toys apart to see how they were built, and later in life, I would find myself re-arranging my mums house, I loved my doll house and spent ages playing with it. I always took notice of how items and spaces could be improved to make them work better — things put together wrong bothered me a lot. So when I discovered design and the power this would give me to create objects and spaces my own way, I never looked back and the thought of designing what I wanted and how I wanted would be a dream come true!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

During a research trip to Ethiopia, we were going to visit the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. The research was about the Ethiopian coffee drinking ceremonies and traditions. The reserve is a 1-hour flight or an 8-hour drive (due to the rough state of roads) from the capital Addis Ababa. While in the reserve, some locals were harvesting wild coffee berries, and they mistook us for some law enforcement officials inspecting for unlawful coffee berry harvesting and a heated altercation took place between them and our guides.

I remember the chill that run through my body as we were around an hour’s walk away from our car. The air was filled with echoes from the shouting and the wonderful smell of the wild coffee plants shaded under some amazing tall trees — I felt and really believed that this would not end well for us. I have never felt so helpless and as scared before! I still think back to how dangerous the situation could have unfolded.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As we were preparing to run a series of events at our gallery — The Artistry — we used (a new to us) event management and ticketing platform, our plan was to issue 60 tickets in TOTAL but instead we mistakenly issued 60 tickets per event! Which is a staggering 3600 tickets! Thankfully, we realized within 24 hours and obviously made a mental note for our next events or we could stumble into a real mess to resolve!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are connecting creative communities and being able to position their craftsmanship to a new audience. I hope it will begin to start conversations about the value in variety of our human artistry. Appreciating heritage craftsmanship and giving it contemporary functions makes these creative communities believe there is a future in what they do and a reason to keep these skills alive.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Rather than tell a story of a specific impact I might have had on any particular individual, I would like to share the impact I would like to have on as many people as I can, which is to make people discover any potential collective perspectives that might exist between them and other communities.

I would like to leave an impact that makes you want to find the need to bring people together, to work and do projects together whereby everyone benefits and grows their knowledge, learn more about each other and exchange skills and understanding of our vast, rich and varied human heritage artistry and creativity. Create a long lasting and sustainable impact on the meaning of inclusiveness and collaboration.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I would love if, we as a society can agree to stop the erosion of our human heritage artistry and appreciate the enormous and positive impact these skills have within our communities.

I would hope that politicians can show true leadership and not make young people despair. It would be very welcome if they could instead be great role models, allowing our youngsters the opportunity to be more positive about politics as a profession. We are desperate for good leaders in the future!

I think communities should look to develop meaningful and constructive dialogues that push society forward rather than adopting short sighted competitive attitudes. Pausing, listening, and reflecting on those things that really matter. Letting those things that really matter drive our objectives.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to influence people into doing the right thing.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. To listen but not to necessarily follow advice — even from those with great experience. Sometimes we need to take a chance and do things differently to discover. I believed that I should work for a design studio or a mentor for a decade before I could run my own practice. I eventually decided to take the risk and went at it alone. I’ve never looked back.
  2. Learn about people from the decisions they make when the options they have are very faintly different. It is very telling of a person’s character from how they tilt. When trying to select a contractor, consultant — when I am forming a team, I try to learn the characters of the individuals first, then assess everything else in relation to the job we are recruiting them for. For this reason, the project teams that I have formed during my practice of design and project management have been rather good. I also learn what to expect and minimize disappointment.
  3. Give every task enough time. Identify the things that cannot be expedited or dragged out.
  4. Don’t own or have anything you can’t live without. Have no obsessions, cravings or addictions. I love sport, outdoors, coffee, wine, — many things. When I accept that I can’t get what I love all the time or as I would wish, I feel less sad. If you think this way you then instantly stop worrying about so many things and start enjoying life. So yes, I can accept not having coffee for 2 weeks!
  5. To know when it is necessary to think fast or think slow. I love problem solving and getting an answer or solution to everything effectively. On one of my projects, the structural engineer discovered that the contractor had used the incorrect mix ratio for a reinforced floor plate/slab. The whole thing was done, the reinforced concrete was in the curing stage. This had the potential to throw the whole project off course and off budget by a huge margin. Rather than panic and start a frantic recalibration of the effect this would have — I decided that this would need a very long, slowly thought solution by everyone in the team. No panic, just structured, and constructive thinking.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I was a person of enormous influence, I would inspire a movement that exposed the fact that there is no insurmountable reason as to why any single individual in the world should not have access to clean drinking water. It is all a man-made fuss, to geo politicize such a basic human need. There should be an international law that no one should live without access to clean drinking water. The fact that this still happens demonstrates the how far we must go to get to grips with basic human rights.

My thinking is, if you have water, you can then source food, if you have food you can plan for the future, if you have a future, you can think of saving the planet. This is how we get everyone on the same page!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is quite boring but very practical. It is “If you doubt it, don’t do it”.

This quote is relevant in that it eliminates wasting precious time when you have conviction over something as well as eliminating procrastination on the other hand. This was something that was explained to me by my father many years ago before l left for Milan, and I find it to be a useful quote that can help crystalize situations.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Jai Jai Fei, and the reason I would like to meet her is to learn more about what she feels the future of art should look like from a digital perspective.

Since the pandemic, people have refocused their values and use of time. What role can digitalization in the art world play in this new orbit of thinking.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/so.shiro/?hl=en — INSTAGRAM

https://www.facebook.com/SoShiro.London/ — FACEBOOK

http://www.linkedin.com/company/soshiro/ — LINKEDIN

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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