beyond par

30 he was lost ...

There are often more options than we recognise.

Options are a different kind of intelligence, the kind which says the more options I have the less fragile I am.

Nassim Taleb even suggests: ‘optionality is a substitute for intelligence.’

Options can appear risky to us, though.

Humans are loss averse and perceive par as being the thing to aim for: the one sure thing which will not fail.

Par offers us neatness and tidiness every day: symmetry.

Options are way more untidy, asymmetrical but stronger.  Options are the equivalent of using a compass, more useful than reading a map, especially when we reach the edge of the map, or when the road disappears.

Recently, I began on online course with edX – a sign of future learning.  For £35 I’m learning about The Science of Happiness with 100,000 others.  Something caught my futurist eye.  When it comes to the things which determine our happiness, it appears fifty per cent is in our genes – what you might call our baseline happiness.  It’s thought, circumstances and events determine about ten per cent of our happiness.  This leaves personal choice with forty percent of the determining pie.

I don’t know about you, but forty percent sounds like a lot and I began to wonder how these things might play upon the shaping of our personal futures.*

What if fifty per cent of our future is predictable because of the trends already present in our lives? To this, perhaps ten per cent of our future will be shaped by circumstances and events we cannot predict? What this leaves us with is a whopping forty per cent of our future open to the choices we make?**

Options: a lot of spice to add to the basic recipe.

It’s as scary as it’s exciting because we understand the par we live with every day doesn’t have to be the way it is: there’s more on the other side of par, there’s more off-map than on-map, and there’s more compass about us than we know – caught up in all the things which make it possible for us to produce our art: skills, passions, curiosities, experiences).

More and more, individually and collectively, are exploring what lies beyond par.

(*There are three basic ways of conceiving the future: the expected future through continuing trends, the possible future as a result of events we do or do not know about, and, the preferred future shaped by our choices.)
(**Researchers continue to explore whether the choices and actions we take change us at a genetic level, too.)


29 in this life ...

We all get stuck.

It’s best to keep turning up in those habits we’ve made work.

Don’t force it.  Trust.

It’s not easy, though.

We can worry nothing’s going to happen today: no ideas, no possibilities.

Then something from McNair Wilson caught my eye today:*

‘Inside Pixar they refer to their story
board sketches as “postcards from the future.”‘

Boom: a trail begins.

I love the future and I love the idea of postcards from the future.

Postcards are very analogue for me.

I’ve mentioned how these blogs begin with a journal and a fountain pen – someone once described this as the ideal writing instrument for the flow of ideas from the brain to the hand (I wish I could remember who so I could tell you).  We need to make things visible to the eye

Postcards and analogue remind me of something Austin Kleon encourages.  He has two desks: one for digital and one for analogue: we can’t do everything creative on a computer, yet thinking about things is a digital activity too, so we need to speak it out loud, or write or draw it, or sculpt something:

‘It wasn’t until I started bringing analogue
tools back into my process that making
things became fun again and my work
started to improve.’**

Go with the flow.

So, this thought from Burt Rutan followed:

“Revolutionary ideas come from nonsense.  
If an idea is truly a breakthrough, then the
day before it was discovered, it must have
been considered crazy or nonsense or both
– otherwise it wouldn’t be a breakthrough.”^

Before I put the book Rutin is quoted in back onto the bookshelf, I allow the page to turn and these words from Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post) catch my eye:^^

“Bottom line, taking risks is an indispensable
part of an creative act.”


Because we cannot always make the breakthrough we need to linearly.  (As I mentioned at the beginning, don’t force it.)

Then I read these words from Stephen Johnson:

“The strange and beautiful truth about the
adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow
as you explore them.  Each new combination
opens up the possibility of new combinations.”*^

The adjacent possible is the long list of possibilities which open up when a new discovery is made.

I like to use the term for a person’s life once they discover some new possibility for their lives they’d never seen before but has always been there.

Before you know it, there’s this long list of ideas or possibilities, and it’s time to do something with them.

Sometimes, though, we’re stuck simply stuck because we messed up somewhere and we simply can’t focus.  Good news: forgiveness is available – apply liberally and get going again.

(*My day begins with scanning many sources for ideas and possibilities to explore and maybe develop.)
(**From Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist.)
(^Quote in Peter Diamandis’s Abundance.)
(^^I love my Kindle for many things, but this wouldn’t have happened with a Kindle – analogue over digital.)
(*^Also from Abundance.  I love the upbeat-ness of Diamandis.)

listening from a different place

28 in a world crowded with noise ...

What do I hear and what do I miss?

In his novel Invisible Cities,* Italo Carvino has Kublai Khan asking Marco Polo, “When you return to the West, will you repeat to your people the same tales you tell me?”

‘”I speak and speak,” Marco replies, “but the listener retains only the words he is expecting. … It is not the voice that commands the story, it is the ear.”‘

The Khan speaks again, “At times I feel your voice is reaching me from far away, while I am prisoner of a gaudy and unlovable present, where all forms of human society have reached an extreme of their cycle and there is no imagining what new forms they may assume.”

Your life is whispering you a story.

Your life – your skills and dreams and energies and experiences – is quite something.  Perhaps, though, what all your life means can be too tiny a whisper amongst the great big noises which make up your world.

The thought, the dream, the feeling will not go away, though.

You hold the possibility, what lies within you is greater, more signifiant than what lies without.   Your heart, your spirit, your strength, your self is so much more than the names and roles and objects and possessions which some believe signify you.

Perhaps, to hear the whispers better, you need to move – now.

Read something recommended by a friend: listen for the whispers.

What are your most important values?  Write them down.  If you could give expression to each of these, what would you be doing?  Who would you bedding this for.

Find a space to go to and be quiet and listen – every day, if possible.

Share with someone how you’re feeling.

Find an community exploring the things which interest you.

Identify someone to serve or encourage or just get to know, in the new week.

Have you got a word you can’t get out of your head?  (Or a picture?)  What kind of word is it?  Noun, adjective, verb?  Where might this word lead you?

Go to a place you’ve never been before and without a map, follow your nose,** or the sounds of the city, to experience the city and hear what it may be whispering.

These are just a few things you can do to move.  One small step will change things.  Many small steps will change our lives.

But you cannot hear the whispers very well where you are.

You need to move.  Use anything you can to move.

(*In this novel, Italo Carvino has Marco Polo describing many cities he’s visited to Kublai Khan – the cities are one: Venice.)
(**I read about someone who does explore cities by following his nose.)


27 you're not obliged ...

Those who’ll enable us to step into the future.

As change happens all around us at a bewildering pace, we’re realising the world we thought would be around for always, is passing away.*  We may well blame many things for this but there’s no reverse, there’s only forward into shaping the future.

There’ll always be people who chant, It didn’t used to be like this.

There’ll also be people who say, To be Human is to make all things thrive.

I know which I prefer to say.

Everyone with a passion, a skill, and an internet screen are more connected than they know to the world which is emerging:

‘this is a platform for a kind of art, a far
more level playing field in which owning
a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny
minority but is something that hundreds
of millions of people have the chance to do.’**

The shift is greater than this simply using new technology to do the same things.  The shift is from obligation to options.  From, this is what I have to do, to which of these will I choose to do?

We’re just on the cusp of this right now but increasingly the world will provide us with more and more options.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere three ways of imagining the future.

There’s the expected future, predicted from the particular trends we’re focusing on.  This is the one least likely to occur because everything has to remain the same – the bigger the expectation, the greater the possibility of change to this: Fukushima, Kodak, Manchester United.

Then again, we may be hoping for some event or other to positively change our future (the boss is replaced, we win the lottery, Richard Branson head-hunts us).  Perhaps at best we imagine and plan and wait.

The third way to shape the future is through choice – individually and collectively – cognisant of trends and expectations, and possible events, but choosing and acting and moving forward.

There has never been a better time or a greater need for people who see potential in individuals, communities, and societies to step forward and create spaces and environments in everyone can thrive.

(*To all positive and hopeful movements there is resistance and reaction; we see this time and time again in ugly inhuman efforts to take the world backwards.)
(**From Seth Godin’s Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?  Organisations, like micro-finance charity Kiva, are helping people around the world have more choice to grow their businesses and their lives.)
(Cartoon: The idea is, when there are options, everyone benefits.)


the legend of the identity thief

26 my life is a party ...

A story of mythical proportions.

Throughout history the identity thief has taken on many different guises to rob people of their identity: disease, slavery, doubt, control – whatever works the thief uses.

The person who begins the journey to take their identity back, to grow it and make a contribution, will cross several thresholds guarded by the thief’s minions.  The first is Judgement: “Who are you to think you can set out to know, own, and express yourself?”

Many do not make is past this guardian, settling instead for what they have so far known and fitting in.  For those who do overcome there is another guardian to encounter: Cynicism.  Cynicism defies us: “You struggle to be open and connect, you do not, can not, and will not care for others or your world, or even embrace the person you can be.”

This need to be open and to connect can be too high a price to pay; it feels more like losing the critical self than finding it.  Yet, some triumph and face the final guardian: Fear.  Fear knows it holds the greatest obstacle to the regaining of our identity: “It is time to let go of what was to take hold of the new, not only with your mind, not only with your heart, but with your will too; you have no idea what lays before you and yet you must let go.”

A few make it past all these guardians, into the Hall of the Identity Thief, to find there is only a mirror standing in the centre of the great space.  This single object draws you in and you look upon a face you hardly recognise.

It comes to you, the face and life reflected back is your own, changed by the overcoming of judgement, cynicism, and fear.*  You also come to the realisation, you are the identity thief, and, whilst other people and circumstances have aided and abetted, you have given them sway.

Identity is important because it is how we explore being Human.

(I wondered about writing a second blog at this point but if you can manage a few more lines, please read on.)

Identity is also important because it is a producer of ideas.**

We live in an information-saturated world, and information is what we work with to produce ideas.   Ideas will become increasingly important and valuable to control for those whose identities are more focused on themselves than others, who have not descended into the lair of the identity thief.

Those who have made the journey understand ideas are best shared allowing them to become better.^

Open ideas are important for Humans and our world because they provide us with options in a universe which is random and sometimes chaotic.

My friend Diallo said something which has remained with me: ‘We are to be, not to be like.’

I like this very much, the idea we are to be true to ourselves and not a copy of anyone else is a good final word.

‘We are to be, not to be like.’

(*Judgement, Cynicism, and Fear are three voices identified by Otto Scharmer for preventing us opening our minds, our hearts, and our wills.  I thought these three offered themselves as mythical guardians of thresholds to be overcome by the hero who must enter an unfamiliar and transformative space before she can return with the prize or boon to make a difference in their world – the classic mythological story.  What she comes to realise is, the world has changed forever.  Also, I began reading a retelling of the legend of Atlas in Weight by Jeanette Winterson, in the introduction of which Winterson describes herself as someone who ‘believes in the power of story telling for its mythic, and not explanatory qualities, and who believes that language is much more than information.’)
(**There are all kinds of ideas: good, bad, and ugly.)

(^A person’s response to your idea will give away whether they wish to control it or build on it; if they are willing to play the “Yes and” game, you have your answer.)
(Cartoon: This came out of a conversation with a friend in which we were exploring where validation for the things we do comes from.  First validation comes from within, from knowing what we are doing is good and valuable and we’re doing it well; second validation comes from without, from others,  providing us with another perspective – this is healthy.  When we make the validation from without first and our own, second, we are moving into ill-health.)


25 underdogs know

They don’t play fair.

They can’t.

The giants they battle will always whip them if they play fair.  Of course, exactly what is fair is determined by the big guys; fair means playing by the rules they’ve established and interpret – the ones they can win by.*

Underdogs can win, though; more often than they know.

They don’t have all the paraphernalia and expertise of the larger players, and this means they have to work harder.  No coasting here, so it’s easier and simpler and less time-consuming and more acceptable to settle for playing with the favourites.

As Malcolm Gladwell points out, you have to be desperate to put in the great effort needed to turn being an underdog into an art.

I’ve worked with hundreds of people around their dreams and talents, and I’ve seen just how hard it is to put in the reflection and practice and creativity needed to hone their art and make an impact.**  When they make it, against the odds, it is one of the sweetest things in the universe to see.

It never gets easier.

I don’t want you to be under any illusion.  This is such an open-ended game, meaning, once we get into the way of hard graft and failures and trying again, and we see what can be produced, we don’t know how far we can take it, where the ceiling is.

You’re not there yet, for sure., so I want to encourage you to keep going, because you can.

It is very likely, underdogs understand the universe and know there is more to gain than lose if they make a move.


(*I’m thinking of Richard Branson’s experience when he took on British Airways, or fair-trade versus free-trade.  I’m not questioning the rules apparently transgressed by Tesco’s recent “accounting error”.)
(**This is art in its widest sense: the amazing thing every Human life can create and contribute.)


24 when a cloud of ...

Another name for Humans.

Have you ever noticed how much you use your imagination when you are reading a novel, listening to music, having a phone conversation, reading a map – you are “seeing” far more than what is in front of you.

We can’t get through a day without employing our imaginations.  Yet many deny they have any and it’s only the charismatic, the rich, the famous, and the glamourous who have it.  Hopefully, we’ve scotched this one.

Many use their imaginations to promote and serve themselves but others use their imaginations to serve others; they look at the world as it is and begin to imagine it differently, a better place for more people.

Every Human Imagining is different.  We each are interested in, and skilled at, different things.  Steven Covey wrote about seven essential habits for effective people but he hadn’t quite finished and identified one more – writing a whole book about this one really important habit: Find your voice and help others find theirs.

When our imaginations are freed, all manner of possibilities appear; we’ll need to see which most strongly identify and resonate with our voices, sweet spots, elements, knacks, purposes, callings, flow, Strengths* … and then you will have to lose some because you have too many. Who’d have thought it!

I want to link this powerful imagining to something Nassim Taleb shares about the journey we can make from being fragile (“I have no imagination”) to being robust (“I like your imagining”) to being antifragile (“Here’s something I’ve been thinking about and am going to begin – do you want to join me?);** Nassim imagines:

‘My idea of the modern Stoic sage is
someone who transforms fear into
prudence, pain into information,
mistakes into initiation, and desire
into understanding

Imaginings can be creative with prudence, information, and understanding.

(*Just some of the words used to describe what it is you do, your art.)
(**The phrases in brackets are mine.  Nassim Taleb would suggest fragile people are shaped and even crushed by the life-stressors they encounter, robust people recover their identity and shape after being stressed, but antifragile people grow as a result of being placed under stress.  The first group will react to life, the second respond, and the third initiate.)


23 when we free our art ...

We are made of earth and we return to earth, and, in between, we get to do some amazing things: “fearfully and wonderfully made” reflects one voice, a “mystery wrapped in a question,” another.

There has never been such a time as this, for a person’s individuality, value, and genius to be expressed and received.  Even difficult times do not appear to exclude a person, rather, making their contribution stronger, as they help others in similar situations.

We may or may not get paid for this, but it is clear, every day offers the opportunity to do what we love for free – no permission required, we can research, practise, prototype, and create.  What daily, free expression of what we love does – whether executing some action, influencing others, building relationships, or, coming up with new ideas – is hone it into something powerful.

There’s a lot of information in the the world these days, and it’s certain people know a lot of things, but it’s the putting of all of this together in some meaningful, alchemistic way which is the real magic.  Every day we get to practise amazing skills.

Who knows?  One day someone may want to pay us for our skills.  One thing for sure is we don’t have to wait, wasting the gift each day provides to do the things we love to do for free.

When you know what it is you do and what you have have to do it with, you can take it further and further – every day.

You don’t have to call it free; you can say, it’s gifted.

And one more thought: find others to join with.


gatekeepers and wild ideas

22 he's not noticed ...

These don’t usually go together.

Gatekeepers stand at the thresholds of communities and organisations and bodies of all kinds.

They’re the ones who usually decide who is in and who is out, by interpreting the rules of entrance and acceptance written by their executives – often interpreting in narrow ways because they have not been allowed any creative breadth.  They are powerful people, or maybe we should take a second look.

Here are a couple of thoughts.

The gate and world behind the gatekeeper is moving.
What if the gatekeeper of the future focuses on seeing many people in, rather than keeping many people out?

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book David and Goliath takes another look at what lies behind the famous saying applied to business and sport and politics and much more.  He’s suggesting we’ve seen this all wrong.  While we might perceive Goliath in his armour as being powerful in this tale, he’s actually severely disadvantaged when he comes up against David, who is, in the ancient world’s military set-up, a projectile warrior.*  Gladwell further surmises, the size of Goliath possibly lay in his suffering acromegaly, an over-productive pituitary gland – which, as well as accounting for Goliath’s size, can cause poor sight (Goliath sees David too late, sees the game has changed – this isn’t another infantryman taking him on in “single combat” but a slinger).

Yes, the powerful ones appear extremely big and powerful but carry a great disadvantage; they struggle or cannot see the signals coming from the horizons – signals increasingly important to the world we live in today.

But what if gatekeepers are those who see as people into the game as possible?  McNair Wilson includes seven agreements towards hatching new ideas, and even by number six, he’s still encouraging wild ideas to be brought to the game: ‘outrageous, impossible, untamed notions that probably make no sense at first … The alternative to wild is “good” ideas, instantly acceptable-by-all ideas that fail to stimulate, inspire, or motivate.’  We can’t have too many people, too many ideas, too many possibilities.  The good ideas don’t seem to be working in our world of violence, injustice, poverty, and disease.

Yes, bring your wild ideas, but how about becoming a doorkeeper to others?

(*In the world of David and Goliath there is cavalry, infantry (which would be where Goliath fits in), and projectile warriors (the slingers on the battlefield).  Like a military paper-scissors-rock scenario, slingers take out infantrymen: apparently, the Romans even had a special set of tongs to remove projectiles from the bodies of unfortunate infantrymen.)




21 if not now ...

Today is a natural environment provided by life in which you can shape the future now.

Your life is just such an environment too, for others, now.

We might think this means some people and not others, but we’d be wrong.

On a personal level, we all can train and practise around our curiosities and skills and passions.  Together, we can shape these natural environments even more through intentional meetings exploring future possibilities.

‘We were all told too young, to colour
inside the creativity crushing lines.  The
child you once were – and might yet be
again – will not be careful, but sloppy and
more than a bit reckless, because it
genuinely doesn’t matter.’*

Today, I’ve been exploring future possibilities with a number of others for an hour or so; we didn’t know exactly what would happen, and still don’t – maybe something valuable we can give to others.  It was intentionally a now environment, not a wait environment.  (Whatever comes out of this will be helpful for making something else happen, as we learn what does not work as well as what does.)

library of awesomeness1

In his novel Invisible Cities, Italo Cavalo describes the city of Irene, about which there is only conjecture because no one has visited it, only observing it from a distance: ‘Irene is the name for a city in the distance, and if you approach, it changes.’  Now-environments change this.

Now we can step inside places of creativity.

library of awesomeness2

(*From McNair Wilson’s Hatch.)
(Cartoon: A take on Hugh MacLeod‘s blog Neither do I – here’s a little of this: “There’s a famous British story about two well-known authors who meet at a cocktail party (I tried to find the exact reference on Google, sorry, I failed).  
Having been asked by the first author what he does for the living, the second author says, “I write!”  “Really?” says the first author, “Neither do I!”  The story is a little quip about how little writing authors actually write every day, the rest of the time they’re just staring out of windows.”)