problems and solutions

When I outline a problem and also give you the solution then I take away from the intellectual and emotional worth you are able to bring to the task or conundrum.

‘Define the problem, not the solution.’*

In my reading this morning, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler lay down this as one of their parameters for setting up a challenge and prize.  They want to release the imagination and creativity of the many by not telling them how to succeed.

Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in Blue Ocean Strategy describe how a fair process (engagement, explanation, and clarity of expectation) is blue ocean because it allows people’s intellectual and emotional worth to be recognised and valued.  They warn that if this doesn’t happen then intellectually people ‘will not share their ideas and expertise’ and ‘they will reject others’ intellectual worth,’ and emotionally, they will not ‘invest their energy in their actions.’**

Hours earlier, I’d found myself pondering how there is something so powerful about people finding the freedom to act (autonomy), the possibility of being skilful (mastery), and living out a purpose greater than themselves (meaning), even whilst the opportunity for manifesting these may only come later in life or occasionally, it fills the whole.  I can’t remember why I was thinking about these things but I do know there is something very powerful at play when these are present.  They’re not so much substancel as relational – all the best things in life are.

Autonomy could be said to be about the relationship with ourselves, mastery about our relationship with our world, and meaning about our relationship with others.

Red ocean scenarios witness our copying and competing with what everyone else is doing, whilst blue ocean scenarios are about discovering and developing perople’s uniqueness: one closes down possibilities, the other open possibilities up:

‘Creating blue oceans is not a static achievement but a dynamic process.’**

Hugh Macleod offers a blog that is more of a poem when he writes:

‘When I’m not free, you’re not free.
When I’m in danger, you’re in danger.
When your voice is being drowned out, no one can hear me either.
To guarantee my freedom, I have to guarantee yours too.
Because I only matter when you matter.’^

And this from Seth Godin, underlining relationship over substance further still:

‘Showing up with empathy is difficult hard to outsource and will wear you out.  But it’s precisely what we need from you.’^^

(*From Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)
(**From Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy.)
(^From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid blog If You’re Not Free, What Does That Say About Me?)
(^^From Seth Godin’s blog: Empathy is the Hard Part.)


To know who we are, where we are, what we have is how we tend to us the word inalienable.  It means we’re more likely to be at the centre rather than the edges.  To risk any of these is to become an alien, an edge-person, an outsider.

In our modern world, we still struggle with people who aren’t like us, people who are different in the way they look and think, the stories they tell, the places they come from.  It’s a view from the centre.

‘The embrace of a person’s uniqueness is what makes a community trustworthy.’*

This comment from Alex McManus is interesting because it asks us to see how a group, society, or nation’s ability to both see the differences in others and to value them are better measurements of the maturity of a people.

Nassim Taleb provides insight in inimitable fashion:

‘We find it in extremely bad taste for individuals to boast of their accomplishments; but when countries do so we call it “national pride.” […] The nation-state: apartheid without political incorrectness.’**

This is the self we cannot see from the centre.  Richard Rohr speaks of this as the ego self.  It’s a smaller self when each of us is capable of more:

‘The ego self is the unobserved self.  If you do not find an objective standing point from which to look back at yourself, you will almost always be egocentric – identified with yourself instead of in relationship to yourself.’^

Edward Deci refers to this True Self as the intrinsic self

‘The intrinsic self is not a genetically programmed entity that simply unfolds with time. […] It is instead a set of potentials, interests, and capabilities that interact with the world, each affecting the other.’^^

What’s intriguing about Deci’s comment is this larger self can only develop through interactions with those on or beyond the edges of self: the inalienable must meet the alien, we might say.

Ben Zander tells of his father’s saying about our best interactions with people:

“Certain things in life are better done in person.”*^

As they share this, the Zanders are reflecting on the practice of enrolment – turning up, engagement with risk:

‘Enrolment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share.’*^

Risking deeper engagement includes the possibility of rejection – which is  the experience of the alien.  If this is so then it’s a conundrum for sure.  The possibility of the larger life requires we walk away from our inalienable world, to become the outsider.

“perhaps, the wild ones among us are our only hope calling us back to our true nature’^*

(*From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.)
(**From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(^From Edward Deci’s Why We Do What We Do.)
(*^From Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(^*Joel McKerrow, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)

disconnection and

Life is about letting go and letting come.

When we get this right we are connecting and more present but if we get it wrong then we we become more disconnected and absent.

Another way of thinking about it is that we have to clear some things out of our lives to make room for new things

There are arguably four major areas of connection/disconnection, letting go and letting come, emptying and filling: others, our world, our worldview, and ourselves.*

Roz and Ben Zander contemplate giving way to passion when they write about barriers and participation  – I’d add talents, dreams (hopes), and experiences to passion:

‘The first step is to notice where you are holding back and to let go.  Release those barriers of self that keep you separate and in control, and let the vital energy of passion surge through you, connecting you to all beyond.  The second step is to participate wholly. Allow yourself to shape the stream of passion into a new expression for the world.’**

The ultimate test for what we let go a=if and what we allow to come will be love.  Love connects and love is produced by connecting.

(*Theory U names three major disconnections: ecological, social, and spiritual-cultural.)
(**From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

the guide

When we make journeys into the things we’re curious about and make our discoveries then what we return with is also valuable to others.  In some sense of the word, we have become a guide.  When this is welcomed by others – and it always needs to be – then our movement has produced a blessing.

We might also imagine it this way.  Our journey through the wonders of the universe which speak to us most of all become a meal and a conversation when we have returned and are at rest.

I want to describe this as my “zing.”  This is the excitement I feel inside when I am connecting with something that is deeply meaningful to me.  I share the following because we all have zing, and zings are all different and good.

I came to call my zing dreamwhispering.  My friend Alex McManus heard me use this term and described it in far better than I could.  I make my journeys through thoughts and speculation and experimentation and then come to a table, with coffees and teas, sharing these things with others:

‘Often […] entrepreneurs of the spirit are dream whisperers who awaken hope.  They connect meaning to action.  The craft narratives that release human energy.  They make new maps that guide us into places where there are no paths.  As importantly, they help us discover the courage it takes to journey towards our humanity.’*

So what is your journey about, and what does the table and coffees look like that you share with others?

Alex mentions meaning and narratives.  In a random universe, these are the patterns life invites us to make.

Geoff Nicholso in his book on walking describes nature as ‘rough, scary, sometimes beautiful, but always utterly indifferent.’**  He’s right, and continues:

‘In the face of this, a walk seems like exactly what it is; something but not much, certainly not a means of salvation.  It may be pleasurable and worth doing, it may stop you getting depressed, but in the end it’s just a walk.  Why would you want it to be more?’**

Nicholson is also wrong – as are we all.

We are the universe.

We make up our meaning but I have to wonder how the universe might be offering meaning through a species made of stardust and moons and meteors.

With this, through our journeys and our tables shared with others, we are guides.

(*From Alex McManus’s Makers of Fire.)
(**From Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking.)


I love the idea of restoring the future rather than the past. opening up the future through the way we are prepared to think, feel, and act in the present.

The future is where we find hope. We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the past. We don’t have to feel trapped by old patterns and habits but can create new ones. It’s where new insights can replace the old ones that no longer work.

Because the future emerges through people, itt will require the kind of conversations the like of which we have rarely seen or experienced.

Sherry Turkle picks up some weak echoes of the future in the way young people use instant messaging and avoid phone calls.

‘All the Richelieu sophomores agree that they thing to avoid is the telephone. Mandy presents a downbeat account of a telephone call: “You wouldn’t want to call because then you would have to get into a conversation.” And conversation, “well, that’s something where you only want to have them when you want to have them.”‘*

This is only a weak signal. We don’t know whether or how much such a resistance to conversation might develop.

Some would remind us that adolescents have always avoided conversation and have been monosyllabic. We were all there once.

We’re left pondering just how the integration of technology into our lives may make deeper changes in us as a species because of our neural plasticity and so. affecting the quality of our conversations.

A hopeful future will require four important conversations.


The first conversation is with ourselves. It concerns how we listen to our lives and what we must do as a consequence. We soon need to include conversations with others, otherwise we become too fixed in our thinking, feeling, and doing.


The second conversation involves those who are not like us. It arguable that conversations with others who are like us is really a first conversation – these only reinforce what we already think, feel, and do. The second conversation, however, introduces to us the thinking, feeling, and doing of others and can lead to anything from retreating into our first conversation to moving on into the third. There’s usually a lot of debate and disagreement in this conversation and we have to figure out some way of bringing all of this together into something more effective and productive.

(In the weeks ahead, towards 2017 general election in the UK, I’m expecting we’ll witness a lot of one and two conversations – it’s how the system is set up.)


‘We don’t move enough. Maybe you do, but the collective ‘we’ – we’ve left that part of our lives behind.’**

The third conversation includes others and also their worlds and, collectively, the world we share. Stepping into each others worlds means something more, a third thing, is happening. Maria Popova’s reflection on Anne Lamott’s book on mercy is very helpful here. Lamott reckons mercy will “buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart.”

“Mercy is radical kindness. […] Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing q great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves – our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice.”^

Conversation Three helps us to find our warm and generous heart as we step into each other’s worlds – a possibility Lamott hopes is still to be found in each of us:

“the sweet child in us who, all evidence to the contrary, was not killed off, but just put in a drawer”.^


Out of our openness to the contributions everyone has to bring, a more hopeful future is able to emerge, imagined and designed by more people for more people.

In their book on creating new markets, Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne tell the story of a company that came up with a win/win strategy. The problem was not everybody had been in the room when it was put together. The salespeople would sabotage it:

‘The strategy was doomed because the sales force fought it. Having not been engaged in the strategy-making process nor apprised of the rationale for the strategic shift, sales reps saw the expert system in a light no one on the design team or management team had ever imagined.’^^

‘[T]he capacity to be present to everything that is happening, without resistance, creates possibility.’*^

In coming from the future, Conversation Four, in one sense, means no-one is an expert, one of the causes of resistance. Instead, we are required to learn and practise a new set of skills. There are many but I borrow the following six from my friend and mentor Alex McManus, adding a little interpretation of my own.

Reflecting: We slow things down to consider everything, not just the first or perceived needs or issues, but all of them.

Anticipating: Our openness to the weak signals coming from the future; we will often find these coming from what everyone in the room is seeing, not just the few.

Imagining: We are the imagining species; we want to imagine and we will if we remove the barriers: time, hierarchies, privilege, limited means of contributing, etc.

Synchronising: Integrating our thinking, feeling, and doing with what is emerging and being imagined so that more details will emerge.

Designing: Making something happen sooner rather than later – meaning prototyping and experimentation and pilot schemes.

Creating: The final “product,” shaped by the many, tested to see whether it’s really the future, and finally delivered.

The future is already in the conversations we will have.

(*From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(**From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid.)
(^Anne Lamott, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.)
(^^From Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy.)
(*^From Rosamund and benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

already in the flow

We don’t need others to fail or struggle or get hurt to feel good about ourselves.

Anne Lamott “fesses up” how she feels about others and her own need for mercy,  How someone getting hurt can make her feel better but not for long.  Mercy is a daily requirement for the human condition:

“So why today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative’s heel like a river rat? Forget extending mercy to this relative, who has so messed with me and my son – she doesn’t even know she needs my mercy.  She thinks she is fierce and superior, while I believe she secretly ate her first child.  Horribly, she is perfectly fine.  I’m the one who needs mercy – my mercy.  The need for this, for my own motley mercy, underpinned most of my lifelong agitation, my separation from life itself. […] I came here with a huge open heart, like a big, sweet dog, and I still have one.  But some days the only thing that can cheer me up is something bad happening to someone I hate, preferably if it went viral and the photo of the person showed hair loss and perhaps the lifelong underuse of sunscreen.  My heart still leaps to see this.  I often recall the New Yorker cartoon of one dog saying to the other: “It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.”  This is the human condition.”*

Our lives, though, are bigger than we know.  Big enough to be bigger with others – big enough to be bigger with ourselves.  We only need to see it.   Erich Fromm writes:

‘The fact is that most of us are half asleep while we believe ourselves to be awake.’**

We’re already in the flow of something that does not require another to fail so we feel better about ourselves.  Rather the success of another adds to our understanding of what we might call an infinite dance – after the infinite game which aims to include as many as possible for as long as possible and when the rules threaten to exclude from or to end the game, the rules are changed.  Such a dance and such a game would be full of mercy.

‘The fool views himself as more unique and others more generic; the wise views himself as more generic and others more unique.’^

We haven’t explored this for long enough with enough people yet to know just how our lives, and the lives of others and our communities might be changed.

It’s possible to dance alone, two begin to change the danc , three changes the dance for ever, making  it possible for the fourth and fifth and more to join in.

It could change everything.

(*Anne Lamott, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Listening.)
(^From Nassim Tal
eb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)

science and what we get up to every day

So there’s science and there’s story, and then there’s story and science.

Whilst science aims to precisely tell us about all that is, human life is always far more chaotic than that.  Somewhere in all the human chaos, though, we can find something beautiful, and science can help us make it more so.  Each needs the other.

Yuval Noah Harari Writes about how, once upon a time, we only had story to  to help us explore and theorise on life.  These stories could look more to the past, forming into ways and beliefs and practice, and discouraging change.

Science looks at things differently, observations aren’t enough and it’s theories often aren’t proven for a long time:

‘Instead of studying old traditions, emphasis is now placed on our observations and experiments. […] Earlier traditions usually formulated their theories in terms of stories.  Modern science uses mathematics.’*

Mercy is a fascinating study in humanness, emerging out of the chaos of what it means to be human.  There’s no scientific theory or formula for mercy, or compassion,  we know mercy involves physics, chemistry, and biology but these things are wrapped in a myriad of personal and cultural stories.

The reason I’m mentioning it is because I happened to also be reading Maria Popova this morning.  Popova wants to secularise mercy, reclaiming it from religion, and exploring Anne Lamott‘s book Hallelujah Anyway as a means of doing this:

‘Mercy is the conscious choice to be kind when one can be cruel – without cruelty, there is no mercy.’**

Popova continues: we are capable of producing ‘myriad small spirited, begrudging tendencies by which we fall so woefully short of our ideal selves.**  But that’s not the end of the story.  Nassim Taleb points to the beauty that can emerge from flawed humanity:

‘Beauty is enhanced by unashamed irregularities; magnificence by a facade of blunder. […] Life’s beauty: the kindest act toward you in life may come from an outsider not interested in reciprocation.’^

Seth Godin reminds me that we whilst we may never be a right answer, we can learn from science that life is a process and it’s okay not to pretend – then we may find ourselves moving in the right direction.

‘Science is a process.  It’s not pretending it has the right answer, it merely is the best process to get closer to that right answer.’^^

It’s never one or the other; it’s always about science and stories.

(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)
(**From Maria Popova’s BrainPickings)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s What Does “Science” Mean?)

conspiracies to the left and to the right

Except there probably aren’t any.

That person isn’t thinking that about you.  You are not an idiot who lost out in the gene pool.  You don’t need permission to explore your dream.

Conspiracy stories don’t look like conspiracies most of the time, of course.  They’re just the way we think about things, the reasons we make the choices we do.  There has to be a reason, we reason, rather than this simply being randomness.

Brené Brown connects conspiracy with story.  We are storytelling animals, everything is story to us:

‘Conspiracy thinking is all all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.  When we depend on self-protecting narratives often enough, they become our default stories.  And we must not forget that storytelling is a powerful integration tool.’*

It’s possible, though, through effort, to learn the secret of seeing things for what they are and moving from the past into the future:

‘The good news is that people aren’t born with an exceptional understanding of the stories they make up nor does it just dawn on them one day.  They practiced.  Sometimes for years.  They set out with the intention to become aware and they tried until it worked.  They captured the conspiracies and the confabulations.’*

When Seth Godin writes about it being our turn, he means this life is our opportunity to do the thing or things we feel we are here to do:

‘You don’t need a permit or a blessing or any sort of permission to decide to take your turn.  You only have to open your eyes and look.  And then choose.”**

Cue more conspiracy stories: it’ll never work, someone else is already doing it …. better, no one is interested because you put an email out and no-one got back to you.  Hit the pause button and practice being aware.  One of the most powerful tools we have is writing – just writing it all down uncovers the conspiracies for what they are – confabulations.  Literally note down the anxieties and fears, and then move on to do what you must do.

Just by writing, you have taken action:

‘When fear arrives, do what you should do.  Note the fear, welcome it if you can, but do what you should do.’**

(*From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(**From Seth Godin’s What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn.)


A state of being only a few steps away from us.

At the end of the day, I read myself to sleep with Terry Pratchett and and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth.  A gift from my son Matthew. he wrote in the front of the book: I hope that the possibility of unlimited worlds will spark your imagination:

‘Earths, untold earths.  More Earths than could be counted, some said.  And all you had to do was walk sideways into them, one after the next, an unending chain …’*

It’s a discovery opening up new frontiers and new beginnings for the characters who see the endless opportunities of starting over.

Yesterday, I was meeting with someone standing on the edge of their known world with new possibilities calling.  As for each of us, they can choose to step ‘re able to step into their own adjacence, made possible by their talents, passions, and life experiences.

It comes, though with the unknown and unfamiliar and for this reason many do not step.

‘The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and others don’t know, rather than the reverse.’**

The Long Earth‘s steppers are mostly nauseous immediately after moving from one reality to another.  K. M. Weiland warns us that ‘a good story should never be an entirely easy experience,’ quoting Franz Kafka’s counsel to only read= stories that ‘bite and sting.’^

Why?  Because then we know we are alive?  Otherwise may we be tempted to engage in some more dangerous or expensive or selfish way of proving our life in not in a rut without ends?

The slow journey into adjacence reminds us there is another way.

‘The first step is the most difficult but luckily it’s over quickly.’^^

(*From Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth.)
(**From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)

(^Both from K.M. Weiland.)
(^^From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid.)

storylines: completing belief

There’re so many things to believe in, we have to choose what we’ll act upon.

Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery it is … in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”*

The most tragic of lives is the one failing to complete belief in anything.  We can think of this as completing a story.

In the morning, I gather up whispers from different places and people.  Often these are whispers anyone can collect but they may be overlooked or they weave together in permutations others cannot see.  I wonder how they may be woven into my life and the lives of others.  This is my story but the same things happen in all our lives.

I hear the things I hear because I’m following my storyline – you may call yours something different.

Native Australians have songlines, or dreaming tracks.  Gwendolyn Brooks speaks of our poems.  John O’Donohue of our prayers.  And Warren Berger of our questions.

‘Write a prayer that is worthy of the destiny to which you have been called.’**

‘Instead of hoping that you’ll emerge from a meeting with “the answer” (which almost never happens and thus leaves people feeling frustrated), the goal is to come out of it with a few promising and powerful questions – which is likely to provide a sense of direction and momentum.’^

Questions are what we have in abundance, from where we find ourselves touching the earth and the lives within it – O’Donohue reminding us of our incredible opportunity:

‘We have received everything, even the opportunity to come to earth and walk awake in this wondrous universe.’**

Brooks writes her life as a poem:

“Yet I know
that I am Poet!
I pass you my Poem.
My poem is life, and not finished.
It shall never be finished.
My poem is life, and can grow.”^^

The words of our poems (storylines, songlines, prayers, questions) are not pleasant and sweet things, they emerge from our real lives.  They begin here not there:

“This is the time for Big Poems.
Roaring up out of sleaze,
poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood.
This is the time for stiff or viscous poems.
Big and Big.”^^

Brené Brown reminds us we are storytelling animals and sometimes our stories are complete fabrications: why we did what we did, why they did what they did.  Our need for honour, nobility, and enlightenment causes us to rewrite the truth about our motives, thoughts, feelings, and actions.  But, as Brooks reminds us, our story begins here not there, and this is a thing of hope.

When we get defensive we also get stuck.  Good storylines help get us unstuck, help us complete our belief.

Joseph Campbell speaks of our need for societal and personal myth.  He also speaks about how life is so fast these myths aren’t forming for us.  Myths aren’t untruths.  They are great stories that lead us out of our stuckness.  Karen Anderson describes myths in their original sense:

‘A myth was an attempt to express some of the more elusive aspects of life that cannot easily be expressed in logical, discursive speech. […] The myth of the hero told people what they had to do to unlock their own heroic potential.”*^

Our storylines help us to identify and live out the most important beliefs we have.

Chris Guillebeau offers some useful advice for where to begin:

‘Be attentive to what happens when you lose yourself in the moment.’^*

You’re likely touching your storyline already.  And the more people who do this, the greater the possibility that we’ll change some things.  Seth Godin’s list of systems, here, could be longer but he reminds us well enough, systems are only people:

‘There is no industry, no economy, no market.  Only poeople.  And people, people can take action if they care.’⁺

(*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^^Gwendolyn Brooks, from Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.)
(*^From Karen Anderson’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(^*From Chris Guillebau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(⁺From Seth Godin’s There is no ‘The Industry‘.)