We just don’t get it

‘Be clear with yourself before you spend a [penny] on a minute with a designer.’*
(Seth Godin)

Look at who you are, look around at what you have.  What is it you want to do with all this wonder and abundance?

It can be difficult.

We see the talents and passions and value the experiences of our lives, and we see all at our disposal, but the usual storylines with which we live don’t really help us.  I’ve just been listening to a radio conversation looking at the impact of technology on the kinds and number of jobs, and how this means we have to reimagine education.  New machines and wares but same old idea that education is for fitting us in rather than breaking us out.

Erich Fromm spotted this way back in the 1950s and he wrote:

‘Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market.  He is alienated from himself, his fellow men and from nature.’**

When Tom Hodgkinson contemplates the business of the Idler, which he began with his partner Victoria Hull, he seems to have been exploring another storyline:

‘Our whole business at the Idler is based on the old Greek idea of the symposium, a drinking party with wine at which serious and lightweight matters were discussed.


everything we do must be beautiful or useful, or both.’^

It feels as if the beautiful and useful has discovered some space within the larger story Fromm is most concerned about; the psychoanalyst continues:

‘His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are intent on a fair and profitable exchange.  Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except to consume.’**

The early Jesuit novitiate would spend thirty days in solitude identifying what it was he had to do with the rest of his life; he would then pursue this with ingenuity, love and courage.^^

What can we do to find this life that is both beautiful and useful?

We need to begin my noticing moments.  Dan and Chip Heath have written an entire book on the power of moments:

‘Transitions should be marked, milestones commemorated, and pits filled.


The more you can multiply them, the better.  The point we’re emphasising here is that certain circumstances demand attention.’*^

Picking up on Fromm’s mentioning energy, this is not about making ourselves a commodity but noticing when our energy is high: what we are doing, why we are doing it, who we are doing it with or for, and when we are doing it (as in, are we starting something, finishing something …).

Notice these things and then make more of them happen.

What we are discovering is clarity, what Otto Scharmer describes as “crystallising intent.”^*

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Working with a designer (four paths).)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(^From Tom Hodgkinson’s Business for Bohemians.)
(^^See Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership.)
(*^From Chip and Dan heath’s The Power of Moments.)
(^*See Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future.)


Express your ethos through big, beautiful canvases for not a lot of money.  Drop me a line to find out more.

Taking enough for a walk

“Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking – a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree – is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe – certainly creative and suprasensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it.”*
(*Kenneth Grahame)

What if for some reason or another I was not able to read another book or gain another idea or artefact or possession, would I have enough to do what I must do?

I think, possibly, I would.

“More,” especially as an ideal, can get in the way of what we have, get in the way of taking enough for a walk.  Kenneth Grahame is thinking of a walk in the countryside but it could easily be an urban setting.  Grahame continues to encourage:

“Of course the best sort of walk is the one on which it doesn’t matter twopence whether you get anywhere at all at any time or not; and the second best is the one on which the hard facts of routes, times, or trains give you nothing to worry about.”*

This resonates for me with what Joseph Campbell writes of as sacred space, somewhere all we have, our enoughness can come into new focus:

‘This is an absolute necessity for anybody today.  You must have a room, or a certain hour or so of a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers in the morning, you don’t know who your friends are, and don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you.  This is a place where you can simply experience and bring for the what you are and what you might be.  This is the place of creative incubation.  At first you may find that nothing happens there.  But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.’**

Whether our personal choice be a space or a walk or both or something quite different, what we have already will become more before our eyes:

“I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.”^

(*Kenneth Grahame, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Walking as Creative Fuel.)
(**Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^Thomas Merton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)


‘If you see a good deal remarkable in me I see just as much remarkable in you.’*
(Walt Whitman)

Yes, there’s a gap between who you are and who you want to be, but like an unexplored city we’ve lived in for so many years, so are our lives to us.

Every day, we can take a new walk.

(*From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)

Between me and you

‘What they really want, in fact, is to be helped to do the things they want to do. […] The smallest thing can feel like magic to someone who has been living with a problem they may not be able to articulate.’*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

“Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name.”**
(George Appleton)

Bernadette Jiwa leads us to how we can be helped by another, and we can help another to make a breakthrough.  George Appleton asks to be led to the place of hidden things, the spring of his life.  We need each other.

Gerd Gigerenzer reminds me about how our life takes form between an understanding of ourselves and our environment; he’s describing how gut feelings work:

‘A gut feeling rapidly appears in consciousness, based on unconscious rules of thumb.  These are anchored in the evolved capacities our the brain and the environment.’^

Maira Kalman writes lovingly of walking – we might call this exteriority:

“I walk everywhere in the city.  Any city.  You see everything you need to see for a lifetime.  Every emotion.  Every condition.  Every fashion.  Every glory.’^^

I’m suggesting calling this exteriority after Peter Senge’s description of something he names interiority:

‘Interiority refers to a richer perceptual universe and awareness of self.’*^

We need both interiority and exteriority (which can be a person or some country scene as well as a city) because what we often think of as being alive is in the interaction between the two.  Seth Godin asks:

‘Are you stuck with the ways things were, instead of busy turning things into what they could be?’^*

Godin asks this question in his book Tribes, about people finding one another in order to make a difference.  It’s a book that led me to a group of people with whom I’m still collaborating six years later.  They are also people who’ve helped me become more who I am.

In between me and you, futures emerge.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s Meaningful.)
(**George Appleton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^From Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(^^Maira Kalman, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Walking as Creative Fuel.)
(*^From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(^*From Seth Godin’s Tribes.)

Keep going

‘When bodily movement becomes a form of speech, then the distinction between words and deeds, between representations and actions begin to blur, and so marches can themselves be liminal, another form of walking into the realm of the representational and symbolic – and sometimes, into history.’*
(Rebecca Solnit)

‘I can only speak to my soul when the two of us are off, exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads.’**
(Paulo Coelho)

By illustration I mean doing, moving, improving, developing, looking, feeling, and doing again.  Keri Smith suggests asking someone we know to provide us with somewhere to journey to:

‘Ask a friend to give you wandering instructions.  Tell a friend to write a location in your journal.  Do not look at it until you are ready to set out.’^

A friend did just this for me yesterday.  As we reconnected for the new year, he provided me with just such a location..From what we had been talking about, I was offered the destination of turning my thoughts into a video course (a location doesn’t have to be geographical).  I’m going to have a go.  Watch this space.

We have to keep going, life takes form where we have both comfort and exploration, so says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  We find this expressed in different ways as people get to grips with how things keep well and healthy:

“Civilisation occurs and maintains itself when the two forces – the striving and the ordering – approach equipoise.”^^

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(**From Paulo Coelho’s Aleph.)
(^From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(^^Clark Emery, quoted in Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)

For more, look inside

‘Most of us have plenty (by a lot of standards).  Not having enough, by itself, isn’t what’s making us unhappy.

It’s having enough and not knowing it.’*
(Hugh Macleod)

We can too easily place our confidence in the wrong things, prioritising concern with the externals over the internals.

On the outside, we don’t have enough – position, influence, resources.

On the inside, often unnoticed, we have more than we know with which we can make sense of what we have on the outside.

At least, it’s a better beginning, discovering we’re all artists, whether in ideas, relationships, actions and communication – these can all be art forms, and we need what you bring.

W. H. Auden wrote:

“So long as artists exist, making what they please and think they ought to make, even if it is not terribly good, even if it appeals to only a handful of people, they remind the Management of something managers need to be reminded of, namely, that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous numbers, that Homo Laborans is also Homo Ludens.**

We need more people willing to help those around them find the more they have within, the reality of who they are.  , the world they can definitely change and, by means of, may be able to change the world around them, even if that is one person’s world.

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: Albert Einstein’s theory of happiness.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: W. H. Auden on the Political Power of Art and the Crucial Difference Between Party Issues and Revolutionary Issues.)

Imagination like we are

‘The great German artist Joseph Beuys used to recite, as a maxim and manifesto, the phrase “Everyone an artist.”‘*
(Rebecca Solnit)

Rebecca Solnit is reflecting on the contribution of marches, parades, protests, processions and festivals as ways and means  for people to walk through their cities.  Continuing to ponder Joseph Beuys’ reciting of “Everyone an artist,” she writes:

‘I used to think it meant that he thought everyone should make art, but now I wonder if he wasn’t speaking to a more basic possibility: that everyone could become a participant rather than a member of the audience, that everyone could become a producer rather than a consumer of meaning […].*

Carrying on this thought, Solnit suggests it is in the festival where ‘the boundaries between strangers recede’.*

By the time I read these words this morning, I’d already found myself thinking about how we need so much more imagination to overcome the boundaries we put up between each other – personal, political and national boundaries being just a few.  Imagination is what sets us free from these delineating lines drawn by factions, cliques, parties, et al.  Such imagination liberates us for the future rather than holding us to the past.  I see imagination in what Sherry Turkle writes about here:

‘Philosophers say that our capacity to put ourselves in the place of another is essential to being human.’**

Donald Miller offers what adds to this for me he writes that the only truth he believes worth living for vulnerability, love and care:

‘part of me believes when the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged.  the vulnerable moments.  The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it.’^

Imagination allows us to fight for people rather than against them.  Alex McManus identifies this different kind of struggle for us to be engaged in:

‘I have known hundreds of women and men who dedicate themselves to concretely igniting the dreams of others.  They are often alone in their cause at first.  They act as they do because they see themselves engaged in an epic battle.’^^

When Nassim Taleb writes about randomness, he’s identifying one of the qualities of human imagination, conceiving something that has not previously existed – whether that be an idea, an object, an action or a relationship:

‘when some systems are stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness, can unlock then and set them free’.*^

Michael Bhaskar tracks the rise of the human population in his book Curation, I think pointing to a lot of potential imagination:

1820 = 1 billion
1926 = 2 billion
1960 = 3 billion
1975 = 4 billion
1988 = 5 billion
2000 = 6 billion
2012 = 7 billion^*

Yet there is so much that gets in the way of releasing this.  Here’s just a little encouragement for us from Peter Reynolds’ wonderful children’s book The Dot.  The protagonist Vashti exclaims in frustration:

“I just CAN’T draw!”⁺

Vashti’s teacher encourages her to put something down on her impossibly blank piece of paper, so Vashti bangs down a dot. Her teacher simply asks her to sign it.

The next week, Vashti sees her dot framed and hanging by the teacher’s desk.  Seeing this made her think she could do better:

I can make a better dot
than THAT!”⁺

Out comes an previously unopened watercolour set.

Vashti begins to paint dots of all colours.

This means she has to experiment with mixing colours.

Then she begins painting big dots and even a dot without painting a dot.

It all makes for quite an art show.

A small boy looks on Vashti’s dots in awe:

‘”You’re a really great artist.
I wish I could draw,” he said.

“I bet you can,” said Vashti.

“ME?  No not me.  I can’t draw
a straight line with a ruler.’⁺

Vashti doesn’t give up, urging the boy to draw what turns out to be a shaky line:

‘Vashti stared at the boy’s squiggle.
And then she said …

“Sign it.”‘⁺

I’m hoping his imagination was set free.

It won’t come easy.  Imagination takes a lot of hard work.  It’s why we leave the imaginative stuff to others, and it’s inextricably linked with doing.

I close with words from Joseph Campbell.  I don’t think the great mythologist is suggesting finding what liberates our imagination is in any way easy, but it is there, right now, and we can find it:

‘If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.’++

As Vashti when our imaginations are set free, others are set free.

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(^From Donald Miller’s Scary Close.)
(^^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire – eBook version)
(*^From Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile.)
(^*From Michael Bhaskar’s Curation.)
(⁺From Peter Reynolds’ The Dot.)
(⁺⁺From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

Let your people know they matter

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