To bomb or not to bomb. That was the question.

The arguments raged for ten hours in the House of Commons.  The vote was cast.   The MPs agreed by a sizeable majority that it was a good thing to let the Royal Air Force bomb Syria.  A few hours later, the Tornado Jets were set loose like the dogs of war.

Tornado

The rest of the country stood by like a confused onlooker.  Whatever your beliefs, whatever your fears, however good your knowledge of the situation: none of those would count.  In May, the UK’s democratic system transferred our voting rights for another five years to a bunch of elected MPs to take nearly all decisions on our behalf.  We’ll all get a vote on whether or not we want to stay in Europe – but that will be equally confusing too.  Just like the Scottish No vote last year.

David Cameron’s timing for the bombing Syria vote was lucky.  The Paris atrocities a couple of weeks ago certainly added considerable weight to the case.  His party held the line, and increased a narrow Tory majority by doing whipping deals with selected allies and the vote for the “ayes” was further buoyed-up by the schism in the Labour party.  So the “ayes” had it and the NATO alliance held together because that’s what allies do.  Stick together in hard times.

What other solutions were put forward?  What other creative ideas were framed?  What other, more effective ways of preventing further bloodshed were considered?   What were the real options to stop further escalation the a tit-for-tat of a bomb in a beach resort or another vulnerable European city versus drone attacks and bombing raids on strategic Daesh targets in Syria?

I remember visiting Beirut for a day in 1978.  I was in transit from Egypt to Cyprus.  Middle East Airlines put me up for a free night in a four-star hotel as part of the deal of flying via their country.  It was a great deal for the penniless student that I was at the time.  I took a taxi around the central part of the city on the way back to the airport.  On every street corner there was a burned-out armoured car and a different faction guarding their patch.  Nothing much seems to have changed since then.

The UN Climate Change Conference, which started in Paris this week, has given some hope that we might be reaching a level of consciousness that understands that climate change is going to continue to hit random parts of the world as a knight moves around in a game of chess.  Although ridiculed by some newspapers for his views, I can see the connection that Prince Charles made about climate change causing drought in Syria which in turn causes a shortage of natural resources (like water),  which in turn cause a refugee problem in South Eastern Europe.  The world is so connected now – more than it ever has been, perhaps.  It is the butterfly effect in action.

We need to think differently and organise ourselves differently if we are going to solve the complex problems that the world is currently facing.  I used to think that X causes Y was the only way to think.  I’m not so sure anymore.  Just look at the weather.  Everyone’s weather in the world is apparently affected by changes in water temperature just off the West Coast of South America with the El Niño effect.  And so it is with international politics and relations: everything is connected.

I’m sure computer modelling and technology can help here – but we need a lot more than “big data” and analytics and advanced aerial killing machines directed from many thousands of miles away to solve these problems.  In particular, we need to understand that each of the world’s primitive fragile systems of fresh water, clean air, natural energy resources and inhabitable land are themselves so interconnected that together they will have the greatest impact on the world’s population migration and quality of life of all of us in the coming twenty to thirty years.  Southern Europe is currently under siege from migrants who themselves are refugees from a part of the planet that is fast burning-up.  Areas which have traditionally sustained life, but which can no longer do so.

What to do?  Commentary by analysts simply isolate the issues.  Linking them together does not seem to happen so much.  It might be my associative mind, but the inter-dependencies BETWEEN the systems mean that the gaps between the systems might just hold the answers.  As regular readers will know, one of my favourite expressions is that: “the answer lies in the space between”.

On first glance, it was very encouraging to see Mark Zuckerberg give up 99% of his fortune to charitable causes.  Line up all the rich kids and strip them of 99% of their fortunes.  Job done!  Yet, reading between the lines, the vehicle Zuckerberg will use will be a limited liability partnership (LLP), not a charitable foundation.  The LLP will be allowed to lobby, make a profit and won’t have to give away a pre-determined amount of cash to other charities every year.   Smart man, Zuckerberg.  Maybe he is onto something.

It is time to think afresh about how we take decisions and how we control the excesses – whether they be banking bonuses, lobbying for vested interests or pollution.  Relying on individual human nature won’t solve these problems.  Traditional economically-driven regulation won’t hack the course either.  The current systems are so stuck in the past; they need a complete rethink.

Waging war by throwing deadly flying machines at an enemy who can only fire back with machine guns and suicide bombers will only dig us deeper into the proverbial.  It may well take Zuckerberg, Gates and a few others with purposeful family-centric LLPs to crack many of the problems that our more outdated institutions have failed to solve.

Then again, I suppose that rich families and the dynasties that they create have always ruled the world.  All other structures are impermanent, insignificant or mouthpieces of the ruling classes.  Mr Zuckerberg for President, anyone?

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Experiencing Flow and Being in the Zone

The older I become, the clearer I become about one thing. Life is all about flow.  And the current modern madness that we see in society is mainly due to us being “out of the flow” and not “in the zone”.

AdobeStock_58963799 450x600

What do I mean?

Last week, a friend asked me to act as a witness at a local planning enquiry.  It was no normal planning enquiry.  It lasted five days and had barristers for the prosecution (the district council) and the defence (my friend).  It was more like the hearing of a legal case in a court of law.

I was asked to turn up as a witness on the final day last Friday.  Having just come off a week’s training in presentation skills, I thought I would put them to the test.  I knew I had a very short slot (10 minutes maximum).  I decided to take up five.  I wanted to create maximum impact.  How should I go about it?

A bit more context.  My friend and his wife allow me to put my eight hives on their land.  Their land is an oasis of natural flora and fauna – itself nestled in an ancient woodland in area of outstanding natural beauty.  It is so unique, it has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSI).

My friend and his wife live onsite to manage the woodlands.  They also allow me to keep eight hives on their land.  They were merely seeking permission to extend their project for another three years.  They live off-grid practicing the most sustainable living of any family I know.  To be applauded and copied, you would think, – particularly in this modern era of climate change and sustainable living.  But no.  The establishment was not happy.  My friends might set a precedent.  We might have hundreds of woodland owners taking to living in the woods and becoming feral.  And that is not a good thing, apparently.

The previous four days of inquiry and inquisition had been hell for all involved.  An important stand against the erosion of some law written somewhere or a total waste of precious government money?  Not for me to decide, but I tend to believe it was the latter.  The final day was for supporters to give evidence.  Throughout the whole week, no one turned up to oppose the proposal.

I arrived at 09.30 and got the first speaking slot for the day.  I did not speak on behalf of myself. I petitioned on account of the bees that I keep!  Everyone knows that bees are under threat.  I described the project as a colony of bees might.  Appreciating my friends generosity allowing them to have the bees on their land and at their gallant efforts to protect and conserve the nature in these ancient woodlands.  At the end of the short talk, I stood up and offered everyone in the room a pot of this year’s honey.  The courtroom melted.  I was so in the flow or “in the zone”.  It was a deeply moving experience.  It was brilliant!

From Wikipedia:  In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone  It is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (and has an especially extensive recognition in Occupational Therapy), though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions.   Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as “being in the zone”.

Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.

1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment

2. Merging of action and awareness

3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness

4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity

5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered

6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Earlier this week I took on two new mentees.  Folk who have been washed-out of the corporate system.  “Over fifty and out”.  Both trying to face the new uncertain world for post-corporate man.  Again, faced with a challenge to know the right thing to do, I constructed a short course in realignment.  Before plunging into the more standard questions that treat individuals like 20th century companies – like “what is your personal mission statement”, I reflected back on what had worked for me in the past when I was a mentored twenty years ago.  The first step in the process was to write six to eight stories (or vignettes) where I felt good about something I had achieved.  Each story took about a page to write-up.  The common theme for me was that at some stage in all stories across I was “in the flow” or “in the zone”.

In the run-up to 2016, I am going to use the weekly Thursday Thoughts slot to build on the idea of filling our lives with events where we are truly “in the zone”.
If you are interested in exploring these ideas in the last few weeks of 2015 and launch yourself into 2016 with new energy and enthusiasm, then as an exercise, I suggest that you write down six to eight events in your life that you were “in the zone” and achieved something extraordinary for yourself or others.

  • What was the context?
  • How did you feel?
  • What were you experiencing when “in the zone”?
  • Who were you in service to at the time?

If you feel inclined, please pick the best story and share your experiences with us!

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Jesus, a Charlie!

The headlines in January seem to have been dominated by debate about the rights of free speech over the balance of respect of the rights and beliefs of others in society.  I’m for balance.  If I believe in something where expressing it might hurt others, I will try to shut up and not be deliberately rude.  Sometimes what I say is taken the wrong way and I am seen as rude.  For that I am sorry.

The skill, surely, is to phrase words and draw pictures so that you get the point over, without deliberately offending the other party or directly challenging their own value system.  And this doesn’t have to be political correct blah-blah if done well enough.

asterix

I have spoken to many friends and relatives about this issue in the past month – and most agree  with this line.  Oh, and just as an aside, I noticed that JeSuis Charlie” has an uncanny resemblance to “Jesus Charlie”.  Strange.

And to call someone “a bit of a Charlie”, apparently, used to be leveled at a person who did not speak the King’s English.  

Although on YouTube, Charlie bit my finger – again (with 801m hits), is a baby who bites his brother’s finger:

Perhaps I need to understand the French culture better to understand this whole thing in context?  At the moment it is beyond me.

Cartoon from the Independent

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Democracy, Accountability and the Power of Protest

This week three events happened that highlighted to me that the way that the world owns, controls and governs the 7bn people on the planet is under extreme pressure.  Yet signs that the new world is responding in sensible and more conscious ways are encouraging.

As the old-world sovereign-states governments try to balance their own budgets and wrestle with their own, unique, local problems, multinational companies increasingly put two fingers up to them to avoid paying corporation tax.  Apple is a good example which, this week, apparently saved over $9bn in tax with a “bond manouever”.  If you were Tim Cook, you’d probably have done the same.  Yet the countries that need the tax revenue  to help get themselves out of the debt that they have are being out-manouevered by the multinational tax avoidance network that serve the corporate giants that belong to no country and are accountable to, well, their shareholders, of course.  Big companies seem to get it all their own way.

In the middle east, even after all the investigations over the justification of the Gulf War and whether or not Saddam Hussein did or did not have weapons of mass destruction, we are fed confusing news that civilians are being sprayed with nerve gas in Syria – and that West military intervention is, once again, becoming more intellectually justifiable.  Soil samples have degraded and there is not enough evidence for going to war.  So we have to wait.

Yet there are interesting counter-pressures.  As a beekeeper, I have been keenly following developments on the EU which, this week, voted for a two-year restrictions on the nerve-agent pesticides (called neonicotinoids) blamed for the dramatic decline global bee populations. The EU decided on a narrow majority of 15/27 votes.  The UK was one of eight countries that voted against the ban in spite of a petition signed by 300,000 people presented to Downing Street last week by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett.   The Independent has also campaigned to save Britain’s bee population.  The British government’s choice to vote against the ban was based on the fact that “there was not enough evidence” that bees were being affected – and that the samples in various tests had been contaminated.  The uncanny similarity between degraded soil samples from Syria and contaminated samples that voided tests for the bees made me think: how convenient!  How convenient it is for a government or a leader to ignore evidence when “tests are inconclusive” or when the “evidence is not clear”.  No decision is better than a decision that you could be held accountable for!

However, we beekeepers must thank the internet protest networks – led by Avaaz.org – who managed to get enough support in countries (other than the UK) to swing the vote against the vested interests of  Bayer and others who have, until now dominated the decisions taken in our food chain –  from the seeds we plant, the agricultural methods we adopt through to the quality of foods we eat.

4-Beekeepers-AFP

The bees have a short respite and Avaaz is now pursuing the real Dark Lord in the battle for  Mother Earth.  Go on.  Vote.  It can only help a growing wave of public opinion to counter the madness of global corporate arrogance that they are accountable to no one.

I believe that there is hope for us all with this new type of democracy emerging.  The vote to ban neonicotinoids was a turning point for me.  It would appear that these online campaigns really are starting to get policy makers in multinationals to think again and change their minds.  They have a new body that they need to recognise – and a protest can come from nowhere and expose issues is uncontrollable ways.  PR companies and even newspapers are becoming less and less effective in this new world of informed  internet politics and political activism.  Even governments must be encouraged as it gives them a new reason to act, not just sit on the fence because “there is no evidence”.  After all, most of them want to get voted back into power.

Interested to know what you think – please do leave a comment below.

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I Met Her Once….

I met her once.  We had been waiting expectantly for half an hour.  She was late.  When she finally entered the room, she surfed on a wave of power and authority – like the entrance of the Queen of Sheba without the music.

Calm, collected, nose in the air, she frowned with complete disdain for the cohort of journalists who were between us and the doorway.  The flash-guns had fired like a set of uncoordinated fireworks as soon as the door had opened.

I remember vividly the soundman for the BBC camera crew who had a long, extended microphone covered in a sausage-shaped, fluffy sound muffler.  He was lying on the floor to get out of the way of the cameras that were pointing at her.  She virtually kicked him and made a comment (I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like) “that’s where you guys belong – on the floor”.  She could easily have said “scumbag” – but I don’t think she did!  It was all part of the drama.

She gave her short speech for the evening news and the twenty or so journalists were ushered out of the room with the sense of urgency that a hassled mistress of the house would want when letting her servants  sweep the floor after a spill or a mess had been made by the dog.

Thatcher

She said “Are they all gone?”  There was silence.  A few nodded their heads to affirm they had all left.  The atmosphere changed immediately.  Less formal.  Yet still quite tense.  She was on a mission.  She wanted answers to questions.  She was impatient.  Dennis just wanted a drink.  He relaxed everyone by saying something like “Good, let’s have a drink”.

She was born the same year as my father, in another era, another age.  What was important then is now no longer so important.  What was pressing then is now, in hindsight, much less pressing – even trivial.   Yet, at the time, she had the power.  She had the authority.  She had the sense of purpose.  She got the attention and wanted change.  Yet, for all the words, my longest-lasting memory was the feeling I had when she entered the room.  Words cannot describe the electric presence she exuded.  I’ve seldom had that feeling from anyone, man or woman, either before or since.

 

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2012: What Will You Remember?

As we leave 2012, there are many things we may remember which, for those that live in the UK, can  be summed up as a year of broken records:

  • The driest spring for 100 years followed by the wettest 9 months since records began
  • The summer Olympic and Paralympic games that smashed many World, Olympic  and Paralympic records
  • The Diamond Jubilee celebrations with cheery faces, street parties and that magnificent pageant on the Thames.  (Although the Queen did not break the record as the longest-serving British Monarch – she is in good health to take the record from Queen Victoria in three years time with 64 years on the throne).
  • The “broken record” of economic doom, debt mountains, fiscal cliffs, war, murder, hunger etc. etc.
  • …..and what should not be forgotten – our own personal records – whatever they might have been.

As we enter 2013, it is the time of year where we look back and look forward.  Remember and try to stretch our minds to a New Year.

If there is one thing that I will remember, above all else, it was the power of the “Games Makers”.

Spectators Queue At Greenwich Park For The Equestrian Events

Through economic gloom and despondency and the ever sharper and more graphic accounts of murder and mayhem around the world, the Games Makers surely showed us how to make a difference.  Whatever is going on in the world, each individual can volunteer to create their own, brighter future.  A powerful message for me from 2012 that I was not expecting to receive!

I hope all readers have an extraordinarily successful New Year and the best of luck with breaking your own records in 2013!

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Powerful Forces Are At Work!

My father used to have a phrase that he used from time to time when something inexplicable happened.  “Powerful Forces are at Work” he would say.  In the past week or so, I have had a very strong feeling that somehow the universe is reconfiguring itself and that powerful forces truly are at work.  This is a difficult feeling to articulate – but the it got me thinking about our personal turning-points, crossroads and moments of truth that make us change and grow as we go through lief .  Naturally, we can all share in global turning points like the economic crisis.  But the ones that are closer to home, the ones that are personal and sometimes painful; the ones that are more subjective .  These are a lot more powerful change agents than the blah-blah we get from the constant barrage from the media, news and modern-day consumerist group-think.  Indeed, the Transition Movement is a collection of such ideas – interestingly portrayed in the Wordle below:

transitions-wordle

 And so it was that we passed 12:12 on 12/12/12 today.  It marked another milestone for Susie and me – because we got engaged at 7:07 on 7/7/07 and our subsequent wedding was on 8/8/08.  Apparently there were more people married on 12/12/12 than at any other time in history!  These dates seem to hold a romantic charm.   We won’t have any more quite like that unless you plan to live until 01/01/2101.  Most of us will be long gone by then!

Transitions in time are made more meaningful when there are coincidences – in this case with a string of numbers lining-up.  We still have one more this month on 21/12/12 – which is, apparently, the end of a cycle in the Mayan long-count calendar.  Some predict disasters, others a transition of the human race to a new level of consciousness.  Yet others think it will pass without incident.

But what if this month truly was a major transition and a marked positive shift in human consciousness?  What would that shift feel like?  What would each of us be doing differently as a result of it?  How would our behaviours change towards our selves, each other and towards the environment?  What small changes could we individually make that would create a big difference in 2013?

In the run-up to New Year’s Resolution time, it is something to think about, anyway!  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

Oh, and here is a Wordle of this article:

Wordle of Article

Make your own Wordle at: http://www.wordle.net

 

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Colonies, Librarians, Bloggers and Tweeters

This evening I attended a fascinating talk given by our local history society on a local colony of artists who lived in Cranbrook, Kent, England in the 19th Century.  Their art can now fetch well over £100,000 a piece.  Below is one of the typical paintings – that could number an estimated 1,500 – though only 300 have been catalogued by the local historian giving the talk.

What was interesting is that so little is known about the colony locally – and that many paintings were bought by industrial entrepreneurs from the Midlands and North of England.  It is only because of the interest of a few local folk that some of the pieces have found their way back to the local museum and local collections.

The Naughty Boy by George Bernard O’Neill

The reason I was there was that local history society recently asked me to design a simple, low-cost website for them.  The chairman, secretary and other committee members are now adding content to the site – and it was from a discussion with the archivist did it suddenly hit me how differently people think about putting information onto the web.

The archivist is an ex-librarian.  For her, everything can be classified and should be put into order as part of a logical taxonomy.  Already the categories on the site are developing into several layers.  She reflected on the fact that, perhaps there were now too many layers for some categories.  It reminded me of my early days of (IDMS) database programming (before relational databases), when you had to put data into classes and categories.  I had a simple rule then that more than three layers was too many.  It still somehow holds true today.

On describing this blog (where the categories are simply a relational tag that you clump ideas together with), she became nervous.  The way that her librarian-mind worked was that each book, each chapter, each page, each idea had, somehow to be classified in a single tree.  The idea that each idea, or article could be classified by several different classes – and that you leave it up to the search engine to work out how to get you there was a difficult one for her to feel good about.

It was a similar lack of familiarity or unease that I have, perhaps, with those who Tweet.  Sure, I tweet a bit.  Occasionally.  Once every so often.  When I am feeling I have a gap, or when I have a slot at the conference when I want to broadcast something interesting.  But I am by no means a regular member of the Twitterati.  Tweeting somehow gets in the way of the flow of life.  You become an observer or a journalist rather than living in the moment.  I respect those who tweet regularly – but, for me, it is too high a frequency to engage in all the time.  I suppose others will leave an historically-interesting pheromone path of phrases and words for others to analyse in the future.  Like writing a daily journal.  But that life is not for me.  I prefer blogging one a week (or once every six weeks when I am busy – as has been the case recently).

And so it is was with the Victorian artists in the Cranbrook colony.  They left no diaries.  No documentation of their progress.  They lived and worked and played and painted in the moment – by all accounts to make a living first and then to enjoy life.  Some were richer than others – but all of them exhibited at the Royal Academy year-after-year and were successful in their own ways.  Yet now, 150 years on, we know very little about them.

At the end of the talk, someone reflected that the mid 19th century countryside existence in rural Kent perhaps harked-back to the pre-industrial, less smoky, less satanic mills existence of England that had been lost in the North to the industrial revolution – which is why so many of the paintings went North.  Who knows.  There are no tweets, no blogs, no journals or otherwise to confirm or deny such theories.

Just the paintings themselves – which hold a fascinating set of visual cascading stories, moral values and pure artistry that are contained in the outputs from this unique colony of artists that lived so close to where I now live.  Art for Art sake, Money for Godsake.  10cc (now on a brilliant tour of the UK) said it all.  It was the same then as it is now!

Funny about the word colony.  It is what they called the far-flung corners of the British Empire.  As well as being the collective noun for a load of bees!  There you go!  The bees don’t tweet either.  They buzz.  A bit less now we are going into winter.  Makes you think!

Picture from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranbrook_Colony

 

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The Shapes of Stories and How to Write Them

A good friend and regular reader, Anthony, sent me the link to a great anonymous blog a few weeks ago – Farnam Street.

Yesterday, they pointed to a brilliant set of rules on how to write a short story by Kurt Vonnegut:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

There is another video which is even more worth watching on the Shape of Stories:

It got me thinking about how we all love stories, the ups and downs of life, the drama unfolding, the game(s), the chase, the great ending!

Please share any insights or thoughts you have on this great subject below!

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Bedrooms, Markets and Coffee Cups

Anthony kindly sent me this brilliant short video from Hans Rosling on why economies are made in bedrooms, not markets!

So, whatever you do, if you are European or American and want to grow your business, go seek out new markets in China or India….or start serving the over 60s!

Makes you think anyway!

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