Once Upon a Time, A Unicorn Fell off a Bunk-Bed…

Life is hard – there’s no denying that.  We tell ourselves that the best way we can deal with it is to forget about being happy.

Head down.

Shoulder to the wheel.

If we can just be successful then we’ll be happier.

But is that true?

This talk makes a very good and comprehensive case for capsizing our conceptual frameworks around being happy.

When all your desires are distilled, you will cast just two votes: to love more, and be happy. Hafiz of Persia.

Photograph – Title: “Happy 2nd Lieutenant William Robertson and Lt. Alexander Sylvashko, Russian Army…” 04/25/1945

Persistent URL: arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=531276

The Only Failure is Failure to Learn

David Damberger works with Engineers without Borders. In this talk he explains the importance of facing up to failure – not as an exercise in shame but in order to really be open to learn and innovate.

Convinced of this by their own experience, Engineers Without Borders Canada have begun to publish an annual report of their failures.

They have also set up a web-site – http://www.failure.com – where NGOs can go and post examples of their own failures and research and learn from the failure of others.  As it says on the site –

By hiding our failures, we are condemning ourselves to repeat them and we are stifling innovation.

Failure in the development sector is no different than failure in any arena of professional or personal life.  As long as we persist in hiding our failures and pretending they don’t exist, we will continue to really fail in reaching our objectives.


Have a listen –

All Bets Are Off

Josephine Green works in industry.  She is Senior Director of Trends and Strategy at Philips Design and she is making a great case for how the day of the hierarchy is over.

According to Green, we need to find new ways to be and act in the world if we are to prosper and flourish in the future.  Because of the diffusion of new technologies, ordinary people can now not only consume but also create.

In the past, the structure of the world was hierarchical – basically shaped like a Pyramid – where power, ideas, innovations etc were at the top and the inventions and ‘products’ of one kind or another, emerged at the end.

Now, though it’s messier it is also more democratic, as people are increasingly creating their own music, film, books, social networks etc.  She says that this change is mirrored in the world as people begin to see that they have the power to decide how they want to live their lives.  Which Josephine Green describes as a Pancake model of life.

As we all thinking and talk about the effects of phenomena like social media on modern life, Josephine Green’s ideas offer an interesting perspective on how we might not only adapt to the change all around us but also actually channel this change – as we cease to be merely passive consumers – to create healthier, happier and more just societies.

Have a look –

All Together Now

Reciprocity is more than just simple give and take – it’s about co-creating environments and conditions that work for all involved.

There are many examples of reciprocity in nature – take the hermit crab and the anemone, for example.

The hermit crab lives in vacated shells of whelks or other mollusc.  One species carries a large pink anemone on its shell so that when octopi or fish – who like to feed on the hermit crab – approach, the anemone shoots out it brilliantly coloured tentacles, and stings the intending predators.

This is a good example of living co-operation as the crab returns the compliment to the anemone, which feeds on the droppings and discarded food of the crab. When the crab needs to move to a larger home, it gently detaches the anemone and takes it along.

In human society, just as in nature, reciprocity creates an actual environment.  Once this environment is created all manner of new and wonderful things can happen and the co-operation we need to learn in order to survive and prosper will get a real chance to take hold.

Apart from the obvious, the difference between us and hermit crabs with their anemone companions is that we have free will.  We get to decide what to do, and in our efforts to do what is best for ourselves we can think that acting only from self-interest will be the most advantageous.  This isn’t true.

Like the anemones and the crabs we share our planet.  Whether we like it or not we are interconnected.  As well as being undeniably cousins according to our genome, we are all now living in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller.  We are very much a hugely extended family, living together in the same place, interconnected even when we don’t get on.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just work out how to get along?

Creating Our Futures

British education expert, Ken Robinson describes creativity as,

The process of having original ideas that have value.

We have come to confuse creativity with artiness and as a result we have come to believe that only some people are creative.

It is widely agreed that divergent thinking – i.e. the type of thinking that results in the generation of multiple answers to any problem – is creative thinking and then…

In a longitudinal study of 1,500 people, 98% of one group performed at genius level in divergent thinking.

Who were this marvellous and exciting group?

Children under 8 years of age.

Not special children under eight, or artistic children under eight but ordinary children under eight.

The other 2% were probably pretty good but not quite genius level.

Sadly, this same study also showed that this capacity for creativity declined steadily as these children – retested every five years – got older.

So, that means that 98% of us start off as creative geniuses.

We sorely need creative geniuses to help us solve all the problems we face.

So, OK then, how can we get back in touch with our own ‘genius’ so that we can not only better realise our personal potential but also apply our creativity to the needs of humanity?

And how can we stop today’s under eights – and the under eights of the future – from losing their natural born creative genius?

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. – Linus Pauling

Keep the postcards coming…


Photograph – Christmas party at works, 18/12/1937 / by Sam Hood. Taken at Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia), Ashfield, N.S.W.  Find more detailed information about this photograph: acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=21102

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Death Valley Lives.

This picture was taken in March 2005 when Deat...

This picture was taken in March 2005 when Death Valley had a tremendous display of wildflowers after an extremely wet year.

Death Valley, in Eastern California, is situated within the Mojave Desert. It is not only the lowest, driest and hottest location in North America but also one of the hottest spots on the entire planet.  Most of the time Death Valley lives up to it’s name as it has all the appearance of a barren, inhospitable landscape hostile to life. Nevertheless, every few years – given that there is enough rain and the soaring temperatures hold back a little – Death Valley is carpeted in lush and beautiful wildflowers.

These flowers come from seeds that hide under the ground and protect themselves with a waxy coating when the conditions are hostile.  When these seeds are concealed within their waxy armour, Death Valley not only looks barren but it gives absolutely no hint of the potential lying under the baked earth.  But appearances are deceptive in this case (as in many others) as the potential does exist even though it’s not obvious and is simply lying dormant as it waits for the correct conditions it needs in order to flourish.

In any organic system if some elements are missing – in Death Valley that would be rain – then it is impossible for the system to achieve its potential. Human beings and the systems they create are not isolated, separate entities but rather complex, dynamic, inter-related, synergistic, organic systems.  Just like those wax-coated seeds, as individuals – and societies – we have potential as yet unknown because we have never had an occasion when the conditions were correct for these latent qualities to flourish.  If the correct environment for true human development could be achieved, who knows what beauty might be just waiting to erupt?

What is reciprocity?

The word ‘reciprocity’ is defined as – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit and has its origins in the Latin word, reciprocus, which simply means moving backwards and forwards.    You have reciprocal trade agreements where countries agree on tariffs etc that are mutually beneficial and you even have reciprocal tools. Reciprocity is widely recognised as an important feature of successful co-operation but how does reciprocity between ordinary people actually work?

It’s reasonably easy to see how a negative version of reciprocity works. Consider the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’ – revenge – tit for tat – it has many names but it is always the same impulse almost as if there is some hidden balance that needs to be maintained.  Revenge solves nothing of course – but it is very much a natural instinct so instead of simply dismissing the impulse, perhaps we ought to look at how we might more productively employ it to strive to redress the balance in the world.

Our natural impulses are often allied to adaptive instincts that have helped us survive and develop as a species.  And this striving for reciprocity  would appear to be deeply rooted within us and, like any instinct, is neither good nor bad in itself – only in its application. If we look at our instincts as if they are  tools that we can employ to help us survive and develop in the world, rather than tie ourselves up in knots either suppressing or exalting these naturally occurring impulses,  then perhaps we can see more clearly how we might use them.  They are wonderful things and problematic – like any tool.  Even a humble hammer is all about application – it is enormously useful and – literally – constructive, if you want to hang a picture or build a cabinet or a wall but in other circumstances it can also be used to destroy or kill.  The solution is not to get rid of hammers but make sure we use them properly.  Just like our instincts.