YouTube audio

YouTube audio

There are so many really interesting and informative YouTube videos but I don’t always have the time or patience to sit and watch them. Unless there is some sort of visual demonstration or diagram involved, especially if the content is simply a talking head or a discussion, I have no need for the video.

Fortunately the paid version of the podcast app Castro has a share sheet extension for iOS that at the click of a button strips the audio out of YouTube and adds it to what it calls a Sideload playlist. I can then listen as I drive or walk around and this has massively increased my ability to learn.

Well informed

I was musing, yet again, over the pros and cons of Facebook this morning. There are days when I feel like closing all of my social media accounts and reverting to just blogging. These thoughts are triggered by the balance of signal to noise in my feeds and also the levels of righteous indignation. Too much noise and too much indignation and I grow wearied with it all.

But there are two reasons that I don’t leave. One is the connection to smart people all around the world that I would be very sorry to lose. The second, and I know this is going to stretch your credibility, is that without my various feeds I would feel less well informed!

Yes, I really said that. Because I make an effort to have a range of views in my networks, and do my best to follow people who have an eye for interesting and well written content, I generally feel up to date and “well informed” on most big issues.

Perhaps more importantly for me the alternatives are increasingly unattractive. I haven’t bought a newspaper in decades and never watch television news if I can avoid it. Admittedly some of the well informed and well written content that I rely on through my networks comes from those sources but the thought of having to wade through all the other badly written, partially understood, and biased rubbish they contain is untenable.

The ghost in the machine

This morning a message from a social media platform reminded me that it was a friend’s birthday. Sadly that friend died a few years ago.

I used to feel awkward about these messages which come from the accounts of a few friends who are sadly no longer with us.

Now I enjoy taking a moment to remember that friend and hope that the various platforms continue to remind me for years to come.

Civil society is a thin veneer.

Why is it that outwardly nice, respectable people can turn nasty at the drop of a hat? Why do they get so wound up by movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmattter? What’s their problem?

I am beginning to suspect that deep down they know that they have enjoyed privilege through their race, class, nationality etc. and know how lucky they have been.

They also know how unfair and untenable their position is. They don’t let on that they know this of course, perhaps not even to themselves, but this is why they get so bent out of shape when someone less privileged than them dares to question the status quo. The teeth are bared and the knives are out. They feel as if their very existence is challenged and react as if they are involved in a fight to the death.

But they needn’t be, and nice people don’t really want that… do they?

Toxicity or growth?

The internet amplifies and accelerates everything, both good and bad. This includes office politics.
If you had a toxic organisational culture before lockdown there is a real chance that you will have a more toxic one now.
Conversely the opportunity for greater transparency, and the avoidance of behind closed doors misbehaviour, can enhance a more open way of working and as result amplify and accelerate the growth of a positive culture.
It’s a choice…

Life On Mars

We watched the last of the TV series Life On Mars again last night. For me it was the third time. Thankfully this is where my lack of ability to remember anything I have watched or read comes in handy, as the ending came as a complete surprise! All four of us sat there stunned and in tears.

Such clever story telling. Despite his toe curlingly appaling attitudes Gene Hunt manages to be one of the greatest screen heroes ever.

The main reason that we are watching both Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes again is that there is apparently a third series coming. Can’t wait!

Clouds over Whitstable

As I lay on Whitstable beach on Saturday, watching clouds constantly forming and reforming in the sky above me, I found myself thinking, yet again, what a loose approximation for reality words and concepts are.

There is no such thing as a cloud. The word is an apparently convenient way to refer to something that is constantly changing. This is obvious with a cloud, but it is also true of ourselves. The cells that make up our bodies change at a bewildering rate and those cells are mostly made up of space. Even the apparently solid cells are made up of particles that are themselves mostly space. The distance from the nucleus to an electron (which itself doesn’t really orbit its nucleus but exists in a so called electron cloud with only probable positions – a bit like the cloud we started with) is approximately 1325 times this distance from the earth to the sun! This is why Buddhists refer to emptiness!

This is also why I bang on about our very fixed ideas of reality being totally made up. The words I choose to describe the reality around me, even the separation of the word me from reality, are nothing but concepts. And like the clouds my concept of reality changes. Thoughts pop in and out of my head without my bidding or control. Emotions and moods form and dissipate just like the clouds above Whitstable.

No cloud ever stays the same, ever, even for the briefest second. I never stay the same, even for the briefest second, and nor do you.

And then we make up stories about “I am a…”, “You are a…”, “We are…”. We expect reality to conform to our stories and get upset when it doesn’t. Very upset. Existentially upset. We pick fights over the fact that your story differs from mine.

What struck me about all this is that for years we have banged on about change as if it wasn’t the way the world was anyway! We have so deluded ourselves that the world around us is fixed, predictable, and controllable, that we have to pay “change experts” to realise that it’s not. And what those people invariably give us is yet more delusion about a planned transition to another apparently fixed reality!

Change and complexity have been seen as outside of the norm. As if simplicity, understandability, and a fixed stable world were real and anything else is unreal. But the next time you feel stuck or trapped in this delusional reality, this cage of your own making, remember the clouds over Whitstable. It might help a little.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall.

The world that we see around is a reflection of our own personalities, warts and all. Sure there is a “real” physical world out there but what it “means” is entirely made up. What your made up stories are is a result of your culture, background, and personal experience and they are inevitably totally different from mine.

As it does with everything else the internet speeds up and amplifies this truth. It is worth remembering that the next time you let it bend you out of shape. It is your own self created shape that it is bending. That’s why it hurts.

Practicing compassion – now.

I was aware of the risk of some people misinterpreting my recent post about getting stuck in stories about the past – but that is the risk one takes In attempting to challenge deeply held assumptions.

I had no intention of diminishing the pain and distress inflicted on people of colour every day around the world. Now. Quite the opposite.

Nor do I negate the pain and distress caused to people in the past. Standing on the steps at the entrance to the industrial scale gas chambers in Birkenau is a memory that will never leave me.

But that felt sense of mankind’s ability to inflict pain and suffering is a different thing from getting stuck in the stories about it, the differing interpretations of the what and the why, which trigger the tit for tat that keep the endless cycle of suffering going.

Yes, make the effort to understand man’s inhumanity to man, definitely change laws and policies to protect the vulnerable, but don’t let pulling down statues distract you from facing up to your own capacity to cause hurt and distress the next time you meet someone whose stories about the past are at odds with your own.

Dredging up the past.

The recovery of Edward Colton’s statue from Bristol harbour is literally dredging up the past, but the past is made up.

Our own past, even our immediate past, is a partial recollection of highly filtered perceptions. This past only exists as a thought in the present and yet we allow it to drown out what is happening now. We dwell on things that happened even moments ago and distort our reactions to what is in front of us.

We live in a cloud of conditioned responses, steered by the collective made up stories of our families, friends, and culture. These collective stories on the grandest scale are history. This historical past is even more made up.than our individual past. It is not real, yet we allow it to dominate our present, to distract us from the only reality we will ever know. Now.

Deeply imbedded cultural norms of seeking justice, of retribution, of an eye for an eye, keep us stuck in a made up past that we can’t change. Even in our personal relationships we risk being trapped in a perpetual tit for tat that will never end unless we find a way to step out of it.

What matters is how we are now, in this moment, fresh, each time. Without baggage, without the stories, without prejudice (from Latin praeiudicium “prior judgment,”). Not black, not white, not wronged, not guilty. Human beings made of the very same residue of an exploding star, facing the same challenges, frightened of the same things, yet capable of the same unbelievable acts of courage and compassion.

Drafts

Drafts is probably my favourite app ever. It allows me to get ideas, things to do, quotes, etc. out of my head and records them easily for me immediately. I can do this either by typing into my iPhone or, as I am now, dictating onto my watch.

Once I’ve captured the text, Drafts then lets me do all sorts of useful things with it from sending an email, to sending to my blog, or collating into a longer form document.

If you want to find out more this fantastic video by Christopher Lawley is a great place to start.

I’m not going to like anything any more

I have been experimenting with not using the like button in comments threads on my posts on Facebook. Using them can so easily turn into a silly pecking order of responses to responses – a childish “I like you because you agree with me” nonsense.
 
Either that or it became a sort of passive aggressive “That comment was so stupid I’m not even going to respond to it!”
 
So, I have decided not to use buttons to respond to comments. If people have made a statement then I will leave it for others to work out their reactions without my input. If the comment is a question I will answer it. But mostly if the comment piques my interest and I want to keep the conversation going, I will join in.

Being different

Growing up where I did, just south of Glasgow, “different” meant Catholics and The English. The tribal gap between Rangers and Celtic supporters was immense and carefully maintained. Being an English kid whose parents had moved north through work would be enough to get you bullied in the playground. Thankfully from an early age I realised just how mad this was.

Now, having travelled as much as I have, and having friends of every colour, creed, and sexual identity all around the world I truly struggle to understand how difference can be so important. Why is identity so fragile that people become blind to the fact that we are all human beings, facing the same challenges, with the same hopes and fears?

I distrust tribes. I get bored around groups of blokey blokes. I’ve been to one football match and hated the crowd mentality. Even the “do you want to be in my gang” side of office politics has me running in the opposite direction. Sublimating your self to the tribe, going along with the majority, not wanting to stand out, this is where it starts.

When you ask someone with racist views why they have a black friend they invariably say “oh they are different, they’re not like the rest”. Bollocks. You just don’t know the rest and have consigned them all to being different, to being “them”.

There is no them. There’s just us, all of us. Don’t let your tribe convince you otherwise.

West World

So many people said to me that I should watch West World. They were right! Finished watching Series 3 last night.

What a complex, fascinating roller coaster. The show touches on so many of the issues that fascinate me; Artificial Intelligence, morality, free will, society, power, conditioning, and on and on… So many overlaps with dreams I have had, things I have written, they even played a bit of Dark Side Of The Moon in the last episode!

What struck me though was how many of the issues raised are becoming ever more current for us as each day passes. Watching our trust in “the elite” diminish even further. “The Truth” becoming totally malleable. Seeing people protest under intolerable pressure. Excited to be getting back into space again but very aware that it is in a billionaire funded spacecraft.

If you haven’t watched West World – do!

Buffeted

As we read our feeds, and react to the things we see, we are buffeted backwards and forwards by our emotional reactions. “That’s good”, “That’s bad”, “I wish I’d done that”, “Oh my God that’s awful!”.

Emotions wash through us based on nothing but opinion. Sometimes powerful emotions that take their toll on our nervous systems. But none of what we are reading or watching is happening here and now or happening to us. None of it is real.

We convince ourselves that we should care, that to not react to what we are seeing would be inhuman. But we are indulging ourselves. We are entertaining ourselves with the endorphin rush. We easily become addicted.

And once we are addicted we can be manipulated. Someone else can yank our chain.

Integrity

integrity /Integriti
– NOUN [mass noun]
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles:
a gentleman of complete integrity.

Most of us want to think well of ourselves, to feel that we have “done the right thing”. We certainly want others to think well of us, to be seen as trustworthy and reliable.

What happens when people gain power or fame that so often causes them to lose this? Do they think we won’t notice? Do they think we don’t care? Do they consider themselves above normal rules of behaviour?

Do they think “I can’t help being a wee shit but it is in everyone’s best interests that I am”?

What on earth goes through their heads?

Squandered words

Ok, so I have been responsible for my fair share of them, but when you realise how many millions upon millions of words are written every second all around the world – and how few of them make a difference or are rememberered – it is a sobering thought.

Especially in business. How many reports get written that no one reads? How many reports end up being the length they are and have the sections they do just because people mindlessly followed the template? How many arse covering emails get written – just in case?

What if we wrote better? What if we wrote to make a real difference? What if more of our words counted? What if our words counted for more?

RIP podcasts

The media are inter_media_ries.
The power of the internet was disinter_media_tion.
The point of tools like blogs, bulletin boards, and podcasts was that they allowed direct connection between those who wanted a voice and those who wanted to listen.

I felt sad when these tools became social media.
I felt sad when Twitter and Facebook began talking about themselves as media companies.
I felt sad when Russell Brand locked himself up inside Luminary.
I felt sad when Joe Rogan announced he was locking himself up inside Spotify.
I now feel sad that Apple, who gave podcasters a massive leg up when they made podcasts part of iTunes, are now “buying shows that would be exclusive to its services.”

Bloody media.

Doing what you love

I love observing people, technology and life.

I love reading about people, technology and life.

I love writing and having conversations about people, technology and life.

If people see value in me doing what I love and are willing to pay me for it, all well and good.

If not, I am increasingly ok with that.

I don’t care if you don’t like me

Well, that’s probably not true, and is intended as a play on the use of the Facebook “like” button, but…
 
There is a risk when sharing ideas on social platforms that we worry too much about whether people agree with us or not.
 
It is too easy to get into tit for tat arguments “defending” our views in comments.
 
It’s too easy to stop posting things that you think are going to provoke “the wrong reaction”.
 
It’s too easy to allow this to prevent us from posting in the first place.
 
Hence I am resolving to care less – in the nicest possible way!

It’s all a game

Listening to a podcast with former Google exec Mo Gawdat yesterday he talked about playing video games with his son.

As a novice playing Halo, Gawdat would try to avoid challenges and danger in order to get to the end of each level as quickly and easily as possible. His son, an experienced gamer, asked what on earth he was doing. The fun of games like Halo is to explore everything and develop skills. If your character gets hurt or damaged by the challenges you pick yourself up, have another go, and have developed knowledge or skill in the process.

As Gowratt points out this is just like life. Why rush to the end avoiding interesting experiences on the way? Why not relish all of the available experiences, even the painful or challenging ones?

Out of control

Back in the early days of the use of”social” tools in the workplace I used to talk about managers’ fear of losing control. I would point out that they had never really had control. Sure they had the appearances of it, they had the titles, they had the ownership of the communication channels, they had the “authority”. But in terms of the actual day to day actions of those they managed they had minimal control.

However by engaging fully with the use of social tools they could achieve influence. By noticing what was happening around them then writing about what mattered, and why, they were much more likely to encourage people to move towards shared goals and desired outcomes. They could become a fully functioning node in a healthy network of networks rather than a distorting force blocking the organism from working.

The same is true of life. We fear loss of control, but we never had it. We were on autopilot, our actions a result of biology, culture, and memory.

But if we are awake, and aware, and notice, and share, what is happening in every moment, over and over again, we can allow life to happen without distortion.

As Joseph Campbell put it:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Current circumstances are making a lot of us feel more out of control than usual. By attempting to exercise control, by using force to pursue some favoured ideology, we risk distorting the complex interactions that are life taking its course. These distortions cause stress and distress to ourselves, those around us, and ultimately the precious planet we live on.

This is not an argument for doing nothing. It is a plea to loosen our frantic attempts to control life, to make it fit to our preconceived and inherited ideas of how it should be. Instead we could allow life to work by noticing each and every complex, fascinating, moment as it happens, again and again… and then responding. Fully taking our place in the complex, interconnected, networks of networks that are life working as it should.

The heroism of doing nothing

We are used to stigmatising those who do nothing and lionising those who are busy. But what if those who are always busy – pushing themselves and those around them ever harder, “driving change”, fighting off the competition, being the fittest who survive – what if they were the problem and not the solution? What if we saw them as the ones who are creating a divided world, causing stress and unhappiness, putting our precious planet under unsustainable pressure?

What if those who are content with doing nothing, with just being, what if they were the heros and the role models?

Weathering storms

I have always loved being “in” weather. Sitting on mountainsides watching clouds form and disperse around me is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Feeling hard driving rain beating on my waterproof gear in the middle of nowhere brings a glow of cosiness. Being almost knocked flat by gale force winds is the height of excitement.

Staying at home all the time, and spending a lot of it sitting in the garden, is heightening my awareness of even the more “mundane” weather of leafy Bucks. The intensity of the colours in the crystal clear air that we are enjoying at the moment. The smell of rain falling on the warm, newly cut, grass. And today being able to hear the whooshing sound of the wind waving the lush trees – a sound that would normally be drowned out by traffic noise.

Finer grained pleasures are one of the unanticipated upsides of these challenging times.

A momentary kiss with life

I remember clearly the moment when kissing a girl became a possibility, having my mind fill with images from the films of the time of how various romantic leads went about the process, and wishing that it hadn’t.

But we can’t help this. Every time we consider doing something our minds are already pre-filled with the narratives from our families and our culture of what we should do and how we should do it.

There is no point agonising about this, as this is all we are. The me that feels that it is in control isn’t. It only exists as a combination of genetics, previous experience, and learned narratives. We retrofit a sense of control that doesn’t exist.

This isn’t avoidable but nor is it “bad”. It is life happening in us and around us. We are not separate from it. We are it. We can learn to accept it and not fight it.

In each moment we can get better at kissing life.

It is waiting…

Time travel

Remembering drinking French coffee and eating a crusty baguette with unsalted butter and jam in a cafe as the sun starts to warm up on the south coast of France knowing that you have nothing more challenging to do all day than to lie on a beautiful beach getting browner.

Sometimes such a strong sense of place just hits you out of the blue and evokes all sorts of memories.

Close to home

In a field near our house there is a large, almost exactly circular crater. Over the years I’d become convinced that it was where a bomb had fallen during the war. There is also a plaque on the wall of a local garden centre commemorating Polish Spitfire pilots who had been killed in a dogfight overhead. But I could never work out why bombs were being dropped this far west of London.

But then I got an answer. This area used to be the centre of the British furniture industry and those skills were required to make the Mosquito bomber, built in a local factory by De Havilland. The Germans had been trying to destroy the factory – hence the bomb craters and the dog fights.

This row of semi-detached houses were built in the thirties and so the owners would likely have been its first. Given the original two up two down configuration possibly a young family with children. The bomb crater is less than a quarter of a mile from our house. It’s a big crater and must have been a big bomb. The bomb blast would almost certainly have taken out all of the windows in the house.

I often think of the family sitting in here, terrified, during the raid. I will be thinking of them today and of the relief they must have felt when it was all over.

Where do you sit?

Where do you sit?

At one end of a spectrum you have libertarians in the US defending their right to catch and spread disease and at the other employers planning how in the future they will be able to track your every move.

We are all going to have to decided where on that spectrum we sit and what we are prepared to do about it.

This is another of those situations where “oh, I don’t do technology” is the least viable response. Learn enough about the NHS Coronavirus tracking app works and what the alternatives were/are to know how you feel about it. Learn enough about what your organisation plans to do with you and the space you work in when you go back to work.

Big decisions are going to be made on our behalf in the coming months and years and knowing how we feel about it will matter.

Asleep at the wheel

You know that feeling when you are driving a long distance and realise that you haven’t been aware what has happened for the last few miles. You drove on autopilot. You missed what was happening around you.

This is how we spend most of our lives.

Organising principles.

Organisations are not machines, they are organisms.

Healthy organisms require the cells in them to be healthy.

Instead of fixing your machines, help your cells to become healthy.

They will then work out what they have to do.

And the only place to start is with yourself…

Enough

Our whole lives we have been made to feel that we don’t have enough, that we are not good enough, that we don’t do enough. This dissatisfaction engine has been seen as essential to keep the wheels of modern society turning.

But it just fell off the tracks and as result we are currently recalibrating “enough”.

When we realise that we have enough, do enough and are enough we have more.

We have more time.
We have more patience.
More of us are focusing on those we love.
More of us are helping those around us.

The more we remember this the more chance we have of a better future.

The Do Lectures

The Do Lectures are a very special event that happens in a remote glamping site in West Wales and I was lucky enough to be asked to speak – a rather frightening ten years ago now!

As ever the joy of these events is the people that you get to meet. This started on the way there for me as I gave the fascinating Craig Mod and inspiring Maggie Doyne a lift from Woking station to the event. Great conversations before we even got there.

The other unexpected highlight was to sit round a campfire, late into the evening, sorting the world out with Sir Tim Berners Lee and David Allen (of GTD fame), pinching myself to convince myself that it was happening.

The guys at Do are in the process of making the recordings of the talks available as a podcast and you can hear my own efforts here.

What matters

Normal was making us miserable and killing the planet.
Normal was already falling apart.
Beware the vested interests of those who want to rush back to normal.

Coronavirus is giving us the opportunity to reset.
It is forcing us to ask some really big questions and removing the option of complacency.

We have the time and opportunity to consider what matters as individuals, families, communities and beyond. Why not make the most of that opportunity?

Less

It has been interesting having to make do with less.

Less money coming in, less money going out.

Less going places, more being wherever I am.

Less people, more time for conversations.

Less aspiration, more contentment.

I could get used to less…

Perspective

It’s amazing watching Alby watching his world as we sit side by side in the sunshine looking out onto our back garden.

To me I just see “garden”. Pretty undifferentiated. I know some of the names of the plants, I can see the various sections. But I just see garden.

He on the other hand sees opportunity! Opportunity for carnage and destruction. He can be sitting apparently at peace on the patio and then with blistering speed, and laser like precision, run the length of the garden and grab some small animal.

It struck me that life and work can be the same. Some are content to see the big picture, take in what is happening, and unless something needs tending leave it be.

Others on the other hand are looking for trouble, opportunities to have impact, and aren’t always aware of the destruction they leave behind…

Missing my trucks

The thing I miss most is the very start of the day. The feeling of pulling myself up the several steps into the cab of a new truck for the very first time. Even this was risky. One driver I know didn’t maintain three points of contact, slipped, and fell backwards off the truck damaging his back!

Once in the cab the first thing I’d do would be push the digital tachograph card into its slot and run through the menu options to start recording my time. It is important that you do this before you do anything else as you are legally required to spend 15 minutes on a rigid and 30 minutes on an artic doing your vehicle checks.

If the weather was cold and the window frosted I would start up the engine to clear the glass but otherwise I’d leave it off as most trucks automatically cut out after a while if you are not moving to reduce pollution.

I would then run through my vehicle checks. All trucks have a vehicle check form on board that you are required to complete, even if you drove the same truck the day before. This ensures that you have checked things like wheels, tyres, side protection, lights, brakes, etc. All trucks have safety checks every six weeks at a garage but it is still your responsibility if something fails and you had not done your pre-drive checks.

Most jobs I had to do my own loading, but even if the truck had been loaded by a forklift I would be responsible for securing the load. This usually involved large ratchet straps and some loads took a bit of skill to ensure that the straps did their job and didn’t slacken while on the move.

I would then pick up my manifest, the list of drops for the day, and put them into my sat nav app on my phone. Some drivers put their next location in one at a time but my iPhone app, CoPilot GPS, allowed me to plan the whole route. This gave me an overall view of how much driving I had to do and where it would make most sense to take my driving breaks.

Last thing, I’d adjust my driving position. The seats tend to have lots of adjustments, and they also differ slightly in design from truck to truck so some days it would take a bit of fiddling to get it right. I’d also, more often than not, be driving a truck that was unfamiliar to me, so adjusting the mirrors, and working out what I could and couldn’t see in them, was really important.

And that was it, checks done, I’d fire up the engine, slip into gear, release the powerful parking brake, and ease away.

There was such a thrill in that first feeling of the power and the bulk. It’s that that I miss the most.

Maybe one day I’ll do it again.

Should

In my recent post I mentioned what a pernicious word “normal” was. Right up there with it is the word “should”.

Should is primarily used to encourage socially acceptable behaviours backed up with the threat of guilt. “Children should be seen and not heard”, “You should respect those in authority”, “You should wash behind your ears”

Once we have been exposed enough to shoulds from those around us as we are growing up we start to own them and apply to our ourselves. “I should be trying harder”, “I should be more successful”, etc.

In our current enforced lockdown the power of these shoulds increases tenfold and the attendant guilt increases likewise. “I should be making better use of my time”, “I should be helping more people”, “I should be exercising”, “I should be eating more healthily”. When the shoulds are coming at you thick and fast from “experts” on the internet the situation becomes untenable.

But like the word normal, there is no such thing as “should”. It’s up to you to work out what matters. It’s up to you to decide what action to take. It’s up to you to decide when to be content with “enough” – or not.

Normal

Normal is such a pernicious idea.

How many people have been ostracised for not being normal? How many times have you worried that your thoughts are not normal? How many ideas never see the light of day because they would call on people to do things that are not normal?

And yet people worry that after COVID-19 things will never get back to normal.

I hope they don’t. In fact they can’t. Normal doesn’t exist!

Books

I am currently taking part in a Facebook meme sharing the cover of a book each day for seven days. The idea was to share seven books that I have enjoyed, but enjoyed is perhaps the wrong word. All of the books have had an impact on me, changed the way I thought. Some have been harrowing to read but I love them nonetheless.

I have avoided adding any explanation to my choices or making any attempt to explain their meaning or relevance to me. I have read so many books. Hundreds and hundreds. Some I have read many times. Their meaning changes each time and in some ways their relevance depends on the books I was reading before and after them.

My Kindle apps on iPhone and iPad are by far my most used apps. I read constantly and wherever I am. Second only to walking in nature, books are one of my greatest pleasures.

I hope the covers that I post trigger memories or introduce you to new books and help share the long threading paths of ideas that have led my thinking to where it is today.

Labelling

We desperately want things to mean something. We label constantly in an attempt to confer meaning. We label nature – tree, grass, sky, birds – and ever after give these things a quick glance, apply the label, and move on to the next thing. In the process we stop seeing. We experience concepts, not reality.

We label things good or bad, we label people good or bad, we label circumstances good or bad. We label certain days holidays and expect those days to be different from other days. We are then disappointed when they are not.

We even label ourselves. We identify ourselves with our labels. I label myself a man, a husband, a speaker, British, etc. These days we use the phrase “Identifying as…” and then slap on a label which separates us off from those around us. But I am none of these labels, I am more than them.

Even the thing that I label “me” isn’t real, it can’t be found, it is a convenient label. But that label comes at a cost. It separates me from all the other things that I have labelled. It makes me subject to the moods and threats that I have labelled. It makes me less than I really am.

Slowing down

We are very lucky to live in beautiful countryside and to have a short 30 min walk circuit through fields and past farms and cottages that we do each day. I am very aware that not everyone has such an opportunity and indeed I heard yesterday about the plight of families stuck in one of the towers next to Grenfell Tower and can only imagine how stressful that is at the moment.

I’m also aware that there have been a lot of articles about how much the planet is benefiting form our inactivity and I too have enjoyed the resulting piss take photos of the greening of Hendon High Street or Dinosaurs reclaiming Paris.

But…

Each day on the walk we see more wildlife as it gets more confident as our impact on their world diminishes. I have written before about the uncannily loud sound of the bees as we walk past a patch of woodland. The air is most definitely clearer and sweeter smelling. It really does feel as if the planet is breathing a sigh of relief.

Wouldn’t it be great if we came out of this crisis with less of an inclination to rush around desperately making more money to buy more stuff? What if we all slowed down just a little. Spent just a little more time staring out of the window at the world around us? Just a little more time pausing to just be?

One conversation at a time.

Interesting watching the Queen being trotted out at exactly the same time as it is announced that Boris Johnson has been taken into hospital. I’ve watched The Crown. I can imagine the Whitehall and Palace conversations that took place to get that to happen.

These are interesting times in terms of how we view the state and their role in protecting us and helping us pull together in a crisis. Clearly there are risks that it could all fall apart.

But would it? And what is “it”?

I always felt that the “real” BBC was the organic networks of individuals who turned up in the same place at the same time to achieve something challenging and complex – and not the often deluded group of individuals in the centre and “at the top” who thought they were running things. In fact on many occasions the interventions of that group of individuals damaged the organism.

The “real” United Kingdom is the complex organic networks of people who inhabit these islands, and the glue that holds us together is the day to day conversations that we have with each other. The increased tolerance, generosity, and bravery we are seeing is not happening because anyone told us to behave that way. It is because we know it is the right thing to do.

As ever we have way more power than we have been led to believe. We exercise that power in the day to day conversations that we have with our families, our friends and our networks – online or off.

If we are thoughtful about those conversations we will be all right.

Wish me luck

I have practiced intermittent fasting for a while now and really benefit from, and actually enjoy the effect it has on my body. I have read a lot about longer term fasts and always wanted to try one. Anything up to ten days and beyond of nothing but water have been well documented and are increasingly well understood medically.

Being in lockdown seems like the ideal opportunity to experience a longer fast. I am unlikely to have so much control over my time, and demands on my energy, again in the foreseeable future. I have also spent the first couple of weeks of lockdown eating way too much and have as a result put on a couple of stone!

So, like I said, wish me luck, and watch this hopefully increasingly small space…

Best of all worlds

It’s interesting watching the range of responses to coronavirus and various states’ attempts to control their citizens activities. From the libertarians in Idaho to the Singaporeans ability to get stuff done, we have the whole range with the UK muddling along somewhere in the middle. The balance between centralised control, collective will, and individual freedom has never been more critical or fascinating.

As ever I end up feeling that we ideally want the best of all worlds. Control when we need it, but not when we don’t. Individual freedom when our actions don’t impact others, collective responsibility when they do. This is mirrored in our business models and our technologies. We need control and freedom in the right proportion and in the right places at the right times.

Busily doing nothing

It is fascinating to watch people coping with the current restrictions and the enforced inactivity it is imposing.

Most of us find it really hard to do nothing. We feel bored. We feel guilty. We are brought up to expect to be distracted by things or activity. We are brought up to see doing nothing as being lazy.

But isn’t this the source of so many of our problems?

We are so busy trying to achieve, making money to buy more and more things, constantly travelling to be more places, that in the process we are exhausting ourselves and the planet.

Isn’t it nice to stop, even if just a while? Could we get used to it?

Making sense of a tragedy

In my previous post I talked of a more decentralised future that may emerge from our current situation. Such a future will call for new ways of looking at the world, new ways of working together, and new tools to do so.

Some of you will know my friend Dave Snowden and his work on understanding and managing complexity. Over the twenty years that we have known each other we have had some wonderful conversations, usually on Welsh mountains, about helping people adapt to more complex world and the impact this would have on individuals and society. I have also watched as he developed the Cynefin framework and his powerful tool SenseMaker.

This was all before the world was thrown even more up in the air by the current COVID-19 crisis. Dave’s ideas and methodologies have always felt right – they now feel critical.

He and his team have pulled together an impressive set of resources that could help us deal with our challenges and increase our learning from them. They may well help an organisation near you…

The cathedral, the bazaar and a virus

It’s ‘ interesting to watch centralised, structured power struggling to cope with decentralised, unstructured challenges. We have been brought up to expect “the state” to protect us from threats. We expect them to protect us against coronavirus.

But what if decentralised problems are too much for them? What if centralised solutions can’t cope? What if they collapse under the strain?

We are beginning to see alternatives. As more of us get better at using the distributed, decentralised, networks of the internet, we increase the likelihood that the information we get through these networks becomes faster and more reliable than the alternatives. We are also being thrust into using online networks to do our work, our shopping, our learning, and to maintain our sense of community.

Although there is noise in the system (there is in any system) this is not about “fake news” nor is it an argument against expertise. The experts are also benefiting from increasing use of online networks to share and work together without going through centralised authorities, cutting out middle men in efforts to speed things up. We are also able to watch them doing so and benefit more directly from their learning.

The provision of resources to help us deal with the effects of this virus are currently centralised – hospitals, food, financial support – and as such they risk becoming single points of failure. But what if they weren’t?

What if out of all of this we learned to rely less on the centre and the “top”? What if we learned to help each other, to do so more locally, and through flexible, complex adaptive systems rather than hierarchical, centralised brittle ones?

What is an organisation?

This question has always fascinated me and there have always been a number of different possible answers. Some see it as represented by the hierarchical org chart. For others it is a network of networks. In reality it is a combination of the two. But for most of us our organisations have been closely associated with their buildings. You “go” to work.

That is until now!

Given that very few of us are “going to work”, including the senior management, what is the organisation now? Where does it exist? Is it just in our heads? Was it always?