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?

Locked in.

It’s nothing new, we do it all the time. We do it to ourselves. We do it in our own heads.

All it takes is some casual comment, something we read, something we’ve seen, and all of a sudden an anxiety or fear will be triggered and we lock onto that thought.

Terrier like, we refuse to let it go. We niggle with it, run it round and round, we will do anything but put it down and let it go.

While we’re doing this the rest of the world ceases to exist. Locked into thought like this we can’t even see what’s right in front of us – even with our eyes wide open. We are stuck in our own head. Isolated in our mind’s vice like grip.

But as soon as you notice this, the lock releases. Noticing that you have been caught in this vice like grip dissolves it immediately.

Being locked in is a habit. The habit can be broken. All it takes is to notice it.


We spend so much of our lives striving. Striving to get somewhere better. Striving to be someone better. Striving to get away from where we are.

But now we are stuck. We can’t get anywhere. And we get bored. We get bored because we can’t bear to be where we are.

But we don’t know where we are going. We don’t know what’s next.

We just know that we are here now, and what is happening is what is happening. And it’s ok.

There’s peace in that thought.

There always was.

No way back

Watching an unprecedented flourishing of creativity, collaborative energy, and mutual online respect brought about by our current challenging circumstances. We won’t forget this, and we can’t go back to “business as usual”.

This will change how we perceive businesses, governments, nations, how we build cities, how we relate to each other, what our aspirations for the future are… everything.

Safely home

My elder daughter Mollie has been travelling through Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos for the past nearly 2 months. She and her boyfriend Theo set off when the coronavirus was in its very early stages. We knew it was around, but they had planned and paid for this trip ages ago and decided to go ahead.

Paradoxically they were probably safer where they have been than here in the UK. Regular testing, and mostly in remote less busy parts of the various countries, ideal.

But with things escalating we decided to get their return flights shifted to a week earlier than planned. Etihad were superb. Calm, efficient and helpful. It took more than ninety minutes of call centre hell to get through to them but they were great.

I picked Mollie up from Heathrow Airport yesterday and to say that I was relieved when I saw she and Theo coming through the arrivals gate is a HUGE understatement.

If you are in a similar position, unsure whether travel restrictions will prevent your family from getting together, I most sincerely wish you luck and hope that your travel challenges are resolved soon.


Usually doing the dishes is a bone of considerable contention in our house. I end up getting grumpy because I feel that no one else does them as often as I do, and if they do do them they certainly don’t do them the right way like I do. I end up muttering away to myself as I put stuff in the dishwasher, feeling self righteous and hard done by. Poor me. Inconsiderate them.

We are brought up to see ourselves as a separate self, cut off from the world around us, needing to protect ourselves or curry favour in order to avoid pain or hold onto pleasure.

Our economies and modern society are based on this narrative.

But in reality we are part of life. Our boundaries are imagined (if Covid 19 teaches us anything it is surely this). Our sense of separation is fuelled by made up narratives based on a made up past. We desperately try to protect the little me that sits on our shoulders yelling shit in our ears all day long, and in doing so simply make it stronger.

But when things fall apart there is just this, and we deal with it.

I am currently getting a great deal of pleasure out of doing the dishes and doing so uncomplainingly…

Big reset?

People are talking about a big reset being brought about by the corona virus. But it’s not just that. Some of us have been saying for a while that we are in a transition from an old way of looking at the world to a new. Whether political, social, scientific, or spiritual, clearly change is happening.

But any “big reset” is only ever a result of lots of little ones. It is not being done to us, it is done by us.

How are you going to see things differently today? What are you going to do differently today?

Staying calm under pressure.

Some of you have said that my stories about truck driving have been useful. It occurred to me that this story might be of some little help in our current challenging situation.

What follows is a description of one of my most testing days as a lorry driver.

Firstly I was on my own, heading in to London, totally responsible for a 32 tonne mortar mix tanker. This isn’t ready made concrete but a mixture of sand and cement that gets blasted under pressure into large silos that are located on building sites.

The second thing is that not only do I have the responsibility for a large vehicle heading in to one of the busiest cities in the world, but I also have a knot in my stomach because I know that at the end of my drive I have a risky and stressful delivery process to carry out when I get there. Coupling up large pipes between the truck and the silo, firing up the noisy compressor, and trying not to blow the whole lot up was testing!

Lastly I am aware that the expectation is that I will do at least two, ideally three, such drops in the day, each time returning to the plant west of the city and repeating the whole process, so I feel under time pressure too.

The truck is fantastic. Relatively new and state of the art in terms of monitoring and cameras etc. But because of its weighty load, and the muddy locations I am delivering to, it has a manual gearbox to give more precise control over traction. Not only that but it has a split range gear box, with a high and a low range, that I have to switch between using an extra lever on the gearstick. Not a big problem except that the change from the upper range to the lower coincides with the speed change as you go into a roundabout. Add to this the fact that the truck really doesn’t like going down into third gear and you can imagine desperately trying to push the bloody thing down through the box without inadvertently ploughing straight over the roundabout!


But it gets worse. I hadn’t been to the site that I was delivering to before, it was on a bit of land which had confusing postcodes, and was on a road on which there are currently about half a dozen major building sites. It was far from clear which of these was the one I was aiming for. Add to this the fact that the road I was on didn’t have anywhere to turn except for a roundabout at the far end and then the one-way system at the other end forced me to go back onto the A40 and a couple of miles back up to the road to the notoriously difficult Hanger Lane Roundabout.

Each time I turned up at the wrong site I had to navigate my way out of the traffic, get close enough to the traffic marshall to speak to him, extricate myself from the entrance once I had realised it was the wrong site, and then head back up yet again to Hanger Lane.

By the time I was on my third attempt I was knackered and I was scared. I was close to packing it in and was fantasising about calling my agency, saying the keys are in the ignition, and walking away.

But then I started to slow things down. Applying what I have learned about meditation and mindfulness, noticing my breath, noticing the feel of the gear stick and the steering wheel in my hands. Enjoying each smooth gear change and precise turn. I slowly began to return to the moment. The feeling of being a failure brought on by what had recently happened began to diminish. The terror of getting it wrong again also began to reduce. I began to really enjoy the immediacy of my current actions, what was happening around me, sights, sensations, feelings as the whirling in my mind began to slow down.

This was obviously an unusual circumstance, and one that most of you won’t ever experience (except for the drivers who I know might be reading this and have to do it every day). But these practices apply generally in life.

What we think of as our past, even our very recent past, is a made up story, it’s not real, its filtered recollection of already filtered perceptions. My “story” was that I was a complete failure and utterly useless. When I got back to the yard I discovered that other drivers had also found the site difficult to find and faced similar challenges navigating their various attempts. My story was made up.

Again, in normal life, the future is most definitely a made up story. As current events are showing us our ability to reliably predict our futures are much more shaky than we like to think they are. In reality we have no idea what is going to happen in the next moment. In one respect that can feel terrifying, but in another sense, if we can hold onto this idea, it means that the future is nothing to worry about. It doesn’t exist yet. It is nothing.

All of this may sound like mumbo-jumbo but from experience it has helped me to keep the lid on when I felt like it was about to blow off. You still make decisions, often better decisions as you are calmer and more aware of what is happening around you, and you don’t disappear into a hippy daze either!

Hopefully this story might help some of you a little as you face your own challenges in the coming days.

Just a thought

Our lives are biologically determined by dopamine rush which is steered by culture built up over millennia. Our chattering monkey brain then tries to convince us that a fictitious “we” are in control and the resulting tension between this fiction and reality drives us mad. Literally.

P.S I will bear in mind that any of you who choose to comment on this post telling me that I’m mad had no choice but to do so.

P.P.S Who would have guessed what a large can of worms I opened when I failed to observe myself deciding to get out of the bath.

When the shit hits the fan

When the shit hits the fan you want your inside information flow to be at least as fast as what is happening outside. In most organisations this is not the case.

Conventional hierarchical communications systems are too rigid and there are too many obstacles to information flow.

Internal social networks are noisy and messy but so is life. If you have a big enough, mature enough, fast enough set of internal conversations taking place then you will be better able to work out what is happening and what to do about it.

Yes it may be too late for this current set of challenges, and it is still counterintuitive for many in positions of authority, but we can all do better than resorting to WhatsApp the next time the shit hits the fan.


Collaboration is more about willingness than about process or technology.

The curiosity to notice what others are doing around you, and the inclination to share what you know or offer your effort, count for more than all the “how to articles” you can read or fancy “collaboration” software you can buy.

If people in your organisation appear unwilling to collaborate start having some honest conversations about why.

Per ardua ad astra

I am finding it exciting to watch the challenge of coronavirus accelerating our collective learning.

Yes, there is nonsense about panic buying loo roll, but there is also sharing of expertise, reality checking the utterances of politicians, push back against scare mongering in the media, shared and reinforced common sense, and a lot of collective compassion.

Once we have learned these things we won’t forget.

Discovering my limits

A couple of weeks ago I trapped a nerve in my back. These two weeks have given me the opportunity to think hard about my work driving large trucks with the result that I have come to the decision to stop.

Why? I have been doing it for more than a year but I still get a knot in my stomach the night before I do a job. I have never been happy with the amount of loading and unloading that I had to do, especially with the associated risks. Add to this the fact that the pay is very poor and the arguments to keep going just didn’t stack up.

There are elements of the job that I will miss. The feeling of competence operating the vehicle, the feeling of being so much higher and bigger than anything else on the road, the responsibility of exercising a skill. But then the flip side of those are also all of the negatives, not knowing what I am doing, worried it is all my fault, and terrified at the size and power of what I am dealing with.

I have no regrets at all. I learned a lot about myself, about trucks, and about people. I got to see a side of the world that most people never get near. I got to see the cleverness of the haulage industry, logistics, and construction.

I have nothing but praise and admiration for the other drivers who helped me and were kind and gentle with me. From the two saints who put up with me during my original training to all of the others who took the time and had the patience to show me the ropes. They never made me feel small or stupid.

I will miss pulling on my safety boots and my high viz jacket. I will miss making sure that my kit bag has all of the right stuff in it. I will miss the feeling of pushing my driver card into the digital tachograph. I will miss the sound of a massive 13 litre engine moving up through its automatic gearbox. I will miss really powerful power steering. I will even miss clambering around on frosty steel piping at 5am!

It’s been a hell of an adventure – but it’s time to move on.

Hard sell vs blethering

We are all getting tired of being sold to. We can’t make a move online without someone trying to sell us something.

You can’t have online conversations any more without some bot shouting at you about things that you don’t want.

At the same time in “old media” we’re not impressed by shiny, over produced ads, and talking heads in front of green screen backgrounds are a joke.

So why do we still feel the need to import all of the above into the workplace?

Chatting to Stephen Waddington today I enthused about the power of blethering. Conversational ways of understanding things and sharing what we know.

Whether the to and fro of a network of smart people blogging about what they do and why, or long form podcast conversations between people grappling with change and how to deal with it, we could do so much better to help people adapt and move forward than shouting at them.


Fly by wire management

It is going to be interesting to see how people cope with working from home due to the coronavirus. In particular it will be interesting to see how managers cope with not being able to see their staff in the office.

I know things have shifted a bit over the last few years but for many people, perhaps most, doing office work still means working in offices. You only need to see the numbers of people commuting on the train into London every day to realise that this is still the case.

Some of them, especially those higher up the organisation, still don’t really know how to use remote working tools, let alone use them to best effect. I can imagine that there are going to be a few anxious moments over the next days and weeks.

If you know anyone who is struggling to adjust, and could do with some advice, you know where to find me.

The loneliness of the long distance worker

As more people work from home in response to the coronavirus it will be interesting to see if it encourages them to make doing so more part of their normal working lives. If enough people make this change it could have a major impact on all sorts of things.

Apparently cities around the world are already recording drops in pollution as a result of less people commuting, and longer term it could begin to affect how we design our cities and how we live in our local communities.

But it is not for everyone. Some people find it easier to work alone with reduced interaction with others. Some go quietly mad!

At the very least this may make us think harder about why we work the way we do, use the tools we do, and interact the way we do. In the long term this would be a good thing.

On the brink.

More than twenty years ago when I connected up my US Robotics 1400 baud modem to the internet life changed.

Encountering Pierre De Chardin’s noosphere (the thought, prompted by the advent of radio, that there was a geological layer like the stratosphere in which all thought connected in a global brain) was an early glimpse of the path that I was on.

Spending as much of the past few decades online as I have has meant that the internet feels like an extension of my neural networks, with some of my synapses firing outside my skull and some inside.

Following those connections and thoughts led me to Jon Kabat-Zin‘s and Buddhist philosophy, through Sydney Banks‘s Three Principles and Douglas Harding‘s headless experiments, to non-duality, the principle that separation is just an idea and ultimately the cause of unease.

Nancy Neithercuts poetry, Dr. Amy Johnson‘s podcasts, and Clare Dimond’s latest book Sane are currently nudging me to the brink of not taking “myself” so seriously.

“I” still struggle with this.

But then “I” only exist in the struggle.

Without the struggle I’m not real.

And neither are you.

Partial knowledge

Not only is most of our knowledge partial in the sense of being incomplete, it is also partial in the sense of being the opposite of impartial. We filter the vast majority of the information available to our senses in terms of raw data and we then further filter it on the basis of cultural conditioning or previous experience in the form of memories.

These memories are themselves only partial recollections , in both senses of the word, of previously experienced partial understanding.

Given this it is perhaps just as well that our decisions are made by our subconscious and only later do we retrofit agency and forethought with our conscious minds.

Discomfort as a learning opportunity

One of the reasons that I stopped posting my blog posts directly into Facebook was that I had grown tired of some of the comments. Those that missed the point, twisted my meaning into their interpretation and then argued with it, were sneering or dismissive, etc. I am fortunate that I get less of those sort of comments than most, I am careful who I call friends, but it can still get wearying.

On the other hand it is also why I write online in the first place. If I didn’t want reactions I could just keep my writing to my journal. The point of sticking it out there on the internet is to see what reaction I get, and then choose how I react to that reaction.

And this is what I have realised that I am missing. The valuable learning opportunity of someone pressing my buttons. Why those buttons? Why are they so sensitive? What do they say about me and how I see the world?

So, in the interests of furthering my own learning I am going to start copying my blog posts into Facebook again.

Any comments on this post will be seen as a valuable learning opportunity!

Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do

The title of my book started out as a tweet. It was a response to my frustration at corporate accounts and brands starting to appear in Twitter and wanting to be my friend. How could I be a friend with a corporation?

But it works in both directions. Now that social media is saturated with brands it is easy to forget that there are real people bring their Twitter accounts. When we feel like hurling abuse at an organization that we feel have let us down or behaved badly we should remember that there is an individual behind that account, often not very well paid, and often young.

I can still feel frustrated at the impersonal pollution that brands have inflicted on my online conversations but both sides can do better.

As Ella Minty points out in this LinkedIn article “if they are not there to enter a real dialogue with their consumers (the shouting and all that included), why are they there?”

Real conversations with real people about stuff that really matters is what the internet was for. These conversations can include brands and corporations – and we can help them achieve this lofty ambition.


Many moons ago I wrote “Social media adoption happens one conversation at a time, and for their reasons not yours.”
This is true for all change where you require other people to behave differently. They need to have understood what is proposed at a personal/conversational level and seen what is in it for them.

Neither corporation wide hard sell, nor being told they “have to” work. Both of those, even if in the short term they appear to have brought about the desired changes in behaviour, invariably provoke a reaction and can even in some cases can shift things into reverse.

If you want to really bring about change you have to take the time and effort to treat people with respect and give them good reasons why it makes sense for them to do what you are asking of them.

Not many people charged with bringing about change have the necessary patience.

Shape bending

The collections of microbes, molecules, and mostly space that inhabit this infinitesimally small part of the universe that I have grown accustomed to think of as me cause my finger to touch the screen of my phone, which triggers electrical impulses which generate Unicode, translated into fonts, then back into zeros and ones on a packet switched network that itself is nothing but molecules and impulses such that your collection of microbes, molecules and mostly space that inhabit the infinitesimally small part of the universe that you have grown accustomed to think of as you believes it has understood.

We overlay all of this with our different stories and feel closer or further apart as a result.

Neither of us are in control of the process and none of it means anything.

It’s nothing to get bent out of shape about.

Shit tinted glasses

“It [the internet] is just a thing. Whether it is good or bad depends what you do with it. If you don’t like what you are doing with it then it is simply a reflection of what you are as an individual, an organisation or a society and that is what you have to fix.” – Vint Cerf

I continually forget this even though I was there when he said it and I quote it all the time.

The internet just is.

Facebook just is.

Life just is.

My experience of life is a result of all of the cultural, genetic, and personal history baggage that I carry around with me.

It is a made up story.

Remembering this is important.

It’s the little things.

Almost every day someone in my immediate network will struggle with their technology. Whether this is while using their phones, accessing their emails, or responding to error messages from the system, it is often very basic things that they struggle with.

But it is clearly widespread. If I extrapolate what I see in my own network to the entire population then the overhead must be enormous. I know in the predominantly Windows workplace people spend inordinate amounts of time fighting their technology. One of the reasons I have always preferred Apple stuff is because they make their best efforts to reduce this level of frustration but even they are far from perfect.

This is a hard problem to solve. Technologists make their best efforts to improve interfaces and simplify processes and yet at the same time the possibilities increase and our expectations are raised. Equally people still seem to have a quite passive attitude towards technology and, in my biased view, don’t make enough effort to overcome some of the more basic difficulties.

Most of the time I try to be patient when I am asked to help but it can be frustrating. I remember a quote from an old IT guy at work: “If you want to sort out your corporate computing make UNIX the standard platform and if the buggers can’t work out how to use it they shouldn’t have a computer.” and on a bad day I feel like agreeing.

Things that have caught my eye

Just a couple of links this time but both current and fascinating.

An Algorithm That Grants Freedom, or Takes It Away.
I know I go on an about “the ideology of algorithms” but this article gives a good idea of why it matters. Algorithms already deciding all sorts of things to do with people’s lives. Who gets to decide their priorities and how will we feel when we realise that they are already being applied to us?

when trust is lost.
Fascinating take on the Chinese response to the corona virus from my friend Harold Jarche.


Believing our own stories

Our brains are pattern seeking mechanisms. Evolution has given us an ability to see patterns of threat or opportunity. We do this all the time, and can’t stop ourselves. We string together a succession of these patterns and identify with the narrative that they create. They become what we think of as our self, our identity, what we think of as “me”.

Most of these patterns are based on things we have heard from others around us – family, society, peer groups, the media. Once we have taken in these patterns, established this narrative, and identified with it as “me”, we will do anything to hold onto it. Anything that shakes this narrative is seen as an existential threat. And it is.

If our sense of self weakens it feels like facing death. We will struggle to maintain it in the face of evidence to the contrary from the world around us. We will make ourselves miserable if that world doesn’t conform to the way we think it should be. We will fight other people who don’t agree with our narratives. We will attempt to bend the world around us to try and force it to conform to our narratives and in so doing we are causing untold damage to the planet.

We should take our stories with a pinch of salt. We should remember it’s all made up.

Capital T Truth

It is fascinating to watch people getting bent out of shape by the Conservatives excluding certain journalist from their press conference. I find it hard to care.

I watched a journalist pursuing Dominic Cummings down the road the other day and he was having none of the journalist’s attempts to grab hold of him and interview him. I’m afraid I would be the same. In the unlikely event that I am ever involved in anything “newsworthy” I wouldn’t let journalists near me.

It’s a long time since any journalist wanted to speak to me but the last few times I swore never again. Each time they were more interested in getting across their predetermined story than they were in listening to me or telling anything remotely like the truth.

Newspapers and broadcast newsrooms are bureaucracies. They are hierarchies. Journalists will toe the editorial line in order to keep their boss happy and keep their jobs. Many of them are just churning out copy to satisfy a desire for existing memes and prejudices. Many of them are not that bright.

The relationship between the press and politicians has become a cosy dance. The embarrassing Whitehall Farce that is The Today Programme has been unlistenable for years. For a while I subscribed to the Guardian, given that my views are generally left-leaning, but I gave up because the writing was just too biased to add any real understanding.

Journalists I know will bang on about the truth and overplay their role in uncovering it. Truth is slippery. Truth is malleable. Truth is overrated. Even science only purports to state currently working hypotheses. In fact the strength of science is that they don’t take any of their truths too seriously.

Perhaps journalists would do well to learn from them.

I do love London. All of it.

One of the companies that I drive for provide steel piping and fittings for the building trade. Very often this is to companies who do fire safety installations in large office buildings. Even existing office buildings replace this infrastructure as their ownership and use changes, so a lot of my deliveries have been to Canary Wharf, the massive business centre, in the east of London.

As I drive towards this imposing island of glass and steel I don’t stay on the surface but end up driving down the service roads into the bowels of the earth beneath these shiny buildings. It’s like wandering around in the intestines of some massive powerful beast.

Today, I will stay on the surface having a coffee with the CIO of one of the businesses whose headquarters are in Canary Wharf.

In some ways the contrast couldn’t be more stark, in other ways it’s all just life. London life, in all its varied glory.


Some of you may remember my bath time experiment of trying to observe myself deciding to get out of the bath – and the fact that I found it impossible to do so. In fact, once I began to notice this, it became apparent that I am unable to observe myself making any decision, or for that matter deciding to have any particular thought. They emerge and I become aware of them.

Decisions and thoughts bubble up from my unconscious and only become apparent to my conscious mind after they have happened. Modern neuroscience is able to observe this process and confirms that the parts of our brain in which conscious thought takes place react to stimuli after the subconscious areas.

I am not in control of my mind any more than I am any other organ in my body. My heart beats without me having to think about it, my lungs breathe without any intervention on my part, and thoughts arise whether I think I am choosing to have them or not.

The decisions we appear to make are a result of our biology, our genetic inheritance, our culture, and our previous experience. We can’t help the thoughts that we have. Our apparent decisions to act are likewise out of our control. We often do things and wonder afterwards what on earth we were thinking. We weren’t!

The same it true for everyone else. They can’t help what they do or say. They are not in control. We can remove ourselves from their influence, we can protect ourselves from them, and in extremis we can incarcerate them, but we should always remember that they didn’t have a choice – any more than we do.

The burden of responsibility.

I have rarely needed a manager to decide things for me. Give me lots of context – yes. Give me support when I decide to take action – yes. But make decisions for me – not so much.

It fascinates me how many managers still feel burdened with the responsibility of making decisions for people. This is clearly due to legacy baggage of what is expected of a manager.

But this feeling of responsibility invariably increases their stress and either cultivates passivity in their staff or causes frustration when the decisions are inappropriate or ill timed.

With enough information people know what to do. Telling them what to do rarely works. Maybe it’s time to lay down that burden of responsibility.

The power of place

As with all media stories, and social media memes, it is easy to become dulled to the impact of what is being said. Seeing all the posting and commentary about the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz passing by on TV screens and in social media news feeds it is all too easy for it to join the list of things that we “consume” – and then move on to the next snack.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz. The place has an impact way beyond words or images. It seeps into your bones. It doesn’t go away.

If you get the chance – go.

The potential is still there

I recently watched a Louis Theroux documentary on the Hillsboro Baptist Church. It was the second one where he goes back to visit the community after the father, who founded the church, had died. One of his daughters summoned up the courage to leave the group and ended up being a very articulate critic of its ideas and the behaviour of its members.

When explaining to Louis how she had become aware of how wrong headed their views were, and how she had realised that she had to leave, she placed great importance on the connections she had made on Twitter. These connections were her first experience of a world outside the church and the ongoing conversations there had helped her realise that there was another way of looking at the world.

In the early days of the web, and my interest in explaining its potential, I used to use the example that in the past if you were the only bloke growing up gay on a remote island in the West of Scotland you had no way of know that that was OK. With the internet you were suddenly able to connect with people beyond your limited community and explore other ways of viewing society and your place in it.

With all the current headlines about the downsides of social media, and the problems it is seen as causing, it is easy to get disillusioned with the web. It is also fashionable to denigrate the original excitement that we all had in the early days as being naive optimism.

But what I loved about the Hillsboro story is that it shows that the potential is still there. That ability to cross boundaries, expand our view of the world, and foster new connections is still available to all of us. We just have to choose to use it.

Things that have caught my eye

Sorry I missed last week, a weekend in Bournemouth got in the way, but here are some links that I noticed since the last of these posts.

4 Ethical Concerns For The Connected World.
I have written a fair bit myself about the ethical and moral issues being raised by our increased use of technology and this article from ReadWrite is worth a read.

Constant doubt and outrage.
Following on from the ethical concerns expressed in the last link my friend Harold Jarche has a great post on how we can take greater responsibility for how this all turns out!

Back to the Future: Drones in Humanitarian Action.
Patrick Meier’s blog iRevolution has long been a favourite for keeping up with innovative and positive uses of technology. This article on using drones in humanitarian work, and on improving understanding of their impact and effective deployment, is fascinating.

Hope you find these links as interesting and useful as I did.

Cathedrals of the future

In my driving work I occasionally visit the massive warehouses that are springing up around the country known as RDCs (Regional Distribution Centres). These are incredibly impressive, huge, cathedrals to consumerism. Built on a scale that is hard to comprehend, especially up close, they can be overwhelming the first time you visit.

When you get inside they are full, floor to ceiling, of whatever products the centre is distributing. The products are stacked on massive shelves which are accessed by various combinations gantry mounted pulleys and manned fork lifts. Even these are increasingly automated with the result that an eerily small number of staff can be responsible for the whole thing.

In fact even as a driver you just open the truck’s rear doors, reverse up to one of the loading bays, a red light comes on on the wall of the RDC, the shutter door on the warehouse opens, you feel fork lifts moving in and out of the back of your truck, then the light turns green, you pull forward to close the doors, and off you go. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was interested and went inside to have a look I needn’t have had any contact with anyone during the whole process.

Some of my other driving jobs involve providing the materials for the glass and steel office structures that we are still allowing to reshape our city centres. I was struck the other day by the increasing similarities between the cathedrals of consumerism and these cathedrals of bureaucracy. In both we are seeing the onward march of automated processes that take what used to be human labour and trim them down to the maximum repeatable efficiency. Skeleton staff who oversee the process, and radically reduced interchange with the outside world.

The capabilities of AI and automation are currently being oversold and are underdelivering, like every other technology that has preceded them. But it is clear that as more of our day to day work takes place in entirely digital environments the prospects for systems learning from our patterns and replicating them increases by the day. Add to this the fact that once the essential patterns are understood the inessential stuff can be trimmed away, and much of the current bureaucratic business that currently employs the bulk of the middle class disappears.

We need to start thinking about what we all do when that happens…

Alone with our thoughts

Yesterday I went for a walk in The Black Mountains with my good friend Dave Snowden. All walks provide an opportunity for thinking but when the weather is as bad as it was yesterday, with high gusting wind and driving rain that meant we could barely hear each other, you batten down the hatches, pull the drawstring on your hood tight, and basically stare at your feet as you plod your way up the hill.

Apart from an occasional glance to see where you are, and if you are lucky the clouds lift for a moment and allow you to experience a bit of a view, you are left with nothing to do but observe your own thoughts for a couple of hours.

Those thoughts can vary wildly from: “This is awful. My legs hurt. It’s cold. It’s wet. Why am I doing this? I’m getting too old. We should have stayed at home.” To the next moment thinking: “This is a fantastic adventure. I feel stronger than I expected. It’s great to be in nature experiencing the harshness of the environment. I should do this more often.” These two very different sets of thoughts alternate most of the way up, and for most of the walk.

In fact they do this all of the way through our lives. Moment to moment we flip from seeing the world one way, and then the next moment seeing it totally differently. One moment: “Everything is all right, I’m successful and happy. I’m in the right place at the right time” and then moments later: “I’m a failure, I can’t do this. Why did I bother? The people around me are idiots. I wish there was somewhere else.”

But for all my thinking, the mountain was still there, my body was still there, the weather was still there, movement was still happening.

Everything else was in my head. It was all made up. It wasn’t real.

This is also true of life. Most of it is made up. Most of it isn’t real!

Things that have caught my eye

Thinking faster with mind maps.
I have used MindMaps on and off since first reading Tony Buzan’s books way back. I mostly use them to get ideas out of my head and into a state where I can rearrange them and do this for longer articles and keynotes. This post by Brett Terpstra lays out his process which some of you might find useful.

Laziness Does Not Exist.
Maybe it was wishful thinking that drew my eye to this article but in fact it is a really thoughtful piece about our attitudes to laziness – particularly other people’s!

China’s alternative to GPS should be complete by mid-2020.
I have often thought that with our increasing dependence on GPS (sat navs, autonomous vehicles, drones etc.) that we are at risk of someone pulling the plug. I can therefore totally see why China would want to develop its own GPS system.

Danny MacAskill’s gym workout is absolutely not like yours.
And finally those of you who have enjoyed Danny MacAskill’s mountain biking videos will enjoy his visit to the gym!

Toeholds on the future

When working with large organisations it can sometimes feel as if I am trying to resuscitate dinosaurs and that it might be kinder to shoot them and let evolution take its course more rapidly. With all of their legacy systems, and legacy attitudes, it can feel like trying to turn around the Titanic and people inevitably end up shuffling deckchairs.

(Does having two metaphors in such rapid succession count as mixing them?)

But most of the office based working population works in those sorts of organisations, and they are increasingly aware that massive change is heading their way, if not already upon them. A combination of faster networked communications, increasing potential for automation of repetitive bureaucratic processes, and often a customer base whose expectations are far outstripping the organisation’s ability to respond, and it is clear that something has to be done.

The trouble is that often what is done is more of the same. More initiatives, more communications plans, more technology spend. But underneath nothing changes and everyone knows it. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” frequently comes to mind.

What if the future is about less, or smaller? Incremental changes rather than large corporate initiatives. Individual behaviour change rather than sweeping “culture change”. Smaller, more autonomous teams rather than vast open plan offices full of people feeding the system.

What would it take for you to adapt to that world? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing? How would the next conversation you have at work be different?

How could you grasp that first toehold on the future?

Things that have caught my eye

Rather than sharing links this time I thought I’d share a list of books that I am currently reading. I alway have more than one book on the go. Usually one “real” book, a couple of books on my Kindle app on iOS devices, and one audio book from Audible.

My current Audible listening is a wonderful, really wonderful, book on writing called First You Write A Sentence by Joe Moran, perfectly read by Roy McMillan. It’s not often you get a laugh out loud book on writing but this is insightful, useful and beautifully written. Ironically this is not always the case with books on writing!

My two Kindle books are both by Robert Salzman, Depending On No Thing and The Ten Thousand Things (which I am reading for a second time). I have been following a long and winding path from a reaction against conventional religion, through reading loads about Buddhism, to finding non-duality appealing intellectually, and now finally to writers like J. Krishnamurti, U.G. Krishnamurti, Douglas Harding, Joan Tollifson, Robert Wolfe, Toni Packer et al who avoid easy labels but do a great job of cutting through various levels of what Salzman calls “magical thinking” to get at the bottom of our experience of the world.

In a similar vein my “real book” has just arrived and is The Man With No Head: The Life And Ideas of Douglas Harding. It is written, and illustrated, in the manner of adult comic books. I can’t wait to get started.

Being in the world

It is hard to believe, but the last time I was up a mountain was exactly one year ago. Not only that, but it is almost as long since I last had my walking boots on. How did this happen?

A short walk down to Great Missenden yesterday with Mollie reminded me just how much I love being in the world and another walk today through Reddit Wood near us (photo above) reaffirmed this need.

I suppose an excuse might be that I’ve been getting enough “being in the world” adventures with my lorry driving over the past year but it’s not the same.

Must try harder

Making an impact

We are brought up to see success as having impacted other people’s lives in some way. Helped them improve, given them something they need, provided them a service. None of this is a bad thing!


We then compare ourselves to others and feel that we haven’t made enough impact. We know this partly because we haven’t been as rewarded financially. We know this because we haven’t managed to buy enough stuff.

So we aspire, we become driven, we set aside unimportant things like spending time with families or in nature in order to focus on making more impact, making more money, buying more stuff.

We then do this collectively as society. It is seen as an essential aspect of modern civilisation to be achieving progress, seeing things as wanting and needing improved, and then setting about making an impact on the world. We are encouraged to do this in our millions.

And there’s the problem. Our planet is suffering as a result of all our efforts, our industriousness, our busyness. We aspire to make an impact – but more often than not we end up leaving a stain.

Maybe it’s my age but I am less and less concerned with making an impact.

Sweet dreams

There was a time when it felt like an obligation as a Scot to get absolutely blootered on New Year’s Eve. My drinking days are long gone but I spent last night with my Mum and Dad, in their mid and late eighties, reminiscing about that other great Scottish weakness – confectionary!

Lee’s Macaroon Bars, Tunnock’s Teacakes, and our local delicacy, Strathaven Toffee (sadly no longer made) all figured in the conversation.

Nice way to see in the new year.


I have always been an all or nothing sort of person and over Christmas all was very much the trend so yesterday I attempted to mitigate the effect of such excess by eating nothing. My last food was my evening meal on Saturday until a couple of slices of toast this morning (Monday) for breakfast.

I do this fairly regularly and find fasting easy. It is mind over matter and once I have set my mind to it I just catch the urge to eat something, nip it in the bud, and carry on with whatever I was doing. I have in the past managed 48 hours fasting on this basis.

It feels good. You can feel your body breathing a sigh of relief and it is almost as if it gets a chance to reset itself. You realise that much of our inclination to eat is due to social conditioning. Three meals a day, meat and two veg, finish your plate, all the cultural norms that are less cast in stone than we think.

If you haven’t tried fasting I can recommend it – it literally causes the weight to drop off!

I am…

Over the years I have adopted various labels for myself. “I am a boy”, “I am a musician”, “I am a student”, “I am a studio manager”, “I am a speaker”, “I am a blogger”, and on and on. These are labels that I have chosen to adopt out of convenience. They set me up as distinct and in opposition to what I am not.

My early aversion to “I am a Rangers supporter” taught me to be particularly wary of the group identities that we can so easily slip into. “I am a Labour supporter” or “I am a Tory” being particularly potent at the moment.

But I am none of these things.

The real me that underlies all of these titles has been consistent throughout and it is none of them. I am not my body, I am not my thoughts, I am not my mind. If I can be aware of all of those things then the me that is aware is not them. All that I can say with any confidence is “I am”.

Constantly stripping things back to what you know to be true, which isn’t received wisdom or cultural conditioning, takes hard work. But it is worth it.

It reveals what you are.

And that we are is the same as everyone else.

Comfort zones, ruts, and unpredictable futures.

My experience of learning to drive trucks has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. In fact several comfort zones. Indeed on a bad day I can wonder why on earth I am putting myself through it.

But being pushed out of my comfort zones is good for me. It makes me think harder, try harder, face my demons. Doing something like this makes me realise how easy it is to become complacent, to feel safe resting on our assumptions about life and ourselves.

The trouble is that such complacency leads to living in a rut. We get stuck. Our ability to cope with the unexpected reduces. We are less able to deal with the challenges that inevitably face us throughout our lives.

It seems clear that our life is about become more turbulent in all manner of ways, from the results of the current political turmoil, to the impact on our working lives of rapidly advancing technology, to dealing with the increasing challenges of global warming.

Getting stuck in a rut is the most dangerous thing we can do. Now is the time to climb out of it.

Parroting mythologies

“Most people” is a trigger phrase for me. It usually precedes a sweeping generalisation based on second hand knowledge. I try not to do it myself but fail regularly. It seems to bolster our own confidence to make such all encompassing statements. We feel safer if we have been able to label a large and often challenging group of people or troubling aspect of our lives.

But these statements are second hand. We can’t have met “most people”. We are taking some received cultural norm and passing it on. This unguarded amplification is dangerous. It is a small step from most people to “all remainers”, or ” all Tory voters” or worse still ” all Muslims”, or allJews”, or for that matter”all men”or “all women”.

Parroting mythologies is dangerous. We should try not to.

That first time

When I get in a new truck I take time to familiarise myself with the controls, light switches, gears etc., but until I start to drive it is hard to get a sense of the size of the thing and where the edges are. Very often I am quickly onto a main road or motorway and so don’t have too much chance to work this out.

Most lorries have two mirrors on each side, one angled down to see the blind spots, and the other looking down the side of the lorry to behind. Many lorries also have a mirror on the near side pointing directly downwards to let me see either the kerb or parked cars. There is also often another mirror on the front of the cab looking directly downwards which allows me to get close to obstacles in front of me. Increasingly lorries have cameras letting me see behind and to the sides but often it is not easy to work out the camera lenses and the actual distances. As I get more experienced I actually use the cameras less and the mirrors more.

Yesterday I was in an unfamiliar truck for a new customer and I set off in the dark in heavy rain and so had minimal opportunity to get a feel for what I was seeing in the various mirrors. When I got to the job I had to reverse into a tight, narrow lane, along one side of which there was a wall of scaffolding. There were parked cars at the entrance to the lane and on the other side of the road. As I reversed into this tight space I had to quickly work out what I was seeing in the various mirrors, how near things were, and all this while getting used to the gears and clutch as I shunted three or four times to get myself lined up with the narrow entrance to the lane. The prospect of ripping the scaffolding off the side of the large building was not appealing!

It’s the little things.

As an agency driver, I am driving new vehicles almost every day. Different makes of lorry, MAN, Mercedes, DAF, Renault, Mitsubishi, Iveco… I think the only ones I haven’t driven so far are Volvo and Scania. And then I drive vans too which are just as varied.

All of them come in different configurations and with different ways of loading and unloading. Some have tail lifts, and these themselves can vary enormously, some have drop sides and can be unloaded by forklifts, and I have even driven tankers which you unload using compressed air.

But it’s the little things that can get you. The other day I wanted to adjust the steering column in my truck. Sometimes these are adjusted by levers and sometimes by compressed air triggered by a switch on the steering column, but none of the conventional methods were to be found. I ended up having to search YouTube and there it was, a small raised bump, about the size of a marshmallow, moulded into the rubberised floor covering to the right of the driver’s seat! Of course it was!