About Me

My photo
Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Saturday 31 December 2011

You are responsible for your rose

Every place has its cipher. A symbol for its meaning. And so, for Japan, buried amid the mountain, lake and ryoken of Hakone, there lies the unlikely museum for Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the writer of The Little Prince.  I remember receiving my copy of his book when I left the Royal Academy of Dancing, a present from a favourite colleague who wrote, `the is for adults too, for you`. The book has held its place through the years in a confused pile of Foucault, Michael Wood, Rimbaud, Fassbinder, Lou Reed, and Baudelaire, littered by my bedside. But it is in Japan, in an unexpected Disneyland of imitation French buildings, that the story finds its moment. Re-reading the museum`s narrative of Exupery`s dramatic life and death, I realise the power of his message - that `what is essential is invisible to the eye, only one`s heart can properly see`.  It seems a fitting epitaph to a country where one can find space and time to watch steam rise from hot water on a mountain side onsen, feeling the thoughts in your body and mind melt into the air, losing awareness of yourself to the essence of hot and cold on skin.  This is what we have mislaid, burried, forgotton, hidden. It is no wonder so many mistaken programmes promise transformation, to avoid the art of becoming, of connecting, of changing how we see what makes us. We are fools gold, digging deeper for egos in the mud, earning honours of no honour instead of flying to touch the sun and moon of who we are. The rituals that shape how our hearts see, lead a year into being. Where are they? On New year`s eve, Japan remembers its suffering with songs of hope, false snow and glitter, a cabaret that smiles on.  The lampshade shakes to a minor tremor; I sip on wine and play cars with a 3 year-old who won`t remember me. They say, soon, this place will be destroyed by the waves, for human spirit to re-build again.  Like 2012.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Xmas cake with a Chance for Change

In Japan, it is xmas eve that is celebrated rather than the day itself. December decoration and glitz provides a backdrop for perfectly wrapped presents, confused adverts suggesting a `very very xmas`, decorated trees presented as `light shows`, and cover versions of once familiar hits where the promise to jingle bells sound oddly out of place.

Lines outside KFC for roast chicken, lines for xmas cake at the supermarket, families feasting on sushi before midnight; and then, on the day itself, nothing.  It is as though the whole thing exists only for the ritual of its arrival. The country feels like an xmas tourist. There is an innocence and restraint about the whole affair, a sense of family fun that often seems absent in our excesses back home; and also more integrity in the reading of sutras for ancestors before presents and wine.

Still, the deeper reality sits outside in the everyday passing and joining of things.  Everyone here waits for the turning of the year.  This afternoon, someone rings my door to deliver an xmas cake, having heard that I had failed to buy one last night. The most genuine gestures come from the heart.

Meanwhile, I am excited by the news that Chance for Change has released its website. There is no greater present than the promise of discovery– and C4C is that present and promise. The charity is in its first intrepid steps. There is the excitement of who the young people will be to take up the chance, what change together they can create, and how advantaged thinking will break new ground.  Only the possible lies ahead.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Hope - Kibou

Two days in Tokyo. One enjoys little Lost in Translation moments, stumbling across popular fashion shop names like `Freak`s Store`, or dodging dogs pushed around in prams.  At the railway station, on platforms once so bright you could run a chain of cosmetic shops, the lights are now dimmer to save on electricity. Such small signs from the aftermath of the nuclear disaster pierce through the veneer of polite ritual and Shinjuku chaos.

It is the Emperor`s birthday. The city is under attack from black vans with nationalist flags and megaphones playing military marching music in a throw back to Mishima. It sounds to my untrained ears like a failed Eurovision entry.  The vans are eventually penned in around Shibuya with a large police presence, but the authorities are detached to the spectacle, almost tolerant. A man with a long grey coat and a large camera stands alone in the middle of a bridge, watching and waiting. It is another sign of what is unspoken.

At an art gallery, I stumble across the `hope – kibou` exhibition, which unites artists from Greece and Japan through their experience of confusion and struggle arising from the earthquake and economy in 2011. As the exhibition says, `Although it may take a long time, the most important thing under such circumstances is to have hope in your mind`. It is a good message for Open Talent, all the more poignant following my visit to Greece this year to support the work of a charity seeking to establish a Foyer for young people caught up in the justice system. I have hope – kibou – that the much needed Foyer  finds its foundations over 2012.

As I make my way from Tokyo, I receive a message from a University professor who came to visit Foyer Federation last year to find out more about our work on MyNav and social inclusion.  The professor tells me that the e-learning lecture produced from the visit has been very successful, and that he is now engaged in research with his students in the northeast of Japan to contribute to the regeneration of the area following the earthquake.  It is reassuring to note that the University is contributing to the important work of rebuilding lives. Once the international media circus has moved on to the next tragedy to appeal for, it is the work on solutions and futures which seems the most significant story to me.

I see a connection between the professor`s work, and our own message for a different and deeper investment in young people. We are both involved in the ancient science and art of retelling the narrative of modern life, so we can understand and change our world.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Goldfish at the temple

It doesn`t take long to immerse yourself back into Japanese life. Like swimming in the sea, you dunk your head under the water and suddenly acclimatise.  Within 5 minutes, there is the wonder of heated toilet seats; followed by sushi and green tea; then the strange experience of a functioning train system; the endlessly repeated rituals of politeness and respect; and finally, after just a few hours of arrival, you are floating naked in an onsen looking through the heated mist into the horizon of the sea, wondering how you ended up here and why you ever left the last time.

Day two in my trip takes me to the temple, snaking through 3 hours of train tracks high into the hills.  The trees are still autumnal, red and gold in the piercing sunshine. I arrive, by coincidence, in time for the twice yearly opening of the Buddah casket; a moment of luck they say.  The head of the temple invites me to see him for coffee, and we exchange stories of our work overlooking the great bell in the grounds. He likes Open Talent, has seen the film and calls me `the enlightened one,` a title I scarcely deserve. But it gives me the opportunity to be shown the temple`s new approach to it`s work, which has had amazing results, carefully recorded in files of spider diagrams. It is simple, like all good answers, and raises some profound questions about the direction we have been heading at home. I can see how far, even in Open talent, we have reflected our society`s disconnection of the individual from community and family.  The shaping of reality is far more complex than the narrative we have been prescribing. We are using a focus on a positive future to reconnect and direct what is possible, which is true and right, but we have missed understanding how to link ourselves back into the past beyond the limits and problems that have led us to detach from it.  There is a different type of mediation, which we have perhaps left in the rush for ourselves, not realising that our identity as players of life is more delicate and complex than a coach can teach alone.

The afternoon deepens into shade as I make my way slowly back, surrounded by the chaos of rush hour, wondering how I can possibly begin to explain the thoughts goldfishing in my head.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Turning Japanese

This time 12 months ago, I was making my way to the airport for Japan while Juilian Assange was being released on bail and it was snowing in London. At least this year it looks like we are being spared the snow, although  I'm still wondering what has happened to Private Bradley Manning back in the USA.  Society tends to forget these things, those people.

I've been going to Japan the last two years.  On each occassion I've left a wish at one of the temples.  The first year it was for Open Talent to 'begin'; last year, it was for Open Talent to 'blossom'. And this year... Like one of my favourite cartoons Pinky and the Brain, we try to take over the world!

For the next few weeks I'll be in Japan with occassional internet access, hopefully enough to keep on writing as I gorge myself on wonderful food, culture and spirit. 2011 has been as challenging as it has been rewarding. I'm hoping I'll find seeds and influences in the far east to help shape a more advantaged thinking world next year....

See you from Tokyo, Yokosuka, and Hakone )

Thursday 15 December 2011

The Talent Cracker

‘There’s no T (for talent) in their postcode,’ was my favourite line from a young person having fun at the excellent Braintree Foyer / SAHA awards night.

I turned up perhaps without my advantaged thinking head on, assuming by the last minute invitation that I would be mingling in the Foyer common room over some crisps and dips. I should have known better.  I had already failed to win the Foyer Federation best dressed staff award earlier in the day, and now, I was being taken by bus to a sit down 3 course xmas dinner with the SAHA Chief Exec present, with everyone else dressed up to the nines.  What mattered most though was seeing the young people enjoying the moment, celebrating their own achievements, supporting each other. These certainly were not the images from a Disadvantaged Thinking advert.

The Foyer highlights magazine notes that, ‘At Braintree Foyer we focus on inspiring our young people to develop their talents and aspire to great things. To do this we invest in challenging opportunities which will motivate and stretch our young people.’  This is a service that has not just been touched by Open Talent, but is running with it. Meeting the CEO of SAHA, I was struck, rather like with Gwalia yesterday, that here is a large housing association working to embed Open Talent into its core practices and culture, reaching into the very heart of its staff HR policies.  With such powers for change, and many more in the network, Open Talent really is on the brink of a massive breakthrough over the next year.  

The highlight of the evening was watching a duet from a young person – I believe one of our talent champions – and his support worker, who stepped into the breach to help share that scary moment when you are under the spotlight for the first time. What a performance it was.  It enabled the young person to take on his own act afterwards, with all the confidence of someone who is clearly going places in life.  This is exactly the sort of thing that won’t be in the complex needs support manual, singing a young person to the top of their talent.

We have recently been able to announce the beginning of an Open talent pilot in Braintree for 2012, with Youth at Risk, as part of our investor relationship with SAHA. So, I decided to wrap up one of my orange T-shirts from my TedX performance in Greece, and hand it over as a symbolic gift for the New Year.  I hope it will bring them good fortune, and perhaps inspire them to make me a better t-shirt for the next time I speak!

On the way home, I re-read a piece of paper from an Xmas cracker telling the story of  ‘that adventurous and  forward thinking Tom Smith’ who invented the cracker concept from a trip to France in 1840. Originally based in Clerkenwell, like the Foyer Federation, (who also discovered their reason for being from a trip to France) Smith watched his idea evolve over the years, until he eventually moved to the City and left his business to his sons, one of whom would tour the world to find new and unusual ideas for gifts to include inside. (I’m already thinking of changing my job title to that). Opening with a bang, wearing a new ‘hat’, celebrating with each other, looking forwards to what’s inside – the history of Tom Smith has more than a bit of Open Talent to it.  Maybe next year, we’ll make our own.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The A Team: making cherries, not war.

I was alarmed to get an email this week from my new friends in Australia alerting me to the strange appearance of ‘APOS’ in some of my correspondence.  Emails from my new tablet pc tend to replace apostrophes with APOS, which makes for strange reading.  Thinking this was a potential piece of advantaged thinking they were missing, my friends investigated further. What they found was that APOS is a popular acronym for ‘A Piece of Shit’.  Thankfully, they concluded that this was not the kind of greeting likely to come from an advantaged thinker – although I had hoped they would have suggested ‘A Positive Original Solution’ as an alternative. I’m left wondering what all the other people who have received my emails have thought. That tablet pc has clearly been taking the APOS.

I’m writing this on the way home from South Wales, hailstones spitting outside, the skies cement-grey, lightening on the line delaying my train.  Travelling to Wales is always an emotional trek for me through the strange weather of my youth, the memories of people and places where I lost and found too many talents to mention.  On arrival, I’m hurrying down Swansea high street, dashing past ripped-up pavements and Xmas posters promising festive cheer among suspicious looking names with too much make up, to reach the heart of inspiration in the city: the offices of Gwalia, our brilliant partners in South Wales. 

My wonderful host for today’s visit tells me some fantastic stories from her recent trip to India, and introduces me to the role of the Mahout, the people who look after Indian elephant sanctuaries. A Mahout works on a 1-1 basis with an elephant through an intensive relationship.  This is where some of the elephants who have gone a bit wild and caused havoc, or otherwise been rejected and depressed, end up – being cared for in a nurturing environment.  I reflect that the elephants of South India are getting a better deal than some of the young people we lock away in institutions of support and rehabilitation, who would get better outcomes with a sanctuary and a 1-1 Mahout. 

Which reminds me - on the topic of locking away - what actually happened to the rehabilitation revolution?  What justice have we achieved to make the criminal system work for those involved in it? Maybe we need to spend a little more time with our European partners to find out how to make a revolution happen.

After the elephants (great title for a book), Gwalia relay one of those annoying incidents where, at an external meeting, someone claimed – quite falsely – that Foyers ‘cherry pick’, despite the countless reports and accreditation evidence to the opposite.  The world take note: Foyers are not cherry pickers, they are cherry makers. Cherry picking is just a lazy accusation to avoid thinking about why services in our sector can’t open talent for all young people, and to avoid understanding how Foyers achieve positive outcomes through more creative approaches.

Cherry picking and cherry making leads me back to talent. We want to develop services that can spot and develop talent, not because they will cherry pick in an exclusive way, but because they will bother to work with and ‘make’ something from the potential others don’t recognise.  Open Talent dismisses the quite appalling rhetoric of ‘complex needs’, because it is about the more important stuff of goals, complex challenging goals that are the real drivers for life and future opportunity.  Every service should be a talent maker. Don’t diss the cherries!

Just imagine if our current set of ‘complex need’ expert policy and decision makers ran X Factor, and travelled around the country in a CompleX Needs bus, in pursuit of people with the biggest problems and deficits to disadvantage. Think you’ve got the CompleX Needs factor? We’ll warehouse you in a service to spot what you are not good at and what’s wrong with you, then help you cope with your problems until you aren’t complex enough for us to support anymore. No inspirational coach or mentor to develop your talent; no opportunity to take risks and learn through opportunities; no contract or agent to promote you. It’s no laughing matter.  This is what we are reduced to: a complex needs disadvantaged arms race, while the rest of the advantaged thinking world gets on with spotting and developing the talents that we allow to go to waste. There’s nothing complex about complex needs. It just needs to be voted out. It’s a no from me, Gary…

As for the rest of the meeting…Well…watch this space... If you have a problem, if complex needs can’t help, and if you’re in South Wales, maybe you can hire….  the Gwalia A Team, advantaged thinkers opening  talent in a community near you in 2012.  I love it when a plan comes together!

I have never been so excited about Wales since my parents first took me to Pembrokeshire with a bucket and spade when I was 8.

Meanwhile, my now doubly delayed train reminds me why the A Team drove a van.   Howling mad Falconer will, eventually, be back in the office…

Monday 12 December 2011

How amazing are you?

I’ve just come from an interesting ping pong of ideas around the tennis table of Sidekick Studios, who help support the development of new enterprise solutions such as the Amazings.  

I’m loving the simplicity and focus of The Amazings.  It’s very advantaged thinking: give a platform for people retired or coming up to retirement to offer their ‘amazing’ skill and experience from life in return for payment.  From blow drying and chocolate tasting, to woodland art and street photography, the Amazings remind us that as a society we too often under value the talents of those either side of the transition into and out of working adulthood.   I’m hoping that by the time I reach retirement, retirement won’t exist. We’ll all be too busy amazing each other.

Of course, young people are just as amazing. Anyone who has seen how a young person can light up a room of adults knows that.  Indeed, my mind is instantly taken back to a workshop in Plymouth Foyer this year, where a young person spent the whole day refering to himself - rightly so - as 'amazing'.The concept and platform for the Amazings should be a prompt for us to think more about the talents that young people have to offer from their own lives. The things we classify into boxes as disadvantages and problem behaviours, such as homelessness, can also sometimes contain their own powerful learning opportunities. Just look at Unseen Tours’ to see how individuals can be supported to turn their experience of the streets into an enterprising service.   It’s a question of the flip-vision: what have we got to use and offer?

 All this reminds me of  an equally amazing discussion with the charismatic CEO of People Can, Maff Potts, when he was at the Department for Communities and Local Government many years ago. We were shaping a concept for a prospective new service in London working with those from homeless and other backgrounds. The idea was to scrap the traditional deficit-based initial assessment process that normally awaits someone walking into the service, and instead offer each person just two profound questions: What have you got to offer? What do you want to take away?  I’m still in love with that idea.  So much so, that I shall post the question to anyone reading this blog. What have you got to offer as an advantaged thinker? And what do you want to take away?  Please tell me.

I wonder if David Cameron was asking himself those questions when he was negotiating the EU treaty.  If he was, I expect the word in his head was ‘bugger all’.  But as an advantaged thinker, I suppose there is the chance that he was holding onto the hope that Britain’s banking sector might become the new Switzerland.  What was it that Orson Wells said in The Third Man about cuckoo clocks….?

Sunday 11 December 2011

Braintree's Got Talent

Ever since my TEDx presentation of Open Talent back in April this year, it’s been my dream that young people would take up the challenge to make their own films about what Open Talent means – with their own tshirts! 

Back in March, it seemed every meeting I went to I was being told that Open Talent was complex and difficult to understand. The TEDx speech was a platform to show that it was simple, personal, common sense, and something that everyone could own as a campaign.

Some months later, I am delighted to hear that Braintree is the first Foyer to take up the baton, with Jessie and Jodie presenting a short film about ‘how young people can open their talent’.  It's a simple and insightful film, with the message that talent is all around us. We just need to see it.

It’s no surprise: Braintree Foyer, led by the advantaged-thinking Mark Watson, is a special place, a shining example of what the Foyer approach is all about.

I particularly like the moment Carl Miller, our talent champion of champions, describes a talent as ‘anything that makes you smile’. Carl’s work with Look Up To Yourself is amazing.  Alot of organisations talk about transformation and coaching, but few live it like Carl.

Now we have at least three videos to describe Open Talent – TEDx, Foyer Federation, and Braintree – with one more due from my Australian presentation to Virgin last month.  But why not many more?  Go and find out what your open talent is all about, and share it to inspire others.

Perhaps in a few years we will have our own TEDx, with young people from Foyers around the world showing us their talent to shape the future.  I dearly hope so. At a time when the adults have clearly lost the plot as leaders on the world stage, it can’t come a day too soon.

Saturday 10 December 2011

The MP Postal Service

Like many people, I’ve just experienced one of those moments (twice in the same week) when Royal Mail comes, doesn’t ring the doorbell (once, let along twice), and doesn’t leave a red delivery card.  They come, and then go, for no other reason than to suggest the illusion of a postal delivery service which used to be a fabric of our daily life.

Think about it. Royal Mail has just been paid to drive / cycle around London on a Saturday morning in order NOT to deliver the items they were carrying, but to take them back to the depot and wait until the person meant to receive them has worked out that they came but didn’t make it through the letter box.  It is Royal Mail who was not there to deliver, rather than I who was not there to receive.  Of course, it's true, I was unlucky. Some people actually get the red delivery card posted through their box, even if no attempt was made to deliver the actual parcel attached to it .  (And since starting this blog, someone just came, 5 hours later from the first attempt, to post a failed delivery card - again, with no attempt to knock a door or ring a bell. That's two journeys, with the parcel, to deliver one piece of paper!)

This is a farce. Isn’t it time we were honest about the postal system, and find a better way to provide  a service?  So Royal Mail is not being asked to carry around parcels with no real intent to deliver? 

In Germany, they have a system where you can have your parcel sent to a ‘packing station’ so you can pick it up yourself in your own time 24/7with a special code number emailed to you.   This at least takes out the uncertainty of relying on Royal Mail to post a delivery card through the letterbox to tell you to pick up the item they couldn’t be bothered to deliver to you.  It’s easy and transparent.

If that’s too expensive for us to create in the UK, why not have a postal choice, where we can ask for items to be sent direct to the local delivery office, without bothering the Royal Mail to fail to deliver them?  Even if we don’t have the sophistication of a proper ‘packing station’ you can access anytime, at least we could find out exactly when our item had arrived and have an automatic tracking code to go and pick it up. In some cases, this would be more preferable to guarantee we received our post.  Meanwhile, the Royal Mail service could focus on actually delivering the mail it has been paid to, and re-train its staff to ring doorbells, knock on doors, and use letter boxes.

Maybe in a Big Society like way, a local community could volunteer together for its own post person to go and pick up items at the weekend and deliver them as part of a ‘Postman Pat’ service, where you get your mail and a conversation at the same time.  Or a National Citizenship Postal Service. David Cameron – on yer bike!  Hold on a minute…The MP Postal Service could be just the trick to demonstrate Big Society in action, and give politicians a useful way to reconnect with their electorate. After all, they are pretty good at posting leaflets and knocking on doors during election time, so they have already perfected the talents required by the Royal Mail. Next time a politician who has lost their seat wonders what to do with their future career, we’ll know what to suggest.

As our society becomes more sophisticated, we seem to be destroying some of the little things in life that make a difference.   If Royal Mail can’t deliver a basic postal service, let alone the more human one it once did, then it’s time it abdicated and gave the crown to someone else.  I think my delivery card, when it does finally come, would look much better with a Westminster portcullis at the top.

Thursday 8 December 2011

rebel avatars and romantic anarchists

Now my Lenovo thinkpad keyboard has finally arrived, my tablet pc looks like it can operate without me.  I sit beside it like a cat in undergrowth, waiting for the first presentation or novel to flow from its screen. One day, we will end up redundant in the process of conversation and connection that is defining our world.  The words will just echo without us.  Tweets will tweet back to each other in an infinite tweet-ness.  Faces will follow one another that bear no relation to the identities that originally chose them to represent the fast vanishing concept of ourselves . We’ll become unwanted slaves to rebel avatars. Back to the basket, cats …

It’s been one of those over and under advantaged thinking days, which starts off with the high octane of ideas ballooning in the sky (thanks to C4C), and ends crashing into the pavement of limits and gravity. But the ideas were good, with wings I could fly in. Like Icarus. Advantaged thinking is ultimately all about holding your nerve and belief, in the face of all the reasons of why we under achieve our dreams. Advantaged dreaming needs Advantaged actioning too.

Favourite quote of the day: ‘here’s a right wing left field idea…’  Do we ever do right field ideas? Maybe that would be radical in a left brain kind of way. Right field, right of centre, right in the muddy patch near the bushes, to go left at the next right…

Favourite idea of the day: instead of just co-working hubs, why don’t we do office swaps? So, we could form a connection of say 100 people in 100 organisations, and swap a day a week between our workspaces. Which would also benefit the organisations from the input of new energy. Who wants to be my swapper?  I'm up for Russia if you are reading.

For some reason, I’ve ended up being reminded that I spent my early childhood learning to overcome a stammer. Now, as an adult, I’m trying to ‘avoid’ overcoming the intellectual stammer in my head, that refuses to stop beating out its drum for change in what Fassbinder once wonderfully described as a romantic anarchism.  My brain is punk. I'm asking for an upgrade from Director of Innovation to Director of anarchy.

What we need are the people who keep us on track at being our authentic selves, who hold a compass for our beliefs like a co-heartbeat.  Is that a new job for the 21st century?  City Trackers.  Please apply within. My compass is heading left of left field...

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Harry Potter and Tommy Cooper

A great meeting today with the new CEO of Venture Trust, Mark Bibby.  We have worked with Venture Trust down the years as their programme has consistently offered a valuable opportunity for young people in Foyers to access and develop through. It’s not often that an organisation is able to have the ex CEO and the new one in the same room to say hello and goodbye at the same time, which made for an exciting conversation on the past and future as we slouched around the Foyer Federation’s brightly coloured bean bags in our respective suits.  

Thinking about the way Venture Trust work – the young people in Foyers travel a long way beyond Hadrian’s Wall to go into a wilderness setting where they develop new skills, confidence and self-belief – it struck me that perhaps this was the real Harry Potter programme, for which a special platform in Kings Cross no doubt already exists for those in the know.  After all, the young people come back from Venture Trust having re-found their inner magic. Which is exactly what an Open Talent opportunity is all about: opening up the gifts that lie within us all. Venture Trust is a ‘place’ and an ‘opportunity’ which does that.  We don't need to look for an imaginary world; it already exists - all be it a long way up north!

Now I just need to catch up with the Harry Potter novels / films on my next long haul flight, and learn how to conjure up some investment so we can work with Venture Trust for more years to come. New year resolutions and workplan goals– must learn to be a stand up comedian, and a magician.  Can I be the Tommy Cooper of Open Talent? 
It's the yin and yang of life.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

mince pies and ice cream

A first taste of mince pies with the Virgin Unite board today, as we thanked them for their support in helping us to begin our Open Talent journey.

 As always with such events, it’s the young people who rightly steal the show. Not because they are under the spot light to talk about their disadvantages, at least not with Open Talent. Today was all about recognising human achievement and potential. Of celebrating how we can harness the talents of all young people by working with them through the right investment.  Such as the young person who wants to set up a thai boxing gym to work with those who have been bullied so they too can find their confidence in life.  The capacity to turn challenging experiences into inspiring solutions is what drives us to make Open Talent fly.  This really is a matter of shaping the future through individual lives. 

Today was also a reminder of what happens when you give young people the space to be themselves, when their natural qualities for creativity and daring come effortlessly to the fore. No one else in the room would have plucked up the courage to ask Ben and Jerry to name an ice cream after them. But a young person did.  We miss that too often.
As for myself, it’s the first Open Talent event when I actually really really needed a drink of coffee to wake up – and there was none in sight. The only coffee in the room was in my powerpoint slides, and the energy of minds lit up by what’s possible.  In the end, that was more than enough.
Back in the office, looking through the outline for our new Open Talent qualities framework, it feels more like the beginning of the year ahead than the end of a long year.  

Monday 5 December 2011

Coffee and Calendars

There is nothing like a cold grey Monday morning to make you feel back home in the UK. Walking along the Seven Sisters road I realise I’m definitely not in Australia. The green trees are skeletal.  I’m into the tail end of jetlag, but each night, every dream I have, no matter what the story, ends up on another long haul flight. Why can’t I dream of cruise liners instead? Or buses that never come, like in London.

Today it’s another Working Assets session, throwing around ideas with our partners Changemakers.  Having talked in Oz about the difference between the narrative of coffee, and the language of disadvantaged thinking, I’m now into playing games where people present themselves – or their services - as coffee, to focus on branding their advantages.  Despite the current turn of my dreams, my coffee is the ‘big dreamer’.  Drink to dream a better world.  And because I can never do the same thing twice, every cup is as different as the day it’s drunk. … Which was no where near as exciting a coffee as my colleagues.  Starbucks, watch out! What coffee are you?

For some random reason, the session on Working Assets generates a stack of ideas on alternative advent calendars. This is rich material for possibilities. My favourite is the Big Society calendar, with nothing in any of the doors, allowing you and the local community to fill them in yourself.   Any takers?   Keep an eye out next year in Asda...

Friday 2 December 2011

The Foyer has landed

It’s in a Sydney airport shop where I’m woken up from my sleepy daze by a female assistant asking me where I’m going back to. ‘Oh London’, she says when I answer, ‘that’s such a cliché choice to live. You should at least be up north and have a Cheshire accent.’  Arena Foyers would have loved that.

 It turns out she had spent a year in Solihull – a place which, I seem to recall, has a roundabout with flowers in a desperate attempt to be mistaken as a garden city.
‘I can speak English when I’m drunk,’ she proudly asserts. Which is very English.
I ask her why she is working in the shop, and she talks to me about her love for makeup and how she is a ‘struggling artist’ paying for her passion for make up palettes through a day job.  She looks, in the most polite way, as though she stuck her head in the mouth of a cement mixer when she got up, and was now sporting strange white patches around her mouth and eyes. Maybe she didn’t care that much for artistry in a shop full of mostly tacky gifts.
 When I come to pay, I work out I’ll probably have 10 dollars spare by the flight, which I can either give away to the Rotary appeal, or the person in front of me. I slide the note across the counter top, in a gesture of someone wanting to believe in her dream. 

On the first leg of the flight home, I have that moment everyone waits for – when someone from cabin crew comes over and announces ‘we have another seat for you’.  The surrounding passengers watch in some jealousy as I’m lead to the promised land of an upgrade. A seat I can sleep in. Maybe the manager from Atlantic liked my presentation back in Sydney.  I take the opportunity to read a few chapters from the book presented to me by Mark Bolton from The Ladder, and I am struck by the connection in its approach to developing team values and the focus on qualities in Open Talent. It’s too good a coincidence. In the right chair and headspace, I tap out my paper on the Qualities Framework like it’s been waiting for this moment all along.

Unfortunately, my trip in the promised land only lasts up to Hong Kong, before being cast back to economy.  My seat companion for the final leg is a determined young lady returning home for xmas after trying to get some post law degree experience working in Australia, all be it only in a retail shop.  It’s that ability to be mobile which many people aren’t able to experience during their transition to adulthood.  It’s a precious investment, and one which is already lifting her out of the more closed network of her upbringing. Similar to the makeup artist, she might feel in that period of living when the future hope feels far away from reality, but in the end, as I remind her, in a Yeats / Gunn kind of way, we always arrive as someone by not standing still.

And finally, we do.  To a cold London, rising in December sunshine, with a fountain of emails pouring from my phone.