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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Monday 30 January 2012

Tales of the unexpected

It’s the beginning of national storytelling week.  The harbinger of this news, for me at least, is a message from the Royal Mail, author of that great lost novel The Effective Postal Service.  
I’m thankful for the reminder though, because story telling is something of a lost art in the youth charity sector. It’s not that charities don’t know how to tell a good story to promote their cause; it’s just that most have perverted the art by telling the wrong story, with the same stereotypes, the usual suspects.  Too many have lost the moral authority to write the future.

Think about: how often do you find a major youth charity trying to talk about what they do and who they work with in terms of the real issues and solutions, instead of the endless list of deficits linked to a character looking vulnerable and huddled under a doorway? 

Sometimes is not enough. In the disadvantaged arms race we are in, it seems the more needs and despair you can promote, the better the story.  But it doesn’t wash.  Look between the lines, through the black and white images, and ask – is this engaging your mind to the issue at stake, or just a knee jerk to suffering?  I’d hate to work for – or be represented by – an organisation prepared to talk about me as ‘disadvantaged’ because it thinks this is the best story to attract another 40p in the donate now bucket.   There is an urgent story to be told about people in the world who are not in a position to develop their talents – and it requires greater daring and deeper intent than what gets pushed through my letter/email box or pops up on the internet.

The story of providing an immediate safety net for disadvantage too often suffocates the potential for investing  in the real advantages that can help build a young person’s future.  It’s the story of what we really need to do, and how, which is missing.

I like to think about it in terms of Coffee. We spend around 100 billion dollars a year on coffee, one of the most traded commodities on the planet. However useful coffee is,  we don’t actually need it as a resource as much as our planet needs young people. 100 billion dollars is a pot big enough to try to eradicate youth unemployment across the world.   Part of the reason why we invest so much in coffee can be found in the advertising – it’s promoted to us as an advantage, something sophisticated, creative, sexy, passionate, vital, alive, holistic, linked to being conscious about the world and connected to others. If charity comms departments applied their talents to advertise coffee, they would suck big time.  Don’t young people, then, deserve a little more invention and positive daring from the household charity brands big enough to sell a different story?

So, in the spirit of storytelling week, I ask: where are the storytellers prepared to disrupt the disadvantaged paradigm in the youth charity sector?  Hopefully, coming in a poster or internet advert soon, with the positive poetry of new enterprise. Because if the story continues to talk only of disadvantage,  it's time for charity to 'diss off'.

Sunday 29 January 2012

A week in advantaged thinking

The week began in grey, a Metropolis of monday commuters shuffling like Hammer Horror zombies. Humanity connected only through the touch of oyster cards and the shared smell of recession biting the air.  
Then, energy changes everything. 
On Monday, Look Up to Yourself, showing how a single smile can spark someone else into being; that the smallest of gestures break through the ice between us with a talent for life.
 On Tuesday, a breakfast of funders and thinkers, looking beyond the surface of disadvantage to explore the potential to invest in a real stake in society for young people – not just a bed for a night or a job for a day, or another two hours at Job Centre Minus.
On Wednesday, Foyers discussing an alternative learning offer for young people, followed by entrepreneurs (Visionpath and Mysi) offering a different way to experience education.  Can Foyers develop an innovative space to open talent, with their own unique advantages to fuel the confidence of young people?  Can this identity be recognised beyond being the poor partner of mainstream education?  Will our age-based policy ever grow up to take responsibility not to act like Logan’s Run, discriminating against anyone who isn’t connected by 19 or 21?  (which reminds me of the work of the wonderful Forum for Youth Investment)  In such questions lie the small seeds of revolution.
On Thursday daytime, our Open Talent pilot Foyers, reflecting back on learning from a year of discoveries.  If we really want places, people and opportunities to inspire young people, then there are simple investments we can make to achieve these – if we are prepared to recognise and change the paradigm of current working. This, perhaps, is the central message.   I am struck by the potential for both young people and the staff working with them to learn more from the world of enterprise on how to identify and take the risks required to succeed, and how to do so by disrupting the limits we are living and working within.

On Thursday evening, the week’s main event at the Ministry of Entrepreneurship, sharing stories to ‘defeat the poverty mindset’ through ‘the rise of the creative, conscious class’: GoodPeople, Darren Robson, Bitch, and the amazing Sir John Whitmore.  The impact from such a room – the buzz, the ideas, the passion - makes me feel that there is another service to a Gym that we need: a sort of Posi-cafĂ©, where you walk into a space for 30 minutes of personalised energy focused on the positive and the possible within you,  after which, reconnected with your real self, you go and get on and create the rest of your day.  I’m looking for a building if anyone has one…
Friday finishes with a few last flourishes from the excellent Keyfund and Venture Trust, until I’m left with a series of connections, of people in separate organisations and networks, whom, if we all connected, could completely change the conversation we are currently in - and reshape how we see the world for those young people our society prefers to 'disadvantage' rather than 'advantage'.  
Where is the oyster card to 'touch in' to that dream? 
Even in the cacophony of Monday mobile phone calls to mysterious others, there are individuals evolving beyond brands and sectors to do good differently together.  The positive deviants within.  Become one...

Thursday 19 January 2012

Take a 'Walk on the Guile Side'

‘A Walk on the Guile Side’ comes from the Foyer Federation’s latest adventure in advantaged thinking.  At the organisation’s regular team times, members of staff facilitate new exercises to explore different ideas from Open Talent. This week, I shared the facilitation spot with a colleague who has a passion for walking in the local area at lunch times, and so we decided to experiment with an enterprise called Advantaged Thinking Tours.

The concept has three elements:

1)      People on the tour become their own guides.  Participants work together to locate and reflect on a few symbolic local landmarks chosen by Advantaged Thinking Tours for their journey, but are encouraged to use the powers of Advantaged Thinking to ‘spot’ other interesting places, people opportunities, deal and campaign examples in the surrounding environment to make up their own map.

2)      People on the tour act in the spirit of ‘intrepid explorers’ to embrace the idea of finding their own path, challenging themselves to search out new territory, and bringing back fresh perspectives to share and discuss some of the things they experience and learn on the journey.

3)      The tour helps people to realise that, by applying advantaged thinking and an open talent lens, you always see new ‘talents’ of relevance in the world around you – things that you might be walking past each day.

And so the Foyer Federation staff spit into 3 teams to spend 30 minutes starting out from Farringdon to find selected landmarks celebrating the lives of other intrepid spirits, thinkers and reformers, including John Groom, Joseph Grimaldi, Marx, Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, William Richard Lethaby, Charles Dickens, Sydney Smith, Dorothy L Sayers, and Benjamin Disraeli.  A remarkable list chosen by my colleague by searching out commemorative plaques, made all the richer by the various random finds of teams as they plotted out their own intrepid routes.   By the end of the exercise, there was a strong rational for the Foyer Federation and Open Talent to be in the Farringdon area.

Advantaged Thinking Tours is a perfect exercise to experience Advantaged Thinking and Open Talent by illustrating some of its ideas through one's own locale, and to open up fresh possibilities in the environment around you in a fun and active way. For other ‘Walk on the Guile Side’ ideas, it is worth checking out the excellent work of Unseen Tours – using the talents of people who have experienced homelessness as guides for a different perspective of the London environment.

Don’t forget:
‘And the Advantaged Thinkers go
Do, do do, do do do, do do do…’

Friday 13 January 2012

Wanted: Advantaged Thinking

It's taking me a while to acclimatise in London after Japan, but now I have got used to having a cold and living in the dark, I'm feeling back at home. At least Farringdon Station is beginning to emerge in size and beauty each morning like a butterfly.

Back at home means it is time for a fresh challenge. The other day, someone asked me what Advantaged Thinking was. As I trotted out the answer, I thought now would be the right moment to raise the stakes and introduce the world to the tests of Advantaged Thinking.

Anyone reading this blog will hopefully have worked out that Advantaged Thinking is a vision to develop people’s assets and advantages instead of supporting deficits and disadvantage. It is a campaign to disrupt our traditional approach to social problems by investing in the solutions that will evolve the way we think and live as human beings.

The tests of Advantaged Thinking look in detail at seven areas of inquiry:

1.       How you talk about people

2.       How you understand people

3.       How you work with people

4.       How you invest in people

5.       What you expect for people

6.       How you involve people as their own solutions

7.       How you act to find, develop, support and challenge thinking in others

Each area offers a way in to explore, strengthen or transform the way in which current belief systems, strategies, communications, and practices operate to ‘advantage’ or ‘disadvantage’ people.

I’ll be writing about Advantaged Thinking across these areas over the year ahead, and am keen for others to ‘spot’ examples of Advantaged Thinking in different areas of life so we can collectively recognise, celebrate and learn from it.

 I’ll also be starting to review how the different organisations we all love and hate really match up as Advantaged Thinkers, because I believe it is time that those who are in positions of responsibility to lead and influence social change are actually called to account for the way they think about and do things.  That is, if the disadvantaged thinkers don’t stop me first… If you know any organisations you think ought to be tested out, or spot any examples of advantaged thinking, drop me a line at advantagedthinking@gmail.com

Friday 6 January 2012

Spying for the possible

The end of the journey is watching the moon`s imprint in the sky, eagles spiraling over bowed palm trees, boat`s from far-away lands gliding across the onsen`s sea horizon.  Here, one cherishes the space and time to think, decide, connect. Space and time, the two things we always talk about needing more of, but in our actions we seem to purposely destroy.  A casual glance at my bulging email box, from the prism of Japan, reveals at least 70% of messages are of absolutely no significance. (And for anyone reading this who has emailed me, of course you are the 30%). That is merely the tip of an ice berg of inconsequentiality that throttles our minds through ever more devious means, from funding announcements for projects we`ll never do to twitter messages about someone`s tea. Yet, these are the things we rush back to focus our precious space and time on.  I have been reflecting on a line from the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy adaption, watched on the flight over, which touches on how someone can be taught to bury at least one thing as a secret that is so deep it cannot be revealed under torture. If we could bury one positive pure vision in our selves, each day, and from that place resist all stress and insignificances to keep its truth intact, what a different world we might be able to live. Since Open Talent offers at least one different perspective for each week day, perhaps I`ll start with that when I return to the place known as London. Like a weekly advent calendar, with each day`s place, person, opportunity, deal or campaign, revealing new possibilities. Waking up each day to create or look for something, we might actually make or find it.

Monday 2 January 2012

A riot

At the January sales, a crowd of eager popping eyes and pointing fingers, everything reduced in worth and value.  I watch people trying on things that do not match or fit, except for the price tag. If I stand still here long enough, someone will buy me. A whole industry exists for this moment of impulse, stampeding to own.  I hunt to see if any shops are offering a charity bag, charity points, something to invest differently. Wouldn`t it be great, I think, to have an open talent card, that turns money into credit to invest in others.

It is the New Year, with the same list of promises to do better, do good, do more or less, all the things we know are better than the ball of stress and selfishness we revert to. Which itself spawns another set of products to buy, gym passes, lifestyle choices, lists of make believe trends. How to hold onto the purity of one`s thoughts from midnight? How to keep on remembering those we forget? To be the person we put back into the attic with the decorations...

The questions fade into the returning train`s crush of bags holding onto bodies, as though we have become accessories to our purchases.  I feel like I have been caught up in a sanctioned riot, without the broken glass. Awash in this material world, the real advantages are where people are travelling to tonight, to what conversations and connections behind closed doors.