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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Monday 27 February 2012

Ten Good Things

The extradition of pensioner Christopher Tappin to the United States caught my eye over the weekend. Today he is asking for bail from his El Paso prison, where he has hopefully survived his first few nights inside the brutal gang system that dominates there. Whatever the factuals in the case – and since the American judicial system doesn’t need to provide evidence to extradite someone, we know precious little – my sympathies lie with the man. After all, given that the American Government wins 95% of its prosecution cases, the only thing anyone can do is plead guilty and try to get out of a system whose interpretation of justice is best summed up by Guantanamo Bay.

But this entry isn’t really about the shameful way our country gives up its citizens in the name of  half-baked interpretations of law more akin to Kafka. Rather, the story about Tappin set my mind back a few years to the so-called Natwest Three, the first high profile case following the extradition agreement signed by Tony Blair.  One of those three, Gary Mulgrew, wrote an excellent book about his experiences of living through the nightmare of imprisonment in one of America’s toughest jails. Mulgrew might not be the Brendan Behan or Jean Genet of prison literature, but his writing has a humanity that is all too absent from the politics and justice that convicted him, or, dare one say, the banking world where he came from. 

As Mulgrew recounts the shock of joining a dormitory cell simmering with the threat of violence, he describes some of the mental approaches which, one hopes, Tappin might be using now. They include this:  whatever the difficulties one may be facing, remember the positives of the day and say ‘thank you’ for ten things before falling asleep. One can only imagine how poignant and difficult that might be for someone far from home in such a scary place.  It’s a technique worth its weight in gold though, a simple but powerful form of advantaged thinking.  So often, we get lost in thinking about the stresses and tensions we face, the fears and negatives in our lives, the things that are not working, the faults in ourselves or others, the deficits surrounding us. How much more useful it is, more mentally challenging, to find ten things that one can thank the universe for.  To recognise and celebrate what is good.
If we can do that for ourselves, perhaps we can remember to do so for others, particularly those caught up in the institutions of ‘disadvantage’ where deficits and risks are credited before all else.  Those Foyers trying to make sure that even their handover sheets capture, however small, what positives each individual has shown, are leading the way in shifting the balance of our consciousness. 
If we all did 10 good things each day, if we all thought to identify and say thank you for them, no one would be waking up in the El Paso Prison Facility with fear in their heart.

Thursday 23 February 2012

The Loneliness of the Long Distanced Thinker

People often say I have a great job title, Director of Innovation (my day job). Though I'd rather swap it for Dreams. They ask me, how do you  think of new things? Where do you get your ideas? Who do you read? What's the latest thing? What's in your head?

I have no idea.

 I enjoyed being told once on my arrival at an international conference that I had the worst photo of any speaker. I feel more like Andy Warhol. I'm not a director of anything. I'm just here, trying to find people to direct and innovate with me, rather than trying to innovate and direct people into an output.

The only innovators I have ever met where the young people we are trying to innovate for.

The only idea I have ever had I repeat endlessly, because human narrative has still not changed. We are a generation in the cusp, still feeling for the way out of the cave.

There is a rational approach to being an advantaged thinker.  But I'm not a rational person.  And I don't believe that rational approaches have got the Third sector very far, except to be an expert in the disadvantage that it should have eradicated.  Disadvantaging Industry reports and headlines hold no interest for me, I don't read them.

As an alterternative - what advantaged thinking should always try -  I can offer one of my secret stories.  What it is really like to be the Director of Innovation, atleast for 5 minutes. 

Taking an idea from conception into delivery is like carrying a candle across a waterless swimming pool without letting the light going out. You tread like on rice paper, you stumble in desperation, you nurture the flame like it’s your heart, you ache for the distance to be halved, you lose all sense of yourself in the determination to reach a moment you don’t yet understand, you realise the importance of the process between flowing unconsciousness and the grip of the ledge.  If you get there ever. If the light doesn’t go out first. If, on reaching what you think might be the end, you don’t realise it wasn’t the candle you had hoped for.  The crowd on the side of the pool never clap, will never encourage you on, will never crown you with anything but thorns.  As you crawl forwards, you catch glimpses of the status quo awarding medals to people for not changing the world. But still you continue, biting your lip. Driven not by performance targets, money, the absurd desire to make a difference like leaving a footprint in the sand, need, recognition, none of that.  You are the candle you are carrying. You are the idea you are trying to conceive. And the sooner you realise that the problems you seek to solve are already part of you, were you all along, the closer you will be to authenticity.  The loneliness of the long distance advantaged thinker is that you have to wear blinkers and refuse to listen to doubt; you have to wear thick skin to forget the criticism and ignorance placed around you; you have to suffer being short and long sighted in the same vision; you have to live each second with a remorseless snail-like passion to express something there are no words for; you have to ultimately stand outside of the ego you dress under titles and smart clothes, and hand the candle back to someone else, in the gift of realisation.  You have to dare to do all that, before someone blows you out like a dandelion.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

We're on a journey

On the flight to Belfast, I catch the sun set bursting orange and peach through a bank of clouds.  I’m thinking what might be achieved tomorrow; wondering what will begin; hoping Open Talent is landing to fresh roots.  But at the back of my mind, all the time I return to a poster on the wall at Gatwick Airport, saying ‘we’re on a journey’ . The poster cleverly informs us that the airport is under-going changes, that whatever gaps in the fabric or annoyances, there is something good to come. We understand the language. Journeys are something we enter into, looking forward to what lies beyond, enjoying the potential of what might come. ‘We’re on a journey’ is a call to aspiration. Hey, we are going somewhere. It’s exciting. Whatever we lack now, think ahead to what might be.
The poster at Gatwick is something we can understood, sympathise with, accept.
How different our perspective can be for the young people society defines as problems.  If you are unemployed, if you are an offender, if you are whatever deficit label , then you are no longer on a journey but a pathway to be supported and nudged along into a dead-end; you are no longer on a journey but someone who has already arrived without potential to be more than you are now.  
It is the responsibility of charities to remind us all that young people, whatever we call them, are on a journey to our future. That it is not a black and white face of poverty to hide away from, but something and somewhere and someone that could be just as exciting as the destinations we wish for ourselves. They are all on a journey – what are we doing to help them get there? Where do we want 'there' to be?
Let’s learn from the poster at Gatwick.  Tell the world that all young people are on a journey with us.

Monday 13 February 2012

A modern ritual to grow

Since it’s social media week, I’m going to try to squeeze in as much advantaged thinking and tweeting as I can. Life might feel like one hectic highway of meetings and bids, but after a weekend with a cupcake consultation – if you haven’t tried one, seriously, it’s the way forward – I have the advantage of amazing ingredient combinations from Bea's of Bloomsbury in my mind.

Topic number one for today is about the lines of people buying valentine cards and flowers at Liverpool Street station tonight, on the eve of Valentine’s. It’s an amazing achievement: a ritual so strong in the modern public consciousness that even the most stressed out worker drone will break the habit of their path home to invest in those little symbols of appreciation and affection for another human being.  The power of positive gifts and gifting to others is not to be underestimated.

 I’m a strong believer in ritual.  It feels to me, in our modern sophistication, we forget how ‘the right’ rituals can be created and used to stimulate progress in our society.  A good ritual will beat any performance system or Government sanctioned ‘nudging’ to develop human behaviour.  We are sometimes in danger of losing rituals that have lost presence in our lives, without finding their replacement in a new form.

All of which reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s brilliant North poems, where, in the context of the Irish troubles of the 70s, he wrote about the potential for understanding and healing through a refreshed form of ritual and ceremony. 

Is there a ritual that will enable us to change the way invest in those young people we just see as deficits and disadvantaged?  Is there a ritual that will enable us to share with them the same focus of love we hold for our own children’s investments and those of our family?

Some might say that Children in Need’s red nose day is the charity equivalent to a modern ritual for giving, but it’s not what I’m thinking of or hoping for, however worthy the cause.  Children in Need – as the name suggests, Holmes – is  locked into a form of giving a pound to deficits and disadvantage that is part of the system of charity we are comfortable with, rather than a different, more profound ask: about changing ourselves.  About thinking differently of our world and how we can harness the resources within it as assets for good. What I’m talking about is a ritual for investing in the humans we don’t know, with the love and belief that everyone has the talent to contribute amazing things to life if we can get the deal right.  Children with Goals, Children in Talent, whatever brand will do.  That’s not an easy ask, and that’s part of the point. For us to evolve, we need to challenge the potential of our lives to increase the potential of others in the bigger life we call earth. How exciting that is. What a huge flower of responsibility to nurture.

When you are done with Valentine’s in social media week, when the flowers have died, send someone an advantaged thinking tweet, an e-card to open their confidence and ability, a smiley email, anything that connects. Look for a ritual to grow our new consciousness to open talent in all young people.   

Sunday 12 February 2012

Breakfast of Charities

I started the week thinking about  DorsetCereals’ approach to ‘Life’s simple pleasures’.   Dorset Cereals strapline is about being ‘honest, tasty and real’.  It has a website that will even give you a screensaver offering a new simple pleasure each day. 

Being honest and real is an essential part of advantage thinking. 

So, let’s be real for just a moment - because there is a significant amount of dishonesty in the way our society approaches the role of charity, those being helped by charity, and those working within charity. After all, if we really wanted to solve the issues at stake, we wouldn’t invest huge amounts of money and time in creating and maintaining the problems as problems in the first place. Anyone who has studied the prison system will know that to be a fact.  Yet the posters and street collectors keep rattling the same messages for the pennies required to keep the whole game spinning round. Even the innovation of solutions can just become part of the way we avoid losing the optimism for social change.  How else could I keep going for 10 years and not actually acheive the vision of the organisation I'm working for? On a bad day, it can mean we perpetuate the injustice of the system within which we are working.  But more often than not it is about how we live our role - as individuals and charities - in the ‘real’ truth of human evolution, something we rarely ponder enough about.   
While it is clear that advantaged thinking is part of a movement to erode the cliff face of current humanity into a more sophisticated and fairer being, the process of change is a slow and continual one. I’m but a tiny molecule of change. Charity is sometimes about the dishonesty of investing in the problems to avoid thinking about the real solutions, because the ‘tasty’ bit requires a longer and deeper perspective on how humanity and social orders function across history.  It requires more ‘cathedral thinking’ than 'ego building'.  As a tiny molecule, I’ll admit to not having the strength to think about what the next generation can achieve; to losing my own honesty of who I am in the need to want to change life now, to end the suffering immediate to us.   But as a wiser molecule, I can also see beyond an individual brand or programme promising to transform the world, to know that what we are really about is chipping away at a wall in the human psyche until the divide between how we think about advantage and disadvantage finally collapses.
All of which seems a long way from a bowl of Dorset cereals.  But it isn’t. Life’s simple pleasures is also a reminder that the universe has certain simple rules.  And if Dorset cereals can create a community following the eating of breakfast products, then what on earth are we doing that we can't create a bigger  and deeper community that is honest about the talent potential of young people?   
We don't even have breakfast together.
It’s time for charity to get real.