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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Saturday 14 December 2013

The Adventures of TaTa-man

 The Adventures of TaTa-man in....
                                                                A Night of Bananas
The Velvet Underground’s ‘banana’ album sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years; but legend has it that everyone who bought one set up a band. Can an audience at the theatre find similar inspiration to create a community that ends youth ‘dis’-advantage?

Find out on the 6th August, 2014, at The Cockpit, Marylebone, London.

‘The Adventures of TaTa-man’ is a performance of ideas that invites its audience to explore the powers of ‘Taking Advantaged Thinking Action’ through the story of a modern day charity anti-hero.

TaTa-man’s search for solutions to the challenges ‘dissing’ young people plots an alternative journey from the horrors of the First World War and the origins of Dada, to prehistoric cave-painting and the secrets of coal mine canaries, uncovering the real potential behind Advantaged Thinking as a movement through time and space.

 Offering an anarchic blend of words and images with an urgent social message, this will be a night to ‘TaTa’ on the wild side of the mind.

Are you ready for your Banana?

Full details to be revealed in the New Year.  www.thecockpit.org.uk



Saturday 23 November 2013

From Right Here to Right There

On friday night I was attending a celebration event for the ending of Right Here, a joint project by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Mental Health Foundation. If you haven't been paying attention over the last 5 years, Right Here is a £6m programme to radically change how we look after the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 16 to 25 across the UK. Or, more simply, 'creating responsive services that provide young people with the mental health support and advice they want, when and where they want it.'  As one of the brilliant Right Here ambassadors put it, 'If young people are not part of the answer to their mental health, then what questions are health commissioners asking?'

Right Here is likely to be most remembered for its youth-led work to influence commissioning approaches and develop practical tools for young people to advance their mental health. These are important outcomes, and the Foyer Federation is working with Right Here's group of expert youth ambassadors to apply that positive focus in its own Healthy Conversations initiative to 'bring health to life'.

But there is something else in Right Here which is equally as interesting - and worth much more than the cupcake provided at the end of the night. Over the last 5 years, Right Here has created a network of ambassadors who have grown together from teenagers to young adults whilst participating in the  project's activities. It is a 'transition community' in all senses of the word: a group that has supported individuals to navigate a complicated life period, with a set of professional adults both learning from and supporting the learning of the young people involved. Like all effective communities, its success has been based on a common relation between individuals associated with something of personal interest, and the ability to maintain those connections through ongoing activity that has meaningful impact.  The power of the group is that its value will keep giving back in years to come way beyond the funding ever imagined.

At the end of the event, Rob Bell, Head of Social Justice at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, set a challenge for young people to find a way to 'self-mobilise' around powerful issues to create social change where it is needed most; and to learn from where ever this has been achieved in other cultures and periods. Which set my mind thinking about how pioneering innovative action stimulates the growth of different communities of influence. While the mass mobilisiation of individuals around political campaigns (such as Obama's first election) and popular artists (such as Lady Gaga's 'little monsters') are common phenomena, less attention is paid to how single actions of real inspiration create their own future communities through applied thinking.

A popular example of this is the 'myth' of how the Velvet Underground's 'Banana album' sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years, but each person who bought the ablum would set up their own band inspired by it's ground breaking approach. If you look at some of those bands, they were teenagers and young adults creating their own micro 'transition networks' based around music, which in many cases grew into popular communities such as Punk. The 'Banana album' and its band was the 'source' of action which stimulated the growth of various communities of cultural influence over decades to come.

Why do I cite this? Because, while Rob Bell was rightly pointing people's attention to more socio-political examples of self-mobilisation, what the Charity sector desperately needs is to refind a 'community of innovation' within its soul to be a better source of inspiration at the local and national level. Something not owned by one brand, one body, one set of adults, one hub group, one funded opportunity, one great project; but more flexibly and fluidly lived and shared between different organisations , individuals and age groups, young and old, stimulated into creativity through the right mix of 'source' influences.

For those source influences to exist, we must find and nurture pioneers to 'Take Advantaged Thinking Action' (TaTa) that will bring people together over products and happenings rich and free enough in ideas for others to flourish from. It doesn't need glossy research reports or stategic plans; it doesn't need platforms to applaud the status quo. It is about giving away ideas through innovation 'performances' that stimulate people to think.

Which, in a sector built on competition for funding, is hard to pull off. And given most source innovators never reap the benefits their followers gain, it is also hard to advocate for within most organisational structures where impact is too closely linked with self-survival.

That is why I am launching a 'performance' in 2014 (The Adventures of TaTa-man and the Night of Bananas) to invite a mixed community of people with the ability to grow thinking from various sectors to share in my 'source' of Taking Advantaged Thinking Action. It's a performance on a stage in the theatre (dates and venue to be announced), because the theatre is one powerful example of community experience where we engage in reflective connection through a dramatic source. I am trying to create a 'theatre of charity' that looks for radical breakthroughs in the same way as the 'theatre of cruelty'. A TaTA that applies a new type of DaDa to drive positive social change. It's about putting into one performance the same 'Banana album' thesis: if you are in the audience, then the mobilisation offered in the moment of sharing an experience might enable you to grow your own community of action through whatever inspiration you express through yourself afterwards. I want everyone to take a Banana away.

The project developed by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Mental Health Foundation might be drawing to a close, but so much is still beginning from all the lives touched through it.  Right Here is when we keep building right there into our future. It's the capital of life.

Saturday 16 November 2013

The Launch of Thinking Class

Over a year ago, I came with an idea to create ‘Thinking Class’ as a way to revolutionise travel and contribute to the development of social innovation. You can read my original blog on the concept here  So, what happened? Umm, apart from some interesting and productive journeys by myself, not much.  Until now.

This Monday, November 18th, Thinking Class is launched on a train travelling between London to Birmingham and back.  It’s a pilot flash-mob approach, although maybe that’s too strong a word. With four people involved, it’s more of a secret cabal.  The train selected is on a Virgin route because the original idea for Thinking Class came from reading 'Screw Business as Usual' whilst travelling on Virgin Atlantic. The Virgin brand is a bit 'thinking class' too.  It's also cost effective -  great customer service in a moving work space that costs less than hiring a meeting room. 

Armed with Thinking Class identity lanyards, and a menu of concepts to explore from the Foyer Federation’s excellent strategic plan consultation document, my special group of Advantaged Thinkers will be testing out the rules behind Thinking Class to see if it works on a limited scale of travellers from the same organisation.

Let me explain.

Unlike traditional class systems of travel, Thinking Class is not something you ‘buy’. It’s not about how much income you have to purchase privilege for yourself.  Thinking Class is designed for people who have something to give to others. It’s about how many ideas you can generate to invest in social change.

Membership of Thinking Class has a simple A-B-C set of rules.

Thinking must be:

Advantaged  We focus on positive opportunities to generate practical ideas that can contribute to a particular challenge instead of being lost in problems and philosophies

Brave  We dare to disrupt the accepted norm and look for what would be really innovative to make a ‘break through’ in practice now

Collaborative   What we create is shaped through other people’s voices in an authentic conversation that can be shared and developed with others

Together, A + B + C = TATA (Taking Advantaged Thinking Action)

Thinking Class is travel with a social purpose by giving ideas through powerful conversations.

If you can’t do that, you’re in the wrong seat.

If you want to glorify in talking about what’s wrong in the world, if you want to promote the status quo of what you are already doing, if you want to disseminate or develop your own IP rather than create something new that is not only yours – you are not a fellow traveller.

But if you get it, the only limit to membership is how many opportunities we can find to journey together. We can share plane flights, railway lines, walks to work, even hire a wedding bus for a day to ‘marry’ ideas between people from different sectors.  What's stopping us? The ticket to ride is ours to define.

At the end of the journey, those involved in a conversation can complete and return together a Thinking Class 'Ticket' - or Tickets - to share the currency of their discovery. 


Thinking Class Ticket  DATE..................

Advantaged:  What was the challenge and what were the positive solutions you came up with?
Brave: What was the ‘break through’ you believe this makes or could make and why?
Collaborative: Who was involved in the conversation, who could be involved next to take it further, and what role do you want to play if any?
Photo this form and send to colin@advantagedthinking.com, sharing any other contact details below for follow up:

What will happen to Thinking Class after the 18th?  I'll be announcing something a bit bigger and more external in a few weeks time.  Meanwhile, watch out for #thinkingclass on twitter and drop me a line if you'd like a 'ticket to ride' the future (and you care). If Richard Branson can screw business as usual, we can screw charity with even more inspiration.

Sunday 10 November 2013

The Big Picture

Back in March, I went to New York to speak at the 10th anniversary of the Chelsea Foyer. I was waking up over my coffee, waiting for the audience to arrive at BNY Mellon on Wall Street, when I was approached by a smartly dressed young man called Christopher. I was struck by the kindness in his welcome as much as his history as an ex resident from Chelsea Foyer - and his knowledge of London restaurants I had never eaten at. He told me a story about how learning to cook had freed him to travel Europe.  He ended up working at some of the best restuarants in  the US and Europe, including Per Se and Eleven Madison Park in New York, and El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. For Christopher, the transition to adulthood became a real journey of discovery. He was only disappointed not to have made it all the way to the Aberdeen Foyer restaurant before it got closed down. I was blown away by that determination. We talk alot about encouraging young people to be more mobile. Well, here who was someone who used his talent for hospitality to find himself in the world. I was struck by the power of the words, and Christopher's generosity to want to share them with me.

This is my 100th blog. I started writing Adventures in Advantaged Thinking back in December 2011 on my first trip to Australia. A lovely women who organised the conference I was speaking at in Sydney said, 'You'll find it harder keeping it going when you get back.' That fuelled my heart. When I feel like giving up, I remind myself of the passion of all the people I met on that trip, what Open Talent meant to the young people who rushed to the front row after my speech because they 'felt' what I was saying. I wanted my 100th blog to be a little special. I can't think of a better way to do that than to share what 'living the dream' means for someone who finds their voice. So, this is Christopher's story below. Story by story, our world gets reshaped when we piece together the journey to ourselves. Just look for the big picture in every person's step, including  your own...

Living the Dream - a Journey through Hospitality

'I was introduced to the culture of the hospitality industry at a young age while paving my way to a future at the Chelsea Foyer. A journey that has multiple steps forwards, as they do backwards: put up for adoption at an early age, having a disruptive high school education, introduced to the Chelsea Foyer program, and finally aging out of the foster care system. Then, finding comfort in the most uncomfortable environment of the kitchen.

Throughout my career I have found the kitchen to be a constant challenge that does not allow for failure. Similar to life experiences, things aren’t as planned and you have to adapt. To be able to recognize and overcome this is what makes all the difference. Having found countless hours and years in the kitchen, and to this day continuing my education at Cornell University Hotel School of Administration, is all proof a tree can grow in Brooklyn.

Hospitality to me can be defined simply as a set of experiences, both in and out of the kitchen. Whether it’s providing a seven course meal at a wedding; serving a birthday cake in an elegant environment surrounded by loved ones; teaching kids the nutritional value of fresh local products; or explaining to young adults the importance of purchasing whole ingredients and utilizing them for budgeting purposes: all sum up an experience. Through hospitality, experiences of culture, travel, discussion, and trying just about anything, developed the confidence for me to do those things.

A career in hospitality is one of few industries that truly involve all the senses and tastes. Constantly learning, constantly tasting, constantly reinforcing a technique. A word any young professional must accept is 'repetition'. Repitition to the extent that Albert Einstein defined as 'insanity'. Hospitality is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. The results being different experiences because senses and tastes are so subjective to each and every individual. Accepting that life does not get easier, we just get better, is a pleasurable thought.

For myself it started with the discipline and commitment in the kitchen working alongside the most talented chefs, servers, and food industry professionals. It wasn’t until I was told, 'Christopher take a step back and look at the bigger picture' that hospitality truly smacked me in the face. I was being selfish for my own gain of being greater at the trade, rather than learning to give to others through it. Taking the leap overseas and living between Paris and Girona taught me true humble cooking - and being able to look at that bigger picture.'


Saturday 9 November 2013

Wake up tomorrow

This weekend I was watching Lou Reed's last stage performance; a slow, fragile, passionate delivery of 'Candy Says' with his favourite singer, Anthony. It's a beautful song, both for the poetry in it, the subject matter exploring identity, and its voice spoken out from inside someone else's heart. All from an old man struggling to stand up in his last months.

'What do you think I'd see / If I could walk away from me?'

Getting inside the heart of the matter is what we don't get enough of in our work. I hear lots of voices; I read lots of reports; I watch lots of clever people say clever things. And they mostly ring like empty bells. Put it all in a pile, you would have a mountain of words, leading nowhere. If you set out to climb the Everest of evaluation reports and research, the summit you would reach would be a cold place devoid of views, without much oxygen.

Such is what we value. The collation of data to tell us what we want to hear, what we often already know, what would make us look good among our peers, or what someone is willing to pay us for. Value driven, but with the wrong wheels on the car. Heading down a narrow highway to nothing, on an endless self-defining loop.

It would be so much more pioneering to crash the car out the circuit.

I love the artist, with that innate skill to slip like a spy into the secret of human spirit, returning with a shape of words or colours that set the mind spinning in revelation. Maybe it's just me; maybe I'm alone in all this; but one performance, one picture, one moment of depth, means a million candles of light more than another evaluation telling me why someone's approach is so good, why people are so poor, why why why delilah.

I want a Director of Illumination. I want a Direction of Emotional Gain and Giving. I want a Director of Revelations. I want a Director of Inspiration and Dream. I want everything and anything except another conference of usual suspects in suits.

How many chairities have produced a Banana album strategic plan?

How many charity campaigns have painted the Sistine Chapel?

How many charity innovation programmes discovered DNA?

Why should we snigger at the comparison? If we can't do that; if all we can do is another few pie charts, another bunch of young people clapped on stage, another soundbite, another self-serving article in a newspaper or magazine; then how tiresome and clueless we are.

Surely our youth charities have enough resource and insight and innovation that they could produce the next Great Exhibition? Not of industry like the Victorians, but of youth insight, to make us think differently about how we see and work with those we call young people in our changing world. To lead the birth of the new. To burst out the mask of changing paradigms with the insight of what we can achieve through a different perspective. An exhibition of influence and experience for people to say, in a hundred years, 'that was when we learnt how to live'. A place and space to interact with what the future could be, in a world of open talent.  A performance to challenge, rather than a festival to promote ourselves.

I want us to create Art. I want us to turn what we believe into beauty. I want us to know what pain is. I want us to touch the joy of a fresh season. I want us to burn a million times. I want us to love conflict. I want us to fall off the tightrope of our beliefs. I want us to realise that it's not even 2.8 million young people or how ever many we are talking about, but that figure multiplied by history and evolution into a holocaust of loss. Which we lead and are responsible for.

If I want too much, maybe it's because everyone else seems to want so little.

If the board room or the conference stage or report seems a little staid and out of touch, let's wreck it, let's shred it, let's end it. Let's refuse to be defined within the structures we have inherited to express ourselves through. Let's not forget the punkish imp of our soul.

How futile we become, when we are done to by others.The most incredible gift of being human is that we can create our world; and the only reason to be human is to wake up tomorrow.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Lou Reed - the Foyer Federation's extra man

I feel like I’ve been waiting for ‘the man’ for a life time.  From listening to the genius of the Banana album and Berlin at school, Lou Reed left me hooked for the next moment of brilliance that often never seemed to come until you had given up hope. But now he has finally died today, and, bar a few secret bootlegs and writing from the vaults, there can be few more surprises.  I’m left pondering the fragments of why Lou Reed influenced so much in my work over the years.

It was back in 2005 at the Foyer Federation that we really started to introduce  an ‘assets-based’ approach.  I went to New York to find the idea, so it was no suprise that I would come back with Lou Reed tangled up in its roots. I still have a powerpoint slide somewhere, which begins with an extract from Men of Good Fortune: ‘It takes money to make money they say / Look at the Fords – didn’t they start that way?’ The question of how wealth creates wealth, how poverty breeds poverty, and how thriving lives at the top of the tree still ‘cause empires to fall’, all suggested the language of assets offered a way in to explore our social failure to make use of the resources at our disposal to do good.   I still believe as a sector we haven't quite caught up with seeing how the language of 'value' should be redefined, how the tables of social justice can be over turned when we unpick the way we measure things.  Maybe we don't care enough to change a system that pays us each month by an entirely arbitary system of worth.

The importance of Men of Good Fortune at that time was only matched for me by Kill Your Sons, Lou’s harrowing account of receiving a crippling dose of electric shock therapy as a teenager.  The songs rejection of ‘establishment’ institutions of support such as the family and hospital as sources of power designed to destroy the mind, and its call to action not just to ‘run away’ into an alternative adulthood but to write a different story about it, offered all the inspiration required to focus on the ‘transitions’ vision of our work. For me, it meant looking beyond the models of support found in the housing, care and prison sector towards something more radical with the person at its heart.   I listened to those songs every day on my way to work not to clear my head but to fill it with determination.

I remember that I put together a 90 minute collection of Lou Reed songs on the subject of Transitions to Transformation. It was the only ‘entertainment’ I took with me to France in 2009, where I spent a week listening to the music and writing Open Talent - whose name owed much to Reed's 'Open House' exposition of Warhol's Factory.  By the end of the period, I was just playing one song: Rock N Roll, the story of someone, in the middle of a nothing life, who could turn on a radio station and listen to a way out where you could be alright. That’s basically what I wanted Open talent to achieve – to have places of access where you could go to break out of the deficits around you and be the person you really are. When I performed Open Talent at the TEDx event in Greece, it was the song in my head to  calm my nerves backstage.  It became my Comfort Zone.

Then there was Lou’s relationship with the enigmatic Rachel, and the three albums which (largely unnoticed now) document his love for a partner with an openly trans identity, during a period when that community was even less understood than they are today.  What I admired was the courage in his art and persona of the late 70s. Looking across his songs, you see a writer with the guts and guile to give a voice for people outside the mainstream.  Listen to the Street Hassle album,and  you hear the measure for how an artist should behave: from a sense of morality, conscience, their principles baptised, with a refusal to let things slip away, a willingness to take on the system, and most of all an authenticity in language and emotion for the lives one seeks to represent.  Think of that in terms of charity, and you can see why I’m constantly aggrieved by some of the organisations and individuals in our sector: those who talk the loudest with the most empty of expressions who are rewarded constantly for their failure.

Ironically, for someone who perhaps many would say couldn’t sing, it was the voice Lou gave to people which was his critical power as an artist. That is why language is always, must always, be the issue in our work that never dies.  'The man' might not be here anymore, but his voice will keep giving for a long time to come.  And so must ours.

Contemplating the final moments in the life of Andy Warhol, Lou memorably conlcuded, 'I wish I hadn't thrown away my time / On so much human and so much less divine'.  The passing of an artist is a reminder to our instincts for creation.  Looking around our society on the day of Lou Reed's death, I see so much to do, there is barely a second spare not to keep working for change.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Scarlet Pimpernels

This week has seen a couple of fascinating news stories.

We can read details of a leaked Government report on social mobility suggesting that, for the first time since the early 20th century, children from above-average incomes will face a worse standard of living than their parents. The political ‘controversy’ will shift attention away from the poorest 10%, onto another group – middle-class children. And in doing so, we will miss the point. The social mobility record is a stuck groove.  Someone is always struggling, because at no point in the last century have we addressed the need to look at the transition into adulthood as a process that requires greater structure and invention.

We can also read with amazement that Michael Gove’s closest advisor has written a thesis in which he suggests that ‘genetics’ was a more likely determent of people’s outcomes than their education.  That old chestnut .  Some people, because of their poverty make up, just won’t have the talent to be shaped.  Of course, if you were responsible for our social failure to identify and develop talent among millions of young people, you would look to their genetics as a suitable excuse.   Is this the consequence of a payment-by-results culture, the creation of justifications and misrepresentations by which we effortlessly avoid our own guilt? The sad thing is, if you add up all the investment of education and power and opportunity given to those at the top, and look at their output in terms of social improvements, you have to ask the question: what is our human flaw, that we end up governed by individuals and systems that are so ill fitted to our potential?  Maybe they are onto something. What is the genetics behind the failure of leadership?  A question that hasn’t been asked loudly enough since the First World War.

Has anyone noticed, that the common factor in each social challenge and economic crisis, is us?

Our political policy is like the search for the Scarlet Pimpernel: we intervene here, we intervene there, but we never find the truth that people aren’t solved or fixed in just one place from one social theory. It’s common sense that is lacking. If you want to ensure a positive transition for adulthood, then you have to look ahead to the horizon that embraces us all, and work with each person on how their experience can reach that point, from a common, universal understanding of what the ingredients are that achieve success .  That way, you are much more likely to keep rebuilding and adjusting the road through transition in a way that reflects our shared humanity.  We act as if we are only prepared to see ahead for certain groups of people; only have the time to learn from and support a minority.

Even worse, we think we actually know what we are doing.  If you consider our policies on the transition to adulthood in terms of a house, all we seem to be doing is adding on a conservatory here, a loft extension there, a few new carpets and repainted walls, refurbishing the fabric according to whatever the latest theory says; but we should be looking into the foundations of the house, thinking about a different type of dwelling, looking perhaps to replace the bundling maintenance team and absent landlord.

So, we can look forward to another round of debates about the purpose of teaching, the investments required for social mobility, the future of the youth of today. Will anyone be asking, who and where are we in the world we keep creating?

Perhaps the truth is that our leaders are in fact Scarlet Pimpernels in reverse:  dim-witted fools hiding under a disguise of authority. 

Saturday 12 October 2013

Reflections on charity from social housing

It was the first night I slept in a social housing estate.  I remember the suspicion of empty grey concrete in the early morning night , CCTV glassed in my face, a tumble weed of litter by the blue metal entrance door.  An excited woman pushed me past security into a creaking lift that seemed to sigh with our weight. 'It's punk', she said, her fist punching the air as my eyes betrayed  a reaction to the faint smell of urine and sweat, lives hotch-potched together. My love affair had begun.

From the balcony window you could follow the butterfly drug runs of kids on bicycles in the autumn evening glow.  The same faces that hold open the door for you with a polite hello. I quickly became just another person in the block.  Among the shapes flitting past security, you'd wonder, is she the one I heard screaming last night? Are they the couple who have sex one  week, then try to kill each other the next? The flats inside are emotional prisons, inhabitants left alone to solve hand-outs of pain, people hooded under stereotypes like the man in the iron mask.  A mirror back to a system that is dependent on its underclass, not the other way around.  We must remain sick, so they can continue to treat us as fools.

'Do you see the old man walking around the block  each night?' my host asked me.  I looked at the hunched figure, bent into the wind with a stick for survival, led by his panting dog. 'He's lived here since the place was built. I dreamed I will be like that one day, old and alone, still here. We all do.' 

 I couldn't understand why anyone stayed. Surely everyone could see the trap, a better world to free themselves to? One of my host's friends tried to explain: 'only someone who has never lived in this world would ever think you could possibly give up the only possession that gave you somewhere to live after years of just surviving to get by.'  There was a different type of education here.  A free school of disenfranchised experience. 

Slowly, I felt my aspirations diminished. The cramped conditions, the vomit in the lift shaft, they erode your goals; yet at the same time, the community that is born from being outside the mainstream makes you feel that this is a better, more real, authentic world.  I gave up all my goods that couldn't fit into a bag. I detached myself from the materialism of my society; I became a spy in the City after a night of concrete meditation. Most of all, I began to suspect that the world of charities and entrepreneurs  had never and would never go anywhere near this place.  The people living here were numbers to be used to sell brands; showcase lives, demos of issues, beta-tests for other people to build their careers on.  Or at least that's how it felt at times.

On the train from work, I noticed someone had graffitied the latest Centrepoint poster. They had scratched out the 'Centre' and replaced it with 'No'.  The only experience anyone had here of Centrepoint, Prince's Trust, Action for Children, were just posters asking for money.   'Charity's a bad gang,' a local kid told me, hanging out with his friends. 'They like it when we riot; they love it when we hurt; they feed on our lives, ain't it? They enjoy us being this. But they don't share profit'  Then his mobile lit up with a text and they were gone.

No point.  I couldn't have said it any better.  I only wish I had. The reality gap between all the meetings and plans and thoughts and strategies of today's youth charities, and the lives of those they have no real experience of, grows ever deeper.  Tucked up in swanky offices and comfy homes, exchanging issues over supper clubs and expensive conferences, what hope can there be that anyone will find a different way of thinking?  It's like the social housing estate. The council management, which has spent no money on maintaining a building, ends up with a budget to be spent on pruning the roses, while people struggle to cope with the squalid conditions inside their crumbling homes. 

As I watched my neighbours shuffle away, I was left thinking, has charity lost its moral purpose? Where is the fire in its belly? Where is the risk taking, the leadership, the call to arms?  The passion, the urgency?   Has charity lost its community with the issues it is meant to solve? Has it become too focused on courting the shillings that distorts whatever vision it may have once had to do and give? Like Faustus, we slowly become souls sold to the devil of contracts and donors, using systems of evidence that are ever more distanced from the lives they represent. We work within organisational structures that repeat the exact same values and behaviours  that  are responsible for the social issues we pride ourselves on seeking to solve. We are just different gangs, with more expensive graffiti.

I discuss this with a local called Dimitri as he kicks back in the sofa, smoking a roll-up while trying to cuddle a purring tabby cat with one eye. He talks excitedly about his childhood, how he got taken out of school, put into low paid work to support his parents (a story often repeated round here), and now, years later, he is in a dead-end back on the estate.  One of our 'NEETs' as he pointedly jokes with me.  'I once phoned the charity for help, but unless you fit what they are looking for, well, you know, they can't do a thing.  Maybe I don't belong to that tribe. We're a different class here. We're  a different code.'

'What code is that?' I ask.

He shrugged his shoulders, sucking in an ash of thoughts and memories. 'Whatever you are not.'

I was shown the door with a friendly slap on the back, but not before Dimitri offered me a final word of wisdom: 'There is more charity and community in dealing drugs than half the shit that goes on in your world. Start ups, digital media, million pound projects - it's turning you into selfish Neanderthals.'

Listening to Dimitri reminded me of the lyrics from one of my favourite Lou Reed songs, pointing the finger to the corrupt morals of an 'uptown' establishment . I just hope it isn't us; that we are not too late to save and show charity's responsibility; that we aren't the social pioneers for humanity's ice age...

 'We sat around the other night, me and the guys
Trying to find the right word
That would best fit and describe
You people like that
That no principle has touched, no principle's baptized
How about that?
Who'd eat shit and say it tasted good
If there was some money in it for them
You're just dirt
That's all you're worth cheap, cheap dirt
You know they call it
Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, uptown dirt'

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Filth and Fury

The introduction to The Filth and the Fury, Julien Temple’s excellent film about the Sex Pistols, takes us back to the world of the 1970s where some young people began to realise that the narrative of opportunity presented to them by society was a sham. They had been had.  The vision of Great Britain was not based on their dreams or talents; it was dependent on their place at the bottom of the pile. 

Fast forward to Cameron’s land of opportunity, where we are told that those same young people should now be stripped of benefits and welfare so they can focus on choosing the education and employment that they are often excluded from – not by personal choice, but by a whole set of complex circumstances that go far beyond the soundbite intelligence of modern politics.   Like a 17th century quack, Cameron offers an elixir that will give us all access to a promised land of opportunity, but the magic ingredient is just more of the same shit: more hours at the Job Centre; more time on the Work Programme; more internship and apprenticeships that are not affordable; more of the failing provision and institutions of support from a Government that simply does not know how to develop people’s talents. It’s not nudging people need, it’s the time and social capital to develop their nous to navigate through the various policy traps such as the bedroom tax that continue to mess up lives.

At least Cameron has spotted that welfare is generally not being used to help people get through the door of opportunity.  In that he is right – the welfare state must be reformed to become a more enabling trampoline rather than just a creaking safety net. The diagnosis is roughly correct; the choice of medicine is the problem. What Cameron can’t see is that the economy of the future is crying out for a different form of welfare.  A flourishing society has to offer a positive investment in people’s abilities (that is fair) to develop the assets required (that creates wealth) to access and exist within a land of opportunity. Fair wealth, used intelligently, with high quality coaching, real experiences, and aspirational expectations, is the only future we should be settling for.  Who is going to provide it?

After three party conferences, we know we are not going to get it through the current paradigm of politics.  Just like in the 70s, young people have been betrayed. Let down.‘Had’ by an alliance of ‘disadvantaged thinking’ that stretches from the polished doors of Downing Street to the glass fronts of national charities bidding for their dirty-work contracts. There is little difference between Cameron’s cry to vote Conservative for a land of opportunity, and another charity poster asking for 40p to give disadvantage a room for the night. Both evidence the real NEETS in the establishment machine - the Nothing people at the top, with no Empathy, no Enterprise, no Thought; Nothing but their own existence at heart. Nudge them back where they belong: in the dustbin of history.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Thoughts from Thessaloniki

We walk across the road in a crowd, silent to each other. Two people who will never meet. So close, a pulse sensed for a second.  The glance of a nervous curious eye.  Then, nothing. Footsteps away, thinking we are only ourselves.

A million people in Thessaloniki point to the sky for a message that never comes to anyone.  Just like everywhere else. The city's apartment horizon still has TV ariels, spindly shapes of skeleton trees twisted in disbelief.
Sun pierces the evening, daggered through my armour of cotton and factor 50 cream.  I squint to hold my sight on the sea ahead.  Breeze hits me with memories of cut grass, bales of Welsh hay, splinters in the thumb. The day John sliced his finger off at the joint and hid in a tree.  I smile to the man looking at me, who wants to offer things I don’t need.  I feel his pain in the tattered edge of a stained shirt, his cigarette always at the butt, everything thinning. I think of him at his birth.  The moment.  How much he might have been loved in that first innocent breath, for this lost being.
I am watched by sale signs, mannequins, reflections of wealth.  In the middle of an economic meltdown, chocolate sculptures are kept perfectly chilled under glass behind shopfronts. People purchase objects with bits of paper, plastic cards, things of value drawn from pockets and purses like water from a well.  The sound of possession fills the evening like every city in the world, never reaching its bottom, perpetually falling.
We head into the twilight zone of Dendroporamos. 'A second Africa,' it has been called. Broken buildings, suspicious glances, a simmering sense of fear.  At the project for young people, we are welcomed inside with a Priest’s affection.  His radiant smile is a lighthouse. There are generous hugs, open hearts, so much crammed in so little space, chaotic, everything beautifully real.  Volunteers keep arriving with bags of food, spotlights for the garden. Inside the house, a group of young people click through pictures on Facebook, fascinated by its imagery. I am kissed like a returning son, for doing nothing but being here. The kids offer me a seat on the bench to share their meal. They tell stories, translated from Roma into Greek into English, until we all laugh at the same mystery.
Then we return, driving past the ugly graffetti that says 'gypsy’, back to the bars and neons that imprison and free our souls in equal measures. This place, that displaces us from who we are.
I sleep under the heartbeat of aircon and dream of stars twinkling from the window.  In a city whose history has connected so many religions under the same sky for thousands of years, the one thing that remains is our faith for tomorrow. How strong it feels when we touch eachother.

Monday 15 July 2013

TaTa - taking advantaged thinking action

Last week saw the launch of The Allotment of the Mind at the Foyer Federation's excellent 2013 Practice Event in Birmingham. Much more on this to follow.

But for now, I just wanted to post up a link to my little attempt to bring a bit of DaDa into the youth, housing and charity sector with the live launch of TaTa - 'taking advantaged thinking action' to 'thinkout' against homelessness and other disadvantaged thinking stereotypes by growing our creative ideas and harvesting revolutionary spirit.

For those who like the song at the end of the video, and fancy singing the whole thing, this is my full rewrite of the Beatles below. I'll be releasing this as an Xmas single at my special ThinkOut event in December.  Although I might need to find a singer and band first... Anyone interested?!


There’s no talent that can’t be opened up
Nothing you can face that can’t be topped
Nothing you can do that isn’t advantaged thinking too

It’s easy

Nothing you can seed that can’t be sown
Nothing you can dream that can’t be owned
Nothing you can choose that isn’t advantaged action soon

It’s easy

All you need is TaTa.
All you need is TaTa.
All you need is TaTa, TaTa

 TaTa is all you need.

All you need is TaTa.
All you need is TaTa.
All you need is TaTa, TaTa.
TaTa is all you need.

Nothing you can build that isn’t you
Nothing you can explore that isn’t true

No one’ll say advantaged thinking action’s not today
 It's easy.

 All you need is TaTa.
 All you need is TaTa.
 All you need is TaTa, TaTa
 TaTa is all you need.

All you need is TaTa.
All you need is TaTa.

All you need is TaTa, TaTa.
TaTa is all you need.


Monday 24 June 2013

Just Starting Over...

I was travelling on the bus to school when I first picked up that John Lennon had died. It was the gossip of breakfast radio. For once, something more real than another saccharine song.  Huddled against my frosty seat window, driving through the sad fringes of town before our descent into school’s inferno, ‘Starting Over’ rang out with a strange poignancy.  Here was a song promising re-beginnings that was being played to mark an end.  I wanted to take the moment home, to hold it close and precious to understand it, like the death of my first cat a year or so ago, but the horrors of the morning playground engulfed my capacity for thought. The chance was gone.

Many years later I ended up in Central Park on the 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death. It was a co-incidence I was there, my first time in New York.  I’d grown up a teenager listening to Lou Reed, so it was Christopher Street my heart was heading, scouting for trouble to the lower east side.  Instead, I stumbled upon the crowds dotted outside the Dakota and joined in the night time procession. Solemnly we walked past the lit candles and messages of love.  There were too many cameras and acoustic guitars, but still, it sensed something in the soul. I went home on the subway, watching an amazing man sing ‘It’s a wonderful world’ from a broken beer bottle for a microphone. He had such an incredible voice, with nothing else in his life beyond the clothes he was wearing. I caught his eye as the train doors steeled shut.  

It would take a long time before I heard Double Fantasy’s interplay between the emotion of Lennon’s English rock and Ono’s Japanese avant garde.  I remember being struck by teh album's fusion of styles, its simplicity and reach.  Its daring to express love. No wonder the critics first hated it.

Last night was the first live performance of Double Fantasy at the Royal Festival Hall; a joyous, moving occasion, that left something grown in the heart. Like the smile of a subway singer on an empty midnight platform, or the first touch of feeling after years of blank ice. A celebration. ‘Well I tell them there's no problem, only solutions…’  Despite the impressive list of vocalists, and the home videos of John Lennon, it was the final entrance of Yoko Ono that stole the night, telling us, in her 80th year, she was very happy.
Life is the biggest dialogue of all.  We have to perform it to explore,  see the end of ourselves to re-begin, starting over and over again.  I guess that's what I thought, as I caught the bus away.

Sunday 16 June 2013

39 Steps

4 actors playing 130 characters in 100 minutes – the premise for a highly entertaining version of The 39 Steps currently on stage in London and on tour across the UK.

Any potential problems posed by using a small number of actors with limited staging for a complex play are brilliantly transformed into opportunities for fresh invention.   Frenetic energy and imagination encapsulates this production’s narrative drive. The performance seems to offer a series of ‘get-out-of-that’ moments where the ingenious use of physical theatre and prop manipulation becomes the focus for comedy and entertainment. It’s a clever conjuring trick in the tradition of creative drama, as much as it is a reminder for how we can also shape our own ‘theatre of life’. In an age of austerity, this is what can be achieved when you harness the resources of a team to generate solutions.

I was lucky enough to catch 39 Steps courtesy of my hosts Forum Housing Association at the Pavilion Theatre in New Brighton.  It didn’t take me long to see a connection between the values of Forum and the Foyer Federation with the innovation of the production.  If only more organisations in our society felt the same permission and foresight to perform in a different way to get things done. Like Hannay, too many of us end up feeling constrained. We are handcuffed by bureaucrats to the detriment of doing what we know is vital.  The best, though, find a way out.

Freeing of minds is an important theme that runs throughout this play as it travels from London to  Scotland and back again, culminating in the final ‘release’ of the Memory Man’s secret.  From the subject of the story to its performance on stage, the audience is left rooting for the human spirit personified in Hannay to escape the various restrictions imposed by social forces.  The essence of good comedy is in making that revolution look easy.

There is something in the running man of Richard Hannay which encapsulates the charity sector.  It’s not just the breakneck speed of things either.  Or the sense that we only have 18 hours to save the world while the rest have24 hours with a bigger budget for lunch. Whether we are running to keep ahead, or to outwit others, we often feel we want to achieve something that is too important to be left in the clumsy hands of those currently in power.  At least the interplay of an accomplished cast in 39 Steps shows us that we don’t need to do that alone. The right team can make anything possible.   It’s Advantaged Thinking theatre that we need most.  
The 39 Steps is currently playing at the Criterion Theatre in London.

Saturday 8 June 2013

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

‘I woke up into the bleak winter morning on my twenty-first birthday, the window-sill shining with its lip of snow, and the morning already begun.’

So ends one of the great short stories of world literature, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, written by the enigmatic Delmore Schwartz in 1934.  It’s a beautifully crafted line from a poignant narrative about a young man on the eve of his 21st birthday.  The man finds himself  at a cinema in a dream, watching a film where the characters are his parents meeting as a young couple about to begin what he knows from bitter experience is a disastrous marriage, but in the audience he is powerless to change the outcome. Schwartz wrote this story at the age of 21 himself, capturing the full insecurity of the moment, the need to reflect on one’s origins, the conflict one can feel with one’s family and past, and the sense of reaching a ‘threshold’ without necessarily feeling in control of the journey ahead.

I have been thinking about this story a lot as the Foyer Federation celebrates its own 21st birthday later this year.  Turning 21 forms part of a tradition of ‘coming-of-age’ literature and film, when an individual begins to experience the growing awareness and responsibilities of adulthood with a greater sense of what life is and what possibilities or the lack of them lie ahead.  While 21 is a very much a western obsession, the ‘stage’ of transition can be experienced through many different ages.  In an advantaged thinking sense, it is about becoming aware, beginning to recognise one’s identity, starting to play a more independent role in creating the future, and bearing the greater expectations of society with nimble shoulders.   Many of the young people we work with have had to experience some of those things at very early ages, without all the structures and relationships in place to deal with them. As an individual at a Foyer once told me, ‘I’ve been living the life of a 21 year old for years, but everyone forgets I’m only 16.’

The transition of young people into adulthood remains a complex and at times scary narrative that we still don’t how to tell properly.  Not everyone makes it to the end; we never seem to learn from our mistakes to spot how we might change the story.  Watching a child see their parents fighting in the street below me, listening to a rage of obscenities echoing the stresses of their lives, you sense a future being shipwrecked in front of you. I still remember the first time I watched an adult throw a brick through a window at me, how that moment broke forever my trust in authority. The butterfly wings of the smallest things reverberate through the rest of our lives.  
Schwartz’s character watches his past play out before him, powerless to shape its conclusion; but it is the future we see being created around us every day. Looking across the youth sector, we possess all the skills and resources required to influence a better outcome. Somehow, though, we remain stuck in a story not of our making, restricted within the disadvantaged thinking of others, forever ending homelessness and poverty instead of creating the conditions for a more positive world.  Charity has the responsibility to craft a different tale to make a better future happen.  Who is doing that?

After In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, Delmore Schwartz played out the rest of his life never realising the exceptional ability shown in his early work. He died in a squalid New York hotel, left in the morgue for 2 days before anyone even knew who his body belonged to.  That’s a warning from history. The Foyer Federation has reached a critical stage in its journey as a charity. At 21, it is fully aware of what it and we as a society need to do to turn the potential of all young people into future talent.  The morning has already begun - wake up to it.

Thursday 6 June 2013

The Usain Bolt Moment

Usain Bolt – the fastest human on the planet, the lightening rod of athletics, and my favourite person to begin a presentation with these days. Why? Because the images of Bolt before he settles into the blocks on the running track, with his eyes fixed firm to the finish, epitomise what it means to be in the race  – focused and thinking ahead. Bolt is able to visualise the end goal of what he is trying to achieve in a way which reminds us all that we need to be as equally determined in our own lives. 

Every act we do is a race, a performance of some kind, something we can either choose to be part of and actively participate in, or something we just turn up to and drift along with. Bolt doesn’t arrive at the track wondering why he is there. He is prepared; he knows what he wants to achieve; and he has perfected a process of putting himself in the zone where he can maximise his talents.  Too often we just find ourselves in things and learn to get by rather than maximising our experiences.  As I always remind my workshop participants, Bolt doesn’t have his mobile phone on hand in case it rings during a race, he is completely focused on the moment; nor is he wondering what he watched on TV last night or what’s going to be for lunch afterwards; he is just thinking about the finishing line. 

The ‘Usain Bolt moment’ is the wake up call to the fact that we are in the race, that we have the opportunity and responsibility to run the race, and that we have the ability to focus on the goal that we want to achieve ahead at the finishing line.  It’s no wonder the first letters of his name spells ‘Us’. The ‘Usain Bolt moment’ is the very essence of what it means to be really alive.

The Foyer Federation’s innovative new Healthy Conversations programme is all about paying closer attention to the things we need to build what Aristotle called ‘the good life’.  Equipping young people with the know-how to flourish and nurture their health.  Or in other words, the Usain Bolt moment. Aristotle and Bolt might come from vastly different worlds and disciplines, but they share a common approach: that the good life, that what is positive to us, is something we need to create and nurture through ourselves. Bolt doesn’t focus on losing the race when he is preparing to go into the blocks at the start; he isn’t lost in thinking about all the problems he needs to deal with; he has a tunnel vision on what he can achieve. The track ahead is his good life. We need to perfect that same lightening rod concentration, attuned to the opportunities in whatever race we are in, to grow our health and expand our lives.

Bolt is not shy at celebrating  either.  He enjoys the recognition from crossing the 'threshold' of the finish line. He knows how to be the centre of the conversation. So, at the end of the day, why not ask yourself: what was my Usain Bolt moment? And how might I make another one tomorrow?  Create a conversation about yourself. Celebrate whatever threshold you have crossed during the day. Just don’t forget to do the pose and ask someone for a medal…

Monday 3 June 2013

Fair Wealth and the 40p buccaneers

I first wrote about the theory of Fair Wealth as part of my blog on the Secret Millions series. Its basic premise was to take an advantaged thinking approach to the limitations found in the unravelling safety net of the welfare state. Instead of following the political arguments about how much welfare anyone deserves, I suggested we should be looking to construct a different policy environment where our purpose is to ensure that, wherever possible, a state handout serves as the first step towards a state handup. In other words, the function of ‘fair wealth for welfare’ is to find the best, smartest means of investing positively in someone’s current and future development.  Fair Wealth’s aspiration is that each individual can contribute to the growth of our society as an active agent and asset rather than a passive recipient and deficit.  

From welfare, to the job centre, to the homeless charity, our society has become ever dependent on outdated deficit-based institutions of disadvantage.  We talk the language of social enterprise, yet we are quite happy to put 40p in a bucket without applying our minds to eradicating its need. We lecture the world on the economics of sustainable aid, whilst at home we invest millions of tax payer’s money in work programmes and support contracts that apply methodologies which have produced no evidence of lasting impact.  We are not using our wealth fairly in any sense of the word.

As the welfare state dies around us, we can choose to turn our attention to what vision and values we expect a 21st century society to express for those people who need investments in their lives. Surely, in a world of diminishing resources, it is imperative for everyone to achieve their potential, however that is individually defined through different stages of our existence.  We cannot afford just to support people to cope within fixed stereotype of needs, and then argue over the size of the handouts allowed. We deserve a different state of being, with a positive sense of what wealth can achieve, the knowledge of how to harness that wealth in each person, and the logic to measure and learn from what its investments can build for the long term benefit of all.

We have none of these things at present.  Our current leaders lack the imagination to create a viable alternative. For the pioneers among us, this is an opportunity to develop an alliance of radical minds with similar values to explore a series of pathway questions:

1.       What fair investments are there for someone to build the asset base required to function in an independent, sustainable way, instead of just surviving and coping through support?

2.       How far is our social wealth really defined in terms of community wellbeing, social value, and the future impact of current social investments?

3.       Are all people in our society being recognised and promoted in terms of their investment potential and opportunity?

4.       What deal is in place for an individual or organisation to invest back any personal assets, developed through social investment, into the growth of social value and community wellbeing?

5.       To what an extent does an individual recipient have any control over how social investment is spent, and how its impact is measured and valued?

Fair wealth can only be given away once it has been generated.  It can’t be handed out from nothing, or bankrolled to nobody. To grow the concept of Fair Wealth beyond these questions requires a space for social conversation, and a process for social action.  Above all else, it needs organisations and individuals willing to create wealth together in order to invest it differently in our future.  If  it was a group, I would call it the 40p buccaneers...

Saturday 1 June 2013


This week was the birthday of the great filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the self-styled ‘romantic anarchist’ who made films about the lives and issues that the rest of society did not care care about. Fassbinder possessed a rare ability to explore the edge of human understanding, to expand our consciousness through the camera.  In his films one finds the gaze of attention on those who don’t normally have a voice in our political system. Fassbinder was a director of the frontier.

I was in Utrecht on Thursday to offer a workshop on Talents, our new developmental process for organisations to experience the concepts of Open Talent and Advantaged Thinking.  Fassbinder was not in my mind, but I suddenly made the connection when people were trying to interpret the language of ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘advantaged’ into Dutch. This, they said, was about borders and frontiers.  While they believed in the positive principles of the vision, they found it hard to maintain its energy and focus in the negative restrictions within which they worked.  In many ways, Talents is about the journey one can make to liberate practice from such shackles, so the interpretation made sense.  However, the language of frontiers has other resonances that are worth exploring.

In America, the psychology and political significance of frontiers was famously documented by Frederick Jackson Turner in his influential Frontier Thesis of 1893. Jackson claimed that the moving frontier line in America, populated by early pioneers in search of fortune, led to the foundations of American democracy and personality (both good and bad). The frontier was a place where the institutional mindsets and hierarchies of European settlers were transformed through experience into the free-thinking individualism of American liberty. 

Putting the political theory to one side, we are left with the idea of the frontier as a place of personal and social transition for those pioneers who dare to explore it.   The connection of Open Talent and Advantaged Thinking with this image has a compelling significance.  As concepts, they challenge the restrictive deficit-based approaches that have grown up in our social system, with the optimism that we possess the assets to create sustainable solutions.  We are all the children of Maslow’s hierarchy, but now we are being asked to turn our focus on supporting needs upside down and embrace the freedom of investing in positive risks.

Advantaged Thinking is a new frontier for those in search of a different way of working.  It cultivates the liberty of talent, and the revolution that we actually all possess it, no matter what stereotype society has given us to live through. Fassbinder would have understood this very well.  He would have said - we need to keep telling the story.  I am sure in the Netherlands it is just beginning.

Monday 27 May 2013

James Hunt: open talent champion

I was eating cornflakes when I heard the radio commentary of James Hunt winning the 1976 Formula 1 championship from the other side of the world, a mysterious rainy Japan. In the mind of a shy seven year old struggling to fit into the school system, James Hunt’s victory took on a magical escapologist quality. Beyond the corners of my Bedfordshire breakfast table, all things seemed suddenly possible.  

I recall this not just because, 20 years since the death of James Hunt, 2013 will see the launch of a new film about his life.  As unlikely as it might sound to some, the memory of James Hunt has been something quite influential to me in developing the thinking behind the Foyer Federation’s Open Talent approach to working with young people. While much is made of Hunt’s flamboyant personality, there are two simple lessons from his story that help to illustrate how we can best equip young people with the tools they need to create a positive future.

The first of these lies in Hunt’s character and charisma. Hyperactive, rebellious, sensitive, single-minded, prone to tantrums and depressions, Hunt was cut out to be ‘a problem child’.   In a different setting, he would no doubt have been sent to remedial classes and excluded for not conforming. Hunt was lucky enough to have wealthy parents.  They paid for a public school education, an environment where his early love of animals and ability in sports were encouraged.  The young James Hunt was able to thrive by following his instincts. Indeed, what made him a champion in 1976 was exactly the same set of ingredients that made him potentially difficult as a young child. Hunt’s ability to drive a car at the edge of performance depended on a volatile set of personality traits. The ‘disadvantages’ of character became the ‘advantages’ of charisma, with the added ingredient of steely determination. Perhaps a by-product of his parent’s discipline, part of his own competitive nature, and no doubt influenced from the self-confidence gained in public school, the determination to succeed gave Hunt a winning hand.  Without it, the flamboyant Hunt of fame would never have been able to hold down two jobs, working day and night just to afford the parts he needed for his first racing car. 

Encouraging young people to follow what they are good at, and giving them the confidence and work ethic to make a go of things, are the secrets behind Hunt’s success.  It shouldn’t need a privileged education for us to focus on empowering people to make use of their natural traits and to follow their dreams.  It’s a basic approach that is fundamental to any service or relationship striving to better the lives of young people from challenging backgrounds.  How many James Hunts do we miss out on, because we don’t know how to look for them?

The second lesson is the one which ignites Hunt’s career. A chance visit to Silverstone on his 18th birthday gave Hunt a new purpose to aim for – what he described as ‘instant commitment’.  A key threshold had been passed. Watching the race, Hunt discovered the one thing he could invest his energy and passion on.  Plans to become a doctor were quickly abandoned as Hunt set out on a haphazard journey through early adulthood that would lead him to the pinnacle of the world.  What can’t be underestimated here is the importance of that random visit to the race track.  Hunt was not born wearing a motor racing helmet; he discovered his crown by chance.  How many of us feel the same when we look back at the connections in our life and realise how important it has been to be immersed in different experiences and contexts. Yet, despite knowing this truth, few services make such experiences a key part of their curriculum. In the south east, there are commissioners who believe young people should be taught how to assemble flat-packed furniture as a key life skill instead.  What contribution would that have made to James Hunt?  There is a dreadful gap in aspirations here. Young people who haven’t been to public school can also find their ‘instant commitment’ by trying out the world around them.  Experience doesn’t come from following instructions for flat-packed furniture; it’s discovered by allowing the heart and mind to wonder.

If you put these two lessons together, you end up realising that it is important to ‘personalise’ and ‘tailor’ how we equip young people to make a positive transition into adulthood that exceeds expectations. James Hunt will be remembered for certain things in life that would make many people query why he should be seen as a potential role model for opening the talents of young people today.  But that would be to miss the significance of his story. Beneath the overalls of the legend lies some simple, magical truths, we shouldn’t be in a 'rush' not to dwell on.   Above all else, Hunt was an authentic rule breaker.  The charity sector urgently needs to follow suit.