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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

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.