North London Collegiate School recently came top of the national exam tables (again). The girls here are very bright, and much is expected of them. I came to talk, at the opening of the new school year, to Years 11, 12 and 13 about How To Change The World: What can one person do?
I started by asking: if you had the chance, would you change the world? There was long silence then a few voices called out yes. I asked for a show of hands. Pretty well everybody put their hands up. I said, keep your hand up if you know how you would like to change the world.
About four people out of 350 or so kept their hands up. One or two started raising their hands, but then lowered them.
I then ran through some of the ideas and stories in my book How To Change The World. And after about 40 minutes, I asked if there were any questions. There were several. I particularly liked being asked what my own mission or purpose is (by somebody who seemed a little confused by the variety of things I have done).
The last question, from one of the Year 11 girls, was: “What about failure? What do you do about that?”
Great question, I said. And I told a story about how I was filmed falling on my face in Mexico, in front of some very famous people, and how I was lucky enough to move from seeing that as a terrible, embarrassing failure – how I was able to use it. (You can see the film here.)
I said, failure always hurts at the time, but often it turns out not to have been failure after all, just a step towards the outcome you want.
In scientific method, I said, we can see that very clearly. Marie Curie boiled up all kinds of things to find radium. If she boiled up an old carpet and found no radium, was that failure? Or was it just an experiment that helped her to move on?
It may not have been the perfect answer, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. Perhaps writing about it here will enable me to find a better one next time.
Are you looking for an adventure? Earlier this year, I decided to apply to myself some of the things I tell others, when I’m coaching – about daring to do what we want to do.
This film shows highlights from the terrifyingly rope walk at Area 47 in Solden, Austria. I like to think that what I went through – from initial excitement, through watching others give up, and skateboarding across the void, feeling deep gratitude on finishing in one piece, and so on – can be found in any adventure we embark on, metaphorically anyway, whether it’s a physical adventure like this one, or a creative project, or “just” something internal.
If you want help getting started, just let me know.
NB. Excuse the shaky camerawork in places: it was strapped to my wrist.
Oh happy day! I recently took a lot of my Department Store For The Mind plates to Belfast to test them for The Big Lunch, with a group of 50 people – to see how the plates work in practice. To see how they help to jump-start meaningful and enjoyable conversations.
Now the said Department Store is offering a 30% discount to anybody who wishes to buy all three of the products I designed – the plates, the mugs and the tea cloth.
“If you are totally out of touch with how you feel, and what you need, it’s very easy to just cruise along, being one version of you. But it’s kind of exhausting. And after a while you hit 40 or 50 and you feel very lonely, and you think, shit, I haven’t really cultivated deep connections with anyone.”
In this conversation about conversation, the coach, performer and author Jamie Catto talks about what it means to be real with each other, instead of always faking, and about the price we pay if we refuse to do that.
He talks about how this affects us at work, and in our private lives too.
It’s not a short film, but it’s not that long either, and I’m extremely pleased to have been able to make it. I think you will be glad to have watched.
In this conversation about conversation, the writer and performer David Bramwell remembers speaking with somebody rightly regarded as a world expert on the art of conversation – and being gravely disappointed.
Hearing David tell this story, and laughing with him about it, I was reminded of a time when too I badly let myself down in conversation – exploding angrily at somebody – as I explain in the video, along with what happened next.
This is one of the things I love about conversations about conversation: we hear each other’s stories, and recognise ourselves in them. I hope you might recognise something too.
Silly me. I thought I had quickly got over feeling sad about the referendum result, but of course I haven’t.
My parents just sent me this photo of a very old school T-shirt, which I didn’t know they had kept. I wore it when I was six, after we moved to Brussels and I went to the European School there.
The school offered were separate classes for each language group, but we mixed in the playground and on Fridays we were thrown together for lessons, on a variety of topics, in French. I remember making good friends, in those lessons, with a German girl who, like me, was mad keen on roller skating.
Coming back to England, aged nine, I often wondered if I had missed out on something while we were away, but on the plus side I spoke decent French (with a Belgian accent) and allowed people to think, because of my unusual forename, that I actually was French or Belgian.
At any rate, without necessarily putting it into these words I felt deeply European, and although I know that we will be OK, it we put our minds to it, I feel a little sad that I won’t be able to call myself an EU citizen any more.
Looking about me, at the glum faces on London transport today, I wonder how many others are going through something similar.
Perhaps even Boris Johnson – he was a few years above me, at the same European School, and must have worn the same T-shirt.
In this spontaneous interview, fellow coach Nikki Armytage (@NikkiAmytage) tells me about a conversation in which she honestly shared her feelings – not something she has always been able to do – and the wonderful effect that had. Thanks Nikki!
As part of the Together project, in Northern Ireland, I have been lucky to run workshops with a huge range of individuals and groups, from all kinds of backgrounds.
The workshops provided skills training in the areas of change-making, communication, confidence, creativity and leadership. I learned so much from the people in every group, and I’m extremely grateful – even (or especially) when they didn’t want to do what I had planned, as shown in this film, and I learned to come up with something better.
The EU is a kind of collaboration, even if it’s rarely presented that way. Like any collaboration, it’s not going to run smoothly all the time. And like any collaboration, it can only be remedied by people jumping in actively to point out when things don’t feel right.
So three cheers for the people who are creating all the present fuss. Three cheers for anybody who, feeling passionately about it one way or another, actually does something. And three cheers for people who have concluded that they don’t give a toss and – by their inaction – cheerfully allow others to determine the course of events.