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Threading The Needle

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oxford bannisterThe first photo that appeared on this blog was at the beginning of September 2010, only a few days after I had committed to the journey.

The photo is taken in Oxford, outside of the running track where Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile as a record for the first time.

The story about Bannister is now well known in summary, or at least the bit about what happened after he broke the record. So the story goes, after he broke the record there was a flood of people who broke the record, now that some elusive so-called psychological barrier was lifted. This is no actually the case. Yes, there were people who broke the four minute mile after Bannister, but it hasn’t been many, and only men.

What is perhaps more telling is the process he used to break this record. It was only made possible with the help of fellow-runners as pacemakers. And this is a most interesting piece of no-so-trivial trivia.

I took this photo while in Oxford in 2009 during the conduct of an earlier ridiculous challenge that I had set myself: the 9 City Bridge Run, where I ran 9 sub-marathons in 9 cities across 9 countries inside of one month. The similarity between the two initiatives that the execution both times left a lot of room for improvement. The 10 City Bridge Run was ‘threaded onto this needle’ in making a patchwork of 100 stories by what I considered to be an unsatisfactory effort in 2009.

How did I miss this important factor in Bannister’s success? In fact, how does this one small fact escape all of our attention?! It is so elementary, yet critical to performance. The help of fellow-runners as pacemakers.

It is no good having those fellow-runners and pacemakers if you are either not listening to them or not communicating to them. It implies an intimate level of trust and teamwork. A common goal. A shared vision.

The good news is that the race is far from over. Bannister, must like others, must have tried dozens if not hundreds of time to smash this record with these pacemakers, or at least trained hard together in practice. Consider the stunt that this 100 patchwork tapestry that I am now blogging about as the practice, and the main event coming in the form of the Design Forum.

Will you share this same impertinent level of audacity that we can, together, smash a world record for the benefit of those most in need?

Delivering on the promise of improving child survival. First, we must know what defines the race, and secondly, how our performance will be measured. We are competing against ourselves, and we must succeed.

This is the second patch of 100 stories that defines the journey I have recently concluded. Leave a comment and let me know how you like my handiwork!

Patchwork Reflection: 100 Threads Of A Journey

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imageHow do I say thank you?

Recently, actually nine months ago which is not so recent, I completed a journey called the 10 City Bridge Run. It was immensely more difficult and challenging that I could ever have imagined. Perhaps I made it harder than it needed to be, and some of the circumstances of my own life at the time didn’t exactly contribute to making it a talk easy to achieve.

But achieve it I did. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km (some slightly shorter, and a few much longer) in 10 cities across 10 countries in a month.

But that didn’t complete the epic journey I was on.

There are two deliverables unfinished. I still have the book Life Bridge to deliver which will contain an inspiring photo essay of human bridges to capture a thought that it is they connections between us is what is most important to change any problem.

The second is the culmination of the conversation that emerges from this epic quest which I have called the Design Forum. A conversation to ask: “how might we use our networks to deliver of the promise to improve child survival?”

This journey was made possible from the generosity and support of many people who contributed small amounts to ensure I could sustain myself along the way. Without this help it would have been impossible. It was a tough ask as it was. Much of the journey was spent essentially homeless while overseas, often with little or no money for food. This was an unexpected part of the stunt, and a factor that I felt unable to readily share with the community of followers partly because I thought it would degrade their confidence in my efforts, and partly because the sense of shame I felt was too great for me to share that experience at the time.

So before I complete these two outstanding deliverables, first I am going to say thank you to the supporters who made this journey possible. And that will be done through a patchwork of photos from the journey. 10 x 10 photos. 100 squares, with each square part of the journey. I’m getting this printed shortly, and then I will send it. What took place might make more sense to you, and also to me with some benefit of retrospective hindsight as I reflect on what took place.

So this is the first square. My intention to say thank you.

Another 99 stories to come. And it’s good to be able to share this with you.

Thank you for your support.

Last Stand

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All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm
All Greatness Stands Firm In The Storm

The Lansdowne is closing.

It is a venue which much history, known to many for a thousand and more personal memorial and recollections. Memories that are often grounded in the performance of a certain band, rather than specific moment in time.

My memories are from different venues, actually multiple venues, and bands that defined a moment. As I think through the list, the memories become more and more lucid, and the list grows longer and longer. Hunters and Collectors, The Angels, Machinations, INXS, Divynals, and on and on the list grows.

Many of those venues where those memories are from are either closed, or it was so long ago that what happens there bears absolutely no semblance to what went before. The place has lost that magic from that night many moons ago. This is not about nostalgia or showing my age. Rather, it is recognising that things that went before make us who we are now, and they are very much in the past. Not to be returned to.

And so the Lansdowne is closing. And it will close. And in many respects it has already entered into that place of ‘remember when’ for many. That is not good or bad. It just is.

It will close, and something else will open. Now, we are being told that a student accommodation facility will stand in its place. It is less the sign of progress, but more the allure of profit that drives this decision.

Speaking to the staff the previous weeks, their disappointment is palpable. Their morale is shot, in part because they will be looking for new jobs, but I would say that it is more because they are grieving the loss of a friend.

My friend Fay tells her stories of being a barmaid in the Lansdowne in years before many of those staff were born. It is the same venue, and no doubt she will feel the same sense of loss knowing that the taps will be shut off and cleaned for one last night in the coming week.

But let’s make a distinction. This is something that is closing down, not a last stand.

A last stand invokes a sense of defiance. It is a gnarly expression of resistance to the inevitable, It is a critical and defining moment in time.

I had launched the 10 City Bridge Run at the Lansdowne. To be honest, the launch was pretty crappy compared to what was possible. That was my fault and no a reflection of anyone else. At the time, there was a lot of stuff going on that was distracting me from doing my best in other areas. Stuff that doesn’t need to be explained or discussed here. Just stuff.

But launch the 10 City Bridge Run we did. And without the people who attended, it would have been crappy, but they made it special. It is always the people who make it special.

When I learnt that the Lansdowne was closing I was in Seoul. It had been many months since I had concluded the 10 City Bridge Run, at the conclusion of which I was exhausted. It took a few months to make sense of what I had done. Much like the launch, many parts of the 10 City Bridge Run were also crappy, but in its entirety it made something that was worth noting.

I explored a decision to hold a ‘Last Stand’ gathering at the Lansdowne. The idea was a little half-baked, but worth pursuing. The response from people was good and supportive. The venue was receptive, although the manager seemed to be accommodating but less than enthusiastic. I considered the time I had available to me. Not enough, but I wouldn’t really know unless I tried.

Good friends who are hip hop artists were behind the idea, and willing to perform. The delay seemed to be in the response from the venue manager. I was left uncertain of some arrangements that we had emailed about. My hesitation in following up the email conversation was perhaps a reflection of the circumstances.

This was going to be an afterparty for the 10 City Bridge Run. Not a wake. It was not a Last Stand.

No, this is not a Last Stand. The afterparty for the 10 City Bridge Run is going to be a celebration. A celebration of the next steps ahead in our pursuit of delivering on the promise to improve child survival.

So, this is a long winded apology for a half-hearted effort to gather a performance at the Lansdowne on 10 September. It is a Thursday night, and I will be there. You are welcome to join us too, but it is likely to be a quiet night.

My secret hope is that a few people with guitars might turn up, maybe even a melodica. The stage is ours for the evening if we want it. But at this stage, I think it will be a few people sharing a few laughs around a bar that has seen better days.

There will be a long-overdue afterparty for the 10 City Bridge Run on 10 October, and more details will be coming soon. It won’t be half-hearted, and won’t be crappy. And I hope you can join us as we take the first of many next steps ahead.

But for now, the Lansdowne is closing. I’ll be there on Thursday night. Join me for a beer, and to share some stories. If we can gather some interest, who knows, there might even yet be a Last Stand to be had.

Checking In

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IMG_4100It’s been a while. It’s been a while since I last posted. I didn’t check, but maybe it was back in February when I last posted. That’s a while between then and now. But since then, I have been thinking a lot about you, our supporters, and also our mission here which is to ask a question: “how might we use our networks to deliver on the promise to improve child survival?”

And it’s also been a while since I first put this idea out there on this website back in 2010. I remember that day well. It was in August, and my friend Kelley was visiting from the US. She patiently sat and listened while I explained my doubts, and after I had finished talking she told me bluntly in her best Bostonian-New York style to just do it already.

Many of you will know how the journey has progressed. I commenced a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries last September in Port Moresby and then finished the running in New York in early January this year on a cold, dark and wet night. That stunt frames the question we are going to be asking in order to help improve child survival through a series of Design Forum.

There are still a lot of uncertainties as to how the future will play out, but we are forming a good foundation to engage on this question. The hard work comes now: it is ahead of us, and I want you to be part of that journey. How that will play itself out, as well as an explanation for my recent delay, will follow in the coming days and weeks, but for now I have posted a video to check in with our supporters and let you know we are still well and truly in the game.

The video was in Luoyang, Henan Province in China. I refreshed while away, and am coming back stronger. Thanks for being part of the team. Let’s get to work.

We Are The Dead

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Major John McCrae’s poem has immortalised the symbolism of the poppy in Western culture. The words are haunting:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

He writes about those taken too early. But it is the legacy someone leaves that is what matters. This too is contained in the final stanza of this poem, paraphrased here on the anniversary of the MH17 tragedy, one year on:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though sunflowers grow
In Ukrainian fields.

I have been absent from this blog for a few months. I’ll explain that later. But for now, let’s take stock of why it is important to press forward, as if our duty is to take up that unfinished quarrel with the foe. Nick Norris was passionate about thinking differently, and applying systems-changing thinking to co-create a better world. At the time of his death, while I was motivated to embolden my commitment to the 10 City Bridge Run journey as a tribute to his influence, I also at the same time felt constrained to do so because of the very public nature of the incident and media profile given to seeking stories about the family.

I look back now and can understand my actions. I think I did the right thing, but now it is also time for action, and now it is perhaps the right time to honour his legacy as an influence in this journey. And as I write that, my thoughts can’t be too far removed from my brother, especially as no one could have known at the time that on this anniversary this year it would be more poignant for our family to remember.

I’m back into it, and taking their legacy forward as a driving influence. I’ll tidy up this site and write more about that in the days that follow. For now, suffice to say that the torch has been caught and held aloft.

Do You Remember?

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Nick Norris. A great family man and inspiring leader.
Nick Norris. A great family man and inspiring leader.

Think back to that time. That special time that only you can remember. Focus a little closer. Can you see it now? Do you remember?

Sometimes, it would seem that all we have left are delicate memories, maybe corroded by time. They remain in your head. You can write about them, but they can’t be seen by another because they are your memories.

What was it that you remember the most? A smell, the fragrance of flowers or the distinctive aroma of coffee; maybe it was hot and humid and you can remember the sweat pressing against your shirt; and maybe also the sounds, the mumble of crowds disturbing the moment in the background, the sound of the person in your memories; can you remember the colours as if it was yesterday, see the face of the person at the centre of the memories, their smile and their laugh. Do you remember?

It was with some mild anxiety that I searched for a video I made at Kuala Lumpur airport in early October last year. I had just completed the third leg of the 10 City Bridge Run and was headed to Osaka. I travelled to KL by bus from Singapore because it was cheaper, and even though the flights were inexpensive, the reality was that I almost has no money to even buy food.

Sitting in the departure lounge in Kuala Lumpur, I remembered Nick Norris, my uncle who was tragically killed about MH17 a year ago today along with three of his grandchildren. Kuala Lumpur was his destination on that fateful flight which never arrived. Wreckage and debris scattered across a previously unknown Ukrainian field, with no special respect given for human life.

So why this post? It is my first post after being absent from this site for a few months, but I will write about that later. Today, is a tribute to Nick Norris, and my brother Stephen. Stephen attended the memorial service for Nick’s three grandchildren in Perth with my mother last year. For my mother, that will have been a bittersweet memory, as in December my brother would also die.

When I was in the Army, I was deployed on a tour of Rifle Company Butterworth, located close to Penang. We trained across Malaysia and Singapore, engaging in some excellent jungle warfare and urban terrain exercises. My credit card was scammed while I was in Malaysia, and my brother showed his true generous spirit to always nurture others by covering the debt until the bank could reaccredit my account after the fraud had occurred. Nick would have leant back in his chair and laughed approvingly with his infectious roar if I ever told him the story, and would have been entirely pleased to see my brother and I helping each other out.

Almost everyone remembers the MH17 incident. It was a tragic incident that took on national significance, and even forced the outcome of negotiations at the United Nations. Before that, most people didn’t know where the Ukraine was, or that there was a conflict with Russia. It even led to Tony Abbott promising to shirt-front Putin at the G20 last year. Serious stuff. And today, a memorial service in excellent taste in Canberra. A fitting tribute. Love conquers hate. Do you remember?

I wanted to upload this video of the reflection I made in the departure lounge of Kuala Lumpur airport last October for you all here tonight, but when I searched my external hard-drive, it seems it is the one file that for some reason had not been properly transferred. I can’t find it. It was slightly distressing, and caused me some minor anxiety. I felt like I had betrayed my memories of Nick. I had cheated myself of a public expression of the tribute I thought was so important to make. And I thought how stupid was I not to post it there and then back in October.

But I also came to realise that it didn’t actually matter. Who is going to see it or even read these words? Crafting a message-in-a-bottle to be thrown into the amorphous mass of the interwebs. I stopped and thought: what really matters here? Did I remember? How would I remember? Those are personal memories I have of Nick and my brother. We weren’t always that close, but we were family. I can’t show you that on a video.

Remembering those we care for ought not to be reduced to an exercise of humblebrag. Tributes and legacy are incredibly important, and it is we who give them meaning, even if that meaning is only an individual experience.

So tonight, I’m asking you to just stop and remember for a minute. Everyone has a story, even though it might not be shared. Treasure yours, and respect the other.

The Five Best Books On Making Change Happen (published 2014-2015)

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imageYesterday I published a blog with my list of the five best books for making change happen to improve the delivery of child survival. You might have read it already, but if you didn’t click here to read.

The response has been positive, and on reflection what I like about my books (apart from the fact that I really like the books I selected!) is that few of them are so-called best sellers. In fact, reading reviews on Amazon (check out the blog) you can see that they are not all acclaimed as great. That doesn’t much matter about what other people think. It is about what value they are for you, or in this case, for me.

Also, reflecting on the list, I noticed the most recent book was published in 2012. Books don’t get worse with age. Sure, some books are contextually relevant to the time they were written, but many stand the test of time. The books I selected fall into that latter category. Even though events have changed since The End of Poverty was written, it remains a good book to consider looking back what has transpired across the last ten years. In his book, Sachs takes a strategic and longer view. We are not there yet, and the challenge he writes about remains. If anything, his suggestions remain a provocative taunt to some who would argue that aid is wasted, and to others who might argue that change is never going to happen.

But what has happened in the last year that I have missed out on? I am not suggesting I ought to have included the last two Annual Gates’ Letters on the list, both of which addressed child survival as a key priority. But I am interested to know what books have been published during 2014-2015 that are worth sharing around because of the difference they can make.

So now the conversation is over to you. This question began directed to Bill and Melinda Gates, and for the time being while we wait for a response from them (which we may or may not receive), we can do some of the heavy lifting ourselves and share our own information. Don’t keep the good oil to yourself! What have you learnt in your reading in the last year, and why is this important to help us learn how we can improve the delivery of child survival?

You can see the original request I made to Bill and Melinda below. Alternatively, you could also forward this blog along and do your bit to get it one step closer to being in front of Bill and Melinda Gates so that we might also benefit from there answer, regardless of when their list of books was published.

Thanks for reading, and especially, thanks for sharing!