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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!

Two Caves That Bookend Reality: From Plato To Campbell

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imagePlato’s Allegory of the Cave is well known by many people: inside this cave, people stand chained and facing a blank wall. On the wall they can see shadows projected of things, illuminated by a fire behind them. The shadows become the only things they know, and so they name these shadows as the frightening figures in their known reality. They give form to their worst fears.

Plato uses this allegory to suggest it is the philosopher who is able to walk unchained from the cave and see these things for what they are, and in doing so make sense of reality.

Perhaps Joseph Campbell was suggesting that Plato didn’t go far enough by suggesting that the true Hero must venture further in their epic quest to find the rewards of reality. Campbell suggested that people must re-enter the cave, but not that same cave they once came from, not the cave of bondage.

Here is how Campbell is quoted:

The cave we fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

So let me ask you, where are you on this line between the two caves? Chained and frightened into submission of what society would have you think, free and exploring the reality of this wonderful world around us, or perhaps avoiding your quest to enter the cave which holds the treasure you seek?

Decide to be bold today. Now is the time to take that epic journey. Don’t hesitate a moment longer.

Five Books For Change

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IMG_4655Last December, I was standing on a bridge crossing the Clyde River n Glasgow which was completely shrouded in fog. I stopped a moment to record a short video to Bill and Melinda Gates, and asked them for their recommendation of five books to help make change happen.

Maybe you saw this video if you were following my journey. It was the day after I had run the eighth leg of the 10 City Bridge Run that concluded in January this year where I ran across 10 cities as a stunt to open a conversation about improving child survival.

The video is below, and while I have forwarded it through social media, I don’t now that I have exhausted every avenue to pass the message to Bill and Melinda Gates. And even if it did reach their gatekeepers, there is no guarantee that they would see it personally, or even have the time to respond.

IMG_4657Well, I haven’t given up on them, and will keep looking for ways to send this “message in a bottle” to them.

In the meantime, I made my own list of Five Books For Change that have most influenced my thinking as I worked through the 10 City Bridge Run epic quest ahead of a series of Design Forums to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

And here is the list, and in no particular order. They are all great books!

IMG_4658There were other books as well that I had to cut from the list. I asked Bill and Melinda Gates for five books, and so I limited myself to five books too.

You might have a different opinion, or some other books that I didn’t consider. I hope you do, and I hope you might share them here too! Write a review of your favourite book for making change happen as it relates to improving the delivery of child survival, and I’ll add it here on the blog (you write the blog and I can post it without editing it).

As for getting in touch with Bill and Melinda, well I’m sill trying. You can help by forwarding this blog, and the video message to the Gates’ is shown below. Personally, I like the list I have already, but this journey is about building a conversation and sharing how we see the world, so it would be nice to know how they think and what they would recommend we read!

ReThinking The Design Forum

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IMG_3803In 2010 I had an idea to do something that would both address child survival, and at the same time show the capacity we have together for collaboration, even if the beginning of our efforts is an individual act of decision.

The plan was to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries, and at the end convene a Design Forum to somehow find ways to impact the issue.

Four years passed until I was able to commence in 2014, during which time there was frustration to be found in spades, hopes dashed, thwarting by circumstances such as injury and access to resources.

Then in mid-September 2014 I commenced the journey. It was prudent not to have commenced before then, despite the misgivings this might have created in the minds of other people. I didn’t have the resources to complete the journey, and if I had began it would have been a disaster for me personally.

Long story short, I completed the running journey late on a cold, dark and wet night in early January in New York. The running was always a stunt to frame the Design Forum. In the meantime, what I learnt was that I still needed more time to prepare for this conversation.

The running at took place at the end of last year informed the conduct of the Design Forum. Doors were opened, I saw many places, experiences shaped my thinking. It was a personal journey that was extremely instructive. And now it is time to turn attention to the Design Forum.

The Design Forum have actually commenced already. It is a series of 10 events that will occur in each of e cities where running took place to open a conversation, and this conversation will be extended into other places through the participation of others. The first Design Forum was in Osaka, and that is being extended presently by a number of teams of great people with whom I am engaged in a process of examine Human Centred Design through an introductory course from IDEO/Acumen Fund.

Until last night, I had a plan to commence the remaining Design Forums as early as next month in Port Moresby, with others following in May. If I learnt anything from my running it was that action is important now, but that good preparation beforehand will ensure that action has impact. I have been ReThinking the Design Forum as I plan out my year ahead, and now recognise that there is some personal maintenance issues I need to attend to called ‘working to earn some money’ before I can suitably commit my time and energy more fully to convening the Design Forum. Besides which, to conduct them right now would be a financial stretch. It doesn’t mean not possible, but perhaps in the immediate sense, not prudent right now.

The good news is that this gives more time for preparation. And the second (next Design Forum) is likely to be held in early August in Port Moresby. That might seem like a long time away, but there is a lot to organise before then and the time will pass quickly. Following Port Moresby, the remaining eight Design Forum will occur to conclude in Seoul towards the end of October. It will be a pretty intense period, but will also frame a particular window of activity inside of which many people can engage to help us address this question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

We are making progress, maybe not immediately like some people might expect, but we are getting there. Come August, I would expect a few other things to have been addressed to:

  • Engaging with media
  • Making it clear how people can get involved in the Design Forum
  • Building a robust team to help with the conduct of the Design Forum
  • More fully engaging with an inspiring community of practitioners who are already involved to help improve child survival
  • Building support for a petition to go to Australia’s Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop MP asking her to be the Official Champion for the final Design Forum to be held in Seoul
  • Completing the book Life Bridge which people’s earlier contributions have helped fund as a way to enable to conduct of this epic journey. I anticipate the book might be completed and handed over to the designers/publishers in late June, aiming to have it ready for distribution after publishing by early August. That is an ambitious timeline, but also achievable.

There is always merit in ReThinking your position, not to change your mind every five minutes, but through a process of iteration to come up with a better and more workable solution.

With your help, together we can engage in these series of Design Forum and work to improve the delivery of child survival.

Details about how you can engage coming soon!

On Becoming An Artist, Part 2

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“Order To Disorder” by Matthew Courtney

“All it takes to become an artist is to start doing art.” 

With these understated and at the same time profound words, my friend Dr Ellen Langer began her 2005 book ‘On Becoming An Artist”. It is an instructive and inspiring book I have read through cover to cover about four or five times now. Dog-eared and underscored, this book provides a reflective conversation that lives up to its subtitle: “Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity.”

I first met Ellen in Toronto back in 2007 when attending a conference at Rotman Business School. Roger Martin who I knew from attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship had invited me to participate in a conference he was convening about thinking. I knew there were great thinkers in Toronto before I arrived for that conference, but it was when I was attending I saw how alive that city is with fresh thinking, design and creativity. It was for that reason I decided to run there during the 10 City Bridge Run, and especially why it will be included as part of the Design Forums that will follow later this year.

Ellen is a big thinker, but not your usual academic or thought leader. She is an elegant woman who would seem to be more at home at Largerfield’s next Chanel showing in Paris, but she is just at home with big ideas and the opportunity to ask you to stretch your mind more. I was fortunate to spend time with her again in Melbourne in 2011 at the Australian Davos Connection ‘Future Summit’ which I am alumnus to.

She is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and is qualified to speak on matters concerning the mind. The book is a case study of her own experience from picking up paint brushes through Untaught Art and becoming an artist. She uses the writing to paint metaphorically a discussion beyond her earlier writing about how rampant and costly living a life mindlessly can be, to address how mindful creativity enriches and enhances your life.

Re-reading the book now, I find at this is our intention as we set about the Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run to ask “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We will together tap into a process of engagement that will enrich our own lives, and through doing so we will be helping to literally save the lives of millions of people over the coming decades as part of a broader collective effort.

The photo is from a friend in New York, Matthew Courtney. He too is an artist with a colourful past I know little about. He lives in Brooklyn, and travels into SoHo to sell painting and drawings he has made. Most people are too busy to stop and look or to talk. Much like existing conversations that sometimes overlook dysfunction in making change happen in child survival, Matthew experiences a phenomenon that Ellen writes about observing people and critics flocking to “official art” with excessive emphasis on evaluation. Ellen writes:

“People don’t give up their current preferences or ideas easily.”

These are big ideas Ellen is playing with. It is not suggesting you throw away your bible, figuratively or literally, and I for one would encourage you to hold onto your values and beliefs. But importantly, learn to look anew, see with fresh eyes, and think again. This is the process we will embrace during the Design Forum. Please join us on this journey!

This Is Not New

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IMG_4409During the 10 City Bridge Run, I might have been pathfinding a new journey for looking at the issue of child survival from a different perspective, but I was not the first person to go this way. In fact, I am following the reliable footsteps of others.

And child survival is not a new phenomenon. Historical records showing the impact of changing medical, infrastructure, social and economic conditions in Europe during the Industrial Revolution points to a time when the incidents of child survival was high much like it is today in the worst places on earth. There was no magic fairy dust to make this change happen. And the impacts can be seen to reliably influence quality of life, wellbeing and population levels across Europe. That historical data points to why improving child survival is important.

Back in 1982, the Executive Director of UNICEF who was then James Grant launched what was called the Campaign for Child Survival. Jeffrey Sachs in his book “The End of Poverty” writes about how this campaign promoted a package of intervention known by the acronym GOBI: growth monitoring of children; oral rehydration therapy to treat bouts of diarrhoea; breastfeeding for nutrition and immunity to diseases in infancy; and immunisation against six childhood killer diseases.

Sachs writes:

The results were striking. Child mortality rates fell sharply in all parts of the low-income world, including Africa, where rates were (and are) by far the highest. The campaign was estimated to have saved around 12 million lives by the end of the decade.”

UNICEF leading a coalition of all nations was able to deploy a great mass of resources to achieve this outcome. “The results were striking”, and even so the problem remains today. Bill and Melinda Gates wrote recently in regard to child mortality that “Things can be better”.

The Design Forum which the 10 City Bridge Run is focusing on are not proposing some magical solution that until now no one has ever thought about. The Design Forum are not suggesting that until now there has been no progress. No, the Design Forum readily recognise that this effort is built on top of the excellent work of others. Good progress has been made, but there is still much to be done.

In particular, the 10 City Bridge Run Design Forum argues that there is considerable untapped resources through our own connections which can be engaged with that stands to contribute to the improved progress that is making today. This is not a stand-alone effort, it is part of an existing collaboration to improve child survival.

This is not new, but we stand before an opportunity to perhaps uncover new approaches to help improve the delivery of child survival. Join us. And maybe more importantly, if you are already engaged or know of great work to advance child survival, then bring us into the picture. Let’s open those connections.

They Die Namelessly, Without Public Comment

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I was fortunate to attend a wake at the Ivy Ballroom this afternoon to celebrate the life of John Hemmes. “Mr John” as he was, and still is, affectionately known was a leader in making things happen. He had style, he did it his way, he took people with him. He inspired many people, not the least of whom is Justin Hemmes.

This post frames a story that takes place across Three Acts.

Act One, Scene One:

I didn’t stay long, and just wanted to pay my respects. He had done a lot for Sydney through his influence, perhaps more than most people will know.

It was a fitting tribute. The venue was looking wonderful as usual, and staff lined the entrance along the length of the stairway to greet people as they arrived. It really was a celebration. And it is appropriate that the lives of such people are celebrated.

Act Two, Scene One:

Earlier in the day, I attended the interring of ashes for a Korean War veteran who I had come to know very well. He was originally from New Zealand, and served with the New Zealand gun battery as an artillery observer supporting the Australian battalions. Since my roles in the army and what he actually did at war were closely aligned, there was a lot to learn from him.

He was a colourful character in life, and after migrating to Australia became a private investigator, standover man in Kings Cross night clubs, along with a string of other experiences which beggared belief. During this life of his, he went bankrupt a couple of times and laughed that off when he told his stories in his true idiosyncratic manner with his huge Cheshire grin, and in doing so shared the highs and lows of what life was like as an entrepreneur, albeit if his journey was unconventional.

For the last 10 or 15 years of his life, he had ‘found religion’ as his family would describe. They didn’t approve of his new-found Christian faith, and perhaps preferred him when he was not spending so much time on the straight and narrow. In his last few years, despite accumulating many years, he found romance with a lovely lady who was close to his age. Together they were a great couple and brought each other much happiness. Unfortunately, the family neither accepted this relationship with this woman any more than they accepted his choice to follow a Christian lifestyle because of his beliefs.

He died exactly a year ago, and it wasn’t until now that his ashes were to be interred. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral because I was overseas at the time, but was pleased to attend the placing of his ashes.

I felt sick to my guts when his daughter pulled me aside at the end of the service that was attend by only a handful of people in contrast to the vibrancy of Ivy that was to come later. Included in the small throng was the lady with whom he had struck up the relationship. His daughter whispered that everyone would all pretend that we would be going home so that the girlfriend would bugger off and not join a casual lunch at the pub afterwards ‘because she was difficult’. I felt embarrassed for the girlfriend, and made a point of asking her to phone my anytime soon and that I hoped she would continue to attend the functions where the Korean War veterans would assemble. Needless to say, I left soon after that and thought nothing of attending the lunch. It was good to honour my friend that day.

This gathering couldn’t have been a greater contrast to the open expression of hospitality and celebration found at the wake for Mr John later in the afternoon.

Act Three, Scene One:

Returning home by train after the wake, I again fingered through the book “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs. I had only just re-read it earlier that afternoon on another train ride between appointments. Flicking to the Introduction, the sentences seemed to have been written for this unremarkable train ride returning from the grandeur of Mr John’s celebration of life. Nothing in this post is to take away anything from John Hemmes, and I pay tribute to the man as he deserves my respect. But this is what I read in the opening words of Sachs (2005):

Currently, more than eight million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive….They die namelessly, without public comment. Sadly, such stories rarely get written.

Could there have been another day with three more contrasting events about death? This final scene speaks largely of course about the blight of child mortality, a moral obscenity as Tony Lake the Executive Director of UNICEF likes to characterise it.

Act Three, Scene Two:

He closes the book, and flicks over the postcard which was handed to him as he climbed the stairway when arriving at the Ivy Ballroom about an hour before. On one side, the postcard shows a flamboyant photo of a younger John Hemmes celebrating life. The other side has a simple quote from the man himself, speaking beyond the grave:

Whatever you do, do it well.