Inspiration

Do The Work.

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IMG_4100The biggest I lesson from undertaking the book project “Life Bridge” is that there is no substitute for doing the work.

Planning and having a concept will only get you so far.

Doing the work involves stepping out into unknown territory, the journey itself being its own reward.

Opportunity favours the prepared mind, and opportunity also comes to those who would create serendipity through putting themselves in the place of possibility.

Fear of failure, fear that your work will be inadequate, fear that your efforts won’t be accepted are all redundant obstacles. Do the work and smash through these.

The irony of this situation is that the work involved defining an idea of the human bridge. By building the bridge, I would also define the thing I was hoping to realise.

What’s holding you back?

Barometric Reading

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Matt: "That's hot!"
“That’s hot!” At the beginning of the 9 City Bridge Run journey in San Francisco in 2009.

I can almost hardly believe that I am still yet to deliver on this idea of a Human Bridge.

I have learnt that when I fail to deliver on something it is worthwhile listening more closely to myself. Performance is the best barometer of capability. While that sounds elementary, also like a barometer measuring weather, having an accurate measure of capability allows us to ask why to determine what is causing the change or in some cases the lack of change.

Admittedly there are many things I could have done prior to this moment to have delivered on this idea of a Human Bridge. Those things I could have done include cancelling the idea entirely and putting it behind me as a failed undertaking.

The Human Bridge is only an idea, but it is an idea. Everything begins with an idea, but what is important is the execution. There is an irony that I have not delivered to date on an idea which is based on the concept of collaboration to frame the idea of a human bridge. That irony is that I have failed to adequately grasped the idea to bring the participation of other people into the project.

And that failure, that being to have failed in grasping the concept up to this point, is the only failure that matters. Cancelling the idea as a failed undertaking would have been an unacceptable failure because it would have surrendered to the difficulty of building a human bridge.

There is no “bad” reading on a barometer. It is a relative measure of air pressure. I need to learn to adjust my behaviour to match my capability so as to best influence performance.

I can’t change the weather any more than I can change the reading on a barometer simply by walking around with an umbrella as if willing it to rain. I need to adjust to the reading of my capability, and use that as a guide to adapt to improving my performance.

I’m beginning to learn how to read this metaphorical barometer. It shouldn’t be too much longer before I can work out how to deliver on the task to deliver on the idea of a Human Bridge.

Grasping Vs Hustling

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IMG_1461Hustling. Along with words like innovation and entrepreneur, it is overused and misunderstood. It sounds so good. How many posts on Instagram champion the word hustling as a person would wear a mask?

I haven’t really used the word much in the past. I’ve been reflecting on my performance to date, and now I’m thinking I should embrace the word hustle more. Let me explain.

Firstly, performance is defined by my impact not by my effort. In the past, my effort was admirable, but my impact was often questionable. This can’t continue. Something has to change.

I’ve been reflecting on the book Life Bridge which is in the process towards production. There is still a considerable distance to travel, but also considerable progress has been made.

Looking back, I realise that much of my effort has been more grasping rather than hustling.

Grasping reflects a sense of desperation, almost begging. The difference between grasping and hustling is the belief in the outcome.

Hustling is not about pleading. Hustling has to be grounded in a strong conviction that the value you offer is worth more than than what people currently have on offer. Hustling is not delusional. Hustling recognises the freedom of people to decide, and that they will recognise your value to contribute to a given situation all things being equal.

Before I turn to explaining more about the status of the book Life Bridge (tomorrow), I needed to acknowledge what had changed in my thinking. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the confidence that the ideas you are bringing into the world have value and should not be ignored.

Why Continue?

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IMG_3582It’s a binary choice.

Do or don’t do.

It is not a question of trying or not. That is a distraction, because the reality is that many things are exceptionally difficult for all sorts of reasons, and we must try in order to finally do.

I have felt the weighty obligation to those who have supported me to continue. My continuing is not transactional, but I am very aware of the responsibility I have to my supporters.

I suppose it might have been possible to shrug my shoulders in the past many years along this Quixotic journey and to say that I tried. I have helped crowdfund a promising book which was never delivered, and the would-be author wrote a note to say he was done trying. So I know what that feels like, that is I know what it feels like to be left with nothing.

And yes, there is risks involved in delivering a project. But I don’t think it is enough to pass this risk entirely on the consumer. In this case, I believe the consumer has every reasonable right to expect an outcome. The problem being in this case is that time has marched on a considerable distance beyond that which might have been anticipated.

So I made a choice to continue. That was a very early decision. The reason I thought it worth to continue was that the reason for championing this cause was important enough to invest my time into, even if that came at considerable inconvenience.

I have learnt an enormous amount. It has been a baptism of fire. Mostly I have learnt lessons about satisfying customer demand.

Yesterday I mentioned that I’m picking up this conversation again here in the public domain through this blog. I made a short commentary of how the satisfaction of the book ‘Life Bridge’ is progressing.

Tomorrow I’ll write more about how I see that occurring. I am well past a point of managing expectations, and appreciate that most of these have been well and truly stretched to the point of disbelief.

Suffice to say three things, especially to my supporters.

Firstly, I apologise for the delay. I appreciate that there may be some disappointment which would be understandable.

Secondly, thank you. Thank you for your earlier trust and support. I write that in full knowledge some may be disappointed in the result to date.

And thirdly, I’m continuing. I’ll deliver. Late. It’s all on me.

Someone Who Is Different

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sunrise over manhattanWords have a power to move. Which direction that movement takes is important to consider. Too often, especially as is seen at the moment, people are polarised by the words of others. Is this reasonable, and is this right?

Jacqueline Novogratz, the powerful force behind the founding of the New York based organisation Acumen, made this comment during the week and I thought it was important to share: “Within all of the division we feel around us, what can we each do for someone else today? What conversation can we have with someone who is different? Inspired by Shaw…

She went on to share a quote from the playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950). I have had this quote in my mind for a few years, and it is appropriate at the moment having just arrived in Hiroshima.

Tomorrow, I’ll write more about its relevance, but for now I think you can glean the meaning without the need for any further explanation:

This is the true joy in life, being recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for a moment. I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

Your thoughts? I love to hear your comments if you would share them below!

Now, Not Later.

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Photo of Hans Rosling: Challenging people’s preconceived ideas (TED)

“If you could live forever, would you?” This is the opening question in an exchange between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King.

An interview between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King, shared by my friend Nat, and originally posted by an intriguing personality and photographer called Hicham Bennir.

“The urgency of accomplishment, the need to express love, now, not later.” This statement was the reason for doing given by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He goes onto say that “the knowledge that I am going to die that creates the focus to being alive.”

Here is the interview here:

I thought those comments were poignant in the wake of hearing news that I listened to Hans Rosling had died.

I never met Hans in person. Maybe you have never heard of him until today. Hans was and remains an inspirational person who shaped my thinking on the journey that became the 10 City Bridge Run. Back in 2010, he wrote to me with these comments:

I wish you good luck Matt.
The seemingly impossible is indeed often possible, but be aware that the impossible is impossible. It takes a lot of wisdom to see the differance between the impossible and the seemingly impossible. We follow you with interest!
Hans Rosling (17 September 2010)

Those words from him were a source of great motivation. It was in the early days of this epic quest in which I had undertook to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities in 10 countries. The purpose of the running was to create a stunt that might allow a conversation to be opened. That conversation was to focus on a question asking: “How might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

In fact for the last few weeks, I have been meaning to get back into this blog, because this year I intend to finally convene these conversations which now have taken a broader view beyond just child survival to consider the larger issue of the Sustainable Development Goals. I had in the back of my mind the thought that I could report back to Hans with news of a completed journey after the conversation had been joined.

Now, it is not possible to share this news with Hans, but the conversation must still continue. Hans’ legacy will be seen in many different ways. The renewed motivation to pick up this challenge is but one small expression of that.

To recap, here are some thoughts from Hans:

Here is Hans speaking at a recent TED event with his son Ola.

We can’t afford to wait until “the right time” to do stuff. And more importantly, delaying is costly when it comes to a better world. We must act now.

Thanks for the inspiration, Hans.

I’m back with a fresh resolve, continuing this journey. It’s time to be the difference that makes a difference. Now, not later.

Let’s get to work.

WDYDWYD? An Update: Part 4

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img_3111My good friend Ledy asked a fair question: “what exactly is the linkage between what and why you do what you do?”

It is a good question and deserves an answer.

In this case, I think a simple answer is best, and I draw inspiration from one of my heroes and a guiding light for the 10 City Bridge Run who frames one of the key chapters in the document features on the landing page for the 10 City Bridge Run website.

Jim Yong Kim is presently the President of the World Bank, and a thoroughly impressive individual. I have never met him in person, but I have consumed much of what he has written and spoken.

In one of his addresses at Georgetown University he describes the underpinning of the organisation which he co-founded called Partners In Health as having a preferential option for the poor.

It is a simple statement, but I think it best captures an answer which satisfies Ledy’s question.

This is the linkage between what I do and why I do it: to have a preferential option for the poor.

“The artist cannot be rushed” (Chapter 2)

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IMG_3699The artist cannot be rushed”. Is this the worst excuse, ever? Or is this a statement of truth about The Creative Process?

This is an expression that came to mind as I was preparing to depart for a friend’s house party in Sydney’s Northern Beaches earlier this year. My friend had asked everyone to ‘bring a plate’, and we would share the fruits of our collective cooking abilities. I had known about the date of the party for easily three weeks.

In my fridge I had some left over nectarines. A box of apples from the markets was sitting on the dining room table. Prior to Christmas, I had baked a Tarte Tatin apple pie for another party. My friend asked if I would cook the Tarte Tatin pie again. It was the obvious thing to do. It would be simple. And after all, the box of apples was sitting there ready to be used.

But for some reason, I wanted to try something different. My appetite for the creative pursuit took over, and I started thinking about what I could bake. This was a mistake. I was thinking about doing something but never taking action.

I awoke the day of the party later than I had intended. I had just enough time, but not the right ingredients. I realised that I lacked some puff pastry that I would need to cook a Tarte Tatin if I was going to do what was easiest. I needed to find a solution.

As I was trying to work out what to do, my friend Tony texted me. “Would I like a lift?” he offered. A lift! How perfect, and so I accepted. The party was about an hour’s drive by car from Sydney, and a lift would mean that I wouldn’t need to take public transport. One less thing to worry about, but accepting a lift meant that I would would be constrained by the time I had available.

I raced off the go to the shops to buy some puff pastry, and was kicking myself that I had been closing the door to serendipity. How much time I had earlier to prepare for this party? Opportunity favours the prepared mind, and I had failed to fix a problem when it had arose earlier.

I arrived at the train station only to learn I had to wait another 15 minutes before I could travel to the supermarket to buy some puff pastry. It was too long and it wouldn’t work. I started to enter a mild panic, and was clutching at options that might work. It was a classic moment of lacking mindfulness, and being unaware towards a solution within the resources at hand.

I didn’t wait for the train, but instead visited my friend’s bakery nearby. I mumbled something to him about needing puff pastry and looking for a substitute. He responded with the best Korean politeness he could muster, not really knowing what I was exactly asking for or how he might be of help. I could have bought a cake from his shop, but my desire for creative output demanded that I cook for my friends myself regardless of the time available. I searched the internet quickly, and suddenly stumbled across a recipe that might just work.

All of a sudden, a brainwave! The conviction that I could do it! The recipe required me to make a base from thick-crusted bread into which a stewed fruit compote of apples and apricots would be filled. I had nectarines, and decided to use these as a substitute for the apricots.

But let’s just pause in this story for one moment. Why only at this point did I become so certain of my ability? A few minutes earlier I was stressing at the lack of time and ingredients, and saw the task as near impossible to achieve. Self-censoring and worry are such useless actions.

Arriving home with thick-crusted bread, I began cooking with pleasure. The nectarines were crushed in my hands with the juice and pulp messily wetting my fingers. Cutting the apples became a meditative process. My sense of hurry seemed to disappear. The fruit began to change colour in the pot where it was boiling, which was an act of modern day alchemy at its simplest.

I had to cut off the crusts the lovely fresh and thick bread which made the soft, white fluff crush together. A memory of playing with my food when I was a child.

Melted butted was painted into a golden, oily film on each side of the bread using my basting brush. The moist and sponge-like bread was then encrusted in a cinnamon and sugar dust. A bowl was lined, and the compote inserted before baking in a hot oven.

I texted my friend Tony. Time was against me and I was not going to make the lift he had offered. I would meet everyone at the party, and instead travel on the bus. Truth be known, this was my plan all along, and an option I preferred. But why did I prefer to travel alone? It wasn’t really because I enjoyed the solitude, or because I had the opportunity to ‘do some things’. I realised that I was embarrassed of my past failures. I felt like I was all backswing, and no hit.

The irony was that I was focusing on my past failures all the while creating a delicious dessert people would later crave. What is that if not success? It is also worth noting that the success was only possible because of the chemistry that came through the enjoyment of others. No one stands completely alone.

The pie was ready, and came out of the oven. I painted the surface as if my canvas with apricot jam which I had cooked the previous week. My basting brush moved in broad strokes that would be invisible to others. Those enjoying the dessert would only see the completed whole, and not the workmanship involved.

I was ready. Before leaving home for the party, I posted a photo onto Facebook for my friends at the party. I was coming, and had the pie to prove it, even if I was going to be a little late. It was then that I invented this quote to caption the photo: “The artist can never be rushed.”

Later that day while sitting alongside my friend Greg at lunch, we stumbled into a very engaged conversation about this quote in the context of my seeking to make this pie. Reflective conversations are important, and in that moment Greg became more than just a good friend, but a mentor as well. Even the hero’s journey is about the engagement with others. There are no lone heroes. To hit the ball, we first must be playing with others to make our own experiences worthwhile.

Too often, I believe we use the anxiety that comes from the hardship of creation an an excuse that that artist cannot be rushed. This hiding behind delay is complete rubbish. The bottom line is that we must crack on. We must get things done. We must push and strive if epic journeys are to be achieved. And only in ourselves can we become that person who ultimately demands that which comes from within.

This book applies to all endeavours regardless of how artistic you might think that they are.

Delaying and not being rushed are different, and this is the point I am making. Take the time to create, but do whatever you need to do to protect yourself from indulging in unnecessary delay.

Do what you can. You can’t do all things. Seek opportunities for collaboration. Be open to the expansive and generative process of creation. And get on with it. The world needs what you can bring into existence.

No Hit. (Chapter 1)

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IMG_3496Can we be honest with each other just for a moment and agree that failing hurts?

Failing sucks. Failing makes liars out of ourselves.

All of us at some time have tried something that didn’t work out. The reasons we tried that thing and the reasons it didn’t work out often will reveal more about ourselves than we care to stop and examine. In part, that is why this book was written: to examine something that didn’t work out as I expected, and to share the learning from that experience with you, the reader.

Before I get into this in too much detail, it is worth noting that what I did was in many respects a litany of failures, however it has culminated into something that is of some worth and value. If I were to cut my losses now and walk away, it might well have been wasted effort. It is as though I am now at a point of being able to effect change. The question is what will happen next. Let’s leave my story until a little later, for now I want to make the case for why this book is necessary.

As children, we fail constantly, and we also keep trying. And hopefully, we find some success along the way. Along with success, maybe more importantly than the success itself, is the encouragement we receive from others. The reality is that too often encouragement becomes devalued as lip service or otherwise no effort is made to extend a word of inspiration because we think we have nothing to offer or that the input is unnecessary. How wrong could we be! Later in this book, we’ll pick up the reason why encouragement is perhaps an overlooked jewel, as well as having a crucial role of putting success into perspective. But for the moment, this is a book about a difficult and somewhat unpleasant topic: failure. So please join me as we embrace it, try to define it, and fathom how failure is as much our friend as it is a necessary part of the process in achievement.

There is such optimism and excitement at the point of trying. And conversely, often such crushing defeat at the point of failure.

Failure. One of the great taboos. The question which I really want to explore though is not how to make ourselves immune to failure, as much as it might seem to be good to be able to limit failure. There is some need to protect ourselves from failing unnecessarily and in costly ways, but even so, all failure does bring with it the seeds of opportunity. This is the true meaning of disruptive intervention, and is also reflected in the Chinese word for crisis where this word is mixed with the word for opportunity.

There is a sense at which limiting failure makes good sense. By no means am I promoting failure as an enjoyable experience. The irony is that by protecting ourselves from failure we increase our capacity to create, to push through points of resistance, and enable our ability to be vulnerable, to learn, and to experience those things that will lead us towards new growth. But as much as we need to protect ourselves from the destructive influences of failure, it is also true that only through the experience of failure can we really find the hidden potential that drives our survival instinct to create. Vulnerability is interesting territory. But what is really interesting is what do we do at both bookends of this experience- both the domain where we shield ourselves from loss and failure, and the other end of the spectrum where we are completely out of control in an environment which is mercilessly ripping our expectations and dreams apart. Perhaps most importantly is now we respond in the events that happen after that point of failure which seems have shattered our plans and stopped us in our tracks. What we do after failure is the most important and difficult part of this journey. And it is also the part of the journey where we can exercise the most control, even though we find ourselves in a place often with the least amount of resources.

Inherent to the human condition is the capacity for resourcefulness. Imagination, grit, faith, hope, love are abstract qualities that we all possess, and too often we take for granted. We get to a position and feel as though we are finished and ruined, but often it is in those times that we are just getting started.

“What we do after failure is the most important and difficult part of this journey.” Let’s return to this sentence from the previous paragraph and examine the implications that this holds for us all. If the journey continues after this poignant place called failure, it would then follow that failure is not final. Of course, this is a decision that we must chose to make, and choosing not to make a decision is still a choice. In many circumstances, it is the toughest decision that people will ever be confronted with. It is at the rock bottom of our experience, and can be among the most hauntingly lonely existential places to visit. Some never return from that place. Some chose to remain there, alive but living a soulless existence for the rest of their seemingly pathetic lives.

In this book, I have drawn upon my reflections, and the first thing I was us to recognise is that failure is part of a process, and not a singular event. Time as a continuum exists well beyond that dark moment of failure. It might be hard to see at the time, but it is true.

Whatever it takes, we must find a way to keep going. This might mean that we have a requirement to surrender our dreams and expectations in accepting a new reality, but even if that is the case, we must keep moving forward.

The title of this book is taken from a saying I overhead once. I don’t know who said this saying, and I have rarely heard it since, but it stuck in my mind. Even searching on Google, I have not been able to find this saying in the lexicon of modern parlance. Was I mistaken in hearing this saying? That could have been the case, but even so, it still makes sense as an expression which captures the theme of this book. What was this saying I overhead: “All backswing, no hit.”

Can you make sense of this saying? It paints an image of a baseball batsman who is taking all the time to wind up in preparation to hit the ball, and in doing so looking spectacular awaiting to receive the ball that is about to be thrown in a pitch, except that the batsman never follows through to hit the ball. Or maybe it means that the batman does follow through, but completely misses the pitch. It is an expression of someone being of no substance, or no ability. In this regard, it might also be seen as a personal reflection of being unable to ever hit the ball and only ever striking out when at the plate awaiting the pitch to be thrown.

In sport, there is actually a correlation between not hitting and hitting. This is well documented through sporting statistics, and even the greatest sportsmen will tell you that there is a lot of failure that needs to be pushed through before finding greatness. Natural talent only counts for so much. Of course, there will always be those people who are much better at something than others, but there is a time when everyone experienced times of learning. Everyone had their seasons of not hitting and striking out in some way early in their careers. Even the best of those who walk among us have seasons of seemingly catastrophic defeat when they seem to be at their finest hours.

I have also taken this saying to explore the relationship between the wind up of the bat and the follow through in swinging at the pitch. Sometimes, when we have been held back by endless winters of failure, we can lose our resolve to follow through. Sometimes even winding up is an effort. Mostly, we get to a point where we will got through the motions of winding up, only to give up at the time of follow through and so there is never any potential for hitting. Defeating ourselves is the worst form of failure, and often it is understandably done because it at least seems in the short term to be less painful.

But don’t take my word for it. Go an look at some of the baseball statistics of some of the worst hitters and the big hitter so all time in the big leagues. The same holds true for cricket as well, as it does for basketball and for receivers in American Football.

Is this science? Probably not, but it has merit as anecdotal evidence that there is a pattern worth further examination.

The thing to remember is that not everyone is going to be a big hitter. Why is this? Is it genetic, luck, application, talent? And why are people who seemingly just as applied never suited to baseball? Is hitting big across the diamond the only measure of worth?

After a recent epic quest, I related more and more to this saying, often associating this with my own performance in my own internal dialogue. Initially, I heard it as critical and censoring. But then I saw the glimmer of hope and opportunity which is hidden within this expression. I want to explore that together, and I go further to suggest this illustrates how searingly deep this runs into our psyche: “Because no one likes to strike out.” It is a baseball metaphor. And through this book I want to unpack it with you.

So lets begin this journey. And as we do, let’s proceed by recognising that we, too, can be big hitters, but first we need a better understanding of what this means.

NOTE: I think this is too long for a single chapter. Ideally, I want to keep every chapter under 1,000 words. Your thoughts?

Change The World

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Street graffiti from the East Village near the dosshouse I was staying at in New York when I finished the epic running stunt earlier this year. Inspiration is everywhere!

What are we to make of Mark Zuckerberg?

If you have 20 minutes spare, I would highly recommend you take a moment to watch the video below where he delivers an address to Tsinghua University.

For me, what is intriguing is not the wealth or influence of Markey Z, or even that he has mastered language skills in Mandarin and speaks with aplomb to an engaged audience. I was really inspired by how much enjoyment, how much satisfaction, he is showing for his ability to being able to communicate and connect with the audience.

He speaks about how when he first build Facebook how he dreamt that one day there would be a similar tool built that would connect the global community. He says that at the time it never crossed his mind that he was in the process of building that platform.

We don’t know the impact of our actions. Often, we will never see their impact as the ripples extend far beyond our sphere of influence in ways we will never know. But what this video does confirm is that for change to occur, action must first take place, and that action must be guided with a sense of purpose. For Mark, he shows his humanness by expressing a desire that everyone should just care more.

It sounds simplistic, but what a formula. First decide on what you want to do, then care radically in such a way that the way forward manifests itself out of our efforts to realise our purpose.

This is no time to be spooked by large corporates or big institutions. If the answer was known to this question framing this epic journey, someone would have done it already. It is incredulous that after so much money has been spent, so much need remains. But this is no time for complaint. Rather, lets elevate the intensity of caring more, and act with intention to change the world.