Do The Work.
The 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?
The 10 City Bridge Run basically has three components to unpack the key question at the heart of the project which involved opening a conversation to ask “how might we improve the delivery of child survival?”
The first component was a running stunt that was completed in early 2015. Looking back, it is easy to describe what happened. Recalling the events does not do justice to the difficulty involved in completing that task.
The second component is a book called Life Bridge which will feature a photo essay on the theme of “human bridges”. The central assumption to how change might occur is through connections between people. More than any amount of money, institutional will or technology, there must be people committed to driving change at the heart of any solution. Not only people, but radical collaborations of people through this idea of the human bridge.
The third component is a Design Forum where game changing ideas to address the challenge can be brought to life.
For now, the important work is the delivery of the book Life Bridge because it defines the human bridge.
In some regard, just defining a human bridge makes not one iota of difference. No change directly occurs. It is only conceptual.
This is the challenge. The human bridges have to be more than entertaining concepts. It has to point somewhere. Until I deliver on this, it remains an idea. People will need to see it to believe that it can make change occur.
Earlier, I had though that just by soliciting photos of human bridges that the idea might be demonstrated. I even thought that maybe I could take the photos to illustrate the idea. Neither of those on their own is sufficient. There is a lot of hard work required at the construction of the human bridges, as conceptual as it might be, for it to become a utility for change.
There will be space for collaboration with a broader range of photos of human bridges, but the immediate task is to make the essence of this idea tangible.
I have arrived at an idea where the core definition of the human bridge will be constructed from 24 photos of photos that emerge from collaboration with 24 Korean artists. The reason it is Korean is that there is an interesting perspective about the collective and collaboration from Korean society and thinking, along with the 20th century history which saw the nation emerge from the wreckage of colonialism and war into an industrial powerhouse. It is a country that is not without its challenges, and the fact that there is imperfection readily seen in a good canvas upon which to construct the human bridges.
More particularly, it means that I need to communicate an idea across another culture and language in such a way as to convince other people that it is worth their while to collaborate on this idea. Through that process of dialogue and discovery, the essence of the human bridge will emerge.
I can’t exactly tell you what it will look like now, any more than I could tell you the value of running a ridiculous Quixotic challenge a couple of years back. My concern is that much of the earlier interest in the idea has since waned, understandably. It is now my responsibility to build that interest and attention to what the impact of the human bridge might be.
Any suggestions from you would be welcome. Thanks for being part of the journey.
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.
It’s been a while.
How many times have I begun a post like this here? Many. Too many? Hard to say, except one thing I do know is that progress matters, no matter how slow.
There is a case for speed, and not going too slow. The problem being addressed through this project is time sensitive, in as much as delays result in opportunities lost. The stake that is on the line is the wellbeing and lives of many people who live life unseen in poverty.
And that is the balance. Too hasty, and there will be an outcome, but maybe without impact. Too slow, and it results in a perfect solution, although too late. Paraphrasing General Patton:
A good plan now is better than a perfect plan hatched from within the walls of a prisoner of war camp.
This project is about an idea hatched in 2010. It led to the completion of an epic quest at the beginning of 2015. What remains is the publication of a book to help frame a ‘Design Forum’ to discuss this issue about child survival with the broader context of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Most of those delays have been my responsibility, and largely related to my ability to extend myself because of resources at hand. Some might say, including myself, that it indicates a failure of imagination not to proceed, but there is also a need for pragmatism and balanced risk. Things don’t always work out. Sometimes we need to constrain ourselves waiting for a better day.
The important thing is that progress is being made. As if within a cocoon, most of that progress is unseen by others. That metaphor is useful, and I really need to turn the inside out in order to make a difference.
Here is what I have to report on as of now:
The book which was to underpin the journey already completed through pre-sales is in the process of being written. The book, Life Bridge, is a photo essay and will feature 24 artists each with a contribution on the theme human bridge. I expect that these artists will all come from Korea, for no other reason than there is a particular aesthetic towards the collective and design which is interesting from Korea. Seeing a broad range of contributions will also be easier to compare and contrast if generated from a similar background. From the perspective of addressing poverty Korea is also an interesting case study. It is a country which has overcome the wreckage of war, and while now by no means perfect, does give some clues to how best to proceed with progress.
The Design Forum will take place in May 2018. Before that can be organised, there is some preliminary work that is required. More on that soon.
Today is the anniversary of the Armistice signed in 1953 which brought to a temporary cessation hostilities on the Korean peninsula. That too was progress, but also unfinished business.
In the meantime, I’ll begin to blog more frequently on a daily basis and get this back on track.
For all those who have supported this effort to date, thank you.
Someone Who Is Different
Words 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!
Five Books For Change
Last 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.
Well, 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!
- Glimmer: how design can transform your business, your life, and maybe even the world, Warren Berger, Random House Nosiness Books, 2009
- Reframe: how to solve the world’s trickiest problems, Eric Knight, Black Inc, 2012
- On Becoming An Artist: reinventing yourself through mindful creativity, Ellen J. Langer, Ballantine Books, 2005
- The End Of Poverty: how we can make it happen in our lifetime, Jeffrey Sachs (forward by Bono), Penguin Books, 2005
- The Imaginations Of Unreasonable Men: inspiration, vision, and purpose in the quest to end malaria, Bill Shore, Public Affairs, 2010
There 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!
The rhythmic whirring and tapping sounds coming from the life support machines sound like a reassuring metronome. If only it was that idyllic…
The video below is self-explanatory by the comment which accompany the clip from Chris describing his bitter-sweet experience as he sings to his son Lennon following the death of his wife:
Chris Picco singing Blackbird to his son, Lennon James Picco, who was delivered by emergency C-section at 24 weeks after Chris’ wife Ashley unexpectedly and tragically passed away in her sleep. Lennon’s lack of movement and brain activity was a constant concern for the doctors and nurses at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, where he received the absolute best care available. During the pregnancy, Ashley would often feel Lennon moving to music so Chris asked if he could bring his guitar into the NICU and play for Lennon, which he did for several hours during the last days of Lennon’s precious life. One day after filming this, Lennon went to sleep in his daddy’s arms.
Can you feel that crushing blow which must have accompanied Chris through this song and for the days, weeks, and years that will follow as he remembers his wife and child?
Many child deaths are irrevocable, and in the West in developed countries this is by and large the majority of incidents of child mortality. My brother’s son Xander is one such case as this. Lennon is another. Some reading this will have a very personal connection with that too, and I write these words with much care because I know that any reminder must be hurtful for you in ways only you could understand.
But what about those in so-called developing countries where we have no visibility of their deaths through YouTube or media? The sadness shared by their parents is no less. And the figure, while diminishing because of improvements in child survival is still too great, still over 16,000 children under the age of five per day. More than 16,000 parents singing their own version of a broken-hearted Blackbird daily. And that is not to mention the large numbers of women who die while pregnant or during labour. Life is a risky business. It is a situation we hope to address through the Design Forum accompanying the 10 City Bridge Run. Join us.
Standing In Front Of A Blank Canvas
Did you hear the news? I am now an artist, officially!
Yes, I have my first public work displayed in an exhibition at the Auburn Peacock Gallery which launched on 21 February. It is a wonderfully curated exhibition, and a great collaboration to be part of. I’ll return to this point about collaboration a little later in this post.
In actual fact, anyone can be an artist. This was the emphasis placed on understanding art by our professor when I studied Art History back in the day during my undergraduate studies. Taking Art History happened by serendipity, and the opportunity arose only because I was quota-ed out of my primary choices of studies. It was an influential and instructive time for me where I learn a new way of seeing. It was the stepping stone to other opportunities in learning and education, including picking up studies in English Lit a year later where I first met my good friend Fay.
The professor in his opening address for the beginning of the Art History course urged us to look beyond just studying because it might lead to opportunities in curation, or because of some romantic dream to study at the great galleries of Europe. He instead placed more emphasis on making a difference wherever you found yourself, and in a very local context. He said that if we were able to subsequently engage with and appreciate art at even a local gallery and find the joy in doing that, it would be his measure of success. It was a profound statement, although I don’t know if I fully appreciated this at the time.
My perspective of the 10 City Bridge Run has changed since it began in 2010. It is a circuitous story of how I came about to engage in this epic quest, and sometimes I wonder whether it is more a fools errand because of the personal risks I am taking. Even so, I move ahead. My perspective has changed, and with it my ability to communicate has changed as well. When I first commenced this initiative, some might remember a couple of monthly newsletters I emailed out to supporters at the time. I look back at those as cringeworthy productions, but that was where I was at then. Now, I am wiser for the experience, and have an epic journey behind me with the recently completed running stunt all but finished in New York in early January this year. I have written this elsewhere already, but it took longer than expected, and in every way I took on much more than I had bargained for.
Now we have began the next phase of this journey. I say we because this current phase of the Design Forum is about us. I could do the running alone, but I can’t do the collaborative designing on my own. Now, it is about us, and the conversation has began. This email is part of that conversation, and you reading it is another part. All of these small parts will all add up, like droplets of water forming a pond that then runs into a much larger river and eventually into a sea of activity. In that metaphor, individually and together we are like the droplets that make that pond, and the pond to some degree defines our efforts through the Design Forum. In order not to stagnate, the pond needs to connect to the existing rivers of experience that flow into and shape the great sea of activity. It is a bit of a dramatic metaphor I know, but it is a way of saying that the Design Forum is not ‘it’. There is much to learn and some amazing work going on around the world to help improve child survival, and our aim is to contribute to that somehow.
My last post continued thoughts about The Hero’s Journey and shame. It is where I find myself now. Shame is not the same as ashamed. Shame is an expression of how we view our own sense of adequacy, and it is the entry point to experiencing vulnerability. I know there will be some tough guys out there who might want to say “just suck it up , buddy”. If that is your response, I think that you still have some distance to travel on your own road in order to explore your own personal limits of vulnerability. We all have them, and that is where true courage and invention is found. Vulnerability in that space which requires us to draw upon our immense reserves of imagination, creativity and innovation to find a way through a situation that is inherently difficult. Of course, there is one special group of people in society that experience no shame. These are not super-soldiers, but in fact psychopaths.
It is actually good and healthy to experience shame because it lets you know you are human. And it is what you do with it that matters most too. If you (like me) are paralysed by shame into inaction that leads you to not engage media, that is not such a good outcome, but all the same it is an outcome. We live and learn. Much like my journey with the 10 City Bridge Run, it has been a learning journey. To be honest, I don’t know that I was fully equipped to lead a global conversation about child survival until now. If I had attempted it earlier, there still would have been an outcome, and that outcome might have been great, but it still would have been premature.
And so now I am back in this familiar place. Standing in front of a blank canvas again. Actually, this time we are all here. But for me, I sense that there is some reasonable expectation to shape the conversation to get this work underway. It is a familiar feeling, and I’m sure we have all been there before commencing anything of significance. I felt it last year when finally drawing on the blank canvas which my friend Anoop gave to me to draw on. He asked me about nine months after he gifted the canvas to me: “so what has happened to that canvas?” I know he was asking casually as a friend, but he also pushed me into action. I painted that canvas, and it lead to the work that is currently being exhibited in the Peacock Gallery.
When I first visited the exhibition and saw my work on the wall, I had a wonderful insight into the collaborative process which had in fact begun with Anoop’s prompting. During the making of the work for this exhibition, I engaged with Penny and Nicole, the two curators for the exhibition, as well as Dani who helped to get my image formatted digitally. That was also all in context of being part of a holistic expression of what the Centenary of Anzac meant for the Auburn community. It was a real awakening to collaboration, and in some ways provided an opportunity to better glean what the professor of Art History had been hinting at all those years ago.
Similarly, I am inviting you to be part of this collaborative process as the Design Forum unfold. I can’t say what your part will be, and in fact I think to some extent serendipity will be our guide as this opportunity unfolds. It is not a singular experience, there is no ownership, and it will involve the flowing of many ponds of inspiration into a river of experience to flood that great sea of activity ahead.
Returning to Osaka, it was like coming back to visit an old friend. That’s the effect of running around a city. Long distance runners will know the feeling. The city opens up its secrets. Back streets and observations of life that pass the ordinary visitor. Osaka is a lovely city, with lovely people, a proud history and natural beauty.
It was with this in mind that I wondered what to make of the small community of people who I gathered with on Sunday morning after arriving on Saturday evening. Inside an austere hall, they greeted me warmly as I arrived. I hadn’t met them before, and someone might have been excused for thinking that there was nothing at all special about their very-ordinariness at first glance. How might they be described by others? Lonely misfits, trash, human junk, cripples. Not world beaters.
But within a few minutes, I saw a different side to them all. Warm, friendly, generous, talented. Not trash. Not junk. Gifted.
And while I had experienced the friendliness of the city on my previous visit when I ran in Osaka last October, this community showed me a hospitality I previously hadn’t recognised here.
To write anyone off as junk is more than unkind. Similarly, to think that to solve important social problems is only for those with a certain talent or income is equally as wrong. Bill and Melinda Gates have become poster idols for making change happen, but they are not unlike you or I. We are all human, and we all have the same capacity to care. Money has little to do with the equation. It is a question of commitment.
Who is invited to the Design Forum? Only the beautiful people? Just innovators, thought leaders, and forget the rest? No, there is no qualifying credentials required. Everyone is welcome.
The Design Forum is an ambitious journey of its own. It is the destination of the 10 City Bridge Run, and defines a conversation asking an important question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”
Drop in at anytime. Please bring your manners. And your imagination.
The conversation is about child survival. That is keeping children alive and flourishing past their fifth birthday. UNICEF calculates there are over 16,000 children under the age of five every day, and a high percentage those deaths occur within the first 48 hours. And we really have to ask ourselves: do these deaths really matter? Can we really be concerned? Or are these babies are just human junk and trash?
Do we care enough to act? I’m not talking about a donation to UNICEF or any other aid agency. Can we really take action to make a difference? Can you? Will you?
Free Introduction To Human Centered Design!
The commencement of the first Design Forum in Osaka aligns with a free, online, seven-week course run by the Acumen Fund and IDEO which I am inviting you to participate in to help frame the series of Design Forum. The course can be done through examining any design challenge, but I am proposing that people join to help address the question framing the 10 City Bridge Run: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”
Here’s how to get involved. It’s simple, and you can do it without needing any special qualifications:
- Register here, or drop me a note saying you want to participate.
- Join or form a small group of between 2-6 people where you live, or work with me and others online for the conduct of the course. If you are forming a small group, you could meet in a coffee shop once a week. And if you are joining me online, I’ll make a schedule when we can connect by video-conference or Skype, or some other way to collaborate.
- Follow the course across the seven weeks exploring this question: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” as together we work to ‘Design the Design Forum’.
- At the end of the course in early April, not only will we have framed how these Design Forum might play out culminating in Seoul in October, but you will also receive a certificate to prove to the world that you have in fact become a Designer.
Please accept the invitation, and join us to frame the Design Forum.
There is no limitation on attendance. Please forward this link to others, and please especially ask them to join with us as we look at this question of improving child survival. Thanks in advance!