Ellen Langer

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!

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!