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?


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!

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!

What’s The Plan, Stan?

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Matt with friends in Timor Leste
Matt with friends in Timor Leste

What’s the plan, Stan?” With these words, the familiar, raspy voice of one of my senior soldiers would ask what was happening next.

The radio squawked a low, crackly hum breaking the silence of the bush surrounding an unseen force of camouflaged men crouching patiently nearby. A dispassionate look on his face was challenged only by the steely glare of his eyes.

Rifle in hand, he looked relaxed, waiting for me to work out where the plan we just received was to take us next. Dragging back on a roll-your-own cigarette he held between his fingers, the lit end facing in toward his palm, he watched as I placed a map on a cleared space on the ground at the centre of the our small team that had gathered together.

That was then. An army works on command and control, orders and reports, and when it is at its best is like a finely-tuned machine with a mind of its own, responsive to any stimulus.

But this is now. The 10 City Bridge Run was a ridiculous stunt to frame a conversation that is shortly to follow. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries to gather attention so as to open this conversation asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Unlike the army, there is no authority given for me to do this. I just made it up and did it. Much of the time I was making up the journey not long before taking the next step.

It was only made possible because of the support of a community which had joined in, each with their different reasons to see th quest arrive at its destination which is the Design Forum.

The 10 City Bridge Run is driven by passion, imagination, leadership, vision, inspiration, collaboration and trust. It might have seemed that the journey to date was a one-man journey, but in fact it was a collective effort.

More so, the Design Forum which follows beginning next week is all about collaborations and collective effort. Individuals provide a background to the focus on a community which grows in the centre of this picture. It’s about us.

Shortly, I will post my thoughts about how the Design Forum might unfold. And then together we will navigate the way forwards.

Who is ‘we’ exactly? The ‘we’ is the team that is making this happen. I am part of the team, and you can be too if you want, but I can’t make that decision for you.

This is an invitation for you to join that partnership, this collaboration, our community. Upend the M and me becomes we. But if you do join the team, I want you to know one thing. In as much as you might be looks to me for inspiration for the next steps that follow, I will just as likely be asking you how it should unfold by asking your thoughts to answer the challenge before us: “What’s the plan, Stan?”

Conception Comes Before Birth

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IMG_0351A nine month journey will begin shortly. It will be uncertain, full of expectation, and at the end of which there will be the emerging of something which at the time of writing this post was only a glimmer in my eye.

It is a journey that starts with an intimate partnership of sorts. That part, the union with others, is unavoidable. It will be messy, fun, maybe full of passion. But for the nine month journey to be successful at the conclusion, at the beginning something must be created.

During this process, a new entity will be woven together, in a process that creates new life. It is an astounding feat, many would describe as a miracle.

Yes, we are birthing an idea. And I want you to be more than just a casual observer. Coyly, I’m asking you to help conceive this with me. Would you….?

Perhaps this description is comical, and maybe more dramatic than is needed. Commencing next week is the beginning of a nine month epic journey called the Design Forum where we will address a question asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

I was describing the vision for the Design Forum that would follow the epic journey that was the 10 City Bridge Run on the eve of the final leg in New York to my good friend Kelley when she identified that it was a journey of nine months. She questioned whether gender played a role in how the Design Forum unfolded. It was a good question: guys and girls think differently. We bring different life experience to the table. Biologically there are core differences which shape our function.

This doesn’t mean that we have ‘male’ roles and ‘female’ roles. That would be too limiting and prescriptive. What it does do though is open the process of the Design Forum to be seen as taking place across loosely the equivalent amount of time that it takes for human pregnancy.

Together, we really are engaging on the process of an idea. Actually, many ideas. And the metaphor extends beyond that further. This endeavour is about enabling life, not so much creating life, but preventing death in order to sustain a flourishing existence. This is important beyond the reasons that would appear obvious. Reducing child mortality is counter-intuitively the best way to contribute to the ending of extreme poverty, and by doing so to improve quality of life, improve health and infrastructure, and these things lead to opportunities for education where currently there are few, and ultimately contain population growth.

Improving child survival is too often the punch line of a funding appeal from an institutional aid agency, but what does it actually involve? There are few silver bullets, and it will involve a lot of hard work. But one thing we can know for sure: it all begins with the birth of an idea sewn from our imaginations.