A New Parenthesis Experiment

I have been running one person ‘Parenthesis‘ retreats here in Spain for a couple of years now. This year, working with Hilary Gallo we are adding a new, small group format.

We are going to be running the first one as a kind of beta-test at the end of June this year.

If you are interested in participating let me know soonest (there aren’t many places).

If you would like more information, here is the brochure.

Group Parenthesis beta brochure

Reading weekends – expert or emergent?

Looks like Reading Weekends are becoming popular. The School of Life are running one too (not for the first time it seems). Here. 

There is an interesting difference though, between what we did and what they are doing. They have specially selected “books that will change your life” and Burkeman and Berthoud play the role of ‘expert guides’.

On The Praxis Reading weekend people selected the books themselves, for any reason they like and the conversation was emergent. There was no expert, just a conversation amongst equals. So, the same, but different.

Blue Sky Thinking

Hiking in the sierra with Neil Randhawa, we saw this. The mountains were beautiful on their own, that’s true, but the clear, straight line of the contrails behind the plane added to it.  The juxtaposition of the regular and the irregular is, I suppose, what makes such a striking image and it makes me think of the value of contrasting perspectives, a theme of the conversations Neil and I were having as we walked through the snow and ice.


Small town networks

Friends from London, or some other metropolis, often ask me what it is like living in a small town. I think they wonder what on earth we do to entertain ourselves in such a place.  When I first lived in Arenas, I used to answer that there was a trade off (one I was quite happy to accept) but a trade off nonetheless, between the spectacular natural landscape and the human landscape which was, so I thought, pretty limited.

I see it a bit differently now.

I have a more varied group of friends in Arenas than I ever expected. This includes a blues singing vet from Arizona, a Galician producer who grew up in Germany and a locally born, half Brazilian guitarist who spent a decade in Nashville. There is a surprisingly wide variety of people here.

Those interesting people do interesting things. Our Venetian chef started a thriving branch of the Slow Food Society. There is a farmers market, ecological consumer group, a cooperative gallery for local artists, workshops on body percussion and movement therapy, groups that meet to star gaze.

Obviously this isn’t a patch on what any big city offers, but the human scale changes things. You hear about everything interesting that happens. It is all close – you can go to a yoga class and the film club in the same evening and still have time to meet someone for a drink. The grapevine is powerful. You can reach anyone you want to, whether it’s a percussionist or a photographer, even if you don’t know them yourself.

This has made me realise that wherever you live, what there is to do is a function of two things. It doesn’t just depend upon what is available, but upon how accessible it is. In big cities there is a collosal amount to do. But it isn’t very accessible. It may be hard to get to, over-subscribed or simply expensive. Much of what you see in Time Out only serves as a backdrop. In a small place there isn’t anything like as much going on, but everything there is, is incredibly accessible. I suspect that we over value the amount of stuff that is happening, and under estimate the importance of accessibility.

It made me wonder about whether we misread things in a similar way in other contexts, work maybe? Perhaps the content, the stuff, that we have available is less important that the access, via easy, human channels that we have to it?




A change of scene this weekend (maybe that will help me write). Not far, just north 80km to the other side of the sierra, to Avila and an old house that belongs to my wife’s family.

Place makes such a difference. Not just because of its intrinsic features (air, light, beauty, quiet etc.) but because of what people have done (and thought) there before. We notice this on Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme and joke about making sure we give people an experience of the dreaming spires (not just the modern Business School).

It is as if we lay down sedimentary layers of experience, that whilst invisible, are somehow accessible to people later. In places that people have frequented for a long time like Oxford, or La Serna (some of the house is 16th Century) there are many layers of sediment for us to access. Which makes you think not just about what you can take from the presence of people gone by, but about what you might leave for those that are yet to come….