The power of the polymath

Sometimes I think there are too many TED talks out there nowadays – it becomes so hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But I love this one. Of course, as a polymath myself I am biased, but I think Ella (who I know from the Do Lectures) makes a great case for why generalists are sorely needed (in a nutshell – cross fertilisation and holistic thinking).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Shameless Self Promotion

In November I will be co-teaching a course at the wonderful Schumacher College in Devon, with Patricia Shaw. It is about leading in the midst of complexity. It will bring together improvisational practise with complexity thinking and focus on ‘working live’.

I am thrilled about this because going to Schumacher back in 1997 and 1998 was a wonderful experience. I was on courses led by Paul Hawken, Fritjof Capra and Edward Espe Brown. I am amazed I have been invited back there to teach. I feel I am in exalted company. And it is something I have hoped for, dreamed of even, since I was first there. That will teach me to be patient.

So, have a butchers (to those unfamiliar with cockney rhyming slang this is short for ‘butchers hook’ i.e. ‘look’) and pass it on to anyone you think might be interested.

Many thanks.

Do Improvise

My new book ‘Do Improvise‘ is out.

I am very honoured to have been asked to be one of the first ‘Do’ authors and Miranda, who runs Do Books, seduced me into it with the beguiling brief ‘it will be rather like a Ladybird book’ (for those of you old enough to remember such things). It is shorter than ‘Everything’s an Offer‘ and I am curious to see what relationship the two end up having to each other. It feels rather like wondering how your children will get on when they grow up.

I am thrilled by the cover design (huge hat tip to James Victore and Do Books in general for persuading him to do the covers). As well as Miranda, and my wife Bea (who saved me as the deadline loomed) enormous thanks to Ronan Harrington who took great trouble to read it closely and suggest some changes, most of which we happily embraced.



Cooking the Books

My wife commented to me this morning that ‘Do – Improvising’ – the book I am currently writing – seems to be a lot easier than ‘Everything’s an Offer’ ever was.

She is right.

It’s a bit like cooking. With the first book, it was as if I was trying to prepare food in a country I don’t know, with no recipe, no idea of where the shops are, what is good at this time of year or who is going to eat whatever I make. With ‘Do – Improvising’ I feel like I am at home, making something simple from fresh but familiar ingredients and some friends are coming round for dinner in about an hour.

What is interesting is that I couldn’t possibly do the second one without the first. ‘Everything’s an Offer’ taught me how to write a book. Now that I know that, I can just get on with the writing.

It reminds me of parenting. My father used to say that first children have it hardest because they have to teach their mother and father how to be parents. I don’t quite know where this goes, but it does seem to me that understanding when we are having to learn something as we do it, instead of just doing it, might help us to be a bit easier on ourselves.


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….


Your own worst enemy

I just finished a draft of a chapter of the Do book and it is so funny to watch myself, working against myself.

First there is the terror of the blank page, the fear that I can’t find anything worth saying so I struggle hard to get going, to get something (anything!) down. My fears prove misguided and I quickly generate tons of stuff, most of which is crap. But not all of it. So then I have to struggle again to find and dig out the bits that aren’t crap.

It is peverse and maybe inevitable, but we do seem to spend an inoordinate amount of time struggling mostly against ourselves…..writing makes this particularly visible, but it seems more generally true as well.  Why is that? (Hat tip to Gary for the image below).

Voices in the head

Yesterday I started writing again.

Not planning or preparing or making cups of tea or dithering around but actually writing.   Miranda, my publisher, will be pleased, or perhaps relieved. My wife, Beatriz, perhaps less so.

I know I was really writing because the voices in the head started. In the middle of a yoga class, or whilst picking up the kids from school, I have that desperate urgency to reach for a piece of paper or a voice recorder and jot down a turn of phrase, an idea, a metaphor. I recognise that feeling and whilst it is a bit daunting it is also beautifully familiar. Like coming home.

In the writing itself I am at that interesting point of finding a new voice. A different voice from ‘Everything’s an Offer’. Still me, but a modulation or variation. Like an actor using the same body, the same person indeed, to represent a different character. Still them, but different. Which seems to me to be a universal, perhaps even eternal theme – how do we stay the same, yet be different enough to grow learn and develop?