Monday, 5 September 2011

The Ball Cube: Towards A Higher Resolution Mythology



The major themes and characteristics of our mythology come from the Bronze Age (hence the enduring obsession with Classical civilisation). The Greeks inherited theirs from Egypt. I could write a book on it, but one tiny e.g. will suffice for now. The sun is pictured as a perfect disk in Egyptian mythology, and the Greek solar myths build on this view. Their science and social structures reflect the same cosmology and world-view through geocentric, heliocentric and Newtonian mechanistic phases. Rigid systems of perfect circles, perfect cycles and Platonic forms of order render any deviation 'problematic'.


That whole world view was just about sustainable (if you could put up with occasional inquisitions and genocides) in a sleepytown world of slow change and low technology – but … Nowadays we know there are no perfect circles or straight edges, we have higher resolution vision, so we need a higher resolution mythology to cope.


All societies are underpinned by a mythology, and when the mythology fails to keep pace with historical changes in technology, environment, demographics and economy societies experience what I call cultural subsidence. My major concern here, as always, is to find new mythological bases for underpinning our further evolution as a society. This science of building new mythological constructs is called mythography.


Here’s a tiny glimpse of how we can use mythography to construct a higher resolution mythology that will help us get our bearings and chart a way ahead as history pushes us towards increasingly detailed knowledge of the ‘the world’.



1 – The Mythology of Aural Space: Information took approximately 4 million years to double from the first stone axe to the height of the Roman Empire. Original Bronze Age mythology was low resolution: everything was present and almost static so it was easy to keep up with rate of change. You could have a sufficiently clear picture within the one-dimensional ‘aural-space’ of storytelling, which, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, enveloped us completely. The cultural dynamics were therefore relatively simple and the comprising tensions to be resolved were relatively simple too. The poles of Bronze Age culture and mythology are epitomized by Plato and Aristotle and by Athens and Sparta: metaphysics versus materialism.



2 – The Mythology of Aural and Visual Space: Information took just 1,500 years to double from Rome to the Renaissance. . The Renaissance saw emergence of mid-resolution mythology. With information doubling more quickly we needed a higher resolution mythology to prevent the world blurring. The printing press with its uniform linear script gave us a 2D mythology: aural and visual. This technology also seemed to give us the ability to replicate ‘perfect’ straight lines and circles ad infinitum. The clockwork machinery of Newtonian cosmology was now possible. The notion of squaring the circle came to prominence, reflecting the requirement to resolve the dualism implicit in 2D mythology. The technique of painting in perspective was a clear reflection of the 3D geometry behind 2D mythology.


The big-picture higher resolution dichotomies thrown up in this mid-resolution 2D world include Catholic vs Protestant belief, republic vs monarchic statehood and fake vs genuine values (e.g. fake ‘Christian’ slavery, colonialism and patriarchy vs the ‘Christ-like’ sincerity of abolitionists and proto-emancipationists). Our history from the Renaissance to 1900 was the story of these dichotomies. They are ‘higher resolution dichotomies’ than we saw in Classical times because they take the old materialist vs metaphysical dichotomy and apply it to more highly specified evolutions in beliefs, politics and values, i.e. evolutions based on historical developments in technology, economy, demography and environment.



3 – The Mythology of Aural, Visual and Fluid Space: Information now doubles approximately every year! When we look (scroll, surf and click) through the ‘Windows’ it’s all a blur. The floors are going wavy and walls begin to crumble. Meltdown ahead. We need a higher resolution mythology to get a good focus and provide sustainable underpinning.


Technology now demonstrates the principles intuited by the sages of old – smash a glass hologram and each shard contains the entire image – and we are shards of God, in His divine image.


Science now demonstrates that nothing is flat – all lines and plains – and all systems and organizations- are fractal. And string theory, complexity theory and Bell’s theorem of super luminal connections combine to demonstrate that everything is connected to everything else, everywhere and instantly!


All the old dichotomies still abound, from Classical ‘metaphysics vs materialism’ to the higher resolution 2D dichotomies mentioned above. But now they have mutated again, expanding into a further dimension, and taking on a new more fluid character, e.g. ‘comparative epistemologies’, ‘pluralism vs separatism’, meaning vs nihilism, those who seek continuing history of change vs those who seek an end to all change and to all history. These are very much 3D dichotomies: not just about how we apply metaphysics vs materialism, but about what those applications ultimately lead to: surfing on the flow or sinking to oblivion.


We need a 3D mythology, with a 4D geometry behind it to move forward socially, economically, cognitively, spiritually and cohesively. Thanks to Einstein’s special theory of relativity and the ability of digital media to represent 4D cubes or ‘tesseracts’ this is now possible – and necessary!


The puzzles and tensions presented by 21st century cultural dynamics seem ‘wicked’ (i.e. insolubly complex) because they have acquired an extra dimension: aural, visual and fluid. We need a framework for navigating safely in this environment; we need not to see a blur every time we look through the windows! But nobody has a clue what to do about it!


.* * * * * * *

Cue The Ball Cube! Where alchemists once sought to square the circle we must now cube the sphere! I have developed a tool called The Ball Cube in order to addresses the underlying need for higher resolution mythological underpinning for sustainable cultural evolution. The Ball Cube is a highly original incubator-based digital game designed for in-house or broadcast TV. It combines aural, visual and fluid space in equal measure. It aims to enhance resolution and stop the blur, to enable clear focus, to enable three dimensional thought patterns to grow in preparation for an increasingly 4D future, to clarify strategic thinking and sharpen operational effectiveness, to enable wicked knots to be unpicked, enable unresolved parties and problems to find resolution …


The Ball Cube can help all kinds of cultural dynamic groups from those in conflict (e.g. police and rioters), to those in supply-demand relationship (e.g. banks and businesses, goods and media product supply chains and consumers), infrastructure supply-framework relationships (e.g. BP and govt energy policy makers, train companies and transport policy makers, etc.), corporate teams, premier league football teams, major political party teams (a preferable alternative to existing models for getting work-force/teams ‘on message’ and sharing passion for an ‘imposed’ vision), and so on.


Look out for ‘’, due for launch 2012.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Mapping The Mythology


There is something immature, infantile, precocious and primitive about the notion of causality.

Sure, if you kick a ball it causes it to move, or whatever, but that’s not causality, that’s physics. Causality is like when we say Hitler’s invasion of Poland caused England to declare war in 1939. And that’s just simple minded guff, like saying pulling the trigger causes the gun to fire, while ignoring all the other factors involved in the firing of the gun: the mechanism, the loading, the intention to fire, the whole mindset that begets phallic ‘ballistics’ like guns at all, etc.

As I've said before, there is no one cause for complex events, and all events are complex if we consider them deeply enough (even kicking the ball involves gravity, atmospheric pressure, manufacturing design and infrastructure, DNA for legs, etc etc...). Things occur in complex combinations of events. Things aren't caused any more than a particular twirl in a turbulent current or a plume of smoke is caused. It's plain silly to say that this twirl or that was caused by X, if it was then we would see that shaped twirl or plume everytime X occurs, but we don't. Every twirl is unique! It cannot be repeated so it cannot have a replicable cause. A thousand identical Xs will give us a thousand different twirl shapes!

Chinese culture is more mature, like I said. It does not ask what caused Y, but rather what kind of things tend to appear together when Y occurs. That is connective thinking.

(As an advocate of Chinese thinking I am reminded of the story about the Chinaman who invented guns hundreds of years before Europe. He took his new invention to the emperor to show him how useful it could be:

‘You see, we just put the gunpowder in the tube and pack it down like this, then in goes the metal ball. Next, this sparking mechanism is operated by pulling on this thing we call a trigger and WHAMMO BLAMMO the ball comes shooting out – it’s so cool. We can use it to kill animals in hunting, or even people in battles. If we make it supersize we can use it to smash castles, anything.’

The emperor was less than impressed: ‘What a terrible way to use such a wonderful thing, gunpowder is for celebrations, not for killing, beautiful fireworks, not horrible guns! With such guns many other bad things will also occur. You must be punished for having such a bad mind – take this man away and clap him in irons – off to prison with him!’ And the poor man was sent to rot in jail for the rest of his life.

Three hundred years later the causal thinking Europeans got hold of gunpowder and BLAM KERBAM … the rest is history.)

Causality is not the epitome of meaningful thinking; it is just an immature phase in our growth as a species. If we want to see a slightly bigger picture mythology lets us zoom out a bit, giving us a more panoramic view.

Stage 1: All ancient civilizations present their ‘gods’ (which signify their values and mind-set) as working mainly in a divine realm, where humans don’t exist. Like Olympus, Asgard, etc. Their effect on us is therefore entirely magical, nothing natural about it.

Stage 2: Then came Yahweh. For the first time we had a God who’s main activity was here on earth, with humans, starting with genesis and the earthly paradise of Eden. This is a historical God who makes things and changes happen here, this is a god of causality. Covenants, plagues, floods, exodus, Job, – all caused by one agency: God. Yes, there are miracles, but they are always related to natural ‘laws’ of God. God’s word is the Torah, the Law!

That causal idea then spread through Christianity and Islam: divine incarnation, crucifixion, final judgment etc. It’s the marker of monotheism: Divinely defined laws of causality.

And this causality has brought with it such dangerous philosophical ideas as naturalism, objectivism and logical positivism, etc.

Naturalism is the idea that natural laws cause all things, which seems fine on the face of it, but if we scratch the surface the flaws open wide: we often interpret laws wrongly, like phrenology, like eugenics, and then the natural law just becomes a dogma, e.g. Nazism.

Objectivism is the renaissance idea that reality is laid out in front of us like a renaissance piazza in perfect grid-perspective. The observer is the subject, removed from reality, set above it, with a god’s eye view (‘sub species aeternitatis’), while the observed is the object, the objective truth. The self is godlike, the other is an object. I think therefore I am, all else may be a dream, an illusion, or pieces to be manipulated on a gameboard grid – I can see what causes what and I can cause things to happen, I can solve problems!

Positivism is the idea that the world is made of facts that we can be positive about, and the totality of facts is the sum of reality in the world. Things like value, emotion, transformation and alternative world-views are completely excluded, they do not exist, along with art, poetry, metaphysics, love, etc. Reality is caused by facts, and if we understand the facts we will understand all causality.

It doesn’t take a genius to spot how the philosophies of causality, like the three described above, have led to problems like patriarchy, social division and economic polarity. And it’s no surprise that we find in response the typical escapist solutions of drug addiction, religious extremism, media-immersion, digital-games obsession, computer obsession, celebrity obsession, hyper-materialism, gambling addiction, porn addiction, etc.

And no wonder the nihilistic despair that attends the inevitable futility of such escapism: gang-violence, earth rape, anti-education, political and bureaucratic corruption, anti-social behaviour, etc.

The cul-de-sac of meaning presented by these sort of problems leads to a vicious-weakling backlash of health and safety, risk aversion and increased state and police powers that defy any reasonable measures of common sense. Neo-fascist, control freak, mumsy mollycoddling – call it what you will. I call it the tyranny of mediocrity, the iron fist in a velvet glove.

To recap: Stage 1 was polytheist with all the important action taking place in the divine realm. The paradigm here was the Magical. Stage 2 was monotheist, with the important action happening here on earth – the Causal paradigm, giving us science and so on.

Now that the petrol gauge of meaning has gone below the reserve tank and is sputtering on fumes, where is the last chance Texaco? What is stage 3 and how can we fill up on it?

The answer is blowing in the wind, said Bob. Never was truer word spoken! The windblown particles, waves and wavicles of quantum physics hold a clue. So too does the connective, collaborative, reflective, responsive, innovative, improvising pluralism of 21st century social networking. This whole bag was pioneered by the jazz and rock and roll that has spread across the world like a miasma for the past century – a mummy’s curse that curled out of the ancient tombs, through the horn of Bird’s exalted sax or Hendrix’s cosmic harp - perhaps. Bringing us together as a whole, preparing us to act as a body greater than the sum of its parts.

The mark of this phase is social-communalism and holism. Holism is best understood in the Latin phrase pars pro toto: the part is equal to the whole. Each cell contains the DNA blueprint for the whole body – the whole race, the whole universe. I cannot reduce the other to a positive bunch of facts, like objects laid out before a superior me, and defined by what I call natural law. I am just another part of you, like Donny Hathaway sang: everything is everything, or John Lennon: I am you and you are me …

I cannot define that Texaco station or the type of fuel there, nobody can, only the plurality can. Like the plural group collaborating in the search for sustainable new meaning on Group Partners’ Yammer, set up by John Caswell, just one of many such groups no doubt.

All I’ll say for now is Stage 3 is being defined by our collaborative search for meaning.

Hopefully it will be considered useful and valuable to have the roadmap laid out like this – if we want to get our bearings we need to know the road we’ve been travelling on: from polytheist/magical through monotheist/causal to holistic/creative. I make no apology for the course grained history and philosophical nitty gritty. It’s important, it sets the historical context for meaning.

Final word to Edmund Husserl (he of the very finest grained philosophical nitty gritty), the founder of modern phenomenology, who disappeared under the Nazis. His very last words, urgently written on a clickity old typewriter as the jackboots raced up his stairs and kicked in his door:

“The crisis of European existence can end in only one of two ways: in the ruin of a Europe alienated from its rational sense of life, fallen into a barbarian hatred of spirit; or in the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy, through a heroism of reason that will definitively overcome naturalism [and the whole paradigm of causality it springs from]. Europe’s greatest danger is weariness. Let us as ‘good Europeans’ do battle with that danger of dangers with the sort of courage that does not shirk even the endless battle. If we do, then from the annihilating conflagration of disbelief, from the fiery torrent of despair regarding the West’s mission to humanity, from the ashes of the great weariness, the phoenix of a new inner life of the spirit will arise as the underpinning of a great and distant human future, for the spirit alone is immortal.” – KERBAM!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Meaning In The Mist


Last year I blogged this thought on problem solving:

There is no such thing as a root cause. Nothing has a single cause. Everything that happens is due to a unique combination of complex dynamic factors. The Chinese language does not encourage Western ‘causal’ thinking, but rather it encourages people to think in terms of connectedness: instead of asking ‘what causes X?’ they ask ‘what complex of things tend to happen together in time?’ Think in Chinese!

Now I ask: Are we thinking in Chinese yet? Are we asking what kind of things tend to happen together, what kind of things tend to coalesce in time? Or are we still mired in the childish futility of asking what caused this event or that, whose fault was this problem or that? 5 year olds ask 'why?' all the time: 'why is this happening and who or what is to praise or blame?'. Adults just read situations and act accordingly: 'what's the situation and how can we deal with it?'

And if we want to probe deeper we can call on our experience and maturity for wisdom, asking 'what sort of things tend to occur together in this sort of situation?' The Western habit of asking causal questions like 'why is this happening and who is to blame or praise?' has probably done more to undermine human development (through the kind of science and religion it begets) than to enhance it. For example, it forces us into value judgements we're not qualified to make about people and systems (e.g. 'who's fault is immorality?' 'why do communists hate God?', etc.) and it drives us towards feeling powerless (e.g. to answer impossible questions: 'why did the big bang bang?', 'who started the war?', etc.). All in all that whole childish way of thinking decreases our critical consciousness and renders us vulnerable to brainwashing by religious and secular propaganda. It lacks grace and aesthetic quality too.

By contrast, there is a certain maturity and composure about the qualities celebrated in Chinese thought, as epitomized in Buddha or Lau Tzu. It is no coincidence that the Western mind run riot celebrates the likes of Posh and Becks instead.

So lets a take a moment to think in Chinese and look at what is coming together in our world. Now we have tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns and earthquakes galore, financial coma, anorexic public sector shrinkage and pathological atrophy of education, social entropy across the Mid-East, climate polarity and brimming fundamentalist fervour in all three major monotheist religions (all merrily shining their nukes for the big party), and the biggest gap between rich and poor the world as ever known.

And our response to this bitter cocktail?

Trembling, the weak minded among us choose their best shot quick fix from a half-baked drop down menu of ‘end-time fatalism’, ‘2012 jumblemumble’ or ‘pixelated internet messianism’ (as if the universal mind or godhead might manifest better in digital pixels than in the face to face bonding of human souls).

Others with even feebler minds wander the catacombs of nihilism and despair in a numb state of shock. And the most benighted among these wretches resign themselves to impotence and resolve to seek comfort in short term gain.

Among these, the elites fiddle the books and crucify the people while Rome burns: bankers with their bonuses, local govt. leaders with their 4 X Prime-Ministerial salaries, business leaders with their short sighted max-profit destruction, media gatekeepers excluding all but the most meaningless talentless gruel. Small people in big boots!

And the not so elite among these lost souls seek escape though a similarly self-indulgent smorgasbord of celebrity-culture, gang-culture, drug-culture, cyber-culture, sport-culture, retail therapy, beauty therapy, spiritual therapy, nationalism, rationalism, charity, hilarity, profanity, insanity, politricks and anarchy. Ordinary people squeezed into squeaky boots!

But there is no need to crumple and turn mad, bad, sad or rad just because the walls are going wavy and the floor is turned to jelly. The more constructive people work hard at trying to restore and re-inspire meaning in a world that is long on information and short on inspiration. It is to these people that we must look for the maturity, buoyancy, resilience and creativity of what I call Chinese thinking! Big people who appreciate barefoot moments.

Nuclear catastrophy, natural disatsers, financial crises, public sector cuts, education collapse, social chaos, climate change, perilous religious extremism and mass poverty. If we understand that these kinds of things tend to coalesce in time we might not be too shaken when waking up to daily newspaper reports of profound global issues facing us: geological, geo-meteorological, geo-political, geo-economic, geo-cultural, geo-social and geo-communications shift. For anyone who has spent a good deal of time looking at coalescence will recognize such cluster patterns of ‘facts’ or ‘states of affairs’.

But should we interpret that shift as realignment or as derailment, as something that can generate positive change or as something that can only lead to further destruction and collapse? That depends on factors that lie outside the world of facts.

The philosopher Wittgenstein reminds us that all facts and states of affairs can be spoken about: “if all true elementary propositions are given, the result is a complete description of the world”. But he is most useful in pointing out that we must exclude from this all notions of value – which can only be shown (e.g. truth, beauty, ethics, meaning, etc.)

This is a very important distinction for anyone concerned with recovering actual meaning. The 21st Century is increasingly overloaded with data and understocked with meaning. I see it all the time in education and in business, where I work, and I know it rings equally true in other fields too like politics and economics.

The meaning comes through in story, and to manage that we need mythography – the science of constructing narratives that meet the challenges and opportunities of a given time or context.

The philosopher Heidegger reminds as that we can only build actual meaning on the language of poetry. We cannot do it with the language of facts or analysis. (For Heidegger language is alive, an autonomous life-form that uses us for its own ends, only poets can harness and use it.)

Put it all together: to recover and manage meaning we need to think more in terms of coalescence (i.e. ‘thinking in Chinese’) or clustering of events than in terms of causality, we need to focus on what can be shown not just what can be spoken about, and we need to underpin social meaning with a new mythology using poetic language instead of churning out endless information.

Where should we start looking for a theme, a direction, to poetically build this new mythology, this new foundation of meaning? Instinct says we need to look at collaboration. For the first time ever, thanks to communications technology, we live in a pluralist ‘global village’. And the upside of the global geo-this and geo-that is we face it all together: all ages, races, sexes, classes, religions and so on. For the first time ever, we can work together to co-create a more meaningful future.

All we need to do is find the right metaphors, then we can start to build that poetry of pluralism and with it our new mythology. And the metaphors we need will loom through the mist of values, and show themselves as we speak - in dialogue. Night horses through the rumbling fog of war? Angels through the sparkling haze of morning?

As a storyteller immersed in the 6,000 year legacy of human wisdom and experience I know well what sorts of things tend to happen together in time, and what kind of metaphors are most likely to emerge as the building blocks of a new poetic, a new mythology, a new paradigm and a new reality. Clues abound, from the archetype cycle to geometry to harmonic form. But it's not something that can be told; it's something that will show itself gradually, unfoldingly, but never completely shedding the swirling veils that preserve its modesty - and thus will it will dance, barefoot and balletic, through the mist ...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Heed the trusty oaks …


Here in England we have plenty of old houses and cottages with low ceilings – apparently people used to be much shorter in the past …

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy thatching, the oak beams and door lintels in those old places are famous for delivering a hefty whump to the forehead of the tall and heedless.

We’re also famous for loving to queue. In some countries I’ve been to when the bus comes it’s just a big bundle for the door, Darwin in action, the weaklings left sputtering in the toxic wake of the engorged bus as it heaves away groaning. But in England we still half expect the queues to be neat-ish and orderly-ish, and it was only a few years ago they’d have been neat as a mayday hatpin.

Low doors and queues. Very traditional English. But look what happens when we put them together:

If we take the entire human population of this world and line them up in order of wealth we get a long thin line of people on a scale from short to tall, the poorer the shorter, the richer the taller. We will define the scale thus: a person earning the average income of an English adult will be of average height. The door also will be of average proportions.

Now visualize that line of people standing on one side of a closed door.

In a moment they are all going to cross the threshold into the next room, in an orderly fashion, poorest first, richest last. But before we start that great parade there is one condition: they have just one hour to all pass through the door.

Ok. They can start walking now.

For the first 48 minutes we do not have to open the door, for 48/60ths (i.e. 12/15ths, or 80%) of the world’s population are so poor that on our scale they are short enough to walk right under the closed door! True!!

Only when we reach the 49th minute do we need to open the door. For 9 minutes people walk through the door ‘normally’.

Yes, dear reader, you can guess where we’re going with this.

By the 58th minute people will be too tall to walk through the door without stooping, then bending, then crawling, then cramming.

And in the last ten seconds or so the people will be over one mile tall!

Perhaps they should take heed, unless they think themselves too big to learn a lesson or two from the trusty oak of old England! That's the mistake a lot of people have made - just before WHUMP!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Rothko In The Brume



‘Ambition is the death of thought’ (Wittgenstein)

‘Imagination rules the world’ (Napoleon I)


I'm always pushing for that quantum leap, not because I'm ambitious but because I have imagination.

Some folks’ minds naturally incline to big pictures, big ideas; some don’t. It’s not hubris or even ambition, in fact it the exact opposite. It’s actually humility. Humility is being honest about who and what you are and offering it unreservedly, without being ever so ever so ‘umble about it. If you’re a genius say it loud, like James Brown, holler it from the rooftops; and people can knock you down if you're wrong and if they’re that way inclined. Uriah Heep was a self-obsessed ego-maniac, like so many who dissemble behind self-effacing masks of false humility whilst coveting a life of unmerited privilege. Napoleon was humble.

Einstein was humble, Wilde and Wittgenstein too. These are the masters of true humility in our world. Mohammad Ali – the self-declared greatest of all time. He just tore open his shirt and said ecce homo, behold, the man, this is me, and he let all the smug Uriah Heeps sneer and patronize behind their fake smiles.

Maybe that's why I prefer Rothko to the great 18th Century miniaturists who took the clarity of finest brush-work to its absolute zenith: He captured a vision of what being might actually mean –rumbling deep in the mist, abstracted from subject-hood or object-hood; while they captured life as it was – objectively - eyelash for eyelash, hair for hair. He cared as little for hairs and eyelashes as they did for visions of undifferentiated being.

The miniaturists reflect a cold detached meanness that instructs us to account for every pore and follicle - like a taxman. While Rothko resounds with the warm generosity of ‘here’s a rich ocean of possibilities for you to define – go ahead, bask in it’.

Is there a certain hubris in trying to imitate nature to the finest detail? The people who first framed Judaism and Islam certainly seemed to suggest so. They were happy to relate ideas of the big picture, of what being means and of our ultimate role in the universe, but they frowned on graven images and literalism (in name, image or interpretation). They venerated the indistinct space around the ineffable, that rumbling pulsating space that Rothko evokes so well; they felt no need to detail the DNA of creation like ingredients on a soup tin. They were poets not academics, creatives not confiners. (My, how some things do change.) Chances are they would have liked Rothko too.

James Brown, Ali, Wilde, Wittgenstein, Einstein, Napoleon … You don’t have to be from an ‘outsider’ minority group (Gay, Black, etc.), but maybe it helps. Why? Because the oppressor has nothing to announce but the confinement of genius and the maintaining of the status quo. World-shakers like Napoleon, Wilde, Einstein and James Brown were genius not just because they needed to make the world more meaningful so they could live at all, but because they proved that clarity comes to us through the brume of imagination, dream, poetry and art, its illumination is that of the soft candle light not of the harsh floodlight.

The point: don’t be embarrassed to declare your genius, but realise that to fulfil it you must be comfortable in thick mist sometimes, at ease with uncertainty. And be aware that if you do you are declaring an intention to change the world in some way, big or small, in order to render it more meaningful. And nothing can be more profoundly revolutionary than that. Rothko’s big pictures remind us of the need to do that, artful miniatures don’t.

However big or small the canvas, there is something natural and honest, humble and generous about the creative genius of change, maybe even something holy. And there is something mean and egotistical, dissembling and artful - maybe even something diabolical – about vainly clinging to power by imitation of greatness.

The tension between these two seems set to mount in 2011. No need to ask who will tip the scale, the answer stares you in the face every time you look in the mirror: all of humanity in every human being, - not hair for hair like a fine miniature, but pulsating, like the universe in a grain of sand; and breathing, like a candle, like a Rothko in the brume. See you there!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

20/20 Vision? Re-spect the one eyed jack in the hand of the blind


A one-eyed man in the land of the blind says Jack of Diamonds' a hard card to beat ...

So I'll lay some 2010 cards on the table now to clarify some of the key points we'll need to get right if we ever want to achieve 20/20 vision:

: the best metaphor here is not driving the train but leading the dance: weaving ideas and practices with your colleagues, enabling them to move smoothly with you as a unit, ensuring space for all participants to move effectively, and above all ensuring that the whole organisation is dancing in time and to the right tune.

: including all people means including colleagues, clients and all those who will be affected by developments. You include them all by engaging them in the dialogue of transformation.

Problem solving
: There is no such thing as a root cause. Nothing has a single cause. Everything that happens is due to a unique combination of complex dynamic factors. The Chinese language does not encourage Western ‘causal’ thinking, but rather it encourages people to think in terms of connectedness: instead of asking ‘what causes X?’ they ask ‘what complex of things tend to happen together in time?’ Think in Chinese!

: The real value network and eco-system of any organisation are rooted in its people and communications. They are heterogeneous. They are information doorways, and behind each door are paths leading off in many directions. Unlocking the network doors demands thinking beyond them to the paths you need to use, and which extend beyond your organisation itself

: Inclusion is recognition of the principle of connectedness that governs the world. Don’t just listen to words, but to tone and timing too, and note the spaces between the words. See the shapes of spaces between the objects, they are anti-matter. Most of the universe is made of anti-matter. Most problems and solutions occur there. Learn to use it.

: clarity is king, but the queen is veiled and harder to see (another reflection of anti-matter). Be as clear about what you don’t want to do as you are about what you do want to do. Also bear in mind the possible pitfalls of language. Native American languages don’t allow them to say ‘this is right’ or ‘that is wrong’, instead they say ‘I call this right’ and ‘I call this wrong’. Think like a Native American and ask why you call this right and that wrong.

: When an animal dies it loses a small amount of weight due to the cessation of movement. This was once thought to be a sign of the soul leaving the body. Energy is mass and so it has weight as well, and like the soul it cannot be weighed in living beings; we can only measure its indicators. But the signpost is not the thing signified. Vitality is the key thing we need to measure but being a quantum object it is intangible. Learn from quantum mechanics: we find what we measure for. And learn from psychology: we measure for what will affirm our hopes or fears. We must measure our measuring!

The Market
: The market is fluid, it is only defined by the routes to and through it. Our hands cannot corner water, fingers are made to leak. But they can splash, swim, cup and build channels.

: What makes us human is the ability to think about our thinking. Using that should make us more human as well as more successful.

: The highest we can aspire to is simplicity. If design, systems and integrative systems seem to make things more complex they are faulty. The greatest innovations are always simple and seem obvious: think ‘wheel’.

: More than inclusion of contribution, engagement is about inspiring hearts and minds.

: The wheel needs a surface to roll on. Including all parts in operations means including those that are acted upon as well as those that act.

: Look at yourself and see the human race, look at your home and see the planet.

: The fool is the expert of foolishness, the wise person is the expert of knowing their limits.

: This must always be between equals, yet no two people are fully equal. We must start by defining the salient ways in which partners are equal and this will suggest the scope for reciprocal enhancement and benefit. Every pair of feet is slightly odd, one may be longer, the other broader, one straighter the other higher, but we need both to walk.

Ability: Integrating human and machine is the big trick. Six million years and we’re still struggling to unite male and female. But it’s worth all the effort!

: You are not a self among others. We are one. Imagine the cells of your right hand thinking of themselves as individuals. Silly cells. Together they rise and together they fall.

: The arrow flies to the bullseye only if all the feathers are tightly bound together.

Best practice
: This a cultural construct. And culture is not static. You cannot put your foot in the same river twice. All statements of best practice are historical documents, by the time you’ve written it down the world has moved on. To get ahead of the curve you must read the river, think how the meander will shift, and stake your claim on that spot. Don’t copy the standards of others; nail your own colours to the mast!

: The West does have it right! But only a quarter right!! The North, South, and East each have the other three quarters. Use the languages, concepts and stories of all four quarters and you gain the legacy of all human understanding.

Sunday, 20 June 2010



The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries. (Winston Churchill)

The flagship of Britain’s new right-wing coalition government is its education policy. A central theme here is an offer for schools designated ‘outstanding’ to be fast-tracked to independent academy status.

Over the past few days I have been interviewed twice by BBC journalists: What do I think of highest achieving schools being encouraged to break away from ‘Local Authority’ support and take up central government’s offer of fast-track to new independent academy status? Would I mind making my views public?

Are You Kidding?! Me? Speak out?? Ok, if you insist; as my arm’s in a twist:

1 – One size does not fit all – each case must be taken on its merits. Generally I am in favour of a non-uniform school system that reflects the diversity of pluralist society. Independent academies can be a very good thing and I personally welcome this government’s widening the ‘gene pool’ of models for 21st century schools (whatever its motivation). But as always, it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it!

2 – The proposed fast track system threatens to be socially divisive, increasing polarities of wealth and opportunity in a Britain already rent with dangerous divisions.

3 – There is only a finite (and shrinking) national education budget. The new academies will be given big start up budgets and will be allowed to set their own budgetary requirements. They will be allowed to hire as many staff, and to pay them as much, as can arguably be justified. And the government will foot the bill, out of the finite and shrinking national education budget. It hardly takes a genius to see that schools which are not judged to be highest achieving, typically schools in deprived areas will lose out on funding.

4 – A lot of the schools judged as highest achieving are in more privileged areas rather than the rougher ones. What has been packaged by an ideologically driven government as ‘rewarding excellence’ is, in many (but not all) cases, no more than rewarding privilege with even more privilege – and all at the expense of the most vulnerable and underprivileged and, of course, of the punchdrunk tax payers reeling from the flurry of blows to their economic and social wellbeing.

5 - Schools not judged ‘outstanding’ will remain under Local Authority support.

6 - Local Authorities have teams of experts in all aspects of education and schooling. Their expertise is as good as it gets in the UK (i.e. roughly middling to high in world ranking). The roles they have played in helping support schools to achieve ‘outstanding’ status is not acknowledged enough.

7 – It is assumed by central government that the new academies will use specialist expertise from other sources, a leaner and sharper breed than those working for local authorities. But the fact is most private education consultants are either ex-local authority ones now working for big consultancy companies, i.e. the same breed who have defined local authority models and professional teaching cultures till now; or they are academics whose knowledge of social and cultural problems in education is based on a life lived at a safe remove from the real world. Troubleshooting hotshot freelancers like me who risk their neck every day and have done so most of their lives, - man of the world man of the people - shotta from ten, never gone wide, turn to the pen when I hit my stride - are as common as pink string bikinis at the Teheran Lido.

8 – But my biggest criticism is that those fast-track academies which actually do serve a socially advantaged client base are short-selling their core purpose and selling their souls. Perhaps they should remind themselves of Jesus’ teachings – unless they presume to know better!

For the devil -

- whoops, silly me, I mean the government, everyone knows the devil is red –

- For the government, very blue with a yellow streak, is appealing to the weaknesses and frailties of human insecurity, tempting select schools with offers of worldly power and glory.

Actually, the Tories did the same under Margaret ‘no such thing as society’ Thatcher.

For a privileged school to accept the government’s temptation to gain glory and wealth at the expense of wider society instantly calls into question the integrity of its core mission. For all schools have at the heart of their purpose to promote equal opportunities, social cohesion and a future citizenry of caring and understanding adults. Any ‘outstanding’ privileged school which accepts the government’s ‘fast-track’ offer and turns its back on the wider community of schools can only multiply the social woes of division, corruption, greed, cynicism and despair. In higher business circles that would be what they call the dodo leadership model.

Criticism is easy and floats no boats. Making practicably positive suggestions is more difficult and more useful. So, how should the outstanding schools respond the government's offer?

The body needs many parts in order to function well: arms, legs, organs. I work with Local Authority schools, independent academies, private schools, supplementary schools for minority communities, religious schools, international schools, further education colleges, higher education sector, referral units for challenging pupils – you name it. I am in a very privileged position therefore, front row centre, and have an accordingly wide perspective.

The holistic paradigm of 21st century science and society demands that all parts of the body of education to work for the good of the whole (for each part is equal to the whole). That needs to happen here. The proposed new breed of fast track academies need to do more than the government expects or demands. They need to consider an operational framework that enables them to take advantage of the government’s offer and to spread the benefit of it to other less fortunate schools in their area. Ideas could include taking on special community responsibilities, ringfencing a significant pot to fund outreach support, forging special links with pupil referral units, helping to provide opportunities for gifted and talented pupils in other local schools. I have been working on a sackload of ideas for the past year – with all the schools, local authorities, private consultants and creative artists I work with.

As usual, those interested in dialogues around the points raised in this posting can reach me discretely by email or publicly here on the blog. But much more importantly, those genuinely interested in the healthy functioning of the body educational and in enhancing social cohesion through schools need to talk to each other!!! You cannot teach community cohesion if you cannot practice it with integrity!!! The same goes for humanities, citizenship, PSHE, ethics, even good sportsmanship! We are a team in education, from strikers to right backs to goalies. In the long run winning takes a lot more than just strikers scoring goals, it takes teamwork! We do not want our strikers to score any own-goals!

The government’s offer of fast-track academy status inadvertently presents all ‘outstanding’ schools with a momentous choice between revealing the depth of their shining quality or of their shady ignominy. It is a choice they should welcome and know just what to do with!

Now our schools can teach the politicians what citizenship really means as so many of them on all sides seem to have forgotten. Our schools can form a coalition that will strike first alarm then awe and finally admiration in the heart of divisive ideologues of all hues.

This will require collaborations between governing bodies and head teachers, staff and teachers, community and pupil voice, from all sectors and in every region. Perhaps we should start by asking fast-track academies to host, fund and lead on this, together with – you guessed it – Local Authorities. I would advise strongly against involving central government, they’ve provided the framework, it is for us to use it.

If you are going through hell, keep going. KBO (Keep Buggering On). (Winston Curchill)