The pursuit of Happyness….

I have written many blogs on the subject of ‘What is Happiness’, ‘Happiness Explained’ and many more of the science of love and happiness in my latest book, ‘Meaningful Conversations’.

It seems that many people have been pursuing the stock exchange version of happiness with a vengeance, encouraged by the 2006 blockbuster “Pursuit of Happyness”, in which Will Smith starred in this incredibly moving tale inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman struggling to build a future for himself and his 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith). When his girlfriend Linda (Thandie Newton) walks out, Chris is left to raise Christopher (Jaden Smith) on his own. Chris’ determination finally pays off when he lands an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program, where only one in twenty interns will make the cut. But without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the streets, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom. With self-confidence and the love and trust of his son, Chris Gardner rises above his obstacles to become a Wall Street legend.

Do we have to suffer adversity to find happiness, is the thrill is the pain or suffering of the journey or in natural human circumstances?

Thomas Jefferson had meaning when he enshrined the “pursuit of happiness” as a basic right in the Declaration of Independence. However, he failed to explain why, at least not in the original document, nor in his official correspondence. One of the most influential theories doing the rounds is that Jefferson simply plagiarised the English political thinker John Locke, who championed “life, liberty and estate (property).” According to this view, Jefferson’s replacement of the word “estate” with the “pursuit of happiness,” was essentially a play on words. The “pursuit of happiness” was a euphemism for the pursuit of wealth. From this perspective, Jefferson’s vision of happiness was the “rags to riches” version of the good life

Rags to riches…or riches in rags?

A few years back I read that Jefferson was an “Epicurean.” In my mind it reinforced the credibility of the “rags to riches” theory. Over the year’s I had read textbooks and articles echoing the same refrain: Epicurus was an “egoistic hedonist”…i.e someone who championed the pursuit of personal pleasure.

In other words, if he was around now, you wouldn’t see Epicurus on Wall Street. He was not a proponent of the “rags to riches” view of happiness. Far from it. You could call it the “riches within rags” view of happiness. Simply put, if you cultivated close friendships, limited your desires to the essential necessities of life, and rejoiced in the moment, happiness was yours to keep.

On the internet and in bookstores, a thousand business philosophers will provide you with different remedies for human discomfort, which has become a billion-dollar global business. On the daily commute, you will see people reading books on ‘how to change your life by being happy’ from Millennial’s to old age pensioners.

So exactly how can we find out which remedies work? Do we need to consult a counsellor every time we are unhappy?

Recently we have seen a dramatic upsurge in scientific studies on positive psychology and the science of happiness or to put it simply, discovering what makes happy people happy. Fortunately, many of these studies point to specific ways of thinking and acting that can strongly impact our sense of well-being and happiness.

Psychologists Answer The Question: ‘What Is Happiness?’

It is in my belief that happiness comes to you when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Happiness is a feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be. Perfect happiness, enlightenment, comes when you have all of your needs satisfied.

While the perfect happiness of enlightenment may be hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain, happiness is not an either or case. There are nearly limitless degrees of happiness between the bliss of enlightenment and the despair of depression. Most of us fall somewhere between, closer to the middle than the edges.

Since happiness is when your life fulfils, and to each and every one of us will identify that we all have different needs, so how can we be happy?

Our individual needs vary based on our genetics, how we were raised, and our life experiences. That complex combination is what makes each of us unique, both in our exact needs, and in every other aspect of what makes us the person we are.
We may each be complex but we are all human and that provides the foundation on which we can discover our essential human needs. Just as we are all born looking human on the outside, we all share common basic needs on the inside. Where we differ is exactly how strongly we feel each of those needs.

A current theory, largely based on new scientific discoveries about how the brain works and on current happiness theories, has identified 9 universal and overlapping human needs that contribute to happiness:
• Wellbeing – mind-body connections, aspects of your physical body that affect your mood, and vice versa
• Environment – external factors like safety, food availability, freedom, weather, beauty, and your home
• Pleasure – temporary experiences such as joy, sex, love, and eating
• Relationships – as a social species, relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be human
• Outlook – how you approach the world through adventurousness, curiosity, and making plans
• Meaning – having a purpose and the wisdom to understand it
• Involvement – to be happy you have to be engaged and actively involved
• Success – confirmation from yourself and others that what you do has value
• Elasticity – how you recover from life’s inevitable negative events

Many have professed that Love is the Answer to happiness. A 75-year study concludes that Love is what ultimately makes us healthy and happy. A good life is built on loving relationships.

For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).

Specifically, the study demonstrates that having someone to rely on helps your nervous system relax, helps your brain stay healthier for longer, and reduces both emotional as well as physical pain.

The data is also very clear that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.
‘It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,’ says Waldinger. ‘It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.’

What that means is this: It doesn’t matter whether you have a huge group of friends and go out every weekend or if you are in a ‘perfect’ romantic relationship. It’s the quality of the relationships – how much vulnerability and depth exists within them; how safe you feel sharing with one another; the extent to which you can relax and be seen for who you truly are, and truly see another.

According to George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, there are two foundational elements to this: ‘One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.’

The data is clear that, in the end, you could have all the money you’ve ever wanted, a successful career, and be in good physical health, but without loving relationships, you won’t be happy.

The next time you’re scrolling through social media instead of being present at the table with your significant other, or you are considering staying late at the office instead of getting together with your close friend, or you catch yourself working on a Saturday instead of going to have tea with your grandparents, consider making a different choice.

“Relationships are messy and they’re complicated,” acknowledges Waldinger. But he’s adamant in his research-backed assessment:

‘The good life is built with good relationships.’

Do we ever forget where we came from…?

There are many people in the world who have struggled to have a better future, and they have accomplished it by hard work, dedication, sacrifices, and by the help of others. A great number of these people have made it big in business, and in the media and entertainment industries to name a few. I have tremendous respect and admiration for these people who are genuinely authentic, people who happily acknowledge their family and cultural roots, and who never forget where they come from.

Readers may remember I wrote my first book, ‘Freedom after the Sharks’, this was a non-fiction book on the tribulations of my life, from birth to entrepreneur, detailing the emotions of what being a child can really entail, I recall the first time I ran away from home, people have always said to me ‘you have always held an old head on young shoulders’, it is funny how you remember these statements.

I recently purchased a DVD from Amazon called Lion. The story of Lion, is up for six Oscars, including best picture, it tells the story of how, in 1986, Saroo, an illiterate, impoverished five-year-old in rural central India, got separated from his brother at a railway station in Burhanpur, and accidentally ended up alone on a train that took him almost a thousand miles to Kolkata (then called Calcutta). Unable to speak Bengali, and unaware of the name of his home town, he had no way to return. He lived as a street urchin and survived on his wits and scraps of food. He was later taken in by an orphanage, and was eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley, who took him to start a new life in Tasmania.

The trailer for Lion:

The saddest thing to see is how quick some of these people forget where they come from to a point that they feel ashamed to talk about their past and how they arrived to where they are now. I think this goes beyond sad because such stories can serve as a very valuable tool to encourage other people who have also embarked on a journey to pursue a better future. Why does this happen? What makes these people “forget” where they come from?

When people go through hardships in life, they often become resentful and frustrated for having struggled more than others. Even when they make it big, they are selfish, arrogant, boastful, disrespectful, and so on. It seems that in the way to pursuing a better future, their hearts were hardened by the circumstances they had to endure.

It is understandable that suffering and pain can cause any person to feel the most negative emotions; the difference is in getting over them, particularly when people’s goals have been satisfactorily met. Life is hard, no doubt. Fortunately, we can learn to be better people without forgetting where we come from.

According to Railway Children, it is estimated that a child runs away from home or care every five minutes in the UK. That’s 100,000 children every year.

Research shows this can happen to anyone, with children running away from affluent homes as well as low-income households. Running away is slightly more common among girls than boys.

The study estimated that of the 18,000 children under the age of 11 who run away for the first time, 6,000 are less than eight years old.

“It is very worrying that a small number of people at a very young age become detached from their families, their schools and their communities,” said Professor Stein. “They are outside the system completely.”

The research also reveals that 21 per cent of young people living in step-families had run away once, compared to 13 per cent in lone-parent families and 7 per cent of those living with their birth families.

Four out of five children said they ran away to escape family conflict, violence, or abuse. Children who ran away before the age of 11 were most likely to have experienced a death in the family or their parents’ divorce. Most children who ran away from care were runaways before going into care.

Ian Sparks, chief executive of The Children’s Society, which took part in the study, said: “The sheer scale of the problem tells us we have a crisis on our hands. It means in every classroom, in every school the chances are at least one child will run away in the next year.

“When children feel alienated and rejected, then running away can seem some sort of solution.”

He added: “This issue cuts across class boundaries – children are almost as likely to run away from a leafy suburb as an inner-city estate. The outcomes of ignoring their cries for help may be terrible.

“We spoke to a small but significant number of children who had been completely detached from any form of help and support for over six months. These are the children that no-one notices when they disappear.”

Children are often running away from problems at home or at school. Some are dealing with very serious issues at home, such as neglect, drug and alcohol addiction (their own or their parents’), mental health problems, violence and abuse. A few children are even forced to leave home by their parents or carers. Others are trying to escape common problems such as bullying, relationship difficulties, loneliness or family breakdown.

Many children run away on the spur of the moment, without any forward planning – meaning that they probably have not thought about where they will go, where they will sleep, or how they will manage to support themselves.

This means that many children end up on the streets, where the problems they face are often even worse than those they have endured at home. In many cases, children and young people who end up alone on the streets are at risk of sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol dependency, abuse and violence.

Here is a great video on parenting and runaway children: Runaway teens – Parentchannel.tv

Why do teens run away from home? We look at some of the reasons, the signs to look out for, and what you can do if you’re worried your teen might run away.

If your teenager has run away and decides to return do not expect all the problems to have disappeared. Discuss what returning home might be like before they come back so that neither of you have any false expectations.

Encourage them to talk to you about any problems they are facing and be prepared to listen. Be aware that some things that might have happened to them since they have been away may be difficult to talk about. Some local organisations offer mediation services which might be able to help and be prepared to make some concessions and meet your teenager halfway.

At first your teenager may get in touch but be unsure about returning home, you may have your own concerns about them coming back to your home as well. You may feel you need some time to sort things out in your mind. In this case it may help if a close friend or relative could allow your teenager to stay. You will then be reassured they are safe and you can start to talk things through at an agreed meeting point – somewhere that feels comfortable for both of you.

• Give each other space
• Be prepared to compromise
• Recognise it is going to take time to sort things through.
• Get help with talking things through.

It is very important to have people in your life who you love and trust, people that you can reach out to for advice and to keep a reality check on how you are coping with life. Your group may consist of two or more people who you highly trust and confide upon. Never forget where you come from will keep you grounded and in touch with reality. Embrace your life and love the people who have helped you to be where you are now, life is a journey, there are always ups and downs, the important factor to always remember is whatever the problem is or maybe ‘never, never, never give up’. You will recognise life is incredibly precious and the people you love and trust on this journey, family or friends are equally as precious.

A great quote in Chapter 1 of my book, ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ by Henry David Thoreau:

“Every child begins the world again”

Thinking outside of the box

“I need someone who thinks out of the box.” You hear it all the time. But what does it mean?

According to Wikipedia, ‘Thinking outside the box entails a thinking process, which comprehends the implementation of an unusual approach to the logical thinking structure. It’s a procedure which aims to escape relational reasoning and thinking’.

So where precisely, is this famous ‘box’ that we’re all supposed to think outside of? What’s up in that blue sky that we all ought to be thinking about? Business gurus seem to specialise in finding complicated phrases to describe something simple. But in essence, they’re right. We need to be more creative, the ‘light bulb moment’. You really do not need to go on a course or read a book to solve problems and to make decisions, right?

“Start thinking outside the box and find a solution for this problem”, is a statement when the quality of ideas and solutions starts to decrease. Imagine you would be living in an invisible atmosphere that envelops your whole body, which is symbolic for the box you are living in (the box you will have to abandon when trying to think outside the box).

Thinking outside the box means that you cast off the atmosphere that envelops you, step out of the box, leave all your experiences, mindsets and attitudes behind and start to view things from a completely different perspective: outside of the box; unfiltered, unbiased, open to suggestions, willing to empathise with others opinions, but also ready to swim against the flood and to think what no one else has ever thought of. It also means that you leave everything behind you thought you would know, everything that was thought to you in school and start to approach specific situations and problems from a completely different point of view than you did before.

Unconventional thinking leads to incredible new possibilities!

I think the above describes it pretty good what it means to think outside the box, however I would also like to show you an excellent example of a person who was clearly thinking within the box: Charles H. Duell, who was the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, who said the following: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Duell’s statement is a fantastic example of thinking inside the box, par excellence. The quote, however, gets even more remarkable when considering that he made this statement in 1899, when people were still traveling by horse and train, long before automobiles, airplanes, jets, spaceships, microwaves, computers and mobile phones were invented.

The ability to think outside the box requires above all one thing: creativity. Especially creative people have discovered the approach to “think outside the box” as an immense advantage for various facets of their lives, often as a characteristic that helps them to earn a living.

The first part focused on the question what it means to think outside the box, which will erase one of the biggest problems that people have who struggle to think outside of the box: they do not clearly know what it means. The second part will show you effective ways on how to think outside the box.

Galileo Galilei is a wonderful example of a person who questioned the status quo, “The sun revolves around the earth” that was prevalent at the time when he lived. Galileo was one of the most famous outside the box thinkers in due course. Not only did Galileo not accept what he probably had been thought at school and disagreed with the status quo, but also questioned something that was considered to be a fact. Start to question things and do not accept these as predetermined straight away. Don’t take the facts your teachers, professors, and experts present you as ultimately correct or the one and only truth. Make it a habit of questioning things and discovering new and even better solutions or facts about things.

We may not all be Galileo but it is a natural known fact that all humans have creativity, here are a few tips that we have learned along the way that have aided us in getting outside the box:
1. Identify the issue.
2. Determine whether a regular or typical solution to the problem exists.
3. If one does, you’re done. If no, map out everything that went into creating the issue. In this aspect, be expansive. Include everything possible.
4. Once you start mapping out the issue more completely, start looking for ways to address the situation in one of the more outlying areas that was not considered previously.
5. Never dismiss a possible solution on the basis, “It simply cannot be done.” Consider everything. Go through every possibility until you know for a fact it can or cannot be done

The willingness to try things out does not only require courage but also the inner readiness to fail and to make a mistake. Whenever you are ready to search for the solution of a problem you have the chance to discover a way to solve whatever problem you face. However, if you are not willing to try you will not find a solution, never. Mistakes are another great way to view things from another perspective, in fact: recognising a mistake as an opportunity you can learn from in order to avoid it the next time is nothing else than outside of the box thinking. So many mistakes have helped people in many different ways, whenever they were ready to view it from another perspective. The next time you make a mistake, approach it positively: you can gain some new experiences, avoid similar mistakes the next time and you know what works not.

In summary, the goal of sharing thinking is to work with a new mindset, a new mindset shift prospective, this will introduce a common language and common problem solving process into our communities so we have a way to work together. In essence thinking can be perceived as the new Pidgin English. Pidgin was a way for people from different backgrounds and cultures to communicate, connect, and work together to get things done. Our thought processes create a common language and a way to work together to solve challenges – education, economy, environment, energy, transportation, housing, and so on. If we could truly work together as a team, using the same language and a human centered problem solving process, what might we achieve?

It was Henry Ford who said:

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

It’s been my experience that the ultimate success out of the box thinking can be found within this quote.

Have we learned from the Tudors and Storytelling

Long before I ever became a writer, and whilst a student, I embraced history, I would immerse myself into the Tudor era, with many visits to the Tower of London, looking at how these historians interacted with one another, and of course there were the ravens – if the ravens left the Tower, London would fall down, says the myth.
Many people have written on the subject and when you reflect on our ancestors, you start to have revelations that the Tudors actually were no different to our era and everyday life, their tribulations, adversity and problems.
Evidence and a perception of life often paints us an oppression on society, but this can sometimes be an oversimplification of a long life ago where the hierarchical society had complicated times.
There were many tales spoken in the sixteenth century, and let’s not forget the magnificence of work performed by William Shakesphere, these tales have had rework and revision, just like storytelling which is one subject I have written about extensively in my blogs.

Some of the phases of oral culture can be seen as follows:
“There is method in his madness”
Shakespeare used this in Hamlet:
Lord Polonius : Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
What does it mean today?
Reason behind apparent folly or disorder

“Too much of a good thing”
Shakespeare used this in ‘As you like i’t:
Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand, Orlando. What do you say sister?
What does it mean today?
Excess may do you harm.

“Wear your heart on your sleeve”
Shakespeare used this term in Othello:
Iago: It is a sure as you are Roderigo, were I the Moor, I would not be lago: In following him, I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, but seeming so, for my peculiar end: For when my outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart in compliment extern, ’tis not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
What does it mean today?
Show or display your feelings openly for everyone to see.

“Let your hair down”
During Tudor times it was the fashion for woman to wear their hair up. They usually wore them in ‘wimples’ – those pointed bonnets seen in paintings; their hair was piled high and pinned in these wimples.
The only time it was acceptable for a woman to ‘let her hair down’ was in their private quarters. Hats, wimples and other garments were disposed of. It was a sign of wanton behaviour and abandonment and was only acceptable behind closed doors.
What does it mean today?
To behave in a free or uninhibited manner.

“Sleep tight”
In Tudor times, mattresses were secured on a bed frame with the use of ropes crossed in a grid like pattern. If these ropes were pulled then the mattress would tighten and therefore seemed firmer and more comfortable to sleep on.
Note: the expression ‘sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite’ was an extended expression used later on in histroy.
What does it mean today?
Sleep well

Although we all know these are just words set down simply, they did have significance, and hold the same meaning in the global language today.

The Tudor dynasty is probably one of the best known in history, popularised by the likes of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Edward VI. But do we really know all there is about this turbulent period?

1) The Tudors should never have got anywhere near the throne
When Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, the vast majority of his subjects saw him as a usurper and they were right. There were other claimants with stronger blood claims to the throne than his.
Henry’s own claim was on the side of his indomitable mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was the great granddaughter of John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, and his third wife (and long-standing mistress), Katherine Swynford. But Katherine had given birth to John Beaufort (Henry’s great grandfather) when she was still John’s mistress, so Henry’s claim was through an illegitimate line – and a female one at that.
Little wonder that he was plagued by rivals and ‘pretenders’ for most of his reign.

2) School was for the ‘lucky’ few
Education was seen as something of a luxury for most Tudors, and it was usually the children of the rich who received anything approaching a decent schooling.
There were few books in Tudor schools, so pupils read from ‘hornbooks’ instead. Pages displaying the alphabet and religious material were attached to wooden boards and covered with a transparent sheet of cow horn (hence the name).
Discipline was much fiercer than it is today. Teachers would think nothing of punishing their pupils with 50 strokes of the cane, and wealthier parents would often pay for a ‘whipping-boy’ to take the punishment on behalf of their child. Barnaby Fitzpatrick undertook this thankless task for the young Edward VI, although the two boys did become best friends.

3) Tudor London was a mud bath
Andreas Franciscius, an Italian visitor to London in 1497, was horrified by what he found. Although he admired the “fine” architecture, he was disgusted by the ‘vast amount of evil smelling mud’ that covered the streets and lasted a long time – nearly the whole year round.
The citizens, therefore, in order to remove this mud and filth from their boots, are accustomed to spread fresh rushes on the floors of all houses, on which they clean the soles of their shoes when they come in.”
Franciscius added disapprovingly that the English people had “fierce tempers and wicked dispositions”, as well as “a great antipathy to foreigners”.

4) Edward VI’s dog was killed by his uncle
Edward was just nine years old when he became king, and his court was soon riven by faction. Although the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, had been appointed Lord Protector, he was undermined by the behaviour of his hot-headed and ambitious brother, Thomas.
In January 1549, Thomas Seymour made a reckless attempt to kidnap the king. Breaking into Edward’s privy garden at Westminster, pistol in hand, Thomas tried to gain access to the king’s bedroom, but was lunged at by the boy’s pet spaniel.
Without thinking, he shot the dog dead, which prompted a furore as the royal guard rushed forward, thinking that an assassin was in the palace. Thomas Seymour was arrested and taken to the Tower. He was found guilty of treason shortly afterwards, and his own brother was obliged to sign the death warrant.

5) Elizabeth I owned more than 2,000 dresses
When her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed, Elizabeth was so neglected by her father, Henry VIII, that she soon outgrew all of her clothes, and her servant was forced to write to ask for new ones.
Perhaps the memory of this humiliation prompted Elizabeth, as queen, to stuff her wardrobes with more than 2,000 beautiful dresses, all in rich fabrics and gorgeous colours.
But despite her enormous collection, she always wanted more. When one of her maids of honour, Lady Mary Howard, appeared in court wearing a strikingly ostentatious gown, the queen was so jealous that she stole it, and paraded around court in it herself

Finally, the Tudor age was the era of the English Renaissance. The monarchs surrounded themselves with brilliant people like Hans Holbein, who was at the forefront of this first age of portraiture (painting the first full-length, life-size portrait of an English monarch), or the poets Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who wrote the first sonnets in English. Henry VIII was the first king to authorise a Bible in English, and the lyrical phrasing of William Tyndale’s New Testament, which infused the Great Bible of 1538–9 and the King James Bible of 1611, earned Tyndale the title of “architect of the English language”. It was also the age of William Shakespeare. Ben Jonson described him as being “not of an age, but for all time”, and his verse is so timeless and universal, so ingrained in our culture, so globally ubiquitous, that we forget that the bard was of a time: he was a Tudor.

So, one reason we are fascinated by the Tudors is simply because they matter. The other is the sheer weight of character. It is easy to caricature the much-married tabloid king, Henry VIII, or the unmarried virgin, Elizabeth I. Yet, in an age of personal monarchy, the sovereign’s character was of crucial importance, and continues to attract us. There is something about the Tudor combination of bluff, prodigious majesty coupled with deep, abiding insecurity and continual intrigue that creates a sense of awe and suspense, even when we know the outcome of events.

Distrust is, arguably, the defining characteristic of the dynasty, and this quality was pivotal to the successes and failures of the reigns. Suspicion meant that no English king ever shed more blood than Henry VIII; while Elizabeth’s reign was defined by her decision not to choose a successor even on her deathbed! The only Tudor monarch who seems to have escaped this sense of paranoia was the young Edward VI, the only one born to the throne.

The irony is, then, that the great changes of the Tudor period, everything from the birth of the Church of England to the creation of the secret service were a direct result of the inherent weakness of the dynasty: its distrust and suspicion.

As Elizabeth 1st once said in her life letters:

“My care is like my shadow in the sun, Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.”

From Louis Braille to leading edge technology that helps people see again

I recently visited the theatre in London to see The Braille Legacy, a fascinating theatrical story about Louis Braille – the man who invented braille for the blind.

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, a town in north central France, on January 4, 1809. At the age of three, he accidentally blinded himself in one eye with a stitching awl taken from his father’s leather workshop. His other eye went blind because of sympathetic ophthalmia, an inflammation of both eyes following trauma to one.

Louis was a young blind boy who wanted the same chance in life as those who see and ended up improving the lives of millions of blind people around the world.
When he was 15, he invented a universal system for reading and writing to be used by people who are blind or visually impaired that now bears his name. He published the first Braille book, Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them, in 1829, at age 20. A talented musician, he also developed a Braille musical codification.

In Paris in the 19th century, blind people were victims of profound discrimination. Louis Braille, a bright young mind with a mad dream, arrives at the Royal Institute of Blind Youth, searching for the same chance as everyone else: to be free and independent. But he soon discovers that people and things aren’t always what they first seem. By sheer determination and courage, he stumbles upon something revolutionary: a simple idea, a genius invention, a legacy.

Two hundred years ago, Louis Braille changed the world by inventing the tactile system of communication the Braille alphabet, liberating the “People of the Night” and introducing literacy, knowledge and culture to a people who were otherwise trapped. It was their journey into the light.

As an adult, Braille became the first blind apprentice teacher at the New School for the Blind in Paris, France. There, he taught algebra, grammar, music, and geography. He later became the first blind full professor at the school. Braille saved enough money from his teaching position to buy himself a piano so he could practice whenever he wished. Despite his small salary, he also made many personal gifts and loans to his students to help them purchase warm clothing and other necessities. Braille developed tuberculosis in his mid-20s, and for the rest of his life had periods of health interspersed with times of pain and illness. When in good health, he maintained a heavy teaching load and held several jobs playing the organ.

Braille is read by passing one’s fingertips over characters made up of an arrangement of one to six embossed points. The relative positions of these points represent different alphanumeric characters. Braille can be written with a Braillewriter (similar to a typewriter) or by using a pointed stylus to punch dots through paper using an instrument called a Braille slate, which has rows of small cells in it as a guide. Braille has since been adapted to almost every known language and is an essential tool for blind people everywhere.

It’s hard to think about language as being endangered or replaceable. But as our culture and means of communication evolve, certain languages find their utility in decline.

Braille and sign language are in just such a predicament. Technological advancements, such as voice-to-text, digital audio, and the cochlear implant have steadily decreased the demand for these once-revolutionary facilitators for the disabled.

Those who master Braille can reap big benefits. Blind children struggle to learn spelling and grammar without it. Calculations and musical scores are easier to hold at the fingertips than in the head. Even so, more blind people are deciding not to bother.

In the 1950s half of blind American children learned Braille. Now 10% do, and the share globally has fallen so steeply, says Kevin Carey of the London-based Royal National Institute of Blind People, that Braille is on “life support”.

One reason is a shifting market. Since doctors learned 60 years ago that pure oxygen in incubators damaged premature babies’ sight, the number of blind children has fallen in rich countries, where Braille was most used. Changing educational norms mean more attend mainstream schools, where Braille is less likely to be taught. As the population ages, more people are losing their sight late in life, when they are less likely to invest in new skills.

PwC uncovered the compelling link between restoring sight and economic development. It found that for every £1 invested in ending avoidable blindness, there was a £4 economic benefit for a country’s economy. By looking at our key goal through an economic lens, it was demonstrated that ending avoidable blindness has benefits reaching far beyond health alone. If more people in a nation can see, more people can go to school, work, raise children or start businesses. Ending avoidable blindness improves the economy, equality, skills, GDP and development of a nation, while reducing its financial and social burden.

Here are some findings from the research:
• An estimated 32.4 million people are blind around the world
• A further 191 million are visually impaired
• 90% of people who are blind live in developing countries

It’s not just people who are suffering
• Ending avoidable blindness could inject as much as £517 billion into struggling economies over a decade
• Every year, avoidable blindness costs developing countries around £49 billion in lost economic activity
• Ending avoidable blindness in the developing world can be achieved for as little as £2.20 per person, per year

Another is stiffer competition. In the 1960s schools started to use cassette tapes; by the 1980s computers could convert written words to speech, albeit clumsily, or display magnified text. Today’s phone apps read text aloud almost flawlessly.

The advancement with technology now enables reading using a Braille display that sits unobtrusively on a person’s lap and connects to a iPhone via Bluetooth, electronically converting the onscreen text into different combinations of pins. A person reads by gently but firmly running their fingers over the pins with their hand navigating through the phone.

Ebooks could be a game changer if they’re properly designed because it would allow blind people to get access to the same books at the same time at the same price as everyone else. Publishers and manufacturers have to ensure they are designed to be accessible to work with braille displays.

And for partially blind people there are even glasses to improve one’s sight of vision. Blind people can now effectively ‘see’ thanks to a brilliant new British invention – glasses that tell wearers what they are looking at. The glasses, which contain tiny cameras, can identify everything from shop doorways to the contents of a fridge – giving a verbal commentary through a phone app and earpiece. Users can even have printed text read out loud simply by pointing at the words, while those with partial sight can zoom in as they need.

However, for those who own both an iPhone or laptop and a Braille display, having to choose between audio and Braille isn’t necessary. Nowadays, the two go hand in hand – literally. Many of the technologies that convert text to speech also convert it into a form that can be read on a refreshable Braille display, making Braille far more accessible for those who own both devices.

Now technology is offering Braille a shot at reinvention. And whilst Apple are leading the race for Braille technology and innovation, Sumit Dagar, an Indian designer, is working on a smartphone exclusively for the blind. The National Braille Press, an American charity, has developed a prototype Braille tablet. Both emboss Braille by using an alloy that changes shape according to temperature.

In the longer term, built-in cameras could take photos to be etched on screens. And tactile touchscreens being developed by Disney’s researchers could do away with the need for embossing. These use electrical impulses to trick fingers into feeling bumps and ridges. Vibrations create friction; the level of resistance matches the on-screen pattern. Thus rebooted, Braille could live alongside audio technology instead of being replaced by it.

The Technology That Could Make Blind People See Again

Louis Braille created reading for the blind, he was revolutionary in his time improving the lives of millions of blind people around the world – with further investment into technology we now have the ability to improve sight across the world within communities and support people through disability and vision.

As professor Fred Hollows once said:

“To help someone to see was a tremendous feeling and with medical and technological advances, we have greatly increased the ability of eye doctors to give that help.”

Social Media, H2H relationships and the smartphone

I recently had a very intriguing conversation with my social media and blog agency – we have those conversations normally at 11pm London time, every Sunday night. Jacques will ask me: “How are you my friend? Your blog for Monday is all set.” I will respond with: “I am Social Media worked out, so tired”, to which Jacques responds: “So just come off Social Media and concentrate on your writing, I still want to see your next book!”
At this point I laugh loudly, but the facts are, when Jacques said this to me it was a precious moment of introspection and reflection – some people call this a light bulb moment, the result is he is so right, and this is a subject I have written extensively about: ‘Is Human 2 Human Communication Dying’, ‘In the praise of speed or not, as the case may be’, ‘Has technology killed love and romance’, ‘Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?’ – just to name a few.

One month after truly quitting Twitter (we even removed the Twitter-share buttons from the site), I feel much better: no incessant alerts anymore, no more sending only (without feedback). And, I actually found a true quality-alternative: interaction, feedback and participation – you can find me here: Geoff on beBee.

If you are emotionally attached to your smartphone and rely on it every waking minute, it may be harming your relationships – I find most accidents happen with people texting when they walk, not to mention what happens when you are in their line of the street. The new education for humans is how to avoid being knocked over by the person texting on their smartphone.

So how does social media affect interaction in our society? Will face-to-face communication ultimately diminish because of these new social technologies? These questions are ones that many researchers have found extremely intriguing since the advent and popularisation of social media in the last decade. Within this topic, social competency is an important ideal that most people strive towards, but there is evidence to support the claims that social media is actually harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting.

Psychologists claim that increasing numbers of people in long-term partnerships are having to compete with their partner’s smartphone for attention, making it the ‘third wheel’ in their relationship.

A survey found that almost three quarters of women in committed relationships feel that smartphones are interfering with their love life and are reducing the amount of time they spend with their partner.

Scientists found that what they describe as this ‘technoference’ – even if infrequent – sets off a chain of negative events: more conflict about technology, lower relationship quality, lower life satisfaction and higher risk of depression.
• 62 per cent of women in long-term relationships who were surveyed said technology interferes with their free time together
• 35 per cent claim their partner will pull out his phone mid-conversation if they receive a notification
• 25 per cent said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations
• 75 per cent said their smartphone is affecting their relationship.
The poll, which was conducted by Brandon McDaniel of The Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Coyne of Brigman Young University in Utah, surveyed 143 women.

Further studies on the social competency of youths who spend much of their time on social media networks are sometimes very conflicting. For example, a study executed by the National Institute of Health found that youths with strong, positive face-to-face relationships may be those most frequently using social media as an additional venue to interact with their peers. As a pretty outgoing person myself, I find myself using social media as an extra outlet to obtain real-time news feeds, research and interact with people who are interested in my book. Although I personally agree with this study’s findings, I also believe that social media can be an excellent avenue for introverted people to find a comfortable setting to interact and from the opposite it can drive a highly-motivated individual to isolation, loneliness and to mental health disorder.

I definitely believe that face-to-face interaction must continue to be our main source of communication. According to Forbes magazine, only 7% of communication is based on the verbal word. That means that over 90% of communication is based on nonverbal cues such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice.

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the brain chemicals of people who habitually used the Internet and were perhaps addicted to it had abnormal connections between the nerve fibers in their brain. These changes are similar to other sorts of addicts, including alcoholics.

Take “ghosting,” which has been discussed regularly in the media lately. The name refers to someone simply vanishing from another person’s life, usually after the two have gone on several dates. It’s a frustrating, confusing and, certainly, impolite way to end a relationship, but it’s not new.

The connected world’s larger behavioral impact is more on how we interact with each other on a daily basis. A 2014 study: “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” looked at the effects that phones have when people talk face-to-face. Observing 100 friendly couples having a 10-minute conversation while their phone was present, researchers noticed that the individuals still continued to fiddle with their phones. When those same couples conversed without a phone present, their conversations resulted in greater empathy.

A very interesting white paper named “Information in the Study of Human Interaction” by Keith Devlin and Duska Rosenberg states that in today’s world, most of us think of information as a commodity that is largely independent of how it is embodied. It can be bought, sold, stolen, exchanged, shared, stored, sent along wires and through the ether, and so forth. It can also be processed, using information technologies, both concepts that would have sounded alien (and probably nonsensical) to anyone living in the nineteenth century, and even the first half of the twentieth.

Little by little, Internet and mobile technology seems to be subtly destroying the meaningfulness of interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society. Instead of spending time in person with friends, we just call, text or instant message them. It may seem simpler and easier, but we ultimately end up seeing our friends face to face a lot less. Ten texts can’t even begin to equal an hour spent chatting with a friend over coffee, lunch or dinner. And a smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it could never replace the ear-splitting grin and smiling eyes of one of your best friends. Face time is important, people. We need to see each other.

This doesn’t just apply to our friends; it applies to the world around us. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being.

There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers, and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen.

While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing us to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”

The circular economy in today’s business world

It was a delight to be invited to 6head’s recent seminar and creative workshop ‘Designing a Circular Economy’ at the IDEO London office. During the workshop, Chris Grantham, Portfolio Director of IDEO London, unpacked the concept of circular design and discussed how this new mindset can enable businesses to create competitive advantage, better serve customer needs, and work towards long term economic and environmental sustainability.
The concept of the circular economy is entering the mainstream and becoming better understood, but there is still misunderstanding about how to finance it, and the risks and opportunities it presents.
As the concept of sustainability becomes more deeply embedded in the fabric of society and the economy, the notion of the circular economy has started to gain traction.
But while there has been much talk of what the circular economy is and how businesses can adapt to it, one area that has not been fully explored is how it will be financed.

But exactly what is a Circular Economy?
One interpretation is that a circular economy can be an alternative to a traditional linear economy; using the concept ‘make-use-dispose’ in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

But something far more important to factor is that a circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. The concept distinguishes between technical and biological cycles.
As envisioned by the originators, a circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. It works effectively at every scale.

This video is a perfect introduction to re-thinking progress in our world and The Circular Economy:

Considering the above you really have to ask the question about The Circular Economy, is this a myth and if not a myth, how will The Circular Economy effect me, my business and the community in today’s world?

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said he wants to focus on jobs and growth, and rightly so. There are a number of routes to get to a destination, but the end result will be the same. Jobs and economic growth are no exception and one possible route to achieve this ambition is growth of the circular economy.

Globally, Innovate UK claims resource efficiency measures could add $2.9tr to the economy by 2030, with returns on investment of more than 10%. There are also major job opportunities. WRAP and Green Alliance recently identified that more than 200,000 jobs could be created in the UK if circular economy activities continued to grow. In a recent report (pdf), the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation also identified that a shift in reusing, remanufacturing and recycling products could lead to more than half a million jobs being created in the recycling industry across Europe.

It is a fact that The Circular Economy could go a long way to helping reduce carbon emissions. According to a recent report (pdf) by the Carbon Trust, Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network and Coventry University, remanufacturing typically uses 85% less energy than manufacturing, and on a global scale has the potential to offset more than 800,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum.

And remanufacturing is just one component of the circular economy. In its first phase between 2005 and 2009, WRAP’s Courtauld commitment, a voluntary agreement aimed at improving resource efficiency within the UK grocery sector, avoided 3.3m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, equal to an aeroplane flying around the world half a million times

You will find many companies using terms around The Circular Economy as a justified theory, however, I read a McKinsey report on the subject recently that really resonated with me, it quoted moving from theory to practice, refers to the transition taking place as companies in many sectors use circular-economy concepts to capture more value from resources and to provide customers with better experiences. The term “paradigm shift” is overused, but this is one instance where it applies. Since the Industrial Revolution, companies and consumers have largely adhered to a linear model of value creation that begins with extraction and concludes with end-of-life disposal. Resources are acquired, processed using energy and labor, and sold as goods—with the expectation that customers will discard those goods and buy more.

Contemporary trends, however, have exposed the wastefulness of such take–make–dispose systems. The same trends have also made it practical to conserve assets and materials so maximum value can be derived from them. Consider that resource prices have become more volatile and are expected to rise over the long term, as consumer demand increases and easy-to-access, high-grade stocks of key commodities dwindle. People and companies are increasingly willing to pay as needed to use durable goods, rather than to buy them outright. With digital technologies and novel designs, items can be tracked and maintained efficiently, which makes it easier to extend their useful lives. And governments are imposing new restrictions on pollution and waste that apply along entire product life cycles.

These developments mean that it is increasingly advantageous to redeploy resources over and over, often for the same or comparable purposes. This is the organizing principle of circular economies, and the benefits that come from following it can be substantial. According to the research documented in “Finding growth within: A new framework for Europe,” a circular economy could generate a net economic gain of €1.8 trillion per year by 2030. The building sector, for example, could halve construction costs with industrial and modular processes. Car sharing, autonomous driving, electric vehicles, and better materials could lower the cost of driving by 75 percent.

The benefits are just as significant for less-developed economies. “Ahead of the curve: Innovative models for waste management in emerging markets” describes effective ways of encouraging the conversion of waste materials into valuable inputs. These include aggregating waste flows into large volumes that businesses can work with and establishing incentives to lessen waste creation. South Africa increased collection rates for scrap tires to 70 percent, from 3 percent, in just 18 months, leading to the creation of small and midsize processing and recycling companies. The country also aims to divert a majority of scrap tires into high-value material-recovery processes by 2020.

When you consider the facts its clear there are some significant opportunities to considering our future as one that can be sustainable and one that provides opportunity for others

Developing products for a circular economy offers another point of view on how to eliminate waste and create value and creates significant innovation. It is not easy to create products that are lasting, simple to reuse or recycle, and profitable. But when design teams get together with other company departments and use design thinking like IDEO, they can conjure up resource-efficient ways of delighting customers. Greater collaboration allowed one medical-equipment company to figure out that collecting and refurbishing used devices would allow it to meet the needs of underserved customers in emerging markets.

I believe and this belief is very evident with the likes of Adidas, Bundles, Fairphone, Caterpillar, Desso to name a few have proved and as other companies will follow these pioneers in the transition from circular-economy theory to practice, they are certain to encounter obstacles. This is natural: breaking out of old models and letting go of time-tested approaches is challenging. But the lessons of the circular economy are accumulating and they show that the gains from making the transition outweigh the effort and the risk. With those benefits in mind, you will see that The Circular Economy in today’s business world is here to stay!

Rob Eglash once said:

“The reason that Google was such a success is because they were the first ones to take advantage of the self-organizing properties of the web. It’s in ecological sustainability. It’s in the developmental power of entrepreneurship, the ethical power of democracy”.

Music is emotional communication… explained

Some time ago I wrote a blog called “What is Happiness” – the blog talked about our human happiness, the opening of our hearts to truly experience passion in our lives and our ability to elevate our emotions and increase productivity across our relationships.

A very good friend of mine is in the music industry – I love our meetings, he is so inspired by music, old music, new music, we talk hours about music produced, artists, it is always a totally inspired encounter when we meet.

As a young man, I always enjoyed listening to music, I also had the great fortune to travel globally and really enjoyed to hear music from the country I would be visiting, I felt a strong alliance to culture and understanding with the country I was visiting. I may not understand too many words but was nevertheless enthralled. Was it because the sounds of human speech are thrilling? Not really.

Pharell Williams created “Happy”. The song has been highly successful, peaking at No. 1 in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and 19 other countries. It was the best-selling song of 2014 in the United States with 6.45 million copies sold for the year, as well as in the United Kingdom with 1.5 million copies sold for the year. It reached No. 1 in the UK on a record-setting three separate occasions and became the most downloaded song of all time in the UK in September 2014. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. A live rendition of the song won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards.


It is clear that with Pharell Williams he had much to celebrate communicating ‘Happy’ and sharing emotional love across the globe, but does music generally continue to emanate from our alarm clocks in the morning, and fill our cars, and give us chills, and make us potentially cry?

According to a paper by Nidhya Logeswaran and Joydeep Bhattacharya from the University of London, music even affects how we see visual images. In the experiment, 30 subjects were presented with a series of happy or sad musical excerpts. After listening to the snippets, the subjects were shown a photograph of a face. Some people were shown a happy face – the person was smiling – while others were exposed to a sad or neutral facial expression. The participants were then asked to rate the emotional content of the face on a 7-point scale, where 1 mean extremely sad and 7 extremely happy.

The researchers found that music powerfully influenced the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music made happy faces seem even happier while sad music exaggerated the melancholy of a frown. A similar effect was also observed with neutral faces. The simple moral is that the emotions of music are “cross-modal,” and can easily spread from sensory system to another. Now I never sit down to my wife’s meals without first putting on a jolly Sousa march.

The question, of course, is what those elements are. One candidate is our expressive speech – perhaps music is just an abstract form of language. However, most of the emotion of language is in the meaning, which is why foreign languages that we do not understand rarely make us swoon with pleasure or get angry. That is also why emotional speech from an unfamiliar language is not featured on the radio!

Music is a proven common phenomenon that crosses all borders of nationality, race, and culture. A tool for arousing emotions and feelings, music is far more powerful than language. An increased interest in how the brain processes musical emotion can be attributed to the way in which it is described as a “language of emotion” across cultures. Be it within films, live orchestras, concerts or a simple home stereo, music can be so evocative and overwhelming that it can only be described as standing halfway between thought and phenomenon.

But why exactly does this experience of music distinctly transcend other sensory experiences? How is it able to evoke emotion in a way that is incomparable to any other sense?

Music can be thought of as a type of perceptual illusion, much the same way in which a university is perceived. The brain imposes structure and order on a sequence of sounds that, in effect, creates an entirely new system of meaning. The appreciation of music is tied to the ability to process its underlying structure — the ability to predict what will occur next in the song. But this structure has to involve some level of the unexpected, or it becomes emotionally devoid.

Skilled composers manipulate the emotion within a song by knowing what their audience’s expectations are, and controlling when those expectations will be met. This successful manipulation is what elicits the chills that are part of any moving song.

Music, though it appears to be similar to features of language, is more rooted in the primitive brain structures that are involved in motivation, reward and emotion. Whether it is the first familiar notes of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” or the beats preceding AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” the brain synchronises neural oscillators with the pulse of the music, and starts to predict when the next strong beat will occur. The response to ‘groove’ is mainly unconscious; it is processed first through the cerebellum and amygdala rather than the frontal lobes.

More than any other stimulus, music has the ability to conjure up images and feelings that need not necessarily be directly reflected in memory. The overall phenomenon still retains a certain level of mystery; the reasons behind the ‘thrill’ of listening to music is strongly tied in with various theories based on synesthesia.

When we are born, our brain has not yet differentiated itself into different components for different senses – this differentiation occurs much later in life. So as babies, it is theorised that we view the world as a large, pulsing combination of colors and sounds and feelings, all melded into one experience – ultimate synesthesia. As our brains develop, certain areas become specialized in vision, speech, hearing, and so forth.

Professor Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and composer, unpacks the mystery of the emotion in music by explaining how the brain’s emotional, language and memory centers are connected during the processing of music – providing what is essentially a synesthetic experience. The extent of this connection is seemingly variable among individuals, which is how certain musicians have the ability to create pieces of music which are brimming with emotional quality, and others simply cannot. Be it classics from the Beatles, Bob Marley or fiery riffs from White Snake and Led Zeppelin, the preference for a certain type of music has an effect on its very experience. It could be this heightened level of experience in certain people and musicians that allows them to imagine and create music that others simply cannot, painting their very own sonic image.

Music is a fundamental part of our evolution; we probably sang before we spoke in syntactically guided sentences. Song is represented across animal worlds; birds and whales produce sounds, though not always melodic to our ears, but still rich in semantically communicative functions. Song is not surprisingly tied to a vast array of semiotics that pervade nature: calling attention to oneself, expanding oneself, selling oneself, deceiving others, reaching out to others and calling on others. The creative capability so inherent in music is a unique human trait.

Music is strongly linked to motivation and to human social contact. Only a portion of people may play music, but all can, and do, at least sing or hum a tune. Music is like breathing, all pervasive. Music is a core human experience and a generative process that reflects cognitive capabilities. It is intertwined with many basic human needs and is the result of thousands of years of neurobiological development. Music, as it has evolved in humankind, allows for unique expressions of social ties and the strengthening of relational connectedness.

Music is linked to learning, and humans have a strong pedagogical predilection. Learning not only takes place in the development of direct musical skills, but in the connections between music and emotional experiences. Darwin understood both music and consideration of emotion to be human core capabilities. Emotional systems are forms of adaptation allowing us to, for instance, note danger through the immediate detection of facial expressions.

Whether music makes you happy or sad, one of the fascinating things that has become clear is that people from very different cultures and backgrounds will often agree on whether a piece of music sounds happy or sad – making it a truly universal form of communication.

As Hans Christian Andersen once said:

“Where words fail, music speaks”

Being an Author

I met with a client recently who has read a copy of my new book, “Meaningful Conversations” and provided an amazing review, even though he sort to purchase a paperback version, we share many thought provoking discussions through our relationship and one is writing and the writing of other’s.

We chatted about a relatively new author called David Sedaris who has just written ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ and before you ask, the spelling of the name of the book is correct. 😊

The book is so frank, that any author will resonate with the words, his sense of humour, delivery writing style and comic timing are the best.

He wrote: ‘When a book you have been working on is finally published, the first person you normally hear from is the friend or family member you dedicated it to. In a perfect world he or she will cry, the way they might if you named your baby after them, but for me it’s never worked out that way’.

My third book, ‘Holiday’s on ice‘, was dedicated to a friend who appeared thankful but stopped short of crying, and this one, your notice was for my father. I sent him the first advance copy I could get my hands on, and when a week went passed, and I did not hear anything, I mailed him a second, thinking the earlier copy may have gotten lost. Another week went passed and then I called.
‘So did you get my package?’
‘I did’
‘And?’
‘I just told you I got it’, he snapped, I got two as a matter of fact.’
‘Did you notice I dedicated it to you?’
‘Of course I noticed,’ he said, ‘How could I not notice with the damn Post-It note stuck in there?’ He paused. So, are you coming to North Carolina on your book tour? Let me know because I have a lot of crap in the basement and I want it cleared by the end of summer.’

The next people you hear from when a book comes out are the armchair grammarians. These are readers who dream of working as copyeditors, and desperately need to inform you of the dangling modifier at the top of page 128.

‘And how is it that nobody caught the colon that should be a semicolon in your author bio? They want to know.

So funny……I think all writers can recall instances that make you feel flawed, I recall a good friend of mine who is a great lawyer, she read my first book “Freedom after the Sharks”, saying ‘Geoff, I have read your book twice and what happened to page 115, there is a full stop missing’, I know the look of amazement I gave – looking at her when she said this, and then there are the people who want to critique your published work, your heart and soul, with words on their interpretation, but they would never write and publish a book of their own.

So how did Wordsworth deal with these subjectivisms?

Wordsworth was a poet who never seems far from critics’ minds. From the moment of his first publication (in 1793), there has been no shortage of critics ready both to dismiss him and to idolise him. His close friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, recognised early on that the sheer amount of critical attention threatened the poems themselves: ‘His work produced an eddy of criticism, which would of itself have borne up the poems by the violence, with which it whirled them round and round’. It is within this whirlpool of critical voices that Wordsworth’s poetry exists for us today.

It seems that new generations of critics never tire of evaluating and re-evaluating the ideas found within Wordsworth’s poetry, and reinterpreting their significance for a new generation. Whether they love him or hate him, critics of every age have felt it important to communicate their views on his verse and his critics include Hazlitt, DeQuincey, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot and Harold Bloom. Just what is it about the poetry of Wordsworth which seems to provoke such disparate responses?

Stephen King has had an uncanny ability to hit the commercial bull’s-eye from the beginning of his career. In the 40 years since his first novel, Carrie, he has published more than 50 books, all of them international best sellers. Shortly after its release, Carrie was turned into a blood-drenched film by Brian De Palma. And in 1977 King’s novel The Shining, set in a wintry ski resort and featuring a paranormal child and a maniacal father, further showcased his unparalleled gift for psychological terror. When Stanley Kubrick turned that novel into a film in 1980, the Stephen King industry was born. There are now more than 100 films and TV programmes based on his work, and he shows no signs of slowing down – not with his legions of fans, hungry for more.

But the respect of the literary establishment has always eluded King. For years, the question of whether he was a serious writer was answered by a quick tabulation of book sales, film deals, income and sheer volume of output, which added up to a resounding ‘no’. Commercial triumph did not equal literary value. Being a best seller was anathema.

Sissy Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for Carrie – a film that brought both the actor and Stephen King to wide attention.

From the beginning, King was dismissed as a ‘genre writer’.

Here is the sad truth: most people who write a book will never get it published, half the writers who are published will not see a second book in print, and most books published are never reprinted.

What’s more, half the titles in any given bookshop will not sell a single copy there, and most published writers will not earn anything from their book apart from the advance.

So, do not expect anything from your writing apart from the personal fulfilment of having learned your craft and created a work that did not exist before. By all means hope to get published, and dream of having a bestseller or even a long string of them, people do, after all. But writing talent is not nearly enough; thousands of people have it. To succeed, you have to write the best story you possibly can, for the genre you’re writing in, and be professional in every other way. It is the writers who work hardest at every aspect of their craft, and never give up, that get there. And when you do, enjoy the adventure while it lasts, but don’t expect it to last forever. It probably will be short lived, but at least you have your legacy. 😊

A rare few will ignore all this and succeed, but they are the lottery winners like JK Rawling and Harry Potter. As an Author of two books ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ and ‘Meaningful Conversations’ take my word for it, everyone else has to work hard at it. Just do not expect success or you are bound to be disappointed. Publishers are in business for the long term and they have to make a profit. If you write books that sell, your publisher will love you. If you do not sell books, it’s goodbye, no matter how much he or she likes your writing.

As Ernest Hemingway once said:

“For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.”

More management, more leaders or are we failing in business?

I always travel once a year to my business partner in the US and we always have this debate over “you can train and educate an individual into being management”, but I have always maintained you “cannot train a leader”: leadership is in your DNA or not, and I believe leadership is something that passionately is in your blood, the route of success in any business is with the strength of its leadership, so the question that I am always engage within these days with groups is why is there so much management, why do we have a shortage of competent and strong leaders?

Some of the readership will remember a blog I wrote in 2014, “Middle Management or Strong Managers”: here.

My views are not only individual if you read Chapter 7 of John Bogle’s book ‘Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life’. The theme of management versus leadership is a familiar one and the distinctions that Bogle makes are based on some fairly standard and familiar definitions. To clarify the distinguishing features, Bogle quotes Professor Bennis as follows: ‘The manager administers, the leader innovates’ … ‘The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust; the manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective; the manager accepts the status quo, the leader challenges it.’

Clearly the need for leadership is as strong if not stronger in IT as it is in the world of finance and business with which Bogle is primarily concerned.

These calls have been made consistently over a long period of time now by a large number of business gurus, life coaches and consultants, but still the landscape remains patchy in my experience. For every good piece of leadership, I see, where teams are given clear direction and empowered to operate effectively, I see examples of micro-management where managers are insistent on predetermining the activities, tasks and man-day estimates and then badgering the team to report their success in following this predetermined plan.

A great leader will possess qualities like passion, integrity, a take charge attitude and the ability to inspire others. Employers and executives recognise this, and these “born leaders” are often first in line for promotions to leadership roles.

But people with leadership potential have never simply become leaders overnight. To co-exist as a leader, existing leaders have a responsibility to train the next generation, showing them how to guide a group of people toward a specific vision or goal, which in this new digital era of automation, robot and in some exception non-verbal communication – a particularly difficult challenge to overcome.
The challenge is that we live in a world where never before has leadership been so necessary but where so often leaders seem to come up short. Our sense is that this is not really a problem of individuals; this is a problem of organisational structures, effectively those traditional pyramidal structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.

So here we are in a world of amazing complexity and complex organisations that just require too much from those few people up at the top. They do not always have the intellectual diversity, the bandwidth, the time to really make all these critical decisions. There is always a reason that, so often in organisations, change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive.

My thoughts are still that the dilemma is one of complex company organisation, it’s growth, as fast as the environment is changing, there are just not enough extraordinary leaders to go around, something that I have majored on with my new book “Meaningful Conversations“. Look at what we expect from a leader today. We expect somebody to be confident and yet humble. We expect them to be very strong in themselves but open to being influenced. We expect them to be amazingly prescient, with great foresight, but to be practical as well, to be extremely bold and also prudent.

So, can organisations develop real leaders that can make a difference to business and create value?

My belief is that emotional intelligence (EI) is going to be a huge key component of effective and developed leadership. The ability to be perceptively in tune with yourself and your emotions, as well as having sound situational awareness can be a powerful tool for leading a team. The act of knowing, understanding, and responding to emotions, overcoming stress in the moment, and being aware of how your words and actions affect others, is fundamental for growth. Emotional intelligence for leadership consists basically of these five attributes: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, relationship management, and effective communication.

The business world is evolving and changing at unprecedented speed in a very unconnected human world, emotions and our day to day communications are becoming a much more important aspect of working relationships. Having emotional intelligence increases your chances of being more accepted on teams and considered for leadership positions. It can also set you apart from the competition when seeking a new position or promotion.

Sharing information is critical, but it is substantially less than half the battle. You must communicate clearly about the organisation’s strategy, speed, direction, and results. But you cannot stop there. Verbally and nonverbally, the way in which you communicate – humbly, passionately, confidently – has more impact than the words you choose.

As a leader, you must inspire others through your words and actions. And before you speak, make sure you listen and observe; knowing your audience is as important as the message you’re delivering. Communication informs, persuades, guides, and assures, as well as inspires. You must be willing to reveal more of yourself, to let others see your soul. If you withdraw, you will undermine your effectiveness as a leader, and your followers may soon drift to the side lines.

In summary, clear communication is the most important key to a business leader’s success. So, to grow as a leader and manager, you must learn how to be an effective, compelling communicator. And if you want your company to succeed, you and your team have to master the art of clear communication together, as well. By using these and other strategies, you and your employees can reach new levels of leadership excellence.

Rick Pitino, once said:

“Technology is a compulsive and addictive way to live. Verbal communication cannot be lost because of a lack of skill. The ability to listen and learn is key to mastering the art of communication. If you don’t use your verbal skills and networking, it will disappear rapidly. Use technology wisely.”