Finding our (shared) identity


I’m part of an utterly inspiring community called the E-Campaigning Forum (ECF).  It’s described as ‘a loose vibrant network of practitioners using digital media for campaigning (advocacy)’ and, naturally, there’s been a string of debate about the EU referendum.

What I love about this whole thing is the way it stirs people into conversation – and I’ve now heard several people I hugely respect tend to the ‘leave’ camp on the grounds that the system is so dysfunctional it needs a disruptive crisis in order to change. This challenge to my intuitive and reasoned ‘Remain’ position together with the ECF driven debate made me think again.

I picked out posts by Ed Dowding  of Represent saying the fundamental issue is lack of purpose and sense of autonomy, and Dr Andy Williamson‘s 10 points to consider about Brexit and the EU Referendum which is fascinating.   Andy’s ten points convinced me that to remain is sensible, as to leave is clearly ‘somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide‘, which I rather liked.  But Ed’s was the point which really got me on my feet shouting ‘YES’!!

After many years of self reflection, I’ve concluded (at least for now!) that the biggest contribution I can personally make, is to facilitate better networking of networks.  I’ve set up several collaborative platforms, all orbiting the critical issue of human purpose, which for me is expressed through Happy City. Our sense of belonging, our need for health and a healthy environment, and our search for meaning and purpose are the universal fundamentals of human existence – so they’re the bits of happiness we can all recognise as our own. Many claim ownership, but none can possess the rights.

So I believe the shift required to alter the patterns of our entire economic system are actually pretty simple (aim for ‘what matters’)- it’s just the changes that result are phenomenal in their breadth, depth and complexity (as you’d expect if you change the fundamental system principle), which makes people doubt it’s possible.  It’s mainly because people aren’t generally familiar with systems and how they work, that they doubt big systems can change. It’s the same reason people tend to see themselves as outside rather than ‘in’ the problem.

I’ve asked the ECF network if they identify with the story of the economic system as we tell it here or not.  I wrote:

If you do identify with it, how do you think we can express it in a way that would help people see themselves as IN the story (something they’re already working with) rather than outsiders offering me/us help because they like it or think we’ve got the rights?  

Personally, I think a system with the primary purpose of promoting human flourishing (rather than money/consumption) would make the In/Out EU referendum kind of debate hard to even conceive.

My hope/expectation of Happy City’s contribution is that it helps people articulate the shared purpose/path/pattern in ways that people can see it. If we use happiness to tell our stories in this way, I think people will begin to recognise the widespread reality of ready-made practical solutions and ways of being as an alternative economic system which functions today.  If they understand this is the case, it will no longer be a terrifying prospect to let go of the economic ideas which currently dominate ‘big system’ thinking. The belief will make it true.

What do YOU think?   Please comment here so your own wisdom is shared….

In or Out – a question of courage

In or out jarThe EU Referendum COULD have been a fascinating, engaging, participative and educational debate about the relationships of people across Europe. So far, the political debate has been a two dimensional, shallow and emotive competition between two different kinds of fear.

Here’s how things stand.

On the Brexit side, the mantra is ‘control’, and the fear of outside forces is visceral. It’s a self-centred way of seeing things, continually causing tantrums of frustration in the refusal to accept we’re tiny and relatively uninfluential in relation to the world.   Take the argument to an extreme, and ultimate safety can only be found in complete mastery – that way lies despotism and tyranny.

On the Remain side, the mantra is ‘single market’, and the fear of diminished trade is visceral.  It’s a self-centred way of seeing things, continually causing cold sweats in its compulsive addiction to consumption for financial gain. Take the argument to an extreme, and ultimate safety can only be found in market domination – that way lies despotism and tyranny.

These battles to regulate the world around us are timeless – just a part of life. The comfort blankets of the Brexit and Remain mobs are an illusion. Brexit’s control blanket is disregarded with each new threat, and Remain’s trade blanket disintegrates with greed. A choice between one fear or another is no real choice – both are on the same side.

So how can we choose?

Many are disgusted, frustrated or despairing of the whole process of the EU Referendum. Typical refrains include the lack of information, the complexity (the EU has 33 Departments), or the extreme hubris of reducing the EU to a decision that it’s either a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing. Worst of all, they say, the debate is a smokescreen for the dismantling of welfare state and measures of environmental protection*.

The problem with naming the problems, is they don’t make it easier to choose what to do. When faced with challenges like this, I always look for the balancing force and work out how best to apply it.  This is natures way.

Viewed through this lens, I see two campaigns driven by fear, requiring some balance from courage. Courageous leadership embraces uncertainty, acknowledges dynamism and complexity, and vitally, offers constructive hope.

The courageous choice in the EU Referendum would be to vote to remain, but not for the reasons offered by the official Remain campaign.  A vote to leave is a vote for isolation, ignorance, and mutual distrust. Outsiders can never fully participate in the conversation. It’s a world of guaranteed conflict, short termism and deterioration.

A vote to remain in the EU, for all the potential pitfalls, at least offers the hope that we will be constructive, far-sighted and caring of each others needs. A vote to remain acknowledges Nature’s borders are not political, and that we are born into a world of inter-dependence.  We flourish as a species because we’re so good at working together – we create more than we destroy – it’s just not as ‘newsworthy’.   Finally, it’s worth remembering that human happiness is most deeply rooted in our sense of belonging.

So for me at least, the choice in the EU Referendum is an easy one to make. I’m in.


*A quick comparison of search terms under Google’s ‘News’ tab seems to confirm this last view

‘EU Referendum UK 2016’              – 1.5m results
‘Social Care cuts UK 2016                – 693k results
‘Green policy scrapped UK 2016’  – 195k results
‘Welfare cuts UK 2016’                     – 156k results
‘NHS Cuts UK 2016’                           – 122k results
‘Environmental cuts UK 2016’       – 80.9k results



The Art of Cosmic Thinking

col smoke squish

Inspired by a great TED talk called ‘Inside the mind of a  master procrastinator‘ by Tim Urban, I’ve drafted a TED talk of my own.  With the working title ‘The Art of Cosmic Thinking’, my talk uses sort-of-art to explore super-connective networking and order in chaos.

The first dress rehearsal will be at Revolution in Fallowfield, Manchester on Sunday 15th May.  Please arrive at 5.45pm for a 6pm start.

The democracy we deserve

Elections ought to bring out the best in people. People are passionate about positive change, whether they’re standing for appointment or not.  So why is it politics seems permanently shrouded in a toxic haze of negative aggression?

There are two actors in our democratic process – the would-be leaders and the voters*.  We judge the candidates endlessly, but perhaps it’s time we took ourselves more into account.

There is an expectation that leaders should be ‘strong’ and somehow omniscient. We want them to have all the answers, and be right all the time.  This last, in spite of the certain fact that everybody knows, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Politics, and all of the machinery surrounding it, colludes in this fantasy – each party** saying how well they did, and how hopelessly wrong their opponents have been.  There has never been, nor ever will be, a government that got it all right.

Democracy presents leaders with the great challenge of balancing the apparently conflicting requirements of inclusion and decisiveness.  That’s probably one of the reasons Churchill so famously said ‘democracy is the worst form of government – apart from all the others’.

So is it fair to criticise as sharply as we do, or to protest about things with such vehemence, without taking into account the complexities of life?

We are all very quick to claim our ‘rights’ – the right to protest, the right to freedom of speech, and all of the other freedoms which the ideals of democracy bring.  People know they can fight for their rights – and this familiar territory is the arena in which we choose to hold our democratic debate.

This is where it seems to me our problem with democracy lies. As long as we assume our leaders carry all of the responsibility, and that we are merely spectators, we will continue to get the hefty servings of disappointment and failure that are our just desserts.

So whilst it’s important to point out the problems, and protest about the things which don’t work, it’s equally important we ourselves are not unreasonable in making our points.

Reason is at the heart of the ‘scientific method’ and we constantly turn to science for the comfort of facts which reassure us we’re heading in the right direction. When scientific researchers select only the evidence that conveniently fits their theory, they are quite rightly condemned for bad science.  And yet, this is exactly how most of our political debate is conducted – both by the politicians AND the electorate.

For leadership to function well in a democracy, the first task is to accept that democracy, reflects our experience of life – it’s a continuous process of learning, adaptation and change.  If we want our leaders to succeed, ALL of us need to take responsibility for being constructive in our dealings with differences, and for checking our own assumptions as closely and objectively as we can.

If we’re able to do this – resolutely focused on the development of our collaborative skills – then democracy has the potential to serve a very different dish from the one we currently find so distasteful.   If we build on the best of what works, we can be magnificent.  Or we can fight amongst ourselves around the dustbins of failure.

So draw a breath next time you’re about to weigh in to a political debate. Consider your purpose, the thing you’d most like to achieve. Ask yourself if the question or opinion you’re about to offer will help us move forward together. And be prepared to learn something new.

Challenge by all means, but before you criticise this or that political figure, remember that only the very brave or the foolhardy are prepared to step into the today’s deeply hostile gladiatorial arena.  They are forced by the baying of the crowd (that’s us) to adopt aggressive tactics in a battle for survival in which everybody will get maimed. Think how much you’d like to stand before the crowd before you raise your voice.

We can change the game.

If we claim our share of responsibility for the way our democracy conducts itself, and look to be constructive, we can effectively move the contest to a festival ground.  We can mix without fear of mortal attack, and explore the richness of difference the world has to offer.  In our collaborative mood of acceptance and accommodation of each other, we can reasonably expect to find improvement, and at times delight.

If we escape the the toxic haze of that claustrophobic arena, we’ll make leadership a much more attractive proposition.  A place where inclusion and decisiveness can sit more easily together.

We have to watch ourselves as closely as we watch those who would lead.  Then, and only then, will we truly be ‘all in this together’.

That’s the democracy we deserve.

Quantum Leap for Happiness Science Required

Stop people in the street and ask them if they recognise happiness as an important and serious subject, and most would probably say it isn’t worthy of the name of science. They’d be wrong of course. Chemists, biologists and neuroscientists have been having a crack at the subject for a long time, and the lead on happiness science has been firmly grasped by the Positive Psychology movement backed by the power of data from brain scanning and computing technology. But where’s the physics?

Great physicists have historically had an interest in arts, culture and philosophy, but I’ve not seen any significant contributions to the science of happiness from this quarter. Noticing a paper called ‘The curvature of Constitutional Space: What lawyers can learn from modern physics’, I thought I’d see how my knowledge of physics might apply to the science of happiness in order to advance the case for happiness as an appropriate (and in fact vital) subject of political and economic debate. You can read the article in full here.

Opening Spaces for Change – issue 1

If you’ve found my blog, you’re probably a change agent who’s interested in leadership, learning and get things done. If not, then serendipity has gently touched you with a world of opportunity, so linger a moment anyway.   I’ve just begun publishing a monthly newsletter for people who believe we need to adapt if we’re to flourish in the 21st Century, and so ask deep questions of themselves, their colleagues and the systems we’ve created to figure out where we can make things change.

Personally, in 20 years of work on CSR, leadership and change, I’ve not found a better way of facilitating groups of smart, energetic, passionate people who want to ‘make a difference’ than through Open Space Technology.  So the newsletter aims to to share opportunities to use Open Space, to share useful learning from OS experiences and to offer ‘hot’ themes from online professional networks as food for thought.   Here’s the first one:

1. OS Events Update  

Social Enterprise a refreshment of Open Space for those developing social enterprises, Bristol Venue TBC, 23rd October, 2-6pm. The theme is ‘Grand Designs – how can we work together to achieve our visions?’ £30

Prosperous Cities an accord of Open Space for those re-shaping cities, London venue TBC,  25th October, 2-6pm. Two short presentations from Happy City and China Dream/UK Dream, followed by three hours of OS. £40 

Walk Your Talk a magnificence of Open Space at Buckland Hall, Brecon from28th Nov to 1st Dec. The theme is ‘Prosperity – how can I balance the books to flourish?’  £340 includes 3 nights, 9 excellent vegetarian meals & all drinks/snacks.

All events – register by mail: 


2. Open Space news

Here’s an interesting example of spontaneous Open Space, when an audience asked the audience rather than the panel on the ‘Top Table.  If you’re planning a conventional debate, you could deliberately prompt an OS session from the ‘Chair’.

Here are some Open Space book references from the OS World Community site, together with a brief ‘users guide‘ from the same source.

Back in July this year, I ran an Open Space for Bristol’s Voluntary & Community Sector Assembly to draw out the priority issues for VOSCUR’s Voice & Influence team to focus on in the coming year.  VOSCUR’s Chief Exec, Wendy Stephenson (and others) made a point of saying how nervous they’d been about such an open event to begin with, and how delighted she was at the way it all turned out.  The event report is available in the Autumn edition of Thrive! magazine, which will be live any day now. 


3. What’s Hot 

The debate about economic measures has momentum – check out Happiness, the next big metric? from the Guardian (16/9/2013).  In a similar vein, the Association of Sustainability Practitioners (Linkedin group) flagged up Goodvertising holds the key to sustainable development, and Alliance for resolving Intrapersonal conflict (Linkedin Group) has an interesting piece on how to Maximize your ‘Aha Moment’.


 4. It’s Not OS, but it’s good 

HAPPINESS HABITS an 8 course of evening classes to build resilience and wellbeing with Miriam Akhtar, at the Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Sq, Bristol BS2 Sept 30th – Nov 18th.  £160 for members of this e-mail list.  

MAP OF MEANING a two day workshop with Lani Morris and Sue Howard at Heythrop College, UCL, Kensington Square, London W8 5HN. Price according to status from £340 – £960.      

5. Serendipity Spot 

This may be just right for you – or it may not!   I’m reviewing William C Frederick’s ‘Natural Corporate Management‘ by Greenleaf – it’s a well structured read and a great affirmation of the work we’ve been promoting for the last 5 years!

You may be interested in the Langley Group’s White Paper on Emotional Intelligence at work.  The link goes to their website, which offers the paper for free.  

Feedback on this newsletter, our website or twitter pages always welcome, and if you’ve got something to share, let me have it!                   or 07836 706978

Live test New Release staff engagement tools to improve wellbeing and performance at work

a workshop for directors & HR personnel

10am-4pm on 23rd may 2012, Leigh Court, Abbotts Leigh Bristol BS8 3RA

Happiness at Work is a major advance in staff engagement, providing insights into drivers of happy and rewarding work that go far beyond any previous HR device. Nic Marks, director of NEF Consulting and creator of the survey tools will be in Bristol to explain how it works through a live test with an outline of the management potential produced by instant results.

The survey does a catalytic job of informing and motivating staff, and Mike Zeidler (Happy City Initiative) and Mark McKergow (Solutions Focus at Work) will introduce ideas for the most effective ways to tap the energy for change and make constructive, creative and responsible action the norm, even when staff are short of time and under stress.

All three hosts have international expertise on wellbeing, performance and the future of the workplace.

The workshop costs £150/head including VAT, £99/head for charitable organisations. There are 25 places and you will need to bring a web-enabled laptop.

To book e-mail