Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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  • Published: Nov 10th, 2019
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A safe space for stupidity…

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On a recent trip to LA, I was held captive in a quiet corner of The Broad by William Kentridge’s brilliant Second-Hand Reading. In six or so minutes of animated words, images and music, the work takes you on a magical journey which is both substantial and light-touched, heavy-souled and uplifting. I happily watched it again and again, each time sensing something new in the looping lyrical storytelling.

In a TEDx talk, William Kentridge describes how “ideas come into the studio and meet charcoal, paper, ink…” This fluid, handmade “thinking in material” is core to his art. And so, in turn, is the task “to find the less good idea. One knows the danger of confident men with their good ideas, and the damage this does every time. Give yourself over to the logic of the material… The main idea gets pushed to the side and other things emerge from the process of working… the less good ideas… This is key in the studio – to allow a space for this to emerge… to allow the studio to be a safe space for stupidity…”

So for anyone struck dumb by the terrors of the blank page, or indeed convinced of the perfection of their opening line, take a leaf out of Mr Kentridge’s book. Start writing. Be stupid. Goof about a bit. Get your hands inky. The less good ideas will emerge, and who knows – they may well prove to be great.

 

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  • Published: Oct 4th, 2019
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Too grand for petty bickering…

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Fifty years on from the Apollo 11 Moon landing on 20th July 1969, I came across a Boy’s Own Annual produced in anticipation of this momentous event, when there was still no certainty over exactly whether or when it would happen, or indeed who would be the first to do it:

Moon Landing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The opening piece was written by none other than Patrick Moore, the great astronomer-broadcaster – wild-eyed doyen of The Sky At Night, Attenborough of the stars:

“I am writing these words on March 12, 1969, with Apollo 9 still in orbit above the Earth. By the time that this issue of BOY’S OWN ANNUAL appears in September, 1969, the first men may have reached the Moon; I hope they have. What I propose to say now applies whether the lunar journey has been achieved or not – and whether it has been done by the Americans, the Russians or both.

Astronauts are brave men and skilful men; they are also Earthmen. They are pioneers of our race, who take their lives into their hands and plunge into the unknown. If all goes well, their journey will lead to a new spirit – the spirit of co-operation, when we stop bothering about nationalities and remember that we all belong to humanity. In a very minor way this has happened in the inhospitable continent of Antarctica, where the various national communities work together much more freely and closely than can happen in more ‘civilized’ parts of the globe. Let us hope that there will be no disputes between the men who go to the Moon; there ought not to be, because the whole concept is too grand for petty bickering.”

A hearteningly humanist blast from the past, Sir Patrick’s wise words ring loud and true in these days of insular nationalism and self-interested bickering over the big issues of our age.

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  • Published: Sep 3rd, 2019
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I will always remember when…

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In the Serpentine Gallery a work of art by Faith Ringgold stopped me in my tracks:

Tar Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach weaves magic with canvas and quilt, colour and words. These words:

I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge.

I could see our tiny rooftop with Mommy and Daddy and Mr & Mrs Honey our next door neighbors, still playing cards as if nothing was going on, and BeBe, my baby brother, laying real still on the mattress, just like I told him to, his eyes like huge flood-lights tracking me through the sky.

Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. Laying on the roof in the night with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. The bridge was my most prized possession.

Daddy said the George Washington Bride was the longest and most beautiful bridge in the world and that it opened in 1931 on the very day I was born. Daddy worked on the bridge hoisting cables. Since then, I’ve wanted that bridge to be mine.

Now I have claimed it. All I had to do was fly over it for it to be mine forever. I can wear it like a giant diamond necklace, or just fly over it and marvel at its sparkling beauty. I can fly, yes fly. Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade and I can fly.

That means I am free to go wherever I want to for the rest of my life. Daddy took me to see the Union Building he is working on. He can walk on steel girders high up in the sky and not fall. They call him the cat.

But still he can’t join the Union because Granpa wasn’t a member. Well Daddy is going to own that building cause I am gonna fly over it and give it to him. Then it won’t matter that he’s not in their ole Union or whether he’s Colored or a half breed Indian like they say.

He’ll be rich and won’t have to stand on 24 story high girders and look down. He can look up at his building going up. And Mommy won’t cry all winter when Daddy goes to look for work, and doesn’t come home. And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs Honey and we can have ice cream every night for dessert.

Next I’m going to fly over the ice cream factory just to make sure we do. Tonight we’re going up to Tar Beach. Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. Mr and Mrs Honey will bring the beer and their old green card table. And then the stars will fall around me and I will fly to the Union Building.

I’ll take BeBe with me. He has threatened to tell Mommy and Daddy if I leave him behind. I have told him it’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.

Personal and universal, imagined and real, timeless and of its time – Tar Beach is quite simply a brilliant story. And happily, it’s one you can buy in book form.

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  • Published: Jul 3rd, 2019
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The necessary qualities of good business…

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In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I came across a “devoted band that called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition. Their talk was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole bunch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.”

Strikes me that the qualities the Eldorado Explorers lack are the very ones that lie at the heart of what goes into good business: hardihood, audacity, courage, foresight and serious intention. These five are a handy guide and inspiration for all of us trying to do worthwhile work in the world.

Better a good business than a sordid buccaneer. Every time.

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  • Published: Jun 3rd, 2019
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Gardening, economics, murder…

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“No matter what you’re talking about – gardening, economics, murder – you’re telling a story. Every sentence should lead to the next sentence. If you say a dull sentence, people have the right to turn off.” Wise words from one of the great storytellers of 20th century affairs, Alistair Cooke, courtesy of John Yorke’s Into the woods: How Stories Work And Why We Tell Them.

Storytelling is sense making. And as Alistair Cooke consistently demonstrated, not least through his 2,869 Letters from America, the best storytelling is both enlightening and enjoyable.

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  • Published: May 3rd, 2019
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Debauching reason and feeling…

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“Debauching reason and feeling, the stilted language of officialdom is also endemic in every nation with writing. ‘Officialese’ in its broadest sense pollutes nearly all ancient Egyptian and Mayan monumental inscriptions, as these to a large degree communicate stylistically convoluted messages about and from self-aggrandizing central powers. Today, the abuse abounds.” As Steven Roger Fischer points out in his A History of Language, business bull is ageless.

Big corporations have replaced pharaohs’ courts, but the tendency to obfuscate and mangle persists. As must our endeavours to resist.

So rather than debauch, let’s do all we can to honour, encourage, elevate and ennoble reason and feeling through the words we choose and use.

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  • Published: Apr 2nd, 2019
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Foolish slang…

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I recently picked up a well-thumbed copy of Ward Lock & Co’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language.

Standard dictionary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in 1925 and priced, as it says in the introduction, “within the means of all” at 6d (about £1 in today’s money), it “sought to give the general reader and the student an up-to-date and entirely trustworthy work of reference…allowing its due weight to modernity, and omitting no word used frequently”.

Accordingly, it defines words “as tersely and briefly as possible…because to the average reader brevity often conveys clearly what wordiness obscures”. Its definition of cognac is a case in point. Aficionados may appreciate knowing that cognac has to be double-distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais, but to the everyday reader (or drinker), cognac is indeed simply “France’s finest brandy”.

On slang it is similarly precise and practical. “The slang that expresses clearly what without it cannot be expressed at all [is] welcomed as the idiom of tomorrow”. “The foolish slang that merely expresses badly what classical English can convey better [is] ignored”.

Clear, concise, confident – this great little dog-eared guide is everything you could wish for from a dictionary for all. Well worth the 6d back in 1925 and an absolute bargain for me today – I’d gladly have paid £1 or so but in the event it didn’t cost me a penny.

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  • Published: Mar 1st, 2019
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To go…to testify…

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To the Wellcome Collection, to see an excellent exhibition on Living with Buildings. It features Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ winning work on the Doctors of the World Global Clinic. Designed to be constructed in one day by doctors and nurses in the field, the clinic is a big step on from the tents and shipping containers the international health charity usually has to turn to when providing critical medical care in often far flung places around the world.

From initial ideas…

IMG_4837

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to finished version…

IMG_4835

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the clinic is a plywood wonder.

And Doctors of the World is a wonder, too. Formed in 1980 to help the many Vietnamese refugees who had fled the country after the Vietnam War, its aim is “to go where others will not, to testify to the intolerable, and to volunteer.” In an age when it’s increasingly fashionable and indeed good for every organisation to have a purpose, this one really strikes home and sticks in the mind. I reckon it’s that great phrase in the middle: to testify to the intolerable. Meaningful and memorable – it makes it clear that Doctors of the World not only brings help but also bears witness. A mighty fine combination.

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  • Published: Jan 13th, 2019
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Natural brilliance…

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For lovers of brilliant simplicity, a block of wood that lights up when you touch it, giving you a lovely way into your online world:

download-1

 

 

 

 

 

“Humans are designed to interact with nature,” says Mui Lab’s Kazunori Oki. “So we put a natural material between you and the information. So you can get a natural feeling rather than touching or talking with plastic keys.”

A great example of the ‘truly good and beautiful’, it is due to go on sale later this year. Add it to your 2019 Christmas list.

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  • Published: Dec 4th, 2018
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The long why…

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In Japan, home to more centenarians than any other country, the island of Okinawa is known as “land of the immortals”. It’s where over 1,000 people aged over 100 live.

How come so many Okinawans live so long? Having a reason for living makes a big difference. According to longevity expert Dan Buettner, focusing on your purpose can add up to seven years to your life. So it’s no surprise that on Okinawa people set up friendship groups known as ‘moai’, which means ‘meeting for a common purpose’. Across Japan there’s a rather lovely word for this purposeful way of living: ‘ikigai’ – ‘the reason you get up in the morning’.

For people, and for companies, the secret of a long life is to have a strong why. So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution as we head towards 2019, why not find and/or fine tune your ikigai. Here’s to a long and happy life for all.

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