How to catch the monster that stops you!

I had a conversation with a young man at the pool this morning. He was seeking some advice on how to swim longer distances, and shared that the best he has ever done 500 metres, but that he was not sure he could do it again.

That fear stops us from achieving what we are truly capable of is well documented. Less often however do we talk about the signs, the behaviours, the evidence that it is in fact such fear that is getting in the way. That is because fear is most frequently disguised as a harmless and often quite logical reason.

  • I am not cut out for this.
  • I don’t have the bone structure to run like that.
  • Every time I try it goes wrong.

Beneath phrases like these are apprehensions far scarier than the most ghoulish Halloween disguise. And beneath that disguise is a simple monster, one that is common to most people: OUR fear of other people’s opinion.

It comes wrapped in more complex fears, like public speaking, or fear of failure. But ultimately it comes down how we want to be seen, and since all of us live with some inconsistencies and slip-ups of integrity, we are very weary of anything that will give away our weakness.

Most of us believe that it takes courage to be exposed for who we truly are. The reality is actually the opposite: most of our closer friends have a pretty good idea of who we truly are, and they also know the lengths we go to in order to hide some of our perceived weaknesses.

What takes courage is not exposing your true self to others, but to expose it to yourself. 

You have things that somewhere deep inside you wish you could do, but it sits wrapped up in the conviction that it is not possible for you.

Here are three reasons why it is virtually certainly possible for you, three thoughts that you can summon to expose, catch or chase away the monster that stops you:

  • Its been done successfully before  – by people who you think less of!
  • It will not kill you, infect you or cause you to break out in an incurable rash.
  • You live in a world of great fortune and privileges (because you can read this!), and therefore you have not reached your risk limits yet. In fact you are nowhere near them.

You and I know these are absolutely true for you. So go ahead and do the thing that scares you the most first. You now its is safe to do so.

I left my new friend at the pool with some ideas how he could break 600 metres within a few sessions. I will find out soon if he succeeds, I do hope he does, because I know he can swim 1000. Only he knows if he has the courage to endure some fatigue.


The Magic of Change

Every morning shortly after sunrise we walk through a nearby park. It has a creek running through the middle, and every day we delight in something new. At the moment, eastern water-dragons (a l large dinosaur-like lizard) sun themselves on the banks. Only a few weeks ago we were picking some deliciously fresh bright red sun-warmed Brazilian Cherries from the tree. It has finished fruiting and now the huge mango trees are packed with hundreds of thumb-sized baby mangoes. Another tree has just dropped hundreds of fist-sized husks that have popped open into five-pointed stars. One year we collected those and painted them gold as decorations for Christmas gifts.

We have done this walk almost every morning for many years, and it is never the same. Herons, Cormorants, fish, snakes, addictive mulberry bushes… Dry, hot, wet, foggy, stormy…

We, even when we are reluctant to acknowledge it, are immersed in a state of constant change. Far beyond the seasons, which serve more as a reminder of time passed, we are also internally undergoing change. Everything that we are exposed to, by choice or otherwise, leaves a permanent mark upon which the next experience stands.

We have a culturally ingrained tendency to create stasis, to establish a “home base” that is certain and reliable. In doing so we have become scared, even unable to cope with change. Entire industries have flourished that serve no other purpose than to teach people how to deal with change. Global markets seek to create such stability too in order to operate with predictability.

As your day begins, you have two choices.

You can continue to strive towards stasis, and with it most likely experience some sort of disruption, and overall probably not much will be new. You can be fairly sure what you will get.

Or you can look for change. Not in a random way, instead look for a trend, a movement, a flow that is aligned with what you believe. Immerse yourself there, it is the only thing that has the potential to take you to amazing new places.

Before you know it, you will be in those magical transient moments that make our lives memorable.

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There is no fact without that feeling…

Expertise not sticking? Losing the argument, even with all your facts unambiguously right?

We see start-ups with innovative feature-loaded and superior products eclipsed by a more expensive, clumsy and less featured competitors.

We see electoral campaigns fought on truths, half-truths and blatant misinformation, and rarely does the person with the credentials, the integrity and the visionary leadership win.

We see a poorly prepared candidate with lesser credentials and experience beat a well prepared, highly experienced and better suited one to the position.

We see magnificent artworks that are true masterpieces loose awards to peculiar and not-quite-the-real-thing experiments.

We see solid and verified science effectively challenged with flawed arguments, fabricated evidence and flamboyant generalisations.

Why is that?

Its all about “the feeling”. Literally and figuratively.

We have evolved to be emotional beings first, and rational being second. In evolutionary terms, our rational part of the brain is a very recent addition, hence its name “neo-cortex” or literally “new layer”. If you had to wait to find out by evidence that some wild animal was going to devour you, your odds for survival were not so good. If instead you were fearful and watchful, and managed to escape the the grumpy hyenas, your chances were far better.

Emotion takes a higher priority in our minds than facts. This is true for all of us, no exceptions.

If you want your audience to engage with a fact, make them feel it, imagine it. Emotion is the bridge, the barge that takes a fact across the lake and to the shores of their mind. There, once landed, it can become theirs, relevant and meaningful, engaging. Without this emotional connection there is no message, no fact or truth that is powerful and compelling enough to ever get across. It will silently drown just metres from your shore.

For my pragmatic and scientific readers, I know that doing this will be really difficult, as it goes against the very factual foundation of scientific thought. Yet no-one can argue that emotion has lent power to politics and religion since time immemorial. And it will continue to do so. Every great speech, every successful advertising campaign, every powerful brand engages through emotion, not fact.

The more intense the emotion, the deeper the connection, and the more profound and lasting the conviction. Unfortunately, once the bridge is built, it does not really matter if what crosses is true or not, but it must always be consistent with the expectation, it must always rise upon the emotion. So do the right thing, always always be truthful. Be truthful in the feeling you convey. Be truthful with the facts that ride upon it.

Be felt if you want to be heard.


The future is NOT now!

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

This week I had conversations that are so eloquently captured in this quote attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer. The conversations contrasted two very different mindsets.

One of these mindsets will take us forward. The other will not.

Let me begin with the latter one. These proponents suggested that the changes required to transform our energy industries could not possibly happen, as there was too much invested in the current framework. Statistics were quoted, physics and maths used to substantiate impossibility. Thus they also felt that further investment in the present technologies – although problematic – was appropriate. Whatever the outcomes, the expectations were being molded, shrunk, and sliced to fit into the present circumstances.

On a different subject, the other proponents were seeking to solve a series of design problems. The tone of this conversation was very different. There were few disagreements, as most of the discussion was founded on speculation. Even a rebuttal would be speculation. There were few facts in this conversation, and many “What ifs”. The present circumstances were only relevant as a starting point. There was not even the slightest indication that these circumstances were part of the final picture. In fact, it was understood that they could not, and must not, be part of the final picture.

When I think back the transformations that have taken place in the world since my childhood,

I know that even in my wildest imagination I can not conceive what my children’s world will look like to them in three or four decades.

In my most absurd moment of creative extravagance, I know that the very best I can come up with pales in comparison to what they will experience. I only ever felt this daunted when reading Asimov’s Foundation books, and pondering on the whole idea of imagining a world not one or two generations ahead, but thousands of years. 

We have nothing to be afraid of dreaming up some faraway goalposts for us to aim at from the present. The future is not now, we can not base our decisions for tomorrow only on what is possible today. Sure, common sense applies, but infuse it with some uncommon sense. We need to imagine what we want, not what we have, or even what is possible.

We can only dream. But we place that dream into one absolute certainty: Tomorrow something will be possible that was not possible today.


Put your sunglasses on…. and stop being normal!

People are looking at you.

They are looking you up and down, passing a brief but significant judgement, and most likely moving on to the next person. By then you have most likely been forgotten.

You know, because it is precisely how you are looking at them.

We as humans naturally have an interest in other humans. Most of it is driven by our primeval instincts to find a mate and to commune with a friendly tribe. You only need to go to any large public gathering and see people-watching in action. Yet we ignore the simple most obvious detail: we are also on show. By that I mean we are either displaying our sameness or our differentness.

But who are the people we find most intriguing and interesting? The ones that blend into the background, the extras, the rent-a-crowd? Or the odd one out, the ones on the stage, the heroes?

How often do we hear someone tell us how they just want to be “normal”. Then in the very next sentence they describe the extraordinary life that they wish for.

The problem is that “normal” is a barrier to just about anything in life for the simple reason that with a “Rockstar Lifestyle” also comes “Rockstar Exposure”. If you want to live better than average, you first need to reconcile with this simple fact:

You will have to be different!.

  • You will think differently, and people will disagree.
  • You will do things that others may consider odd, perhaps even distasteful.
  • You will use your time very, very differently, and some will feel shut out.
  • There is no way around it, you will be seen, judged, scrutinised, hated and loved.

But best of all, you will no longer live like the majority.

When you choose to be normal, you chose a lifestyle package that comes with that. It means that you will live exactly like the great majority of people in this world. When you choose to be different you swing open the door of possibility. It does not guarantee glory, that ultimately depends on how you walk.

As you kick that door of normality down, and walk into the vast gardens of possibility, put your sunglasses on (they will make opportunity visible), walk tall, smile. Be proud to be different. People are looking at you…

Give them your most wonderful reason to remember you.


The answer is found two deep.

How often do we find ourselves looking at a problem that resembles the iron curtain rather than a garden fence, a confronting and virtually un-surmountable show-stopper that defies all logic?

It could be a product we can’t seem to get to market, a potential client we can’t get in front of, or a family member that we are being challenged with. The point is, it bugs us, and sometimes it can cripple our business, a relationship or our life. 

Invariably the barrier is our way of thinking.

When a farming entrepreneur was looking to establish a farm in an area where the only water was oceanic saltwater, they had to look beyond the logical solutions. What was immediately available was clearly not going to work. What was available however had the potential of becoming a resource for something that would work.

I call this “two deep” interaction: looking not just at what we are directly engaged with, but Instead we look at the relationships of the things that we engage with directly.
Big picture thinking is like climbing a tree to look over the fence, going two deep is jumping over the fence and looking for solutions from the the other side. 

Next time you are confronted with a problem that completely leaves you stuck, take a step back and “zoom out”. The important thing is not to see the bigger picture with your agenda, but with the agenda of each of the second and possibly third level interactions that you are exploring. Most of these are likely to be invisible or not relevant to you directly. You may need to get a second pair of eyes to help you with the process. You may need to look at your problem perhaps from your customer’s point of view. It may be caused by a character trait of your kid’s teacher. It may be legislation that is affecting your supplier. The solutions that will create uniqueness and competitive edge are always found two deep.

The farm gets its fresh water from a solar-powered desalination system, and the result is a farming model of unprecedented energy and water efficiency. Nobody would have looked at the arid paddock and expected a crop to grow. This is a great example how we can solve problems by looking beyond our conventional interactions, by going two deep.

The solution to that irritating, elusive and absurd problem is waiting for you two deep. Now you know where to look.

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Start Pedaling – there is no such thing as balance!

For most of my life I have always sought to attain and live in a state of balance. For all my efforts, it still eludes me, and you may have found it elusive too.

Because there is no such thing as balance in its purest form. There is always change and movement.

The problem is that life is more like riding a bicycle: your level of control increases with your speed – (within reason of course, there is a range of optimal speeds!).
First of all, you need to move, you need to exert effort in order to advance.
And secondly, you need to have some idea where you are heading.
If either one of these is missing you will eventually succumb to gravity. This is not a matter of choice, it is only a matter of time.
In my two decades as a Architect, I have seen how entire associated industries have desperately attempted to stay in control while balancing in the same spot, at a terrible cost. While other industries have undergone profound transformations, we still do business like we did half a century ago. And unless we decide on a course, and begin pushing the pedals soon, there will be none left standing. It is only a matter of time.
And time is what we what we do no longer have much of. We must use our ability to solve complex problems, and solve our own problem quickly. We need to accept that we got it wrong, that we gave up pushing the pedals and are no longer moving forward.  We must now commit to rapid learning, and to a willingness to reinvent the profession completely. By that I do not mean we need to re-learn design, but instead to learn how to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, to rediscover how our imagination can make a meaningful contribution.
Getting into motion will most likely hurt. There are no roads, not paradigms, no signposts, no case studies, no templates. It is our role to think up what is possible, what is desirable, and to bring that into being, for others to travel along safely. Standing still will almost certainly kill us.
Because when you are not moving, there is no such thing as balance.
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