The Art of the Idea by John Hunt

I am constantly inspired by John Hunt’s simple wisdom, captured in his book “The Art of the Idea”. Hope it stretches your thinking.

“Anyone can have an idea. If we are all supposed to be equal before the law you’re even more equal before the idea. The right to see something from a new perspective belongs to us all and because it is a personal internal right we choose to exercise, no one can stop one from doing it.

Even the worst authoritarian governments can’t stop you from thinking. Free thought is what they fear above all else.
The most banana of republics intuitively know they are just one brave idea away from collapse. Ultimately they understand they will lose. No army, no torture room, no suitcase stuffed with unmarked bills can help them.

This raw power belongs to everyone. More importantly, the quality of its output does not depend on age, race, gender, nationality, qualification or profession. Sadly though we always diminish its force by trying to segment its potential. We tend to ask the same people in the same space to come up with something new.

It’s not that they’re inappropriate, it’s just that familiarity tends to breed…well, familiarity. They are hamsters in the same cage; at the very least, they need to be given a new wheel”

His book was originally published in 2009 ! Can we look to wise old men and women…or perhaps to the millenials?

We live in two totally unpredictable worlds




Cut open an apple:

First question:

How many seeds are there in your apple?

A simple linear challenge – anything from 5 to 8.  A child can do it easily.

Second question:

How many apples are there in each seed?

That’s a different challenge!

It depends on a whole lot of unpredictable variables – time; money; water; space; soil fertility; diseases and pests – and, and, and ……

We are becoming more and more aware every day that we are living simultaneously in two quite different worlds!

The one is the world we know.  It is predictable, stable and safe.

The other is almost totally unpredictable, uncertain, full of infinite variables and potentially very scary.

We always have lived in both worlds of course.  But we couldn’t see the second, and it certainly didn’t challenge us until the absolute explosion of technology in the last twenty years. The Internet, Facebook, Apple, GPS, Google, IPads, smart phones and literally thousands of free apps have invited us – or forced us – to admit this exciting but infinitely uncertain environment in which we can “fly” or swim or sink!

The key to this challenge is the ability to THINK and to THINK TOGETHER.

High energy individuals in high energy teams do both really well.

Creative learning in creative systems

An extract from the article “Blooming Teachers by Andy Hargreaves“:

Empowering teachers to embrace their creativity in the classroom is the route to creating educational systems fit for the modern era.

Creativity isn’t just egocentric self-indulgence or oddball eccentricity. It is also the way we devise ingenious solutions to overwhelming social problems. Creativity counts when other social values also come into play like heritage, inclusion and sustainability. Creativity is a collective responsibility, not just an individual disposition.
Crises and social problems require many people to be creative, not just one or two. At this point in history, we need creativity, care and compassion on a scale that we have never witnessed before. How do we stem the spate of violence and shootings in the US? What is the best response to the global epidemic of physical and mental health problems among young people? Which technology companies will be the first to take the lead on dealing with the digital obsessions of children who are starting to average 10 hours of screen time a day? How can we respond in an agile and ethical way to oil shortages then oil gluts, to unemployment and economic stagnation, to the global refugee crisis, and to the surge of droughts, storms and floods as well as the climate-change processes behind them?

Few people seem opposed to the idea or importance of creativity in principle. And as the 37 million views (and counting) of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? testify, masses of people are at the very least intrigued by it. In education, though, the greatest criticisms of the creativity movement have been matters of scale. We might be able to generate more creativity with an inspirational teacher or two, in a few schools here or there, or even in school networks of self-selected enthusiasts. But what about building entire systems of creativity where every teacher is capable and every student can benefit? How can we develop more creativity for all of them?
In the face of these challenges, many reformers in education have felt that it is better just to do something simpler and more familiar instead. If we couldn’t turn thousands of weak or mediocre teachers into brilliantly innovative ones, perhaps we could at least get them up to proficiency by training them to teach a three-part lesson properly or follow a curriculum script.

But the strategies didn’t work. While the compelling need for creativity, care and compassion across the world has been growing, the greatest global educational trend of the past two decades ran completely contrary to it, driven by the promise of short-term results.

Thanks to creative student protests, US education is on the cusp of a new educational beginning. And in this respect, it is not alone. A new narrative of educational change is emerging. This narrative embraces a vision of a large-scale system for learning that is more creative, inclusive and sustainable. It also envisions a different kind of teaching profession that is collaborative rather than individualistic, and that has its own needs for creativity too.

How do we deliberately build whole systems of creativity? The answer is that it is already happening. In Ontario, Canada, where I currently serve as one of four advisers to its Premier, Kathleen Wynne, the province’s new vision, Achieving Excellence, stresses that educational excellence (and equity) must include the arts, sciences and a range of creative and entrepreneurial skills in digital citizenship and other domains. It aims to reach and engage with the many different ways that young people learn best, including those from the most disadvantaged populations such as Canada’s indigenous communities. Another key driver for improvement in the vision is achieving greater well-being — in mental, emotional and physical health — for all students and their teachers.

Ontario is not alone.
Scotland’s national Curriculum for Excellence centres on four capacities of what it means to be a Scottish learner and citizen. First is that successful learners are enthusiastic, motivated, determined and open to new learning. Second, confident individuals are ambitious, have self-respect, hold strong values and beliefs, and develop emotional, mental and physical well-being. Third, responsible citizens demonstrate respect for others and participate in political, economic, social and cultural life. And finally, effective contributors are enterprising, resilient and self-reliant.

The School of the Future framework in Norway proposes another four learning competencies: subject-specific competencies; competencies of metacognition (being able to reflect on what and how one is learning and why); competencies of communication, interaction and participation focused on cooperation and problem-solving; and competencies of being able to explore and create in ways that incorporate critical thinking and problem-solving in cooperation with others.
The world is waking up. This new vision or narrative of change is spreading fast. The countries and systems embracing and advancing it are not ahead of the curve. They are the curve. It is countries that continue to rely on the old narrative of individual competition, narrowly defined content and top-down systems of inspection and control that are falling behind.

Creative learning in creative systems is not just about technological innovation and economic skills. The new narratives don’t propose introducing ‘disruptive’ technology at breakneck speed to try and bypass teachers and teaching and go straight to the learner. The new narratives of educational change combine creativity with care, compassion and community. They address the development of the person, the society and the community, as well as the skills that are needed for the economy. The governments of high-performing Singapore and Finland grasp that teachers are nation builders. Within England, there is now a network of over 150 schools supporting the education of the ‘whole child’.

These are not the only examples that exist. They are just a few of the ones we have supported and studied directly. What they show is that creative learning and teaching can occur in large-scale systems. They show that international narratives and visions of educational reform are now starting to embrace principles of creativity, care and community rather than opposing them or subordinating them to standardized treatments of easily measurable basic skills. Creativity, we are seeing, is a collective responsibility, not an individual characteristic. Creative learners need many creative teachers who work together effectively for the good of all their students. A system that empowers teachers in this way usually results from deliberate design, not just luck or circumstance. Creative learning and teaching call for creative system designs too.


Cell Wisdom

The human body has approximately 10 trillion cells.  Each one of them has choices, and the intelligence to make that choice.

The following are statements about typical cell behaviour.  Read them and consider whether they are TRUE or FALSE.

1.    Every cell agrees to work for the welfare of the whole.  Its individual
welfare comes second.  Selfishness is not an option.
True / False
2.    A cell keeps in touch with every other cell. Withdrawing or refusing
to communicate is not an option.
True / False
3.    Cells adapt from moment to moment. Getting caught up in rigid
choices is not an option.
True / False
4.    Cells recognise each other as equally important. Going it alone is
not an option.
True / False
5.    Although every cell has unique functions, each is constantly creative.
Clinging to old behaviour is not an option.
True / False
6.    Cells obey the universal cycle of rest and activity. Being excessively
active or aggressive is not an option.
True / False
7.    Cells function with the smallest possible expenditure of energy.
Typically a cell stores only 3 seconds of food and oxygen.
Excessive consumption is not an option.
True / False
8.    Due to their common genetic inheritance, being an outcast is
not an option.
True / False
9.    The primary activity of a cell is giving.  Hoarding is not an option. True / False
10.    Cells reproduce in order to pass on their knowledge, experience and
talents; withholding nothing from their offspring. This is a kind of
practical immortality, submitting to death on the physical plane but
defeating it on the non-physical. The generation gap is not an option.
True / False

Interestingly – they all are true until for reasons, not well enough understood, a cell or two starts to behave in an aberrant way, which is what I believe is a cancerous phenomenon.

But now we read the questions as if they applied to humans themselves – ask them even of yourself and those nearest to you, your family and close friends, and the people with whom you work!

Disturbing! But it can be changed.
That’s what true leaders do.

Wildlife tracking

Wildlife tracking – “one of the oldest sciences in the world”.
Tracking represents the perfect combination of the left and the right brain. A good tracker has to remember stuff from 40 years ago, this is all a function of the left brain. This is fundamentally essential for a good tracker, but, an excellent tracker also uses the right brain, the intuitive sense.
For Steve tracking has been an analogy about what it is that we track in our own lives.
If energy is crucial to the things we track, then what is it that is going to get my energy up if I am going to be a good tracker?
Ultimately, if we have no energy, it is very difficult to track anything.

Guiding Principles

I have been blessed with many special relationships in my life and I enjoyed a memorable dinner with one of them recently in Cape Town’s new Local Grill restaurant in Salt River. Like all great meals, there is always something more to it than just the food or service. The company you enjoy and the conversations which flow are the real Hallmarks of a great meal out.

Uncle Butch is not my Uncle at all, but he is my Godfather, and I’ve always learned heaps from him even though for most of our lives we have lived in different cities. It was he who provided me with one of my lifelong lessons when he said that there were really only two ways to learn things properly. The first was through the hard knocks of life. The second was at the feet of the Master. He would then gently remind me that the first was often infinitely more painful than the second. Ever since then I’ve kept my ears well open when in conversation with Uncle Butch, and Monday night in a Cape Town winter was no exception.

The 2014 Brazilian World Cup had ended the night before, and the cool, clinical Germans had swept up all before them as well as the coveted trophy in a deserved procession of footballing professionalism. The talk inevitably turned to sports, and Uncle Butch started to comment about some of his observations both as a spectator and as a player in the aquatic version of the game known as water polo. As a marine biologist he always was more comfortable in water.

Uncle Butch always listens more than he talks, and so when he does talk I listen. And this is what I learned.

There are, he thought, three main guiding principles to these sports. There are many, many rules which should be obeyed of course, but only three main principles which should be practiced in order to triumph. Not wanting to interrupt the first lesson, I tucked into my medium rare T bone with about the same relish as Luis Suarez had dined on his underdone Italian counterpart.

Firstly, you never pass the ball to someone in a worse position than you.

This was met with much head nodding, and some discussion about what this might mean as a metaphor for everyday life. How often do we see our politicians throw the proverbial hospital pass down their hallways and hierarchies? Corporate execs flee from their ivory towers in helicopters with their bonuses in tact but the business in tatters. Sportsmen and women are thrown to the lions without even a modicum of support from their administrators. Blame blossoms and accountability evaporates as everyone from Marikana to the media looks for and then attempts to shoot the few remaining scapegoats in a field of sheep. The old adage of “Not my problem” has become a well sung line out of the International Anthem, as the dreary armies of the disengaged squeeze their sponges and journey on in the pursuit to do less with more.

It was time to order a glass of the Cape’s finest to wash down a well aged product from what is deservedly rated as South Africa’s best Steakhouse. I was also about to digest the second lesson.

Always find a space and play into that space.

The concept of space seemed most ironic at this particular point. After 600 grams of a Tim Noakes bucket list item, accompanied with the obligatory Local Grill extras, I had none. Being so full, I was in no danger of speaking, so I continued to listen.

The great successes of life and sports seem to be in people finding space. Or in businesses, communities or even families finding space for that matter. We spoke of niches, of people who chartered new waters, or of cricketers finding new ways to play challenging deliveries. Innovation is all about finding a space and then playing into that space. Why, after all is it wise to enter an already saturated market with the same old products? David slew Goliath when he claimed his space as a slinger in artillery, not as a swordsman in heavy infantry. Solid relationships seem to find, as Kahlil Gibran so beautifully puts it, ‘spaces in their togetherness’. Great centres in rugby seem to not only find space, but create it, and even when marked by many, the great footballers conjure up a way to shake the defence as well as the off sides trap. Some people we spoke of had recently blossomed as they had found their space in the world, and seemed to set free their shackles as they played, and I mean played not just worked into that space. We wondered if some of our schools created space for uniqueness, or if there was space round the dinner table for differing opinions. It was Einstein who observed that space and time were essentially the same thing, so maybe, if we want more time we need to create more space. I wondered what and who were occupying my space? They didn’t always seem to be the same things which took up my time.

There is always space for a cleansing Irish coffee with Tim’s full cream, and I sipped slowly on the delicacy whilst savouring it as well as the third lesson.

If you don’t take shots you’ll never win.

Have a go sometimes, even if you have to take a risk along the way. The successful teams in the world cup may have had a solid defence, but I’m willing to bet my next steak that the real winners also took many shots at goal. Nick Faldo once won an Open Championship with a full house of 18 pars in the final round. Solid, dependable, nothing flashy, but even he would have known when to take certain shots on, and when to risk. This doesn’t mean recklessness, but rather a measured confidence born from both practice and belief. I wondered how often I had left putts short on the greens of my own life. Times when I didn’t put up my hand for fear of vulnerability, where the certain sidelines of comfort seemed so much more pleasurable than the playground of possibility. The fear of writing the book seems so overwhelming that we stop even writing an essay, or a letter. We might argue that if we do nothing, we do nothing wrong, and therefore when our will comes into existence we leave this place a little safer. Surely though we also leave it a little poorer without our contribution. Taking a shot at our own goals is imperative if we are ever to hit them, and that means to dare to fail sometimes. So ask that someone special to dance, build your own bucket list, pull out the driver on a reachable par four once in a while, sing with your kids in the car. Travel without an itinerary, or have the odd meeting with no agenda.

It’s never comfortable to say I tried and I failed, but I’m sure it’s worse to say “I wish I had”.

There is often magic in the unknown, and when it finds some space to shine, it can light up the world. Just ask a humble herdboy who years later took a shot at wearing a number 6 rugby jersey, and amongst other things changed the world.

Fine wine and a well aged steak are luxuries, but when they are washed down with wisdom they become a privilege.

The rules may be there for a reason, but guiding principles are there for a purpose.

I look forward to my next lesson from the feet of the Master.

An eighteen month old genius

Howard Gardener, the famous flower gardener from Harvard, writes.
“Researchers found that up to age four almost all the children were at the genius level, in terms of the multiple power of intelligence, musical, inter personal and linguistic. By the age of twenty, the percentage of children at genius level was down to 10% and over twenty years of age the genius level of the subject sank to 2%” Project Zero Harvard.

What are we doing?

Edward de Bono, the famous “thinking guru” writes: “Almost all of what a child learns at school after ten is totally irrelevant to his needs in later life.”

What are we doing? What time are we wasting? What precious Right Brain capacity are we allowing to rust from disuse?

In this frame of mind I watched a small toddler explaining his environment with great curiosity and since he was in a hotel foyer filled with people, which his Left Brain identified as humans, he greeted everyone with a huge joyful smile and the only way he knows “Hello” . He created twenty friendships, at least, with people who were enchanted by him, cared for him, played with him and will surely remember him.

How many adults do I know I wonder, who could walk, or toddle into a hotel lounge and create so many friendships with so much potential?

And how much of that spontaneous joyful fully alive Right Brain capacity to create possibilities all around him, would he have lost by the time he is twenty?!