Take Your Time (a London Fields morning poem)

Take your time
Hesitate
Hang time up in the air
Like a jacket

Sit under a tree looking up
Observe the spaces between the leaves and branches
Observe the slices of silence between the sounds
Pay attention
Listen for the energy you bring into this scene

Feel your feet where they touch the ground
And any other part of your body that is resting on something, your arm on your thigh perhaps
Your head, balanced on your neck, or hanging forward from your shoulders
Like canvas on a frame

Observe the velocities of people, and clouds, the gathering mist
How leaves shake with distinct rhythms on a chestnut or 
A poplar
The Zitterpappel shivers

A single golden hair from my daughter’s soft head
Hanging on the edge of the shoulder of my shrug
Flickering
Reminds me of the excitement of small children
As sunshine sieves through leaves
Cold air descending

Come and sit with me, under this tree
Imagine this fertile void
Create an empty space
Take your time

Hang time up in the air
Like a jacket

[a London Fields morning poem, Thurs 19th June 2014]

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I Came Back to Write This Note for You

It’s been about four and a half years since I ventured down the rabbit hole. Haven’t quite reached the bottom yet, but starting to get a sense of the spaces I’m moving through. There’s a loosening, an unfolding. One day perhaps I’ll emerge with some kind of a map of the warren.

Deepest thanks to the many people who don’t know that they’ve helped me grope my way through this darkness. Reading about and listening to their/your experiences has been like coming across an arrow or a friendly note scribbled on the tunnel wall: 
“Hello stranger. Funny place you’re in right now. Well I’ve been here too, and I found a way out. Your way out may not be the same way as mine; getting out may not even be the answer. But know that I was here and I got out, and that’s what matters, and I came back to write this note for those yet to pass through here. 
“If it helps, when it’s so dark you can’t even see the walls or whether the floor drops away to nothing right in front of you, remember that you are not the only one here. Although you cannot see their faces or hear their breathing, these tunnels are full of people searching for light and rest and life, just like you are. And in these tunnels are also people who’ve come back in to help guide others out, as they once were guided by a quiet stranger who asked for no thanks.”

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Fortune Wraps Us Together

Fortune Wraps Us Together

London, Monday 30th September 2013, lunchtime.

 

In Fortune Street Park,

The young city men

Exchange firm handshakes

Between the helter-skelter (sky blue) of the playground

(Grandma in a wheelchair, blue jeans)

And a spiral staircase that’s the heart

Of the school behind them.

 

Perhaps they haven’t noticed it, the school for children with

“Special Educational Needs” or

Physical disabilities

- Otherness –

Different physical characters

The spiral staircase is where the “special” and

“Non-special” children of the school

Come together to eat – compañere –

To break bread together.

 

Between sky blue helter-skelter and a spiral staircase,

Between green trees, under blue sky,

In blue suits and blue jeans,

Here in London.

Lunch, in Fortune Street Park.

We unwrap sandwiches, we munch

Wraps folded in waxed paper,

We break bread together, we share fortunes

- At least we live them wrapped together.

 

Wrap, fold, spiral, helter-skelter, young, old,

Green, blue, son, father.

Fortune brings us here,

Fortune wraps us together.

 

Pascale Scheurer

 

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How To Build a Startup.

1. Put down your pen, fold up your laptop, and think.

2. Think, read. Walk through the city, somewhere new. Think, build, test. Share, talk, tweak, test again. Share again.

3. Repeat until something starts pulling itself out of possibility and into reality. Hold the reins, now gently, now tight. As the thing pulls, let it pull.

4. When the pull builds to a force, when the force disturbs the air around it and attracts others, when others start running over and offering help, when children chase after it clapping and laughing, that’s the time to let it go, lay the logs in front of it and roll it down the hill, chase after it too, shouting as you go.

—–

Stage 2 can take a very long time, even while you’re iterating fast, lean-style. It feels like endless failure, like being punched in the face a thousand times. It’s incredibly lonely. Sharing is hard, when most of what you’re sharing is not good enough, yet. But share you must, as sharing is nurture for the idea and for yourself. Holding on at Stage 3 is incredibly hard too, after all that time waiting. But it’s important to wait, to hold, to let the thing fill out, take its true shape and build its own momentum.

Let it pull itself out of possibility and into reality.

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Building a Brave New World

Award-winning writer Arundhati Roy’s most famous quotation is also one of the most beautiful and powerful statements of our time:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

I like to pair it with one from another of my heroes, Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Is it a coincidence that both trained as architects?  Coincidence or not, it makes perfect sense.  Whilst young and naïve, future architects look at the world around them, and the way people interact with each other and with artefacts in physical space, and say to themselves: “Another world is possible.  I will build it.”

More than that, the profession – the vocation - of architecture demands collaboration and holistic thinking.  It demands that we remain artists – creative, curious, challenging – whilst using existing technologies, engineering, science, economics and politics, as our tools.  “I will build it” becomes “I will help build it, we will build it together”.

Here at Intelligent Futures, we are architects and engineers.  We are unashamedly – perhaps naïvely or even arrogantly – committed to building a brave new world.  One which we hope will owe more to Arundhati Roy’s vision than Aldous Huxley’s.  Huxley warned us of techno-dystopia, as George Orwell did in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Both, I am sure, did so in order to help us focus on building a different new world.  Perhaps not a techno-utopia, but something better than we have now, or than we will have if we fling up our hands and proclaim the search for progress futile.

If we wish to have a less dystopian future, we must build it together.  When we see the people working around us in innovation projects – as showcased on our website and at our events – we can hear the new world breathing.

Posted at http://www.IntelligentFutures.co.uk, 15th May 2013

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Reflection

Reflection – Sat May 11th 2013 … 4.19am (Sun)

 

What:     Working on research for cool tools for SNA, biz ideas

 

Notice: 

Why do I not want to stop?

   Because I haven’t got there yet?

Where am I going?

   I don’t know but I haven’t got there yet

Will I know when I get there

   Yes

Will I be able to sleep when I get there

   NNo, I will be too excited

Oh. No sleep till Brooklyn then

   Hmm

Remind me why I am doing this?

   What makes you think I know why?

Well here I am, doing it, it must have started somewhere

   Are you lost?

Am I lost?

   …

How would I know?

   A bird is singing outside

Does there have to be a why?

   Are you happy?

No

   Is this work making you happier?

Yes. I think so.

   …

Or maybe unhappier. I can’t remember.

   ….

I wish you were here.

   …

Maybe I’m trying to build a bridge back to you.

   Back? Or forward?

Sideways?

   Away or towards?

Or maybe I’m drawing a picture of a door out, on the wall

 

Anaïs Nin on love and uncertainty, Richard Feynman on love of uncertainty.  The embrace of uncertainty.  The embrace of fear.  To stand and wait and do neither.  Neither reject, nor embrace, nor even entertain.  To set aside the question.  All questions.  To be, here, now, whatever and wherever that is. Wherever you are.  Wherever *you* are.  To be, not to build.  To build a different thing.  To build two different, small, charming, wayward things.  We’re building a different life together.  Just, I didn’t want a different life, I liked the old one, the one I had.  This one … it doesn’t feel right.  It doesn’t feel like it has space for me in it.  I feel pushed to the wall.  I turn round and draw the outline of a door on the wall.

 

 

I don’t know how to not be sad about it.

 

And here comes the dawn.

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Shine On You Crazy Diamonds – Why Social Entrepreneurs Burn Out, and How to Avoid It

For this article I am using my NOVA method for structure – Needs, Opportunities, Values, Actions – and I will assume the reader knows what a social entrepreneur is, and what it means to burn out.

 

N for Needs

 

The world needs social entrepreneurs who don’t burn out.

 

All around the world people face acute problems, and need AAA solutions (affordable, accessible & appropriate).  These problems need social enterprise – innovative solutions from pioneering minds tackling the big issues. Social entrepreneurs are focused on long-term impact, with a broad view of stakeholders, shared value, speed and scale. 

 

We need them, but there are not many of them around. This is because in addition to core professional skills, it takes a lot of insight and hands-on experience to build up sufficient contextual and relational knowledge. Adaptation and sensitivity are core requirements, which are rare skills when combined with a go-getting, competitive entrepreneurial spirit. Add to that the limited financial rewards and high risk profile. So we just don’t have that many people who can set up and lead these projects, and we can’t afford to lose them to burnout.

 

Time is another factor. It takes time and effort to get any project off the ground, especially with limited resources. Failure is not an option in the same way as with sugar-water startups – lives and livelihoods are impacted, the people involved have lower resources for resilience, so a greater degree of caution and risk management is needed. This makes for a slower flow, and adds a burden of responsibility to the project leader to stay in the game for a long time. Like authors and filmmakers, most social entrepreneurs deliver only a few good projects in their lifetime. So they need to become – and remain – as effective as possible.

 

Why is burnout a common issue for social entrepreneurs? Because they are passionate, committed, driven by complex inner needs (which may be conflicting or painful) and often highly sensitive. What makes a person see suffering in the world, feel empathy and commit themselves to help, also makes them vulnerable. Yes, compassion can make people strong and there are ways to build this inner strength, but it takes time. That 15-minute meditation to calm the spirit and settle the mind before bedtime, may make all the difference between endurance and burnout. It’s easy to prioritise the firefighting when things are tough. And things are often tough. The nature of the work is that it’s risky and uncharted. They’re jumping out of planes building parachutes on the way down, same as all entrepreneurs – but here there are lives at stake.

 

 

 

Many social entrepreneurs get used to throwing themselves body and soul into a campaign whilst at college – working crazy hours, 100% focused, with no other responsibilities. Once this becomes the baseline method for success, it is hard to reprioritize without feeling extremely guilty.

 

If later they choose to have children, they may wish to keep up the same level of commitment to the cause. It can feel even more imperative to do so. Those little eyes look up and penetrate the soul, and they ask themselves ever more fervently “Am I doing enough for you?”  They feel ever more acutely the pain of compassion for the mother cradling her baby in the makeshift hospital of a distant refugee camp. The urgent drum of climate change beats faster in their chest.

 

O for Opportunities

Tools to avoid burnout:

  1. Look at examples, talk to others – learn from others’ mistakes.
  2. Become realistic about how long projects take, and the s-curve of success.
  3. Take a step back / long view, reprioritize, play work-life balance bingo.
  4. Reflect – regularly. Learn how to do this.
  5. Monitor your time carefully and learn from it.
  6. Build your resilience, your networks, get a calming accountabilibuddy.
  7. Try to understand your motivations and patterns – not necessarily to change them but to become aware – try to see burnout coming.
  8. Rest – meditation, holidays, screen-breaks, aimless walks, a slow lunch.
  9. Occupy yourself – fluffy handcuffs, force yourself into corners, hack yourself, force-delegate.

10. Befriend yourself – give yourself a break from judgement at times, always give yourself a way out, embrace your massive ego (yep, you do).

 

V for Values

  1. Define them. Refine them. Try to be precise.
  2. Prioritise them.
  3. Whilst trying to help others, be kind to yourself too. Gentle. Generous.
  4. You need to enjoy your work to do it well – not everything, but generally.
  5. Communicate them to build a team around the project.

 

A for Actions

  1. It starts with 15 minutes. Just 15 minutes of reflection. Why you’re doing your project, how you got started, where you’re at now. Are you ticking along nicely, or getting close to burnout? You know the answer intuitively. If you ever say to yourself “I can’t spend 15 minutes on this today”, massive warning bells should be going off.
  2. Track your time for 24 hours. Note it down – everything you do, every 15 minutes. It takes time and it feels like a waste of time and it’s difficult. Accept you won’t want to do it. The reasons you busy yourself to the point of burnout are the same reasons you’ll be terrified to stop, breathe, think. Start with one day. Build up a good picture over two weeks. Don’t worry about gaps. The bald truth will emerge quite quickly. It will surprise you, even though you are currently convinced you know perfectly well what you do all day. This is the essential first step to holding yourself accountable for where you spend your precious time. Do it.
  3. Corner yourself. This is vitally important – your project can’t survive your burnout and what got you here won’t get you there. Make this your priority, over and above the daily firefighting. Reward yourself, or fine yourself – whatever works for you. Dedicate the next month to it, a minimum of 15 minutes a day. Two weeks to observe then two weeks to plan.
  4. Plan your exit. Imagine your project without you in the centre. Imagine yourself in a future project, having left this one humming along nicely. Think about yourself and your activities as if you were another employee or team member – in the third person.
  5. Get a mentor. Get a ruthless truth-teller to kick your ass. I’m very willing to offer the service, for an extortionate fee.

 

“The world needs you to write this post,” said a follower on twitter, when I first mooted the idea. Yes, the world needs social entrepreneurs. Effective, brilliant, resilient social entrepreneurs. Perhaps not ‘happy’ ones – happiness is overrated – but not suffering, crushed, ragged or bitter.

 

Don’t burn out.  Look after yourselves, and look out for each other.

 

Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

 

Pascale Scheurer, London, 25th April 2013.

 

Thank you to those who “unlocked” this post – i.e. saw the title on Twitter, clicked and asked me to write the article. 

If you are unclear what I mean or would welcome more specific guidance, just ask.

Equally if you know of useful relevant online resources, please let me know.

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