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, 15th May 2013

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


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



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


Will I be able to sleep when I get there

   NNo, I will be too excited

Oh. No sleep till Brooklyn then


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?


   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?


   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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I’m so glad you’re here …

… now where’s that post you wanted?

This one? “Hands up who wants to see an interactive map of “The Badass Women of Impact Entrepreneurship”?”

Maybe this one?

Let me explain.  I use the link to put questions out there, to see if people are interested in an idea.  If enough people click, I write the article.  It’s a draw-down / unlock system that is more engaging for both of us.  A bit like Kickstarter, but without money.

I would love to know what you think of this as an idea.

Ping me an email and I’ll let you know when the article you wanted is ready.

Thanks, Pascale

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The personal business revolution is already here.

Hand-made book, Etsy

Hand-made book, Etsy

What image does the word “businessperson” conjure up in your mind?

A rich man in pinstripes, in an office, making deals?  Or perhaps a woman talking on the phone whilst walking through an airport, briefcase swinging from an elegantly suited arm.

Allow me to transform that view of business, if you will, by showing you another world.  Instead of the corporate imagery of LinkedIn, take a look on Kiva at the micro-entrepreneurs around the world – mainly women, mainly working from their home in villages or precarious urban settlements, supporting themselves and their families.  Over a billion people work in cooperatives worldwide.  Most of these are local producer cooperatives, of farmers and craftspeople, traders and builders.  They pool their limited resources to keep their families safe and healthy just above a subsistence income.  If we in developed countries see business as an elite undertaking, it is a skewed view.

Even in the developed world, a new breed of micro-entrepreneurs are flourishing on the internet.  Again predominantly women, makers and artists use the Etsy platform to sell their work.  People start creative or science projects via crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.  People self-publish books, comics, calendars, t-shirts, bespoke 3D-printed phone cases – anything.

Ah, you might say, but this is all marginal stuff, even if the numbers are huge.  These tiny “Mom & Pop shops” are not really serious business.  Well, they may start out small – most businesses do.  Most entrepreneurs do.  Alan Sugar boiled beetroots in a bathtub long before he founded Amstrad.  Don’t underestimate a person’s ambition based on where they currently are.

And “where they currently are” is the core issue here.  What the internet has enabled – for those who are connected and literate enough to use its platforms – is for anyone, anywhere to set up shop online, for no money, in under 24 hours, and start trading globally.  The combination of free-to-start email, shopfront and payment services (for example Gmail + Etsy + PayPal) is a revolutionary triad.  You just don’t need a bank account, a registered company or even an address.  If you’re selling virtual goods, you don’t even need a postal service nearby.  You don’t need to use a real world currency.  People have been doing this for a couple of decades in virtual game worlds.  What that means is that if you just have an internet connection and basic literacy, you can start a business TODAY.  Stuck at home Mum?  No problem.  Stuck in a tiny village a hundred miles from the nearest market town? Get on with it.  No matter what country you are in, whether you’re in a wheelchair or have five kids or a bed-bound grandfather to look after, you can set up and start trading, TODAY.  You don’t need any money and you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to do so.

Please note:  never underestimate the barriers to access for the internet connection, and the basic literacy required.  This will not work for everyone.  But what I’m saying is that for a large number of people, the access is there, right now, today.  Basically everybody on Facebook can do this.  

Also, not everyone will be successful.  You have to find something to sell that people want to buy, you have to create value in the world.  But there are a million ways to do that.  You also have to get your pricing right to make a margin.  It will not be easy to build up an income anything like a “regular salary” one might enjoy in the developed world – as anyone who’s given up the day job to sell cupcakes on market stalls can attest.  But it’s better than zero income, and plenty of people do build a viable business, employing several staff, starting out this way. You’ve seen them pitching on Dragon’s Den.  You have to understand the laws and taxes and regulations in due course – but you can get started, now, today, here.  Here, in your bedsit in Nowheresville, East Somewhereshire.

In developed countries we are used to the standard work model being employment by a company, in a factory or office.  That model is breaking down, and being transformed by new technologies.  Manual workers, knowledge workers and even face-to-face service workers are all being replaced by machines – whether robots, data-crunching algorithms or digitised assistants.  The outsourcers we used to bemoan, and the micro-taskers on eLance, are being replaced by machines wherever possible, and fast.  Even the least obvious professions are not immune.  It is estimated that 80% of doctors’ tasks (by hours spent) could be done – and done better – by a smartphone app.   For some of these people, and for some of those downsized or made redundant by recession or family commitments, setting up an online business will be a great solution.  

I’m most excited about the potential for women, for young unemployed people, for ill or elderly people, for those who just don’t fit the 9-5 mould.

The future world of work looks very different.  Parts of it are here today.  If you’ve always dreamt of starting your own business, you can start right here, right now, and sell your first product today. The book at the top of this post? I made it by hand, at home, from paper and card, glue and cloth. It was my first Etsy sale, in November 2011, to a lady in Canada. That first online sale is a fabulous feeling.

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The Challenge of Nova, Crowdfunded Comic of a C21st Urban Fox Girl


Since most people back creative crowd-funded projects to experience the process as much as to own the final product, I thought you might enjoy a bit of detail about the challenges and discoveries along the way:
In terms of process, after trying out a lot of sketches and ideas and developing up the central character, I decided to go back to first principles.  I diligently worked through the exercises in Ivan Brunetti’s excellent course book “Cartooning”.  That took a couple of months and I learnt an enormous amount.  I highly recommend it for anyone who storyboards narratives in their work, whether in film, architecture, comics or writing fiction.  
I then worked on the first 7-page sub-story, in draft, which I completed last week just in time for International Women’s Day (see it here: This was on the advice of the excellent Rufus Dayglo who draws the Tank Girl comics.  Well, he suggested 5 pages, it spread out a bit (at one stage it had bloated to 14 pages).  If you have a look you’ll see how the drawing style is changing over time and with trying out different drawing materials.  This is the part that is unexpectedly taking me the most time.  However I think by page 6 it is coming together (although the text written with brush pen is not legible enough when reduced from A3 to A5, I realised while printing).
Going through this process is a real eye-opener of why comics are the way they are.  And why it’s actually a very difficult medium to get right – there is such a strong interplay between narrative, the characters, the images, the words and the page layouts.  If one part is off, it throws the others.  It’s really not possible to write the story and then just draw it up – what works in your mind just doesn’t on paper.
Then there are the material factors – whether I draw with line or brush, whether I add colour directly or as a separate layer, or using Photoshop.  And that’s just the production part; the reproduction is another set of factors.  Does the colour scan well?  How does it look when reduced, and on different papers?  Is the tone consistent across the pages?  Does it print right back-to-back?  The processes of production and reproduction have been a major factor in how comics have developed their style over the years and in different countries.  
For example the Belgian comics (Tintin, Asterix, Smurfs) which started in newspaper supplements, or the US strip cartoons in the Sunday funny pages (Mutt & Jeff, Garfield, Peanuts), needed to be drawn to work with the print quality achievable at the time, and were aimed at the newspaper’s specific audience.  The graphic (and narrative) styles that emerged from these constraints persist in the book format despite a completely different reproduction process.  Graphic novels developed differently in Europe, Japan and North America, and each style contains within it the history of its unique development.  I find it fascinating to discover more about this aspect as I work, “Aha! So that’s why they drew it like that.”  
Although computers now give us a wider range of options, and the scanning and printing technologies are far superior, many of the processes and challenges remain fundamentally unchanged.  There is not – yet – a discontinuity in style due to computers.  Rather, we see the graphic style of printed comics carrying through into modern day animations, computer games and CGI films.  It has become part of our visual history.
Back to my short, 7-page, draft story.  I must have drawn it half a dozen times, each time exploring how a couple of aspects come together.  And as you will notice, it is not right yet!  It is still a draft, there are many errors and things to improve.  There is a long way to go.  At the same time, it is now getting much easier for me to draw a story directly from an idea in a more fluid way, and allow the narrative to develop on the page.  That I believe is the unseen skill of the comic artist, once s/he has mastered the various tools and skills of the craft.  It is the magic that brings it all together to appear effortlessly ‘right’.  I can honestly say that despite being raised on Belgian comics and collected many comic books, and despite having drawn all my life and completed art projects, reports, dissertations and of course buildings, I had no idea how difficult creating a comic book would be.  No idea.  Would I have started if I’d known?  I don’t know.  When will the comic be complete?  I don’t know either.  As soon as possible, without compromising the quality.  I keep drawing, writing, learning, repeating, exploring, drawing, every day.  As the saying goes, “The only way to eat an elephant is one spoonful at a time.”
Do let me know what you think of the short story, and any ideas you have of new technologies that Nova could encounter in her adventures, that could provide answers to the core question we started out with:  “What’s the future like, Mum?”
The 7-page draft story:
The Ulule page:
Thank you once again for your support, patience and encouragement.  I *really* couldn’t do it without you.
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One million reasons to be cheerful (even if there’s no “market” in CSR).

Dear friends, here’s a quick update on progress at my startup.

I spent the entire week researching CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) using only Twitter. Hypothesis: SocialMedia+OpenData=CSR. I researched online while my daughters were at school each day, and each evening after they were in bed. I started dreaming of hashtags, solar planes, climate doom and excel spreadsheets of triple bottom lines.

And what did I find? Hundreds upon hundreds of bright, committed, enthusiastic folk all across the world, promoting their CSR credentials as consultants, bloggers, advisers … in short, an army of genuine but underemployed professionals.

Things were not going well.

“Where’s the business model? Where’s the demand? Who’s the customer and what pain will they pay for us to take away?” … the words of all those startup advisers rang in my ears. I was feeling drained, like I’d reached the end of the road. No market here. Plenty of supply, but little demand. Plenty of PR greenwash (from inauthentic corporations and cynical marketeers, not from the good-hearted CSR folk) but little true commitment.

And yet … those hundreds of tweeps promoting their CSR wares. They matter. Their commitment matters. Who cares if they are all as broke as I am? They care, and they see with the same eyes. Counting up their followers (and allowing for substantial overlap) there are – literally – MILLIONS of people who are actively, vocally engaged on the issues I care deeply about. The issues that define us as humans in a connected, compassionate global society. The issues that define the futures of all our children. Access to resources, justice, freedom from slavery, advocacy. Beauty. Joy. Innovation. Progress. Ethics. Self-belief.

Confidence in our common humanity, and in our ability to imagine and create our common future.

So although it’s cold and dreary weather here in London, let’s not be cynical! Even if there’s not an obvious “market” in CSR, and it seems that supply far outstrips demand at present, the fact remains that there are MILLIONS of people who care deeply about solving these issues.

And that is a damn good reason to be cheerful, and to keep this startup going forward.

Good night x

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