Running on empty

I am off to Nepal for two months in July, voluntary so I thought I should get fit. Really fit. Someone suggested delivery driver for a local supermarket, loading vans with a Tonne and then delivering has to be a way to get really fit, so I am doing that and yes, I am now super fit.

But I am also aware that on difficult days I am running on empty. 10 hours on occasions with no break, not even 10 minutes. On those occasions I am running on empty. I can feel energy is so low as to be, well, just not there. The worry is mistakes happen, and one follows another.

I am sure Mr Ralph Finnes crossing the Antarctic in Winter will be running on empty, though he seems to have reserves more than almost anyone. Way beyond what I am doing.  But it occurs to me that the way things are with work is that cuts mean more and more people are running on empty. There is no reserve. And so, on occasions, people just quit.

The poor nurse looking after Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge may also have been running on empty, working away from home, wider family support away in another country.

Although efficient, it makes no sense to run people on empty. What you get is catalytic failure, which on occasions is suicide. Whether it is exam pressure, or financial pressure, or just job demands and hours of work and conditions of work which are basically intolerable, with millions out of work or with no paid work, why are we running people on empty?

So I am heading off to countries where I hope there is a lot less running on empty. First Nepal then Laos then? Not sure. But I think my sense of needing to work and doing it even when running on empty is coming to an end, it makes no sense.

Let’s end it.





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Rivers – caring starts here

I took a walk alongside Merri Creek in Melbourne, a little river that runs down into the Yarra and then eventually into the sea. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful walk, except that it got me thinking about how we need to care for our rivers and streams as if they are the bloodstream of our towns and cities, which in a way they are.

It probably wasn’t that long ago that this Creek got flooded, and the evidence was in the trees and bushes up to 20 or 30 feet above the current river level. It wasn’t the water that marked the top level, it was the mass of every kind of rubbish stuck in trees and bushes, bags, clothing, all kinds of stuff that should have been put away more securely by Melbourne Residents.

It was pretty obvious that some in the area also think the river is just an extension of the municipal dump, with bits of electronics and general household clearance ‘hidden’ in bushes, but not so well hidden and still of course a long term polluter of the river.

Attempts by the river and park authorities to make it somewhere to learn about the environment, with nice informative signs, were almost all partially or wholly trashed.

A couple if places of inspiration though. Some people had circled off a piece of land as a Gorilla Garden, with nice veg growing in it and a notice saying this is free food but please water the veg when passing. What a great idea. I’m not sure why it is Gorilla Gardening, maybe the local Gorillas like lettuce?

Further up there were two notices about a small market garden that is kept for veg using water in a tank underneath, prior to the water dropping into the river. This reduces water loss while still keeping plans healthy.

The walkway alongside Merri Creek is wide and long. It seems to me there is every opportunity to see it as more than a cost to the community, Gorilla Gardening could be encouraged, as is happening in Chichester UK and elsewhere.

Creative ways to get people to see the river as something at the heart of the community not part of its intestines, surely that is worth the effort. Political and community leaders need to affirm their belief in the central part played by all our waterways, we start life in water and with thrive on its availability and cleanliness.

Let’s care for water.


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Legislation – more options than 1

Sometimes it seems like the only thing Governments do is legislate, and when they campaign they say they are going to cut unnecessary legislation and yet they increase it every time. Let’s give them some ideas about what kinds of legislation are possible:

1. Legislation for which law breaking is punished – the usual sort, and you would think that this is the only type as they always introduce things to control people and organisations which deviate from the plan.

2. Legislation for which law breaking is allowed unless it really seems to cause more problems than it is worth.

This is how legislation is seen by most countries but not the UK. I remember in Lisbon when I commented on all the cars parked on the pavement, being told that there are people who go round putting tickets on the cars but nobody ever pays them.

So this kind of legislation is a kind of option list, something available should it be needed rather than something to be held to tightly.

3. Legislation which is enabling rather than commanding. Butler’s 1944 Education Act was a masterpiece of enabling legislation and I had always thought it was a novelty, but now I find that the Artisan’s Dwellings Act of 1875 was similar, it allowed local authorities to ’embark – if they so desired – on slum clearance schemes and the building of ‘housing estates’.’

This is the ‘only half a hand on’ kind of Governance, which is good in not being overcontrolling where you wouldn’t know best anyway but is has faults in being open to abuse by people who have knowledge and power more than others, so more controlling legislation is then needed to correct misuse.

In many ways the issues of legislation are the same for companies as for Governments. Bosses who make too many rules tend to limit opportunities and innovation, so good bosses usually offer smart ways to permit people to do things and give guidance with just hints of limits rather than controlling boundaries.

There seems to be a general contradiction in size of company and ability to innovate based on how strong the rule governing needs to be to control abuse. The answer would seem to be devolution of decision making down to a level which matches the task, which would lead to variations in what you get depending on where you are in the organisation, but we have to live with that as a consequence of not being overgoverned.

This is where I come to a 4th type of legislation:

4: Creative legislation. This is legislation at a higher level, like the US Constitution, but it could be something even simpler like legislating that any term of parliament can only introduce 20 pieces of legislation in their term of office and must rescind at least that number in order to do so.

This would slow down the ludicrous rush to legislate on everything, and a history of Britain shows how ineffective most legislation is, so don’t get too worried.

It would also have the nice twist that once 20 pieces of legislation have gone through then parliament can only contemplate, which might be no bad thing anyway!

One creative piece of company legislation was 3M when they said people in the company could devote 10% of their time on their own projects. The downside to this was that many people worked more than 10% unpaid overtime anyway, but the intent was good.

It is our reasoning brain that seems to demand controlling legislation, rules, boundaries, and our intuitive brain that rebels against them, wanting a bigger picture. So, let’s add some more creative thinking, and stand back and look at how a bit of each is no bad thing, and how too much of any one of them is not so good.

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Whitewater rafting, orange juice and teeth

While reading a ‘history of modern Britain 1783 to 1964’,  as one does from time to time, the overriding impression is one of chaos.

You have a totally mixed bag of politicians, who all have hugely biased ways of seeing the world and very little manoeuvrability in their thinking, tackling a host of problems which they have little good reliable information about and not much chance of going from idea to delivery in a world which is complex (moreso than now in many ways), catalytic (war, famine and disease combined with introductions of new technologies which changed the world again and again), both competitive (nation to nation and man to man – unless you were A QUEEN you got little say in anything) and collaborative (emergent groups of people forming all kinds of different societies).

While I was chatting about this book an image came to my head, life if more like whitewater rafting than a stroll in the park.

Life begins as a waterfall event, yes, there are a lot more rescue craft around but it is still the most dangerous period of everyone’s life with odds which would be bad enough to put almost everyone off if there was not some crazy kind of thinking going on in ‘about to be parents’ heads. If someone said, how about a holiday in XXXX and then gave you those odds of survival you would not go.

If your lucky, at the bottom of the waterfall you get put into a big boat not a small one, with lots of crew. Canoeing with just 2 is not so safe.

A series of rapids awaits you, it is not just about tackling the rapids it is about which routes you take through them, some of them are deep and therefore slower, some shallower and speedier, which is good and bad.

Calmer waters come from time to time, just long enough to recover a bit if you are lucky. This is where you should be bailing out the boat, taking in the sunshine and doing some good team bonding.

At times you dream of getting off the boat and chilling out for a while, but the way things are only very short stops are allowed. The river rules. For the whole of life there are more waterfalls, more rapids, occasional calm periods, don’t forget to bail out the boat and do the team building.

In the end there is on last waterfall, and the sensible thing is clearly to enjoy that last drop, if you can.

We like to think we are, on becoming of age, mature enough to control our lives, to manage our thinking, to be ale to choose good from bad decisions. Largely that is a myth, like is all about whitewater rafting.

If you should rise to any serious position of decision making in business or public life, then you just get a bigger, faster river to play in. Just as you think you are now in charge of a totally safe Cruise Ship you find yourself heading for the rocks with little ability to steer to safe ground.

So the way to think about thinking is to imagine it as a journey where you switch from one kind of toolkit to another, only intuition works well when going down the rapids, but reasoning might be useful when considering which route to take as you approach them, creative thinking might get you working on how to stay afloat in choppy conditions and finding ways of breathing while under water.

You only get one ride, so best to enjoy it, but don’ work on any illusion you are in control, the river is God, and delivery is not fully in your hands.

Which brings me on to the subject of orange juice and teeth. When I was a child somebody, who I now hate, decided that the children of England should get orange juice, cheap, which clearly seemed a good idea to my mum who constantly encouraged us to drink it.

I don’t think I ever liked it that much but there was not a lot of choice at that price. The problem was, of course, that  it was not really orange juice except that it was coloured orange. It might have had some orange bits in it, but they were probably sawdust. Mainly it was sugar and water, which is why I don’t like sugary things I think. And it is why my teeth had lots of fillings which seemed to be accepted as normal, oh how wrong can you be.

It is pretty terrible when some of the things you can control you don’t, because you don’t think about it, or you don’t realise how important it is, or you think you can’t do much about it but you can.

One health message I would love to have got out there is that no-one needs to have bad teeth. Teeth are brilliant unless you attack them with things they were not designed to resist.

I now have a policy of cleaning my teeth properly, not twice  a day, which is idiotic if you eat three times a day, and I clean between them and well as all over them, gums included, high tech vibrating toothbrush, and the best selection of toothpaste I can find.

What shocked  me when I connected the image of whitewater rafting and cleaning my teeth 3 times a day and properly was how stupid I have been all my life to consider one thing I could have controlled and didn’t while trying to control all other kinds of things and failed.

So, the message is simple. Stop trying to imagine you do any more than rush down the river of life with not much control, but do take charge of the simple things, like cleaning you teeth. Don’t smoke because you smell and don’t put a big noisy exhaust pipe on your car because you look like an idiot.

Do that and life is open to be enjoyed, so enjoy it!

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Water, civilisation and science

From the very beginning of community living, water has been at the heart of where we can live, how comfortably we live, how abundantly we live. Water moves around the planet in abundance, billions of tonnes of it float around in the skies, an unimaginable amount of it moves around in the seas, as living creatures we are made of water more than anything else, and it is one of the strangest substances in its chemical and physical properties, a wondrous world of uncertainty.

Because it does not always move where we want it to move we carry out vast operations to make it work for us. We control rivers, build dams, create huge reservoirs, we manufacture huge numbers of containers for it of all shapes and sizes, and waterways and coasts have been critical to the development of countries around the world and to the success and failure of campaigns of war and negotiations of peace.

London’s sewage system with pipes and pumps probably did more to improve the health of the population than any medical services, any other science. England’s Estuaries were key to the capturing and exploitation of what became colonies, massively increasing the power and authority of Britain.

But water can get expensive when it runs short, and the latest overuse of water in the South Eastern ‘half’ of the country means we have to do something before we start to lose rivers and wildlife and the standards of easy ‘cleanliness’ we have become accustomed to.

It is not that there is not much of it, everywhere in the UK there is a substantial supply of water, but people, agriculture and industry all use water and at the moment we are using in one half of the country more than we get.

We could pipe the water down from the north where there is plenty to spare, though it would be different water, with different minerals and different things living in it, which might cause a few problems in the ecosystem.

Or we could just use less and or recycle more.

If we chose the technology route and built more dams, more transport pipes, even desalination plants, the issues would be simple, not complex. Being simple is not the same as saying easy. What I mean by simple is that the goals can be pretty well defined, the routes to achieve those goals can be assessed and the progress to achieve those goals can be safely monitored. Some unknowns exist, like levels of rainfall, but we know what the unknowns are, probably, excepting of course the possibility of Yellowstone Park blowing up and that kind of thing.

With the kind of technology approach suggested then the thinking tools we would use are well known too. There are the creative solution finding tools like Synectics and TRIZ and there are many analytical tool kits for assurance of quality and efficiency.So we use reasoning and creative thinking and although in intuition plays a part in the end the decisions and the reasons for the decisions can be put down on one sheet of paper.

If we choose the other route, which is to engage the public in water saving measures then we enter a world of complexity with deliverables which are much more uncertain. Our intuition might suggest to us that the solutions could be much cheaper, if only we would take showers instead of baths all would be solved? There is also the fill the kettle less, use rainwater for watering the garden and maybe flushing the loo, and stop paving over our gardens because the rain  then just runs away and doesn’t soak in. All these diverse options will save some water, but then we should use reasoning to ask, how much? And how successful will they be? And are there any counter measures for other things going in the opposite direction? Like growing our own food might mean more use of water than, say, growing food in a factory controlled greenhouse environment, or even out in the fields where they are storing water for use in underground chambers.

So we can and maybe should stand back and ask which thinking skills should we use to decide which general approach to use?

The answer must be all three of them. We need reasoning to check numbers add up and make sense, but we need intuition to check that the numbers we are counting truly make sense and are not for some kind of hidden self assurance.

Our intuition might suggest that politicians are likely to go for the safer option of low cost ‘public initiatives’, so when they fail to deliver they can blame the public. If they build desalination plants or big pipes across the country and then we get a 5 year rainy period they would be blamed for making the ‘wrong’ decision even though it was only wrong because of things they did not  know, the risk assessment is always an assessment based on the best knowledge at the time.

The solution via public behaviour change is only right if it works, and as a ‘progressive’ programme of action it can be tried, monitored and then other pathways chosen if these seem to be failing to deliver.

This is a perfectly reasonable set of use of thinking skills where one set, say intuition is allowed to rule for a while, but checks built in so that when the data might suggest a switch then reasoning takes over. The danger then is that the well known ‘cognitive dissonance effect’ takes over, in simple terms, we don’t like to admit we got it wrong and the more effort we put into something the more we hate admitting it.

If we fail to plan and deliver this way to something which at the moment seems like a progressive risk then it later might become a catalytic risk, where we have to take more expensive and drastic action because we have left it too late for anything else.

So, let’s stay with the take showers and garden butts for loo water, but have a clear plan if that fails within 5 years.

I have written this at length to indicate how the 3 different thinking skills of creative thinking, reasoning and intuition can be used against one of the problems we face, and how it is the context that drives the choice of process, how complex it is, how catalytic or progressive, how collaborative the action needs to be and how close we are to needing to act substantially, how much time we have and how much we have committed to actions so far.


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Love and war

Every now and then we seem to drift into war talk, in the west anyway, and maybe in many places of the world. As troops pull out of Afghanistan the new threat seems to be Iran, and you would not be alone if you were thinking ‘not again’.

With something as serious as war you would think that the approach for thinking about it would be rational, but I fear it is not. The words around the threat to peace, which is how it is termed, appear to be rational. The fear, on Iran, is the acquiring of nuclear weapons, well, the making of them really. That seems a fair enough fear, especially as Iran is a long way away from being a stable state with the last elections being challenged on the streets which were met with ruthless oppression. The rhetoric from Iran varies from ‘you have nothing to worry about’ to staying with the view to remove Israel from existence.

But the steady increase in war rhetoric seems more like the standoffs in boxing, with the latest disgraceful events with Hayes and Chisora taking that to new heights.

So how do politicians get drawn in to this game play which seems more based on some form of intuitive action and response than any real reasoning? It surely must be because we categorise events, just like we categorise people (see Mum is another species),  a system of looking for and finding threats is built in, we have it when we are children which helps us survive threats from our peers and others, and it takes a great supportive environment at home and at school to generate a feeling of security which is the norm and not the exception.

The writing I have been doing on How to Advise the President is all about how we have 3 types of thinking, creative, intuitive and reasoning, and often intuitive beats reason hands down, especially with immediate risk, a catalytic set of events ready to go. But war is usually a progressive risk, and it is vital the right tools are used, and for that the right tools are creative thinking and reasoning in combination.

This brings me to the other complementary feeling of love, for other people in general and for one person in particular. The kind of game play that goes on in the lead up to aggression and counter aggression also occurs in the build up to Love. There is a true story of a professor who studied the ingredients of happy marriages, and then when he got married was asked if he followed his own recommendations, and his reply was, of course not, this was much too important.

The professor knew instinctively that reasoning is not  the thinking that works for love, and although a touch of creativity can work wonders, being the trigger that lets loose the emotion sometimes, the real emotion of love is going to come from  understanding one’s own Intuition.

Novelists, playwrights, artists, have all worked on how that intuition can work wonders and how it can go horribly wrong. It is easy, as songs say, to fall in love with love, it is easy to fall in love with the person you want someone to be and not the real person.

So how do we know if war is a real threat or love is true and not imagined?

The most important decisions in life, and love and war are certainly amongst them, need us to be skilled in reason, and intuition and creativity, to use each to check the other. This is without right of each to reject the other but simply as a way of checking that reason, or intuition are real and substantial and that we have not creatively imagined what our intuitions are seeking or reasoning which is more like a work of art than a work of calm logical analysis.

Loss of love and the threat of aggression create fear, and fear leads to loss of reason and a heightened intuition which makes it unreliable.

I sincerely hope that we can find creative ways to reduce the threat of war, to bring reason to bear from all sides. And I hope that you find creative ways to find love, should you seek it, and creative ways to keep it when you have  it, roller coaster rides happen though!

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How to run the NHS part 3

In my other two blogs on how to run the NHS I noted the need to slice the NHS services into those for the up to 18 months of age services, those for people in their last 18 months and all the rest.

All the rest logically splits into accident and emergency services and true ‘health promotion’ services. Those splits come from a reasoned understanding of the different contexts within which the NHS currently works, contexts related to risk (catalytic or progressive), how collaborative change is and how complex the problems and solutions are.

I also noted that for elderly care the thinking processes need to be intuitive and creative, reasoning helps but does not drive the decision making.

So, what about the health side of the health system? That is, what about how we would influence people as the public and the people who provide ‘health’ services’ (not illness services)?

Although the idea of the Nudge is popular, mostly that is how much effect you get, a small movement here and a small change there. It is interesting that the chapters on health and nudging in that book are on prescription drugs, organ donation and saving the planet. Jamie Oliver has huge influence but even he has had to push and push for healthier food in schools and meets parental resistance and student disinterest.

That’s not to say you don’t want to try nudging, and eventually, bit by bit, you get close enough to be able to take more drastic action, as happened and is still happening over cigarettes.

But a short list of what you would like to do suggests that we are going to have to do an awful lot of nudging to get close to improving the health of the nation by more than a few percentage points.

Apart from excessive drinking and eating (and smoking in certain sections of the population, including young girls), and drug taking, illegal and legal, to excess, we have lack of exercise, poor dietary habits (fast food and junk food and calorie rich drinks) negative social skills and unhealthy mental attitudes, high risk behaviours (speeding on the road and a desire for extreme sports without sufficient safeguards) and self harming, including suicide.

The approach to these problems has tended to be rational, surely, those in authority wish to say, ;if we can only inform people about how dangerous these things are then people will change their behaviours’, but of course they don’t. Gruesome pictures of what drugs do to you, how people have died in car crashes, how bad obesity is for your general health including diabetes and bone wear, do have some affect, but not much. When people hit 16 stone they pretty much know they are overweight and even those whose weight is substantially muscle get the picture that this kind of lifestyle is pretty temporary.

This is where adoption of creative thinking is most likely to win out.


Well, as it stands the problems look complicated, but one of the great advantages of creativity is its ability to find shortcuts. Suddenly, instead of looking at something that seems inevitably complex and slow to change becomes open to short term shifts of much bigger magnitude.

The creative feature of a solution may not always be the big part of the design, sometimes it can be a small part. In that kind of situation there was always a solution available but no-one thought it possible to solve some small aspect and so the idea would be killed off.

A good example for me in the anti-smoking campaign was not the health warnings,  not the ever increasing prices of smoking, those these helped. The most dramatic shift was not banning smoking in pubs it was making the licensees responsible for ensuring smoking didn’t occur.

Now if you say, well, that is logical, my reply would be that serving alcohol to underage drinkers is illegal, as is serving people who are drunk, but it happens all the time. So it would have been very logical to think that licensees would have taken the same blind eye to smoking, but they didn’t. So they did not rule out the idea of banning smoking in pubs because it would not work that well. And there was a lot of opposition, including from the alcohol industry which forecast mass closures of pubs (which has happened, but not just because of smoking bans).

A creative approach is one which is willing to ask, despite reason, despite evidence which suggests the contrary, despite even an intuition that it might not work, maybe we should try it because this time it might work!

So creative thinking is needed because we need to challenge our reasoning and our intuition,, sometimes, but only when the context is right! Creative thinking can make things worse if applied in the wrong context, with high catalytic risk, that is, get it wrong and it all goes out  the window.

We still don’t apply creative thinking to speeding. One oft suggested creative solution to speeding is to place a long spike on the steering wheel so any crash means instant death for the driver! That is the kind of thinking that challenges the status quo. OK, so not a spike, but what if it was a simple picture in the centre of every steering column with a child’s picture and a hand out, saying, slow!

Creative thinking works best when a possibility exists to make huge changes from simple ideas and simple actions. When dealing with people creativity works, sometimes. Reasoning doesn’t often work and intuition sometimes is a good guide and sometimes not.

Where reasoning and intuition are likely to act counter to creative solutions you need good leaders who are willing to go all the way to see if it might be possible to get that simple creative solution. You need good process which avoids the best ideas being dumped early on. I remember once coming to the end of a process of generating ideas for the future of a business and the boss said it was a good session with lots learned, but he was disappointed we didn’t get any really radical ideas.

So I went back to the original ideas sheet and showed him he had rejected all of the really radical ideas, so next time he had to behave differently.

The nation is much much more unhealthy than it needs to be and the cost is enormous and growing. For the NHS there has to be a split so that people who are charged with trying to get to a more healthy population can strike out in creative ways with a different kind of balance in approach to looking for those great ideas. They need to be more like a creative marketing agency, winning contracts with big rewards for success, because we need success.

Success in this field means we can afford decent care for the final stages of life, and the very best responses to the accident and emergency needs, which we  might all have to call on from time to time.

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