Fake it til you make it?

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Are people basically divided into two broad camps – the ‘fake it til you make it’ (the marketers & promoters) and the ‘keeping it real’ camp’?

‘Fake it til you make it’ is about projecting confidence, whether real or illusionary. It’s downside is arguably in making our social groups less cohesive and less real. ‘Fake it til you make it’ can be spectacularly successful – politicians, singers/rappers and A-list movie actors being examples of this. Ironically though, politicians campaign to solve real problems, rappers rap about their gritty own life struggle to success, whilst successful actors choose to star in movies that often have themes of real strength from overcoming adversity of some kind.

Some pioneering cultures have a phrase about ‘keeping it real’. Others talk about ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’ (unless you work for the weather service, the airlines, the navy, NASA or Virgin Galactic).The ‘keeping it real’ camp includes support groups, social workers, therapists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, trainers and assessors of all kinds. This camp arguably advocates that ‘struggling to succeed is simply walking the journey’ is what life is about and that being honest about this struggle helps us to build important bridges with fellow human beings. In the world of entertainment, reality shows are in theory about ‘keeping it real’, although programme directors inevitably choose hyping the truth over the reality, if if means improving the viewer ratings in a competitive industry.

What about in the field of design – which camp do designers fall into? Steve jobs said ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ In product design, great and successful designers don’t tolerate fake. They are obsessed with building amazing, perfection and excellence. In contrast, fine artists can excell at illusion in their art, folling the viewer’s eye into almost believing the two dimensional is actually the three dimensional. Or that the World shown within their art reveals a far more beautiful perspective on the World outside. Musical artists and actors generally want to create real. It’s the marketing staff of their companies that want auto-tune, edit and airbrush.

Whichever of the two camps a person falls into, perhaps real performance is still the key goal and ambition the driving force. Oscar Wilde famously said ‘all of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.’ Life arguably isn’t about ‘suffer in silence’, ‘know your place’ and ‘mustn’t grumble’. It is about ‘be the best that you can be’, ‘dare to dream’, ‘give yourself a break’, ‘learn from your mistakes’, ‘recognise the perfect parent does not exist’,  ‘respect yourself’ and ‘strength through adversity.’

Lastly, somewhere along the line, as we switched from selling the products of our labour to selling the services of ourselves, the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra started to dominate, in business, in our romantic lives (as singles) and increasingly, everywhere else. How do we jolt ourselves out of that mantra?


Force equals mass times enthusiasm

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The enthusiasm of children is a tonic for any office worker. If you’re like me, you get to work in an office environment where once in a blue moon, you pitch in to help on a student fundraising event. It’s then that you are reminded about relationships that run the organisation, whether teacher-pupil or support staff-teacher. It’s all good.

That enthusiasm is a hidden gem that cuts through all political problems, red tape and inertia. I wish we could find a way to value that enthusiasm on the Balance Sheet and make sure it never dips. Just saying.

Going off the reservation, taking the road less travelled, taking a walk on the wild side…

dont-give-up  Kids boredom

In my experience, it’s the small tributaries of the river, the overlooked pockets, and the unexpected that offer the most value. Whether you’re a traveller, a student, an explorer, a researcher, or an investigator, what is fresh, what’s genuine and what is original, is the stuff outside the mainstream and off the beaten track. Another aid is in joining up our unexpected insights from one ‘tributary’ with those of another. And by holding two opposing ideas or concepts in your head (as a traveller, reflecting on what you see through local values and through your own cultural values is an example of this). In some ways, stating all this is blindingly obvious, but in others, it’s revealing a pathway to the sublime & subtle.

We make progress as a species, as a culture and as individuals, by pushing our buttons. By pushing our boundaries, making improvements and gathering new insights. So far, we’ve done this faster than any other species, except perhaps viruses. And it’s been high-growth-off-a-high-base too.

Is human love more advanced than the love shown in other species? It’s hard for us to see, even when as researchers and nature filmers, we’re looking hard. The love an animal mother shows for its offspring, given its mental and sensory capabilities, is probably just as valid as human love for other people, given our own mental and sensory capabilities. And arguably, we’re more prone to cruelty and indifference than other species too. Especially since our awareness of the World (and the Universe) is so much greater.

Finally, is it wrong to let our children get bored? On the list of wrongness towards children, I doubt it figures in the top ten, although you may disagree. However, given the direction the World is going, we’re going to need to maximise human creativity like never before.

Like for many things, the earlier you start, the more proficient you can become. Perhaps already, we provide:

-too much of too few types of entertainment and

-entertainment without mental challenge,

to the younger generations (and ourselves). As an aside, we arguably produce too much content that simply feeds our basic emotions and prejudices too.

Technology that encourages people:

-to screen out the complexities of life that we should not ignore,

-to screen out the information we need, to make informed decisions with, as parents, as voters and as citizens,

isn’t something to be applauded and worshipped. Instead, we should be critical of it and demand better. All of us, including our kids need to become those critics.

Thought scrabble

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Do we weight all our life for inspiration, to tip the scales in our favour?

Or should we favour life’s inspiration, to remove the scales that weigh us down?

Or can we scale up our lives, by favouring the weight that inspires us?

Vision statements

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Picture this. In my mind’s eye, the eye of the hurricane has the best view.

Developing a shared vision in advance (even if not completely clear), beats having the group having 20/20 vision in hindsight.

You have to stand back to see the wood for the trees. But if you don’t know where you’re going, any path will do.

The best things and the worst things are often hidden in plain sight. So reach for the stars instead.

Social media relies on visual screens and filter screens alike.

Life isn’t measured by the breaths we take, but by the images (and moments) that take our breath away. That’s probably why we take so many photos.

The best way for a human designer to be inspired, is to see the beauty of nature first.

What purpose does the BBC programme ‘The Apprentice’ serve?

Yesterday, I watched episode four in the latest series of the BBC TV show ‘The Apprentice’.  At the end of it, Alan Sugar fired all three of the poorest performers (Ella Jade Bitton, Sarah Dales & Steven Ugoalah). But not before they lost all professional and personal dignity, squabbling in the board room, with the project manager of the losing team (Ella Jade), pleading repeatedly with Lord Sugar to be given another chance.

A triple elimination in one week, along with post-dismissal pleading was a new low point for the series. Is the underlying quality of the applications really that bad, is the screening process to allow them to participate in the series the problem, or is it just the nature of the task that creates a race for bottom place? On a related note, if the CV’s of the Apprentice wannabes really are as great as they claim, why do so few of them step up to lead an ‘all stars’ team in any given episode?

I know one of the purposes of the series is entertainment and that Lord Sugar donates his sizeable series fee to charity. However, the viewer cannot help but wonder, why are the end results of each task so mediocre, whether creating their own video channels to go on the World’s largest video-sharing site, or simply selling market stall products (with TV cameras rolling that in themselves, attract curious punters)?

For any of the wannabe apprentices, especially in the early episodes of the series, doesn’t it occur to them that their best chance of not appearing in the bottom three for elimination is to put maximum effort into effective teamwork?

Arguably, for Lord Sugar to go into business with the winner, two qualities will stand out – one is very clever business ideas, executed well. And the second is stunning leadership qualities. Perhaps if the ‘prize money’ was quadrupled to £1M, it might attract a superior group of wannabe apprentices and reveal in the tasks, a far more stunning range of ideas, delivery and leadership in action. From Lord Sugar’s perspective, does he want to go into business with someone with amazing potential for a mere £1M investment, or go into business with someone who believes their own hype, for a very expensive investment of £250,000?

Personally, I’d far rather watch a version of The Apprentice, with:

  • less tantrums and loss of human dignity in the boardroom,
  • less smarmy sales pitches to very savvy and seasoned business buyers (even after 3 prior episodes, some project managers still seem to think you can sell complete lemon products, solely by baffling the buyer with youthful sales charm),
  • less editorial emphasis on the backchat between prima-donna contestants during the task,
  • more coverage during the task of heroic teamwork to problem solve,
  • most importantly of all, FAR more design-brainstorming time spent at the front end of the task – none of the wannabes seem to realise that time spent doing that well will pay off massively in the final Boardroom analysis.

As well as delivering far better end results, a change in emphasis might restore some viewers’ beliefs in business activity (and Lord Sugar’s TV series emphasis) as a positive economic force.



Lastly, a real business innovation contrast with the above process. Two Imperial College of London computing graduates Ashley Brown and Simon Overell recently launched an online fraud-busting start up company (spider.io) which was then acquired by Google. Granted it was at least a year of intensive effort to create the end result (not two days as for The Apprentice tasks). My question is, would university graduates of the calibre of Mr Brown and Mr Overell have been attracted to join a series like The Apprentice, or is the instant loss of 50% control and the incentive money just too small to be worth bothering about?

Social Transitions 3

What will happen to Middle East peace when the World’s oil dependency runs out? Doesn’t that region of the World need to focus all their energy on building a highly skilled workforce, supported by state of the art infrastructure?

If the Sun gives us free solar energy and the ocean gives us free wave energy, why are we still paying energy companies for energy?

For a multi-national energy company, the grass is always greener over the fence, when you keep choosing to harvest old investments in fossil fuel production. As the innovation vehicle speeds up, organisational complacency and myopia become the first victims of road kill. Share price the second.

Protecting free goods like the air we breathe is one battle worth fighting. Another is converting free solar energy into free energy for society.

Market cabals are the dying breath of an obsolete club – real competition isn’t market equilibrium. It’s market revolution.

Why in the UK do we encourage begging in the streets (by giving money to beggars)? We give enough in welfare benefits, foreign aid, food bank contributions, disaster relief and charity donations already. If the beggars aren’t UK citizens, who lets them come here and effectively tax us, on top of the EU taxes we already pay?

Do parental suicidal attitudes translate into their teenagers’ suicidal actions?

When it comes to national innovation, thinking outside the box means not drowning in the treacle of tradition inside the box.

Social Transitions 2

Personal comfort zones are footprints in a circle, that become one foot in the grave. Opportunity zones are footprints leading to the horizon, that leave one foot high ripples in a pond.

Trend mapping with a moral compass is the answer. What was the question?

Train hard, track safe. Train easy, train coming. Track dangerous.

Hope is like gravity. It anchors us to a great Planet, surrounded by people we can help. And those who will reach out to us, if we let them.

If you equip yourself with the right skills, retire early and enjoy the good life, without money worries.

 Wealthy people are just philanthropists still in their wrapping paper.

 The worst thing about prison is how inflexible the hierarchies are. The best thing about going straight is how many hierarchies you can choose to follow.

Closed Loop Thinking – the opposite of closed thinking

How many community and business problems get bigger, because we grow the ‘open loop’ rather than growing the ‘closed loop’?

Open loops involve inputs at one end, some kind of non-linear travel and some outputs at the other end. As the human population grows, as economic activity grows, as the monetary value grows, more goes in, but correspondingly more comes out of the open loop. Think of a plumbing system with water flowing through it. Think of house supply shortages and rising house prices, creating barriers to people getting onto the property ladder (the result).

With closed loops, as there is growth in population, economic activity and/or monetary value, the loop itself has enough flexibility to get fatter and it enlarges proportionately. Think of global trade, the human vascular system (veins & arteries), healthy lifestyles, housebuilds linked to household growth. Or the double-entry book-keeping system itself.

Open loops are about waste and shortage.

Open loops are about freedoms (with some adverse and sometimes unexpected consequences).

Open loops are about functional department battles (to obscure the blame for waste).

Open loops are about poor strategy, executed to excess.

Open loops allow you to only measure flow, not total volume.

Open loops are about one-time trading (exploitation), with little trust.

Open loops tend towards disorder & obsolescence over the long term.

Open loops discourage significant innovation & teamwork.


Closed loops are about proportionate recycling for net growth.

Closed loops are about responsibilities (what goes around comes around).

Closed loops are about joined-up leadership & waste avoidance.

Closed loops are about great strategy, executed to excess.

Closed loops allow you to measure total volume and flow. As ‘volume’ builds, its capital value also builds e.g. social network or phone network size, club membership influence, no of bank accounts held, customer information. The opportunity – create enclosed volume to create collateral than can be financially borrowed against.

Closed loops are about repeat trading (sustainability), with embedded trust.

Closed loops build order & sophistication over the long term.

Closed loops are about significant innovation & require teamwork.


How can you make an open loop more efficient?

  • Increase the rate per period (a possible trade-off is more efficiency sooner, but faster wear and tear on the supporting infrastructure, causing more maintenance cost).
  • Increase consistency within the flow (create fewer gaps and more even flow, including using queuing or booking systems, or variable pricing, to manage time of day demand levels).
  • Reduce the friction between flow and its infrastructure (manage people’s expectations about freedom to act within boundaries and make appeals time-limited).

How can you make a closed loop more efficient?

  • Increase its flexibility to expand and contract cost-effectively, as demand dictates.
  • Leverage the infrastructure investment. If employ blended learning in higher education, can increase the flow, with proportionately less investment to scale up the infrastructure investment.


Are open and closed loops the same thing as vicious and virtuous cycles?

An open loop isn’t a cycle, but instead is a one way flow. A closed loop is a virtuous cycle.

Are open and closed loops the same thing as self-balancing and self-reinforcing cycles?

Self-balancing cycles typically involve trade-offs, for example in politics. Stability is achieved when there is common agreement and recognition of the value of the trade-offs made. Arguably closed and open loops can be both self-balancing and self-reinforcing. The problem with an open loop being self-reinforcing is that the downstream problems (pollution etc) prevent its sustainability.


The opportunity

If government policy-makers take more of a closed-loop approach, rather than an open-loop approach, policy regulation might design out tax avoidance, pollution, redundancy, unemployment, crime and economic migration.

If corporate owners take more of a closed-loop approach, rather than an open-loop approach, corporate policies and procedures might design out process inefficiency, process rework, redundancy, legal and after-sales support costs.


The means

So how can you turn an open-loop approach into a closed-loop approach?

(1) One way is to join together two open loops to create the closed loop.

At a university, in the Facilities Management department, use heat transfer from research equipment experiments to generate power (geothermal energy generation) or heat office buildings.

Use faculty discoveries that are approved for commercial use (new materials and energy management systems especially) to reduce the university’s estate operating costs.

In a corporate setting, people are hired, work and then retire or leave the organisation. Unemployed and retired people then provide volunteer labour to advise organisations how to run better. Can these two open loops be joined into one closed loop? If the organisation creates a new status for those retiring or leaving it as employees, those ex-employees could then plough back on a voluntary basis, ideas and advice that the same organisation then benefits from, to grow and hire more staff. Similarly, when the Justice system succeeds in rehabilitating law-breakers, not only is future social cost avoided, but their productive contribution helps build the economy and national culture to greater heights.

(2) Another way is substitution – replace open with closed. This happened historically when the World adopted the double entry book-keeping approach to business records.

In a university setting, embrace a student self-service model, reinforced at all points of the student lifecycle, from preregistration, enrolment, self-directed course content enquiry, study group communication, campus services, course assessment, student survey, student finance, aspects of graduation, professional registration, alumni communication and life-long learning

In an automotive design example, effect refinements to engine efficiency aim to turn exhaust gases into usable system inputs and replace the heat (generated by friction) and moving parts wear with frictionless or solid state components.

In a government policy setting, modify the tax system to build public reserves that are ear-marked to maintain and develop public infrastructure, regardless of economic cycles. Build the fund in the good times and spend correspondingly more in the downturns.

Food for thought?

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