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?

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The green planet that keeps turning…

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Cycle to work,

Cycle some cool ideas on-route,

Recycle at work,

Recycle your ideas at work,

Cycle home,

Recycle at home…

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?

High five the crazy

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Does the strongest form of sanity involve a bit of creative crazy paving, once in a while?

If you can switch from a serious to fun mood, does thinking improve by switching from logic to playful just as often?

Einstein said that ‘imagination is more important than knowledge.’ Gait or Stray. Left turn and right stuff. Allow your inner Vulcan to leave the urban office for the landscapes of possibility. Harvest the time you have left, learn to discover your talent and craft your balance.

I so need to take my own advice…

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.

You Tube – you choose

I read in the Metro paper (a London free morning newspaper) this week that apparently 100 hours of video are uploaded to You Tube every minute. And that 6 Billion hours of video are now watched on You Tube each month. Soon it will be one hour watched each month for every person on the planet.

Is this good or bad? On the positive side, we should celebrate the enormous amount of creative energy that people exhibit in producing You Tube content. Clearly we’re not all passive entertainment consumers/couch potatoes!

Any time we have a bad day and start to lose faith in humanity, or its ability to solve the problems that often we ourselves have created, it’s worth remembering just how creative we are as well. Of course our creativity comes in many forms – entertainment, art, prose, scientific innovation, business product development, medical cures etc.

Getting back to You Tube, obviously with 100 hours uploaded every minute, the competition for viewer time is immense and intense. That’s worth remembering if you’re one of those You Tube content producers (maybe the business end-market is less crowded?).

I’m sure that like for TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and the performing arts (dance, drama, musicals, live music, mime, stand up comedy etc) You Tube has its share of thought-provoking, informative and measured (fair) debate.

If it doesn’t, then should we worry that the critical mass of people watching the 6B hours of video aren’t getting a ‘nutritional’ information ‘diet’ to make informed judgements in their lives? Judgements made when they vote, sit on juries, buy products, support their kids schools, sign petitions, give to charities, fund raise, or engage with each other in person?

Designers – unsung heros

Why does Western 21st century culture put so little value on new ideas and the people that produce them? In popular 21st Century culture, it’s too much about the front person. Inventors, like policy makers or Olympic coaches, barely warrant a second thought and are essentially faceless to the public.

When someone does become a celebrity, it’s generally their ‘stage performance’ that puts them in the limelight. Film Directors/Sports Coaches/Academic Professors have to act up for the cameras, or come from a brilliant actor/player/TV presenter pedigree to become a celebrity in their own right (think Profs Brian Cox and Prof Robert Winston as examples of popular science TV presenters). As for the sports equipment that enables the player to excel, does that design team get serious media exposure? Rarely, unless it’s Formula One racing.

Interestingly, when people do buy a designer brand (upper premium rather than luxury branded), whether hand bag, clothing, champagne, art work, jewelry or car, the designer name is paramount in the purchaser’s mind. However, apart from the name (and the potential investment value of the item), does the purchaser know anything else of the designer – their life, values, influences and viewpoints?

The masses crave; improved convenience, new functionality, designer brands, prolonged good health, instant fame, enhanced beauty and cool new tunes. So who do they think will create those things? And if they value new designs, why not revere the actual  inventors behind the brands? Granted, when it comes to music, the band and vocalist are a vital part of any music performance, whether the venue is; You Tube, Opera House or a gritty, busking pavement. But even then, the hardest part is still crafting fantastic music and lyrics in the first place (made even harder if you’re Beethoven, designing complex symphonies while going progressively deaf).

Looking ahead, even with the advent of ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient manufacturing (3D additive printing, when it rolls out more extensively), the value will still be added by the designers (and software writers) at the initial stage.

They say making art is a three phase process of vision, interpretation and subsequent execution. A three-legged stool that’s only as strong as its weakest link. The same could be said for the general innovation process end-to-end. Sometimes, all those phases are encapsulated in one brilliant person. Nicola Tesla (1856-1943) and Thomas Edison (1847-1931) are both prime examples. Both worked independently in intense rivalry. Both helped develop something whose usefulness arguably still hasn’t been surpassed – electricity development and its application.

These days, multi-functional, networked teams work in internal/global competition on vision, interpretation and execution. The process consumes energy to produce ideas. The ideas themselves generate energy, but often save energy too. Such researchers capture the latest improvements as they’re published. They incorporate new insights and new materials into their work in the shortest possible time, in the race to be best and commercialise first.

So why can’t the masses provide support to the designers who move society forward, rather than entertainers who simply ‘fill in the waiting time’?  And what form would that support take?

  • Monitor where current trends will take the World, to better grasp the significance of certain discoveries.
  • Learn about the Nobel prize submissions each year.
  • Attend the design-award ceremonies in person and applaud the achievements (why do stadiums sell out for large sports fixtures and rock concerts, yet scale down significantly for innovation ceremonies?).
  • Become philanthropic donors (of time and money) to support pure and applied research.
  • Rise above the myths and dis-information floated about various ‘evil science’ work.
  • Campaign for media providers to re-focus on design process and design achievement programmes, rather than reality-TV shows, sitcoms and satires.
  • Lastly and most importantly, inspire and encourage their kids to become the next generation of innovators, through education and ‘life-long learning’.

Time to start investing some emotional energy in areas where it matters.

Bad weather for good memories

On 18 December 2010, enough snow had fallen in the previous week for residents of Clapham Common in South London to come together in an impromptu snowman-building display.

What is it about novel weather that makes people set aside their Saturday routines to build snow creatures in London’s parks?  It’s a bit like building elaborate sand castles on the beach.  Lovingly crafted to stand proud, but knowing nature will quickly wear away the results. 

The 18th was one of those cold, ghostly-grey days.  The park cloaked in an off- white blanket.  Slightly crunchy underfoot.  Trees motionless.  Still, apart from the faint dripping of melting snow. 

My wife and I decided to walk around the rim of the park, as we often do.  Only this time, minus the paths.  Instead, we were guided around by the encircling roads and some old footprints made in the snow.  

Snowmen stood sentry where ever we walked.  As if their creators had marked out any space they could find.  Far enough away from the other efforts not to draw a comparison.   

First up, we came across a snow bear, short and squat. The bear wore a Kiwi flag, acting as its overcoat.  Its creators stood nearby, taking photos.  I stopped for a moment to chat with them and they confessed how far from the sunny home beaches of Coromandel, New Zealand they felt that day. 

Next we walked past a snow couple, standing side by side.  But not quite close enough to hug or hold hands.  As if being chaperoned by the tree in the immediate background. 

A sizeable snow matriarch perched on a park bench nearby, gazing towards the ice lake and alpine basketball court.   As we walked beyond the ice lake, we spotted silhouettes of more snow men, scattered across the open landscape.  Definitely time to warm up over a hot chocolate at the band rotunda cafe. 

Afterwards, an unusual movement caught our eye – a man was Nordic skiing along an adjacent pathway.  We wandered closer to investigate.  Beyond the skier, the parkside mansions looked like fairytale toy buildings, set against the white of the snow. 

We headed towards the north east section of the park and soon passed a fashionably dressed snow gent, with a carrot nose and copper coins for buttons.  He looked straight off the pages of a old fashioned, kid’s story book.  The kind illustrators love to put on the front cover of this year’s department store Christmas cards.   A few minutes walk away were snow twins and an extra tall snowman, wearing cap and scarf. 

By then, the afternoon temperature was reducing, almost as fast as the light.  We made our final discovery of a delicately-sculptured ice maiden  on the north east boundary, before heading for the twinkling Christmas tree lights and warmth of Clapham Common tube station. 

Our spirits were definitely lifted by the demonstration of fleeting camaraderie and sculptural creativity from our park neighbours.   Sometimes the best city entertainment can be the simplest – a familiar stroll with your partner in an unfamiliar, picture-postcard setting.

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