What we owe to the universe

What we owe to the universe

One of my favourite desserts growing up was Airplane Jelly. They nailed their marketing, at least for the kids. The first time I saw the Airplane Jelly Tiger Moth undertaking some aeronautical mastery I was hooked. I was very quick to conclude that the jelly being advertised was the reason the plane could do what it did. At least my all too human causation desire working well! So, I had to try it.

The enjoyment of the jelly was not just limited to eating a bowl following dinner but everything needed to get it to the table. Clicking the perforations of the Yellow Tiger Moth box, learning to boil and pour the kettle, knowing when the crystals had fully dissolved, sampling liquified jelly from the mixing fork, not lettting the glad-wrap double over before it had covered the bowl and pulling something out of the fridge which had transformed into something else were all part of the satisfaction. Eating the jelly was only a small part of having it.

I never became the master of the skies that I thought the ad promised but being part of the transformation from crunchy, pale pink crystals in a box to a deep red, gellatinous dessert taught me a lot about how things change. The neurologist, Professor Steven Novella describes everyone having “3 pounds of a grey jelly sitting inside our skull”. This jelly is made up of about 100 million neurons and a tonne of other supporting cells to modulate them. It comes together as an organ that can think, that can feel, that forms consciousness and the whole world around us. It is the most complicated organ in our bodies and thing in our known universe. And we all have it.

We owe it to ourselves to do what we can to guide the transformation of our own bit of jelly. Shifting it from a small collection of unordered nodes to a deep web of interwoven strands is to have it.

And if not for ourselves then for the universe.

Learning to write

Learning to write

Not overly inspired to write but forcing the action to build the habit. Not just dedicating a block of time in the day but for imprinting the muscle memory. Lack of inspiration seemed to stem from rigidity of the agenda. Setting out to pursue a set path of what is next seemed to misalign with what the creative side wanted to pursue now. You then realise that if you had to talk about it with someone, there would not be a problem. You may have a few double backs, some silences, others may even encourage the train of thought along, but you will get out what you have to say.

There is no reason writing should be any different but we pull back, we compromise, we overthink, we plan to implement rather than act to develop. I am a big fan of Seth Godin who emphasises we should  “Write like you talk, everyday“. So herein lies my third core driver for #30daysofwriting and that is develop an authentic voice, to encourage the creative machine, to develop the muscle and stop hiding behind the talk. In summary, it is to write better.

Supplementry to this, I am a visual person and will also use this opportunity to create visual models to help explain ideas. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A: Learning Cycle

I will sign this next day off with the spoken word of Seth Godin, so well put that it could easily be mistaken for writing that has gone through multiple drafts:

“Improving your work is a hundred times easier than getting a guarantee that your work will be fine. So, do bad work. Do it often, do it generously, and then work to improve it. That’s how you learned how to walk. It’s how you learned how to talk. It’s how you learn how to do everything that matters to you. But now suddenly you’re waiting for a guarantee. It doesn’t work that way. It’s so easy now to blog every day. So easy now to put up a video. So easy now to put your work into the world. And if you’re willing to do it poorly, then you could probably learn how to do it better.”

Entering the jungle

Entering the jungle

Taking a step further into the jungle of reason is better than looking at it from within the comfort of the Land Cruiser. Taking logic into the public domain, forces the hand to open the door of the door of the vehicle and step out. By this, I mean pushing one or more iterations along our own logic framework. What we are writing may not be any more right or wrong but at least it can go beyond the fleeting stage. Who knows, maybe we will be lucky enough to encounter a tiger along the way.

In my first post I mentioned ‘skin’ as one of the reasons I started writing this blog. Skin, here refers to two things. It is the outer shell and also an extremely durable organ which is quick to let us know when we encounter something dangerous. Breaking down the barriers of our outer shell sounds counterintuitive but gives opportunity for us to show some scar tissue from the past. The process of healing some of these battle wounds is tough and comes back to the vulnerability journey that I am trying to lean into. There is a healing that comes from finding the battle scars of our past and exposing them. Sure, there are those best kept to our closest people but there are many more that are not. Reinvigorating the dead skin makes us more receptive to be more connected to those around us.

My second motion for skin, if we are lucky enough to spread beyond our ‘safe circles’, are the innveitable claw swipes. Different from scar tissue, a thicker skin makes us more able to tackle the adversisty around us. We can glide past the brush which would previously have caused us to bleed. Without sounding like a broken record, ‘Skin in the Game‘ means “how much of your neck you are putting on the line”.

It is a lot easier to keep what we ‘know’ to be true to ourselves. Only just harder is to throw them against the wall in fleeting conversations. Writing them for the public to see takes them from fleeting to forming. Our greatest ideas may be completely wrong when we take them out of the cone of silence of our own heads – all for the better.

Putting our ideas out into the world makes us accountable to them. We need to have the courage to be honest about them with ourselves and then with others.

Be curious, be thoughtful, be courageous and write.

Reaching the checkpoint

Reaching the checkpoint

I have had a few false starts with this. This, being regularly translating my ideas and reflections into written form. Being on an extended holiday at the moment has provided the space and time I needed to connect and write. To enforce a bit more accountability, I have found in my partner a writing partner. To start off, this looks like #30daysofwriting, which likely means an exercise in quantity, more so than quality but hopefully the latter starts to pick up along the way. For the sake of continuity through the hashtag, once this starts (today) the act will need to happen every day. Failing this, a bit of tough love, we will be able to keep each other accountable.  

In asking myself why I am doing this, I came up with three key reasons: checkpoints, skin and writing. Undoubtedly, a myriad of other reasons exist but these are the main ones that came to mind. The shove to send me over the cliff edge was in the form of two books I have recently read, another activity I am doing a lot on holiday. Some articles by Nassim Nicholas Taleb centring around his book Skin in the Game and Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly (links are at the bottom of this post).

Taleb’s mantra centres around being biased towards action, observing what happens and modelling your world from this, not the other way around. For those not familiar with his work, he is a master of volatility (arguably not just in markets!) and most reknowned for his predictions about the 2008 GFC. Brown’s book also centres around putting yourself out there but the key takeaway for me was leaning into the vulnerability when you notice it. As I am sure has been written by a staggering proportion of people who start blogging, for most of us putting your ideas out there is a painful exercise in vulnerability.

Crash Bandicoot was my first console game. I got it on my PlayStation at age 8. Being the age I was, the second best part of the game was when you broke the box with a ‘C’ on it. This meant that when you fell plumetting to your death or were flattended by a boulder, you would resume your next life from the Checkpoint box rather going all the way back to the start of the level. This reminds me a lot of writing. It has been shown time and time again how unreliable our memories are, contrary to what we might think (or remember), but by articulating ourselves on the page, there is nowhere to hide. What it also means, is we don’t have to go back through our full trail of thought, we can resume from the last checkpoint we reached and push on from there. Mulling things over in our head often takes us on repetitive loops of the same thoughts and we never actually get our way through the whole level. 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb



Brene Brown