Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A goal effectively achieved is the culmination of a journey fully experienced

"When I was small, I was told a story about a garden of treasure with a secret entrance. Everyone searched and searched for this garden until, after a very long time, the door finally opened itself and there was no treasure. In the end, maybe the purpose of the search is the search itself, through which we learn about composing." 

The composer Bright Sheng, from "The Muse that Sings" by Ann McCutchen

The above quotation contains an important truth about the creative process: many insights and other things of value are stumbled upon as we pursue our goals rather than when we attain them.

Many of us, however, can be so goal focused, so focused upon finding our very own garden of treasure, holy grail, magic bullet, theory of everything, money making opportunity, whatever we choose to call it, that we treat the things we stumble upon as inconvenient and sometimes painful obstacles along our path (rather than welcoming them as potentially valuable sources of unexpected knowledge and insight).

We would not voluntarily wear blinkers as we take a walk through the countryside to our favourite pub or café; we would miss the sights along the way and any stumbling would certainly tend to be painful rather than enlightening. But when we are at work we readily allow ourselves to become blinkered: our focus quickly narrowing towards the achievement of organisational goals, sometimes at the expense of pretty much everything else.

We often assume that the most efficient, cleanest and uncluttered path towards our targets is also the most effective. We are then surprised when, having so efficiently achieved our goals, our blinkers fall away and we see the upset caused to our surroundings, others and ourselves by our single-minded directness. We also, belatedly, comprehend the actual significance of our achievements which, when viewed within their true landscape, diminish and perhaps even disappear; having entered our secret garden we find little or no treasure.  

The journey towards and achievement of our goals can be damaging. This is especially the case when our goals are associated with financial rewards or performance assessments: think about the damage caused by the bonus culture within the financial sector, where huge individual performance bonuses encouraged high risk investments; consider the perverse incentives created by target-setting in the UK health service, which led to patients being placed in corridors or kept in ambulances to achieve waiting time targets set for A&E; reflect upon the obsessive compulsive preoccupation with maximising sales, again within the finance industry, which led to the widespread miss-selling of payment protection insurance.   

So, to be creative and innovative in the achievement of your goals, and to ensure their relevance, usefulness and benevolence, keep them in your mind but not always to the very front of it. Do not allow them, and the rewards and incentives associated with them, to pull you by the nose and stop you looking up, down and from side to side, and if you stumble, look mindfully at what caused you to stumble rather than absent-mindedly kicking it aside. You will then pick up glistening handfuls of unexpected insights shot through with multifaceted learning that will help you journey towards your goals: goals that can only be effectively achieved when perceived as the sum of the parts and the culminations of journeys fully experienced. 

You may also find that the insights, wisdom and experience you gain along the way enable you to travel past your goal and achieve much more than you originally thought possible.       

Develop the habits of:

Welcoming and exploring surprises, apparent wrong turns and unexpected paths that open up before you. Ask what insights you can gain from them.

Looking for ways to link unexpected insights with the goal you have in mind.

Being open to the possibility that unexpected insights, wrong turns and the occasional stumble may help you transform your goal into something even more useful than originally conceived.

Taking time to stop and reflect upon where you have been, where you are and where you are going.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Explore and experience your ideas in 3D and maximise their chances of success

"I realized that for me, a piece has to make sense in many different ways at once. I want it to flow sensuously, intellectually, emotionally."

Lois V. Vierk 
From 'The Muse that Sings', by Ann McCutchan.

The above quotation from the composer Lois V. Vierk emphasises a simple but much overlooked truth: useful, effective and truly attractive ideas must not only exist intellectually within our heads (and look good upon computer screens) but also live within our lives and feel good physically and emotionally.

The logical design of the London Millennium Footbridge looked good upon the computer screen but when tested by the reality of large numbers of pedestrians walking - and swaying - across it in unison, it provided an experience which felt physically and emotionally bad. (The bridge was closed for nearly two years whilst it underwent expensive modifications to reduce its side-to-side sway. Londoners still call it the 'Wobbly Bridge'!)

Give your ideas the best start in life by developing and testing them in three dimensions: the physical, the logical, the emotional.

Ask the following simple questions:
  1. Can you create a physical model of your idea that people can experience and interact with? Can you make your idea tangible to others? Can you gain a sense of its look and feel within people's lives?
  2. Can you describe your idea logically? Can you clearly articulate its rationale, its reason for being? Can you list its strengths and weaknesses and how the former can be maximised and the latter minimised?
  3. What are people's gut reactions to your idea? What do people love or hate about your idea? How can you help people love your idea more? How can you help people hate your idea less?
Explore and experience your ideas in 3D and maximise their chances of success.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

National Youth Orchestra of Iraq: the adventure continues in the USA!

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, the creation of which is an inspirational story, is shortly to tour the USA.

Click on the following link to find out more about the orchestra and how you can get involved:


To find out more about the orchestra's conductor and the story he tells about its creation click here: