Two birds – one stone

L'Art de L'Aquarelle
L’Art de L’Aquarelle

When I went to visit fellow One Hundred Wash artist, Olivia Quintin last year, she introduced me to the joys of L’Art de l’Aquarelle – a magazine which features the work of world-class watercolours. Olivia was one of the interviewed artists in an edition last year.

I was so bowled over by the paintings in the magazine and the inspiration of seeing such high quality work, that I asked for a subscription for Christmas. I was delighted last week when the first of my four editions arrived.  I hadn’t realised that this beautiful publication is also available in English, so I am receiving the French version. But given that I’ve been trying to improve my French to the point where I can hold a conversation with Olivia and Alain when they visit us in August – it’s dictionary-at-the-ready and I’m loving every page, even if it does take a while to read.

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Wisdom – in the UK

When I wrote about the Wisdom project in October last year, the book wasn’t available in the UK.

But on Saturday, I saw it prominently displayed in the Cambridge branch of Borders. I was utterly enthralled. It is as captivating ‘in the paper’ as it I anticipated from watching the trailer on the project website. The only reason I didn’t buy it immediately was because its a substantial book and I had a fair way to walk with an already-full load of parcels.

But I will be getting it. If you’re interested, you can get it in the UK:  Wisdom: 50 Unique and Original Portraits

Wisdom

Yesterday I was sent a link to one of the most compelling projects I’ve ever seen. Wisdom is a collection of interviews and portraits of some of the most respected achievers of our time. There are the obvious candidates: Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger, and other statesmen. There are those from the creative world: Mary Quant, Robert Redford, Dame Judy Dench. And there is the matriarch of the Ndebele tribe in South Africa. And many more.

They all have something in common – a wealth of experience and great thoughts to share with the next generation.

At the moment, the book doesn’t seem to be available in the UK. How frustrating!

On Wellbeing and Being Ill

Green-apple
I was invited to become a Fellow of the RSA a few weeks ago. I looked at their website and decided that the idea was appealing. What I like about the RSA is their focus on improving lives. They do this in many ways, through the arts, education and thoughtful discussion – all of which is the sort of stuff that stimulates thinking and broadens horizons. (End of punt for the RSA)

Yesterday, while sitting in various waiting rooms of Addenbrookes hospital in preparation for being poked, prodded and perforated in the pursuit of health, I paged through the RSA’s journal. It seemed fitting, given where I was, to read the article written by Havi Carel and entitled simply, “Illness.” As both a philosopher and the sufferer of an untreatable lung disease, she is eminently qualified to write about what it is to be ill.

Her article is a powerful reminder of the fact that we don’t know how to deal with the uncomfortable things in life.  And when we’re uncertain about how to deal with things, we tend to do them badly.  Her approach to long term illness is staggeringly healthy. She has developed the ability to see what’s really important and, rather than dwelling on the things she can’t change, looks to those where she can make a positive impact on her own life and those she cares about. How many of us can claim to have that taped?

I decided to look up Havi’s book online and discovered a whole series of books on the Art of Life. One of them is entitled ‘Wellbeing’ by Mark Vernon and judging from the title you would be forgiven for thinking that its subject is the direct opposite of Havi’s book. But not so. According to Mark, wellbeing is fundamentally driven by having a real sense of meaning and purpose. And if you look at the topics covered in each book, “Illness” and “Wellbeing”, or you read the article in the RSA journal, you find a common thread: That in illness you can have wellbeing, and in rude health it is also quite feasible to lack wellbeing.

Perhaps we should reframe our concepts of illness and wellbeing.  Its all in our sense of perspective:



Predictably Irrational

There have been times when I’ve bought a book on the basis of a review or a recommendation, only to find that while the content has been accurately described, the readability factor isn’t quite there.

Not so with Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. You would think that descriptions of experiments examining behavioural economics would be dry and heavy-going. Not so. This book turned out to be a ‘page-turner’.

There’s a very personal story explaining the reason for the author’s interest in the subject which provides insight into the background. But I think the fascination factor is that just about every chapter deals with a subject that we can all relate to:

  • Why we are seduced by the offer of ‘free’, even when we know we’re likely to pay a higher hidden price in the end.
  • Why we are happy to give our time for nothing, but resent the same time investment if it is rewarded with a small amount of money.
  • Why having choice may be a bad thing for decision making.

In every chapter, we see ourselves, our friends and our neighbours. Dan Ariely puts our irrational behaviour under a microscope and shows us its anatomy.  And it was with sheepish amazement that I had to acknowledge that he is absolutely right – our irrational behaviour is utterly predictable.

On the Shoulders of Giants

This unique exhibition has been two years in the making.  It has required the vision, creative spirit, perseverance and talent of Howard Guest to bring it to fruition. The result is the first ever exhibition of photographs displayed at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Its also a view of many facets of the University of Cambridge through the people who make it what it is.

It has been a privilege to watch it emerge over the past couple of years.

Share a little book

I’m utterly hooked on books. I have been known to place two Amazon orders within 24 hours of each other and I have run out of shelf space in my office – the overflow is piling up on the windowsill. My big problem is that there is something so inviting about a new book, I just can’t resist starting it immediately. This means I have varying number of books ‘in progress’ at any time. I’ve come to realise that this isn’t necessarily a problem – its just the way I read.

In his blog yesterday, Seth Godin asked readers of his book, The Dip, to double its readership by lending it to someone else. Since I’ve already done that, I can’t do it just at the moment, although I’m very happy to do so again and again in the future.

Seth’s request reminded me to write about Bookcrossings. Bookcrossings is a web-based system of sharing books and letting people know what books you have available, and where they can find them. The idea of ‘releasing’ a book into the wild for someone else to read is really cool. Its one of the best ideas I’ve heard of in a long time. We like it so much that we set up a Bookcrossing drop point in our shop and its been a great success. Customers come in for a coffee or for lunch, browse, pick up a book and take it home to finish it. Our only problem is that in less than a month, we’ve had to find a second bookshelf. As with Seth’s suggestion of lending The Dip to someone else, our Bookcrossing shelves in the shop don’t make any money – but they add something special and they spread knowledge and pleasure. That has to be a good idea.


I have to remember to stay away from the Bookcrossings shelf in the shop though – can you imagine how high the pile on the windowsill would be? I’ll go and have a browse once I’ve finished all the books I’m reading at the moment – could take a while.

The Right Questions

Ten times a year I give myself the gift of a day of developing my business skills. As part of a fantastically powerful group called Association of Business Leaders (ABL), I have the benefit of being able to focus entirely on my business issues for a day, and share current issues, problems and suggestions with other members.

The impact of this peer coaching is surprisingly powerful given that the members are not professional coaches. What we are tapping into is the shared experiences and perspectives of a group of highly motivated people who understand the pressures of building a business. Although the industries, business sizes and specific expertise of every member is different, the common thread is the willingness to share knowledge, support a fellow member, and help each other grow in capability, and profitability. This is powerful stuff and every one of us is loathe to miss a single day despite our heavy pressures.

Our speaker this morning was Anne Miller, a highly knowledgeable and enormously talented author, inventor and entrepreneur from Cambridge. Anne has recently published her first book, The Myth of the Mousetrap, in which she unravels some of the critical barriers to getting new ideas adopted. For anyone attempting to build an innovative business, Anne’s book is an essential management tool.

It turns out, we learned from Anne today, that its really important, when gathering information to back up a hunch, or provide data as the basis of an important decision – to ask the right questions. So often, we miss some critical nugget of knowledge just because we forget to ask some of the more obvious questions. Anne’s example of NASA’s Challenger disaster is a poignant reminder of at least one instance where this critical step wasn’t included, with devastating results.

Clearly, in most situations, the consequence of asking the wrong questions (or omitting the right questions) isn’t catastrophic. But even in our discussion of business issues during our ABL sessions, effective questions provide greater clarity in the least amount of time.

Consider your teams and your organisation’s culture. Do you encourage lots of questions? Do you focus on asking the right questions to get the whole picture?

Ask yourself those questions.

Spread a little Lovemark

I’ve just finished my first reading of what is, in my view, one of the most engaging business books ever created. I say ‘created’ because this book is the sum of more than one part (writing). Not only is the message compelling and convincing, the design is exciting and the whole package is enticing and absorbing. Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands
Lovemarks was written by Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi who has followed it up with The Lovemarks Effect – now on my ‘books to buy’ list.

My fabulous designer sister gave this book to me for Christmas and I have been diving into it repeatedly ever since then. I say that I’ve just finished my first reading because this is a book that I will re-read. I can see that it will be dipped into repeatedly, and parts of it will be gone over many times to extract more ideas for developing our business.  Discovering the Lovemarks website felt like a fabulous bonus.

Expanding on the ideas of what comes beyond building a brand, Lovemarks incorporate elements of mystery, storytelling and intimacy. Once you’ve read this book, you start to recognise these qualities in the messages created by some of your favourite brands. The Lovemark stories submitted on the site make interesting reading too. Once you’ve read Lovemarks, its quite possible that you’ll never look at brands in quite the same way again. I know I won’t.

A Positively Inspiring Presentation

For once I remembered to check the programme for the Cambridge Science Festival in time to select at least one event to attend. In the past I’ve heard some fascinating talks and taken my children to take part in some excellent hands-on demonstrations at the annual festival. I’m always annoyed with myself in the years when I miss out because I’ve not checked the programme early enough.


This year was an exception. Chris and I went to listen to a lecture by Nick Baylis on Tuesday night. Not only is Nick’s approach to positive psychology refreshingly pragmatic and useful – his style of presenting is relaxed and easy. I left wanting more information so have bought his latest book, Learning from Wonderful Lives, and so far have had to resist the temptation to start dipping into it before I finish the ones I already have on the go.

That’s pretty tough so I’m off to catch up on my reading now…