Category Archives: words

Back to the beginning

I’ve spent some time this afternoon working out where some of my earliest stuff on the web is.  It’s easy to forget now what it was like, at the turn of the century, to get a web site up and write stuff to it.

The Wayback Machine is a great help, but the archiving runs out for me around the middle of 2002.  My profile says I joined that service in February of that year, but the first actual blogpost I can find is from Wednesday, April 23, 2003 .  I kinda remember that there were other posts on that blog – I remember signing up for Blogger in the internet cafe that used to be by Victoria Station (was it easyinternet?).  There’s a whole post to be written about why I called it “Living Dangerously” and there’s no reference to my name beyond my initials.  And I started writing and then deleted everything a few times before that April 2003 post.  There might have been more live at that time, but that’s the earliest one that was crawled.

Before that I seem to have tried out using ntlworld’s homepages as early as August 2002 (that’s who we had broadband from) but there’s nothing there except “My site is being overhauled”.

I must look up when I registered – the earliest crawl is May 2002 and that points to pages that were on which provided free webspace.  Even though I had a permanent job at this point with pension and everything, I didn’t like the idea of paying for hosting!

In the period before this, from 1996, I didn’t feel able, as a public servant, to be running my own website and I think my contributions might be limited to things on mailing lists.

Until 1996 I did have a homepage on the University of Surrey Maths & Computing Sciences web-server, but I haven’t been able to retrieve anything from there yet.


Something to fall back on

When I was in the Sixth Form and applying for drama degrees, my headmaster invited me in for a chat one day.  He very much wanted to impress on me the folly of relying on the arts for a career.  Little did he know at the time that I was doing so little work on my A-levels that I wouldn’t have the grades to meet the offers I’d already got, let alone anything more academically stringent.

He felt (it was it first year there, he didn’t know me very well) I should have “something to fall back on”, do some acting while studying by all means, but do my degree in Modern Languages or Classics and then I’d have “another string to your bow”.  As you can tell, he wasn’t a very creative man himself, having used the two top clichés for headmasters wanting to discourage young artists.  I thought he was wrong then and I think he is now.  Having something to fall back on is a great strategy, but the something you fall back on needs to be something that won’t make you want to kill yourself!

I was thinking about this because I’ve recently been working on rebooting my facilitation practice.  I’ve had a lazy old time this year, I’ve done some nice work on unconferences for Mattereum and the OU and I organised my own SteemCampUK in April but this year I’ve mostly been writing (cough or thinking about writing) and getting a feel for the vibe in Guildford.  I realised that the way I think about my facilitation practice has been as a way of doing social art and as such it has tended to be at the edge and that tends to mean (I don’t think this is right by the way, but it’s how it is) Open Space with people who are pushing their own thinking to the edges.

And there’s just not enough of that to keep me stimulated.  I haven’t been turning down “ordinary” meeting work, but I’ve cultivated the stuff that’s more edgy.  And since I let go of Tuttle, that’s cut me off from all but a few (lovely, but few) people.  So some more structured, pre-planned, easier to sell to higher-ups, possibly with an explicit preferred outcome (!) is what I’m limbering up to fall back on (does that work?)

That means I’m looking at how I can get back to helping more people with more ordinary, everyday tasks of getting stuff done together.  Just being helpful again, not pushing people to their limits, but holding space for them to move forward in whatever it is that they’re trying to do.  That’s what I do well.  Give me a shout if I can help you.

One way to get people in


It’s the time of year that without cultural cues like sweet sticky chocolately smells or repetitive music from (mostly) happy times in our childhood, we’d stay at home.  But that would be derelicting our civic duty to shop and engage with our favourite brands downtown!

So someone hires the chocolate peanut man and pays the PRS for tunes and erects a great massive lit-up billboard to help spread the word about the SHINY LIGHTS that will now be twinkling above Guildford High Street until well after Santa’ been.  Bring the people out of their caves.  Lure them with lights and music and chocolate, because the machine needs to be fed!

It’s an important part of following the money – who pays for the lights?  Who pays for the publicity around the lights?  Why is it so important for people to keep shopping? What would happen if they didn’t?  What is the payoff to retailers of having an intense commercial season like this?  What are the costs to people?  What are the costs to the environment?   Why the appeal to charity?  Some of these questions are easy to answer, some of them are a bit more meaty.  All of them lead to further questions.

keep building the web

Look, it’s only been twenty-five years we’ve had this thing, it takes time to understand how it works over longer time periods.

I know that for some people the web is over, blogs are over, because FB is where everyone’s talking. And I do know a lot of people who seem to spend a lot of time posting stuff there. And every now and then I’m one of those people, but even if it’s a walled garden bit of the web, a machine that tries desperately to convince you that there’s nothing better than feeding the innocent little machine, it’s still part of the web and it relies on there being a web. OK that’s not a good reason to keep building the web, but that’s what blogging’s like, you start off making one argument and find you’re mildly contradicting yourself by the end of the second paragraph.

I feel the pull of FB, the desire for company and recognition and the admiration of my peers, the opportunity to make a fool of myself and make fun of some of the things that I take too seriously, the connection with members of my family and old old friends whom I couldn’t bear to talk to on the phone this often, but whose clunky little copypasta warms my heart a little, because it shows they care.

Resistance to the machine means building the web, the organic, flexible, super-linky web. It doesn’t have to be full-on indieweb but I think that hypertext is what I’m missing most.  It’s the links that matter, that’s why it’s really anti the FB experience to have more than one link per post. The links send people away and as a wise old creator of RSS once said “People come back to places that send them away.”

So for now I’m going to try practicing something new.  Every time I feel like sticking something on FB or even Twitter, I will try to put that something here instead.  Except when I forget – I’m still not perfect but I intend to keep adding value to this network.

How do you add value to a network?  You build new nodes and create links between existing nodes.  A link on my blog is a node and a link to another, that’s how the web survives.

Here’s a little example that predates my new resolution by a matter of minutes:

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 10.43.43

Or as we say around here in slimmed-down, minimalist hypertext land:

It’s been bloody ages!


Humanising the High Street


I’m thinking about this a lot.

When we moved to Guildford eighteen months ago, I would find myself gobsmacked at the zombie-ness of the Saturday shoppers – wandering the town centre looking for something, anything to fill the hole in the soul. Bloody Surrey! Bloody boomers with their early retirement and 10x property value increases.

Over time I’ve come to see it differently. It’s not the people’s fault, it’s never the people’s fault. The High Street is a machine. Of course it’s not actually a machine but it’s the “shop window” if you like for the machine, for capitalism-as-usual. And we’ve come to treat the machine as all-knowing and all-powerful as if it were the only way to be.

Douglas Rushkoff calls it “the unchallenged, underlying operating system” for our economy. It’s unchallenged because for most people it’s the only way they can imagine to organise society. Well we just have to feed the machines because they give us so much prosperity and Christmas decorations in September. I really recommend Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast by the way, it’s reflected and amplified a lot of my thinking about this stuff since I ran #workshop34 in Sittingbourne and got a feel for just how embedded machine thinking is in the High Street, a place where we really should be connecting with each other as people, if we’re going to do it anywhere.

So I’m now looking at how to shift my thinking about our town further and find useful things to do here. And I think it’s worth first digging into how this operating system works, for real, here and now. Analyse the machine in order to be able to subvert it, hack it, make it work better for us, without them sending the terminators out to get us.

The first thing is that so much is hidden – how do all these shops stay open despite the fact that they don’t seem to sell all that much and they have massive rents and business rates to pay – what gives? And what humanising hacks exist already? I suppose busking is one of them, creating a human experience on the side of the street, in front of an empty shop, without swearing fealty to the man. But interesting then how that’s becoming mechanised, a recognised part of the young musician’s apprenticeship, a way to get instagram followers and sell more stuff online.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. If you want me, I’ll be outside Burger King, staring in to space and thinking deep thoughts.

Wake Up!


This is a bit of a filler to say that I’m intending to be writing here again more. I’ve been blogging over on Steemit the blockchain-based blogging platform where you get paid in cryptocurrency for writing, commenting and curating and I’ll still be over there, but because of the market-like nature of it, it doesn’t feel like the space to be doing free-form, rapid-fire blogging like nobody’s reading, at least not all day every day. I’m going to use this place to get my thinking going about a few things which will probably feed into Steemit and perhaps Medium too when they’re a bit more polished.

So yeah, this is just a heads-up and halloo to anyone still subscribed via, e-mail or good ol’ RSS letting you know to run for the hills now (or just unsubscribe) if you aren’t interested in a daily-ish ping from me in this form.

Election Daze: Help Us Find Venues

The process for setting up events is a bit chicken and egg so you have to start somewhere.

We only have six and a bit weeks so it will have to work pragmatically rather than most efficiently or elegantly.  The main criterion is “Are You Outside London?”  If you are and you’d like us to do an event in your town, can you secure use of a suitable venue (see below) on a specific date between 2nd May and 6th June?  If you can, let’s book it in and build the rest of the programme around it like that.  There are places I’d love to get to but I will commit first to those that we can make work quickly, easily and cheaply.

The spec for a space is:

  • room for ~100 people with enough chairs for everyone to sit down (think at least a large church hall but also community centres, theatres, coworking spaces etc.);
  • a couple of tables;
  • walls we can stick paper to (agenda; flipcharts; notices etc);
  • WIFI (this is *really* important);
  • easy tea/coffee/water;
  • accessible for people with disabilities;
  • near good public transport;
  • free of charge or very cheap.

I would strongly prefer to do a full day from 10am-5.30pm but am open to shorter evening sessions if that’s all we can do or that’s most appropriate for local people especially if I can do other stuff locally during the day.

And do you have somewhere I can stay overnight either before or after?

Get in touch even if you can only fill part of these requirements.  Thank you!


Opening Space To Talk Power & Politics Before the General Election

Open space gorgeousness #DDiii

TL;DR – I’m going to open as much space as I can, all around the UK, before the General Election to talk about power and politics and us at a much deeper and more practical level than is available online.  There’s a Loomio Group Facebook Group to join if you want to help make it happen but there will be other ways of getting involved emerging quickly.  As usual, this won’t be for everybody, but it should be for anybody who wants it.

Whether we like it or not, we are going to have another national vote on who should be in charge of whatever we want to do next as a country. It will be on the 8th June, which is soon, it’s fifty days time. Fifty days ago was February 28th – do you remember Pancake Day this year? That was fifty days ago today, that’s how long we’ve got.

Yesterday it became clear to me that this was the time to do a thing I’ve had on the back burner for some time. Ever since the surprises of the 2015 general election and even more so after last year’s referendum result, I’ve been thinking about how to get people together for a better sort of political conversation.

My Facebook feed yesterday was full of extremes – glee and despair, hatred and derision of each of the major party leaders. Lots of people saying “This is the only sensible way to vote” and “This is what I’m going to do and I expect you to do so too”. I saw calls for reasonable, collegiate debate (by smug, privileged bastards!) and calls to erect the barricades (by loonies!).

How did it get like this? My simplistic answer is that it’s only really like this when we talk to each other online and face to face we have a different experience – it’s less comfortable, sometimes more confronting and it’s not straightforward to just turn the other person off in the way that you might close down a Facebook tab in your browser, but it actually moves things on somewhat.

I’ve been really reviving my Open Space Technology practice over the last couple of years. It’s the sort of minimal organisation for productive, creative conversations that makes most sense to me. It is a very different experience from other face-to-face gatherings let alone any online argument or the sort of analysis you see in mainstream media. And, of highest importance, it is a form that gives power back to participants to decide what they want to talk about and work on – pretty much every other kind of political event has an agenda set by a party or is about a niche subject or has an angle and there are people in charge and people who mostly sit and listen. That’s not the sort of conversation I want to have either. So this is what I want to spend my time doing for the next seven weeks:

  • Organise and facilitate as many day-long Open Spaces as I can up to Wednesday June 7th.
  • The long form title I’ve got so far is “Having said all that, what are we going to do about the place that we find ourselves in today?” – to break it down:
    • Having said all that – by which I mean all the things that have been said again and again on Facebook, Twitter and social media and regurgitated in mainstream media. So, putting all that aside…
    • What are we going to do about [this] place – I want to do these in large cities all around the UK and I want to root the conversation in a local-ish context – So what are we going to do about Birmingham or Aberdeen or Plymouth or Brighton?
    • [This] Place that we find ourselves in today – So not only is this the physical place but it’s also the political, economic, social or technological place and, even more subtly, it’s the place we find ourselves in metaphorically, we find ourselves by looking at our environment – how do you find yourself, what to you see of yourself reflected in the environment of York or Belfast?
    • So that’s quite rich, I think. A wide and deep field in which to ponder power and how we might change the way power is used and distributed in our society.
    • Or we might just go for “Oh yeah Politics – WTF, right?!?!?”
  • In private conversations I’ve had about this so far, the most audacious target has been thirty events. I think that might be the end of me if I did every one, but it’s a nice juicy target isn’t it?
  • I’m aiming for gatherings of around 100 people (though more if we can get large enough venues – and free/cheap ones at that)
  • I’d like to be able to pay myself for full-time work on this – a minimum of London Living Wage.
  • I’d like to be able to pay others to help, probably 1 full-time equivalent, not necessarily one person perhaps one person per location or whatever.
  • The other main expense will be travel (by train wherever possible) – let’s have fun tweaking the timetable to minimise these costs!
  • I will be looking for accommodation when needed with local friendly folks wherever possible (it’s always possible)
  • We should raise money for this and other costs through a mix of sponsorship, crowdfunding and donations on the door. If there’s a surplus at the end we’ll have a democratic way of deciding what to do with it.
  • There should be an easy to use blog/CMS for people to write reports of their sessions.
  • And the whole process should be specced simply but tightly enough for others to be able to pick up the format and do it locally if I can’t get to where they are or need to work on a smaller scale.

I need your help with organising: crafting an invitation; working out a timetable; sourcing free venues; getting sponsors; thinking about the money and other logistics. I’m giving myself a few days to work on things before doing the first event before the Bank Holiday on May Day (yes, the next couple of weeks).

Although comments here are welcome, there’s a Facebook Group to join, come and join in, please and thankyou.

Working quickly and alone for now so please forgive (but alert me to) any clumsiness, excessive vagueness or gross mistakes, thankyou.

Writing Exercise… and cars!

#blogclub writing warm up

I ran Blog Club in London today with an exercise from the most awesome Lynda Barry. If you want to play too, here’s her blog post with instructions and words from the fine woman herself. I’ve done it with groups a few times and it’s really good warm up for getting into the writing space and, in my experience, getting you back into your body, memory, imagination rather than the dry analytic space I often find myself in when sitting down to blog.

Now I found myself with the word “car”. Despite never having owned a car myself, never having taken a driving test, but getting the basics bashed into me at the age of 17 and then settling for passengerhood for the next 35 years, I still have lots of stories about cars and driving in me.

The time my father brought home a new “jelly-mould” Ford Sierra; then my mother learning to drive in her little purple Mini; the time I first sat in the driving seat for real and set off with my first horrible driving instructor; the boot of our old Vauxhall that used to fly open randomly; the time I was waiting for a lift by the side of the M5 after drinking two bottles of Martini the night before and throwing up behind the crash barrier; me getting another driving lesson after I’d moved to London, the horrors of the Chelsea Embankment and the terror of crossing Albert Bridge; the time when we were driving through the Lickeys and a stone flew up and shattered the windscreen; the time the steering went on the Volvo and my first wife managed to get us over onto the hard shoulder safely; the time she wrote off the lovely Renault 16; my son at the age of five or so, in the back of the car, waking up after a long drive to see my mother and, when her face appeared at the window he shouted “Fucking Hell! It’s Granny!”

I didn’t get to write any of these today but they’re all incredibly rich and it’s astonishing that they’re all in me, just a few moments away from a random word drawn out of a bag.

Collaboration – the why redux

barcamplondon3 007.jpg

If “collaboration” is the answer, what’s the question?

For most people it’s “How do we get things done that are too big for one person alone”. OK but that sounds like any sort of organisation. I think for businesses and larger organisations it’s more like “How do we increase the productivity of ‘knowledge workers’?”

Drucker pointed out in 1999 the requirements for improving knowledge-based productivity are “almost the exact opposite of what is needed to increase the productivity of the manual worker.” and yet we continue to think that this kind of work can be managed and improved in the same ways: look at the task and analyse it into constituent “motions” then apply some logic to the way these motions are carried out and the tools used to perform them. By doing so you can increase the amount of product you output for the labour and materials that you input.

It’s been obvious for a long time that this doesn’t quite work when your job is writing copy for a website or managing a complex investment portfolio or the overall task is “customer service” but we keep plugging away with the only tool we know, only slowly feeling more and more frustrated that we can’t do things better.

It’s not as black and white as this, but I think it’s important to recognise that we’re still in the early days of experimentation with what really works.

Drucker’s thinking on this boils down to the ideas that we need to ask “What is the task?” – it’s not a given; that workers need autonomy to manage themselves; that continuous innovation is imperative and is also the responsibility of workers themselves; the requirement for continuous learning and teaching; and moving to see that quality of output is at least as important as quantity in any talk of productivity.

This autonomy and responsibility for self-management, innovation and learning activities is also not something that we can do in isolation without the help of others. That’s where collaboration comes in.

Open Space Technology and unconferences create a temporary shared space where important questions about productivity can be explored, such as:

What do we need to do next?
How can we do it better?
What is getting in the way and how could we eliminate that?
What can I teach others?
What do I need to learn to be better at my job?
How can we as a team improve the quality of our work?
What cool stuff do you do “outside work” that could shine light on our shared work?

The process of tackling these questions together is well-tested in the space between organisations where there is some common goal: the barcamp (a better web), all flavours of GovCamp (better government) and Devoted & Disgruntled (better theatre).

Talk at Tuttle has turned of late to how to do this within large organisations, for teams or divisions who have a large enough group to merit paying for help with talking this stuff through.