An impromptu response session for a Brazilian business magazine: they used the images (photo: Paulo Varella)
This is the latest round of an experiment that began more or less with the new century. Indeed, this is now version 3.0 of a website that has routinely scrambled the personal and professional, a scrambling that has been the very essence of my life.
For details of my latest book, The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with Tomorrow’s Bottom Line, co-authored with Jochen Zeitz, please take a look here.
For the story in brief, my latest CV/bio can be found on the Volans website, here. For further details on our offerings, please take a look here, and for the sort of work we are doing take a look here.
Then there’s the slightly longer version. Speaking at a 2degrees Network lunch event in April 2014, I had to introduce myself after folk from the House of Lords, business and the financial community had already spoken, citing long lists of roles and honours. I began by saying that, unlike them, I am still trying to work out what it is that I want to be when I grow up.
There was laughter around the table, but my point was semi-serious. My life has been very much a work-in-progress, with one unexpected turn in the trail leading to another. Which is why I suggested that one of the founding values for Volans should be “serendipity”. And that process of creating one’s own luck has played through powerfully in relation to each of the roles I have played over the years, among them those of Advisor, Advocate, Author, Babelfish, Director, Editor, Journalist, Professor and Speaker.
Turning 65 as we enter the Breakthrough Decade
2014 marks my 65th year and four decades to date of professional effort, since I left UCL in 1974 with a freshly minted postgraduate degree. Yet I genuinely feel that the best decade—the decade where the movements of which I am part can have the greatest impact—lies ahead.
Running from 2015 to 2025, we think of it as the Breakthrough Decade (see below).
Of them all, though, Kuhn probably had the biggest impact on my thinking. Since I read his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in my early teens, I have been a firm believer in his notion of paradigm shifts. Or, more specifically, in the notion that there is a cycle through which a new order emerges via the retirement and death of a couple of generations of people ‘infected’ with the old paradigm, coupled with the rise of new generations who are co-evolving with the new paradigm.
Discussion of one current and ongoing paradigm shift and our linked waves analysis (see pages 28-29 in our 2013 Breakthrough report) can be found elsewhere. For me, though, the person who has done most to catalyse the emerging paradigm through the four societal pressure waves since 1960 has been James (aka Jim) Lovelock, whose first New Scientist cover story on his Gaia Hypothesis was published on 6 February 1975. I still have the copy of that issue which I bought at the time.
So, it has been an immense privilege to work with John Gilbert (founder of the Friends of the Lovelock Archive) to help spotlight Jim’s work. And what a joy when that wonderful, kindly 94-year-old name-checked us both in his speech at the opening of the Science Museum’s Unlocking Lovelock exhibition on 8 April 2014.
I blame eels
But there is a sense in which my story began long before Gaia. Indeed, the first moment when I can recall awakening to the natural world was in a field on a dark moonless night in Northern Ireland in the 1950s, while walking home alone through an area of disused flax ponds, and finding myself surrounded by thousands of baby eels, or elvers.
I told this story in the New York Times in 2012.
A portrait by Paolo Peligrini of Magnum, for a book they were doing, with the seahorse banner I bought many moons ago at an end-of-year show at the Royal College of Art. I wish I could find the artist to thank her.
Then came Cyprus in the late 1950s, with further wildlife encounters. But things really began to get serious in 1961, when I found myself raising money from the other boys at prep school, Glencot, for the fledgling World Wildlife Fund. For many years, I couldn’t recall why that had happened—but then, much later, I would meet two of WWF’s founders, Max Nicholson (with whom I co-founded ENDS) and Sir Peter Scott who, among other things, was one of the judging panel that awarded me a Winston Churchill travelling fellowship in 1981.
Max recalled that WWF had attracted front page coverage in one of the leading newspapers in 1961—and as soon as he said that I remembered going into the school library, reading what must have that very edition of the newspaper, and some sort of circuit was formed. (During 2011, I would take part in a number of celebrations of WWF’s 50th anniversary, in large part because of my role as a member of the WWF UK Council of Ambassadors.)
But something in me has always pushed toward the edge—and it was with the launch of groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace in the early 1970s that I felt properly part of a movement. Partly as a result, I was inspired in 1972 to go to UCL’s School of Environmental Studies (now the Bartlett School) as a stepping stone into the environmental mainstream.
As a result, I was already working with John Roberts in 1974 at TEST, in Covent Garden, when Lovelock’s New Scientist article appeared—and, as indicated by the fact that our first daughter would be named Gaia in 1977, that article had a pretty profound impact.
Later in 1975, as luck would have it, I too started to write for New Scientist, producing a series of feature articles for the then Editor, Bernard Dixon. Initially, these looked at how ecological thinking was beginning to permeate government (in places as disparate as Egypt and the UK), but later I began to focus on companies, among them BP, British Gas and English China Clays.
In ENDS, a new beginning
And from that came Max Nicholson’s invitation in 1978 to join him and David Layton (of Incomes Data Services) in setting up Environmental Data Services (ENDS). The aim: to wake up the business world to the environmental agenda. From that point on I had a much better sense of my life’s purpose and focus, but—once again—I had little idea as to just where the path would take me.
One tag that Tomorrow magazine once applied to me was Babel fish, an organism conjured up by the late Douglas Adams. His definition ran as follows: “The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.”
I think that sums me up nicely.
An artist’s impression from Wikispaces