The format of our latest e-newsletter translates a little weirdly here, but best I can do in a hurry. And some exciting development under way.
The format of our latest e-newsletter translates a little weirdly here, but best I can do in a hurry. And some exciting development under way.
John Perry Barlow, from a great post by John Battelle of NewCo
One of the great privileges and pleasures of my life has been meeting extraordinary people, often in extraordinary places. I learned this morning of the death of Grateful Dead lyricist, who I met in the Bahamas in 2006.
Looking back, I think we were both something of a shock to a rather staid conference of American furniture-makers of German extraction. But we had some wonderful conversations, including one walking along the beach in the teeth of the trade winds. Sand in our teeth.
Here’s what I posted on my blog about those encounters:
Lunch today was on the beach, the tables and chairs sinking into the white sand, and with a fair old trade wind blowing. You had to hold your salad on your plate to stop it ending up in Cuba. Under heavy cloud, and with a man trying to take off on a parasail and bouncing across the stacked chairs and tables, [Elaine and I] found ourselves sitting opposite one of the two main speakers for the afternoon, John Perry Barlow.
Had known of him (http://homes.eff.org/~barlow/) for years, particularly as a lyricist for The Grateful Dead, as a long-time contributor to Wired magazine, which I used to adore, and as co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org/), which campaigns for free speech in cyberspace. But had never met him. Turned out we had a shared interest in comparative religion, among other arcane subjects, and things took off from there.
He was probably a bit of a shock for the audience, though he soon had my brain geysering. One of his early observations was that when he is living in the Chinatown area of New York, one of the bars nearby is home to a large mobster or enforcer type who has a “genius” son. So every time John turns up, the guy brings out his son, and the question the boy asked John about furniture was something along the lines of: “What would chairs look like if our legs bent the other way?”
Like the Indian industrialists I met there a few weeks back, Barlow hates government with a will – as do many folk from where he lives, Wyoming. And the feeling is mutual, as his blog (http://blog.barlowfriendz.net/) underscores, particularly his post-Burning Man experiences last year (http://barlow.typepad.com/barlowfriendz/2004/12/a_taste_of_the_.html).
But when it comes to multinational corporations, he’s a little more conflicted in terms of government’s role. Viewing them as a higher form of human life, but one with an enormous stake in the next two quarters, not in the future, he sees they need regulating and reining in.
One of the issues he talked about – and it had some of the audience shifting in their seats – was intellectual property, a term he described as an oxymoron.
He noted that The Grateful Dead had been early entrants into the open source and content-for-free world, deciding to allow their fans (Deadheads) to record their concerts, which generally produced better music than their recording sessions. The result was a a huge boost in their popularity, although he noted that while they could fill just about any stadium, one reason was that – so loyal were the Deadheads – that the band pretty much trucked a large part of the audience along with them.
Tomorrow’s economy, he predicted, will be more about relationships than property, with value turning out to have an increasingly powerful link back to familiarity – hence the the benefit of the underground market in Grateful Dead concert tapes. Fans then felt they wanted the ‘totemic’ CDs, even if the tapes were generally better.
Extraordinary man – and someone I mean to follow up, not least because if his efforts to ‘wire’ the South. He even got involved in a project to wire Timbuktu, on the basis that – to paraphrase – “if you can wire Timbuktu you can wire anywhere.”
One of his phrases that sticks in my mind – though it’s one I’d heard before – was that a key responsibility for us all is “to be a good ancestor.” That’s the very stuff of sustainability, done right. Later, as we chatted after his session, another delegate came up and the two of them compared their Japanese shoes. So I asked them both to bare their (Japanese) soles, which they did – though sadly I only caught John’s.
As to why we were both there, here’s some background:
Spent much of the morning ambling around Freeport, where we find ourselves at the ‘Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort’ – because that’s where the BIFMA International (www.bifma.org) conference was held and it was easier for me to stay over and write ahead of a trip to Toronto on Tuesday, rather than flying back to London. This afternoon I also spent much of the time reading, inside or in the sun on the beach. One of the books I read was Paul Albury’s The Story of the Bahamas (Macmillan Education 1975), which cast that ‘Our Lucaya’ tag in a very different light. The native Lucayans – who were, by all accounts, an attractive, healthy, welcoming people – were pretty much wiped out by the incoming Spaniards, who used them for slaves. Eventually the Spaniards turned to African slaves, arguing that they were worth 4 or 5 Lucayans, but by then an entire race was extinct.
When the Spaniards first arrived in Haiti, which is where the Lucayans are thought to have originated from, there were perhaps 300,000 Tainos. Sixteen years later, only 16,000 were still living. By 1550, there were thought to be less than 500. Today there are none. Believing that the Spaniards were from another world, many Lucayans were easily lured aboard the slaving ships with promises that they would see their relatives in heaven.
The book is also a rich mine of interesting stories about piracy, wrecking and the sponge industry. The best known pirate was probably the infamous Edward Teach, or ‘Blackbeard’, though the region was also home to women pirates who managed to grab their fair share of notoriety – among them Anne Bonney and Mary Read. Another period of the area’s history I remember reading about in the early 1960s was the blockade-running ventures of the US Civil War and the rum-running of the Prohibiton era. Indeed, as we flew in from Nassau, it was hard not to see many of our co-passengers as today’s equivalents of rum-runners. A sense of concealed menace, of dark undercurrents running beneath the brightly lit, cocooned world of the tourist.
Because Elaine’s father was raised in Barbados, we have long taken an interest in this part of the world. And sponges were another link, featuring heavily, soggily in the bathscapes of our early years. Like many other industries on these islands, the spongers had periods of fantastic profitability, but then overtaxed their natural resource – and, though they later learned to farm sponges to some degree, industrially made alternatives were soon ousting the natural products. I was always fascinated that the sponges we used as children were once living animals. Among the types of sponge traded from the Bahamas, apparently, were the wool, velvet, reef, hardhead, yellow and grass varieties. The names conjure up one of many worlds that once existed here – and which have been largely forgotten in the rush to quarry the latest resource, tourism.
As we walked around Freeport, we saw evidence of a more recent industry, big game – or deep sea – fishing. Many of the boats moored in the harbour were obviously designed to go after fish like the marlin, increasingly endangered, and it was hard not to see them as killing machines in the process of doing themselves – and their owners – out of a future. Their fishing chairs (photos below), from which the wealthy catch big fish with the aid of technology that would have been unimaginable for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, reminded me of electric chairs. But maybe that was just wishful thinking?
Elaine and local flora
Reflection of moorings
High tech sharks
Fishing chair 1
Fishing chair 2
Volans has been working for several years on how breakthrough innovation can help shape tomorrow’s capitalism. In 2016, on a mission to explore how exponential mindsets, technologies and business models can bridge the gap between what we are doing today and what we will need to have done by 2030 to meet the UN Global Goals, we visited the meccas of moonshot thinking in California.
In Los Angeles, we met with the XPRIZE Foundation, while in San Francisco and Mountain View we dropped in on Google’s ‘X’ facility and Singularity University. Shortly afterwards, we were thrilled when XPRIZE Foundation Chief Scientist Paul Bunje agreed to join our Board.
As we have worked to distil what we have discovered in co-evolving our Project Breakthrough initiative with the UN Global Compact, working closely with the fabulous team at Atlas of the Future, we have begun to synthesize our insights from numerous filmed interviews into a series of video shorts.
The first of our ‘medley’ short films has posted on the Fast Company Ideas site today. It’s about some of the things we have learned to date about Breakthrough Mindsets – and features the CEOs of companies like Covestro, Enel and Grant Thornton, leading sustainability champions from Interface and Patagonia, exponential entrepreneurs from Hampton Creek/Just, Planet, Provenance and TransferWise, and thought leaders from MIT, Project Drawdown and the XPRIZE Foundation.
We will be following up with a second piece on breakthrough business – and a third on our rapidly evolving Carbon Productivity work. We also covered elements of the story in a recent piece in Harvard Business Review.
Any comments on any of this VERY welcome.
The other day, Oil Barrett asked me who I would still like to meet. Alongside the odd oddity, like Crazy Horse, I mentioned Sylvia Earle. Then, today, Singularity University tweeted a link to this interview. Charming and, well, hopeful. But the scale of what faces us is, well, off the scale.
Inspired by a visit to the British Museum’s ‘The Scythians’ exhibition, before it closed, here’s a brief reflection of what symbolic offerings we should bury with the executives of fossil fuels companies and industries currently hard at work destabilising our climate.
2018, once again, has taken off like a rocket, albeit with less overseas travel so far than the peak periods last year. A big achievement this past week was the successful delivery of our Healthy Ageing event in Newcastle, part of our 3-cities program with Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network.
Great people and some great discussions, including a panel session I chaired with speakers from the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, Newcastle City Council and Innovate UK. Sadly, Louise (Kjellerup Roper) was struck down by flu, so couldn’t make it. I have been on the edges of something for many weeks, but walked across to the Fleet Street Clinic a week or so ago to get a jab that is apparently better than the one they have been using recently in the NHS. Fingers crossed.
Otherwise, we’re working on the Volans strategy and on the future of our Breakthrough and Carbon Productivity streams of work. And am reading a good deal, with current books on the go including: What Is Populism, by Jan-Werner Müller; White King by Leanda de Lisle, the story of Charles I, the “traitor, murderer and martyr” who is a prominent feature in the family tree; and the sci-fi novel Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch, which I’m enjoying tremendously.
Delighted to see HBR posting my latest column today, but suspect its publication may have been accelerated by the “bomb cyclone” that has hit North America in recent days. Sadly, I suspect we will be hearing a good deal more about explosive cyclogenesis. Another way in which the climate agenda is beginning to bite on ordinary people and lives.
Very sorry to hear in recent days of the death of Jean-Pierre Lehmann, who I knew for at least 20 years. He was a wonderfully engaged and creative member of SustainAbility’s Faculty back in the day – and, reciprocally, I was a (somewhat dilatory) member of his Evian Group. In some ways, he wasn’t a “real” academic, not having an MBA, but perhaps that was another reason why I liked him so much – and why we will all miss him so. Made me wish I had studied Political Economy.
With final trips to Basel (for Novartis) and Paris (EcoVadis, including a dinner at Chez Fred, old haunt of author Georges Simenon, whose corner EcoVadis co-founder Fred Trinel sat in), an end-of-year session with David Grayson and his Cranfield U MBA and PhD students, a new Executive Director at Volans (Louise Kjellerup Roper, who also came to Basel, where we stayed in the intriguing Gaia Hotel, motto: ‘Come as a Guest – Leave as a Friend’), a team lunch at Nopi, a trip to see the family in Little Rissington on Tim’s 97th birthday), extraordinary news from Hania, and accelerated work on multiple fronts, including the next phase of our Carbon Productivity program, 2017 finally came to an end with a couple of weeks’ holiday ahead of 2018.
Confess I have slept for England in the days since. And listened to the rain falling and the foxes barking. And played with ideas for a new book, with the Triple Bottom Line resurgent in the world and our work. And read endless predictions for the New Year. And watched more of the stunning series The Crown on Netflix. And read through a mini-Alp of books, including Anthony McCarten’s brilliant Darkest Hour on Churchill’s May 1940 and one of several scientists-fi books in bought in Foyle’s after a glorious lunch at Imperial China with Gaia, Hania, Jake and Paul, Peter Watts’ Brightsight.
And mentally prepared myself for a 2018 that feels likely to be unusually significant, though I can’t yet exactly put my finger on the reasons why.
I began this blog with an entry reporting on a visit to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, on 30 September 2003. The blog element of the website has gone through several iterations since, with older material still available on this site.
Like so many things in my life, blog entries blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. As explained on the Home Page, the website and the blog are part platform for ongoing projects, part autobiography, and part accountability mechanism.
In this new iteration of the site, the ‘Comments’ function has been reanimated. Please do make use of it.