TEDx – Behind the Schemes

My TEDx is done…

Perhaps short for ‘Tom’s Exhausting Diary’, or ‘Tom’s Extreme Dichotomy’, the latter encapsulating the hypocrisy felt giving a talk on simplicity whilst living an entirely complex life during the process.

Plus ca change.

Hopefully my outfit and, of course, the talk itself will help further explain how I feel and what I learned from the process…  this photo was taken a few buttock clenching seconds before going on stage. I look calm. I am not. That’s a pretty normal state of affairs for me. Many people have commented on how generally chilled out I appear to be…

Don’t be fooled. The last month or two have seen many sleepless nights. If I look younger than I am, my picture in the attic is heavily wrinkled.

IMG_3651
A wise person I met a few weeks ago told me he never really understands something properly until he’s written about it. Too true. There’s a catharsis and comprehension that comes from taking the time to reflect on significant events, hence this post.

This talk couldn’t have come at a worse time for me – I was forced to write my ‘talk proposal’ during the only holiday I’d found time for this year. Spending precious moments on Vancouver Island holed up in cafes on my laptop rather than enjoying the place and time with my traveling companion.

I accepted the opportunity to do a TEDx for a few reasons. Firstly, I knew that like writing, it would force me to consolidate my thoughts. I’ve now been blogging for years and yet still am unsure as to where I’ve got to. I knew the TEDx would force me to crystallise some of these down to 12 minutes or 1500 words… to focus. Secondly, I’m terrified of public speaking, so this was a huge personal challenge, one that had sat on my bucket list for a few years. Why we put ridiculous, uncomfortable challenges on our bucket lists is also something I deal with in the talk – but I can summarise neatly in 4.5 words here – because we’re dumb.

Then, just in case I wasn’t cramming more shiny goals in to my magpie like mouth, I offered to live in a tent in rural Somerset for a month prior to the talk, as well as doing another talk at Bristol University in preparation. Double, triple dumb.

Which all would have been fine if I was a insomniac retiree, but I’ve also knew going into this that I was about to start fundraising for my business. Something that requires singleminded focus. Quadruple dumb, squared.

A TEDx talk takes A LOT of time. It was an intense few months grappling with ideas, cutting, editing, asking wonderful friends to look at the proposal and making further changes and so on.

Couple all of this with pitches to investors in boardrooms, negotiations, intense meetings and then finish the day with a trudge across a boggy field into a tent and you’ve got a highly chaotic, not-simple life.

So… What did I learn? What have I understood?

I don’t want this to be a spoiler, but there are a few thoughts I want to capture whilst they’re still fresh, as well as some of the 13,500 words and some that didn’t make it into the final cut… In no particular order:

– Nature, the outside and real life is only a put down screen and a front door away. My previous post, I hope, captures some of that wonder (https://simpletom.co.uk/2015/11/05/wood-you/). Adventures are easy to have, even if you’re at work in your normal life. At any time you could camp out for a night, or walk a different route home. Climb a wall, tree or hill. Sounds simple, I hardly ever do them.

– The more I immersed myself in the process of watching others’ behaviour, particularly with smart phones, the madder and madder the world seemed. 90% of a train platforms and whole cities filled with people staring into and relying on their devices, without even realising they’re doing it. Leave someone 10s alone and the majority will pick up a device. The damage this is doing to our psyches must be terrible. Almost everyone recognises this, but very few people do anything about it.

– We chase unrealistic, unreachable and unhealthy goals all the time, at the expense of our own happiness. People don’t know what makes them happy. We have no idea where we’re headed or why we do many of the things we do.

– Most people care more about the rewards of their work than the content.

What next… for me, a bit less. Some focus.

Perhaps a camper van to enable me to access the countryside more regularly. More of the same, I hope without quite so many of the rough edges and hypocrisy…

San Francisco Sleepathon… is coming!

Sleepathon in San Francisco

Majesty and Misery

A few months ago I was compelled to write an ‘open letter’ (http://bit.ly/1dkuwcA).

I suggested I’d organise a ‘sleepathon’ in San Francisco in aid of the homeless. The response has been amazing – if we can get just a few more people to sign up, it looks this event will happen in September!

If you’re bothered by the homeless problem in San Francisco and want to help, please share this letter and sign up here http://bit.ly/RAfwSV

Why a Sleepathon? San Francisco is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. The scope of opportunity, innovation, energy and entrepreneurship remains unparalleled.

Yet despite this and the wealth that has accumulated, the city disappoints if measured by the way it looks after its less fortunate. The American dream here is enjoyed by a few, sandwiched next to the American nightmare.

After writing the last letter, I’d expected little or no response, perhaps criticism. After all, who am I to suggest such an event? What good would it do? Shouldn’t we leave the problem to the State, or to those more experienced? Is it hypocritical for a bunch of privileged people to have a jolly one evening? So familiar are the problems on Market Street or in the Tenderloin that many people believe the scale of the issue is beyond tackling, or worse still, feel apathetic or no longer notice. Yet it makes me feel a bad Samaritan, impotently witnessing desperate scenes whilst ‘living the dream’.

Amazingly, my last letter struck a chord and responses flooded in, including interest from some very high profile residents willing to participate. Given that support, I’m willing to invest a few weeks of my time this year to try to make it happen.

I envisage a night in a safe space – a park, a hall or a public area where people stay for the whole night. A night of fun, with music, an auction, talks by those who understand the problems and a hackathon in which participants can brainstorm ideas that might help. Perhaps even a little bit of sleep if we’re lucky, alongside friends and supporters.

We might all be a bit tired the next day. Let that be a badge of honor, demonstrating a willingness to do something. At the very least, we will have learned a little and had some fun – at most we might raise some money and awareness.

Please sign up to join us here – http://bit.ly/RAfwSV – and please, please do forward this on. If people don’t sign up I’ll take that as a lack of desire to make this happen – no hard feelings, but in the spirit of entrepreneurship there’s no point dedicating a lot of effort if there’s little interest.

Please do get in touch if you’ve any thoughts or questions. I look forward, I hope, to spending a night with you in September.

Thanks,

Tom

www.twitter.com/brightgreen

Sleepout Crowd

A sleepout in the UK

 

I’m Busy, You’re Unimportant

Stop the Glorification of Busy

 

“This week’s really busy”. “Sorry  I’m slammed at the moment”. “We’re manic”.”It’s crazy”.

I get about 100 emails every week with something that let’s me know that me that the sender is really very busy.

We’ve created a culture where it’s necessary, cool even, to exclaim how busy we are. The amount we have to do is proffered as a currency of importance. The busier we are, the more important we must be… The more we are needed because everyone just wants a piece of our delectable selves.

I try to avoid these descriptions. My weeks are sometimes quite full, but I hope never manic, busy or crazy. I try to book in time, if necessary, to enable space and spontaneity. Whenever I get too busy, all the work I do suffers. My ‘busiest’ weeks are rarely my most productive. I try to work like it’s the weekend if I can.

If Barak Obama asked to meet you this afternoon, you’d probably find time – as much as he wanted. If Warren Buffet wanted to call round, you’d clear your diary. If Natalie Portman decided she wanted to do an impromptu reading of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my living room, booked events would magically vanish from my schedule. Hell, she could have all week.

So ‘busy’, ‘manic’ and all the other ways we describe ourselves are basically a way of telling someone they’re unimportant – it’s a passive aggressive way of telling someone to get lost.

The most successful people have full lives, but Warren Buffett isn’t ‘manic’, he has time to ‘read all day‘. I’m fairly confident that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are/were rarely hectic.

I don’t want to hire manic, busy or crazy people. Whenever someone tells me they’re overly busy then my instant reaction is to wonder whether they’re much fun to be around, or whether I want to work with them. Sounds like a stressful, unbalanced culture they’re emanating. It suggests the work they’ll be doing won’t be deep, or carefully thought through.

It makes me think that perhaps they’re not very good, organised or successful enough to not be so busy, which would surely be preferable, given there are sunsets to be seen, kites to be flown, fields to be tromped through and songs to be learned…

Work Like it’s the Weekend

I've no idea who this is, but I like his attitude... and his painting

I’ve no idea who this is, but I like his setup… and his painting

Over the last month I’ve been living in a van in Silicon Valley, more on that here and here. I’ll post some adventures soon on Simpletom… but today I want to explore working like it’s the weekend.

I get my best work done at the weekends. Not that I want to be working at the weekends, mind. But weekend works comes with a calm that is enviable to my midweek self.

In Leonard Cheshire’s, (a hero of mine) biography, he mentioned that whenever he wrote a letter, even if he had a pile of them, he’d write each one as if it was the only one he needed to write. Although it meant the pile took longer, he was able to give himself to each letter, without the shackles of time constraining his focus and commitment to each. It meant he wrote fabulous letters.

At the weekends, I’m not subjected to the deafening tick-tock of the progress clock, which leaves me rushing from moment to moment, task to task and meeting to meeting. I’m not sure I finish anything, or am ever ‘in the moment’, during the week.

We should work like it’s the weekend everyday. At the weekend, there’s time make a cup of tea, stare out of the window, take 15 minutes off to play the guitar, write a Simpletom blog (the infrequent nature of my posting is perhaps indicative of the healthy lack of weekend work) and do meaningful stuff that ‘I don’t have time for’ in the week. We’d have time to think and put that thought, carefully and considerately into our work.

We would do more substantial, more committed, more thoughtful work, if we always worked like it was the weekend. Today, we’re so subjected to the immediacy of things that work has become frantic. The bygone days of long boozy lunches, trips by steamer, disconnectedness seem far, far away – yet some pretty epic work (and thought) was achieved. Most modern thought-leaders and doers seem to want more time to think and breathe. Why don’t we just give it to ourselves. Why does midweek work have such a different texture from weekend work, even though it’s the same thing. Why do we prescribe one pace for one and another for another?

If we worked like it was the weekends, perhaps we’d not get quite as much done, but I’m pretty confident we’d get what we needed to do done, with more meaning and quality – of life and work. And so for another cuppa…

Trapped in Escapism

In flight...

SimpleTom in flight…

One of the wonders of the modern world is opportunity.

As an entrepreneur, I’m continually excited by what is possible. Aided by lightning fast connectivity, jet engines, computing technology and a plethora of beautifully indexed information available at our fingertips… the world is our oyster, lobster and winkles too.

In a single week, an indefatigable person could dine in a San Franciscan Michelin-starred restaurant, walk through an African slum and give a talk at Davos. Another might kitesurf, skydive, go to a sex party, take mind-altering substances, play a gig at Glastonbury. Why stop there… why not combine the two?

It’s all possible if you read enough Tim Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Hello magazines or believe the latest Hollywood blockbuster. It’s just so disappointing we can’t clone ourselves because life is too short, you’ll get all the sleep you need when you’re dead and time is money.

Hmmm…

I wonder where the being there for your friends, reading Bill Bryson on the toilet, doing some community work, empathy, writing, having an evening to think, meditation, going for a walk, sleeping well, responsibilities, calmness and, of course, simplicity fit into all this?

Have we made opportunity and escapism a fetish that undermines our ability to live healthy, happy lives?

This evening, back in London town, I have a couple of hundred restaurants and bars to choose from within a couple of mile radius. I’ve a few dozen applications, websites and guidebooks to help me choose them from and 7 devices in this house I could use to do so. I can tickle almost any gastronomic whim. With the means, I can go anywhere and do almost anything. Boy, isn’t it great to have all these options. I need to have options, otherwise my life is stale and we’ve wasted all this development and human endeavor.

I think not.

Do we even notice the joy of drinking a cup of tea, with leaves that have slowly grown and been picked by a 5th generation farmer on an Assam mountain-side? How many gastronomic delights are wolfed down, or sensations are given almost no attention, despite their wonder?

On a personal level, whether affected by these external forces, or driven by my own upbringing (being a professional musician aged 8-12, with all the discipline, restrictions and constraints that accompanied, was not at all healthy) – I’ve started to recognize that I’m trapped in what seems like a global pattern of escapism.

In fact, I’m really rather brilliant at it.

For me, the manifestation has meant that over the last 10 years, I’ve lived in lots of places, met loads of people, holidayed and partied across the globe. I’ve started a number of projects and finished very few. I’ve dated some wonderful people who I usually abandon because like all good entrepreneurs, I need an exit strategy, or just because if I’m not about to escape or if I don’t have an obvious alternative or escape plan then [alarm bells] my options are limited.

How sad. The kaleidoscope of opportunity has cauterized continuity and community.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s often been fun. But, I’ve noticed loneliness in myself and others who pursue these tantalizing escapes, scrapes and adventures. In the midst of being Peter Pan and chasing freedom, I’ve too often found myself alone, somewhere between one place and another, one relationship and another, and one piece of work and another. When the music stops, the escapee can find themselves without a place to sit. When I read stories of billionaires and their multiple homes, wives, yachts, interests and hyper-dysfunctional families, I am reminded that choice is a burden. When I look closely the eyes of those chasing ‘the capitalist dream’ at ‘exclusive’ events, I’ve started to notice the fear, loneliness and desperation behind the tanned, moneyed pearly-white smiles – which seems to get worse the closer these dreams get to fulfillment.

Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in myself to want to settle and to take on responsibility and commitment, even if it means I’m not as free. I’ve noticed that freedom comes from these commitments rather than from opportunity. With a solid and stable home, meaningful consistent work, regular friends and monogamous relationship, I sense we have the foundations upon which to be even freer, rather than chasing the elusive idea that freedom comes through keeping our options open.

Let Go – Simply Letting Things Happen and ‘Down Time’

Are Simplicity and Starting a Startup Compatible?

The answer… honestly – No, not really.

This is a really beautiful opinion piece in the NYT about those people who say they’re ‘busy’ whenever you speak to them.

I heard that the founder of Green & Blacks chocolate, I forget his name, hired such brilliant people around him that he only came in once a week to make sure everything was going according to plan. What a legend. What trust. What simplicity.

For the rest of us, the startup world is one of obsession and comes at the expense of emotional or simplicional health.

That’s not to say it’s not all bad. There’s something wonderful about focus, learning, meaning and being immersed. There’s a clarity and simplicity in the single-mindedness that a wannabe entrepreneur has on that mission.

But it’s not all good.

In my case, I look back at the last 10 years and realise, my extended sabbatical in Kenya aside, that the entrepreneurial grip has me so tight that I’ve not had energy for other things. That’s not to say I haven’t done a lot of other amazing activities – my innate sense of mischief and wanting to maintain a social life mean that I find it difficult to do nothing else but work – parties, festivals, holidays and dinners have all been attended, and enjoyed.

Yet there has been a price paid, which has been my inability to tear myself (and my ego) away from the pursuit of the entrepreneurial dream, emotionally – meaning that I’ve often felt half-there, half-not-there when out of the ‘office’.

I’m not sure I’ve truly been able to let go (this is a link to one of my best friend Jim Kroft’s song – Let Go, which encapsulates this emotion perfectly – ).

What I would give for the ability to immerse myself in the work and then enjoy the down time. Each fully. Is it possible? Did Steve Jobs ever have down time, so singular was his mission and focus? I read articles that said he worked as hard when he was ‘on holiday’ with his family as he did when he was ‘at work’. Is that the price of ‘putting a ding in the universe’.

It is partially bravery and fear. The ability to trust, like Mr Green & Blacks. Is it a desperate need to achieve and the ego, which means that everything feels undone, or still to do… despite achievements.

Time to allow things to happen to Let Go.