Serendipity

Reading Wikipedia’s notes on Serendipity are interesting,

Various thoughts describing ‘A pleasant surprise’

This was an experience I had in February in Havana, Cuba which I could only describe as Serendipitous, after only a couple hours of arriving, and 5 minutes after meeting 2 men with a guitar and a bottle of rum on the street, the following happened, and trigger finger Louis caught it on camera.

No sooner had we started our first impromptu salsa lesson and singing our first song did a choir of 8 other random people arrive all singing and dancing at the exact right time! – I get the goosies when I think about it.

Now you could call this random, it’s random that a guy had a guitar, it’s random that people knew the song, it’s random that louis had his camera on at that moment…or is it?

Sometimes the stars align and these are the moments we crave for. We certainly cannot control or manufacture them but we sure can optimise for them, internally and externally.

Think about fishing, finding a partner or playing poker. All of these activities sure need a special unexpected ‘pleasant surprise’ but the fact is, if you are fishing in a bathtub, looking to find a wife on grindr or playing poker with your eyes shut you are minimising the chances for serendipity.

The reality is that certain spaces are designed for certain behaviours and activities, and our decisions are far more conditioned by our environments than we would like to admit.

Cuba’s communist economy means that my 30 minute taxi ride to the airport cost more than the driver earns in a day and more than his wife earns being a teacher in a month! This along with government controls and the US trade embargo means that people are not addicted to consumerism and the mutant form of capitalism we have come to accept as somewhat normal. This means people don’t work too hard which means they have time to create, which means I found it to be the most culturally rich place I have ever been on the planet. With dancing, music and art coming out of every corner of the city.

I had never heard the spanish song our guy was playing but I now know it is called ‘Bailando’ by Enrique Inglesias which means dance in spanish. In the last year on youtube this song has had 900,385,902 people watch it! Almost a billion views, and Its narrative plays straight to the core of the dominant culture in the spanish speaking land of Cuba.

When the economic system, the cultural narrative and the social consciousness are all aligned you have the external conditions for a serendipitous moment to occur. Combine that with camera ready, travelling content makers, Louis, Raya and Myself, ready to say yes to opportunity and conditions are perfect for magic to happen.

Was this a random event? or was it to be expected?

I would say it is in the air, this was Cuba making moments it has been designed to make, and everyone enjoyed playing their part naturally and beautifully.

I could bore you with many stories of why I think that the culture of your environment matters a lot in creating serendipity to lead to something special but instead I just want to tell you about the awesome day I had yesterday that I think is a fair example of the dominant themes in San Francisco.

I started the day on the 45 minute caltrain journey writing the full lyrics to a track a producer friend had sent me the day before.  My first meeting was with @12_fps studio discussing a project that Louis and I are planning in a couple of weeks, this awesome conversation with Dwight led in 5 different directions, with loads of connections from accommodation to startup advice to showing him the track and lyrics, it also led him to giving me a lift to my next meetings at Salesforce.com.  A completely different space yet with the energy he gave me I was feeling good and it turns out that the exec I was meeting is married to a musician so was happy to hear about my creative projects as well as discussing some seriously awesome ideas to scale Givey in the US and UK. Leaving this meeting even more pumped with momentum I text Dwight saying ‘hey do you happen to be around tonight to record the track?

He said yes! He pulled in @trapexoid and a few beers and we made something happen, it was difficult, the first time I have tried laying words to a track in a studio but they are pro’s and we wiggled through, and it felt amazing to get this whole thing done in a day, AND it made me better in my business meetings!!!

(The track is done but I can’t show you as the original hasn’t even come out yet – I will update the blog when I can show you for sure)

For me, this is serendipity.

Being able to explore my creative side, and develop our business with the right partners in the right place. It is a beautiful thing when every part of who you are helps you make progress and build momentum rather than feeling if I am doing anything other than obvious business then I am being lazy or distracted.

It seems to me that the optimum conditions for serendipity, are firstly ‘internally’ when we pursue our passions, and relationships and put ourselves on the line for the things we care about and secondly, ‘externally’ when we place ourselves in an environment that is designed to produce things we are aiming towards.

This is not the first goosebump day I have had in SF and I am doubtful it is the last as it is not random or even a pleasant surprise that amazing productive things are happening as I am lucky enough to be currently experiencing optimum conditions both internally and externally for serendipity.

Long may it continue 🙂

Thanks for reading this long ass piece!

I think I’m a dancer.

To say his makes me deeply uncomfortable.

It is highly inconvenient for many reasons, some I will list here.

It doesn’t fit with my physiology, being 5’11, 102KG, and officially obese.

It doesn’t fit with my sense of masculine identity, being a typical, beer drinking, golf playing, pizza eating bloke.

It doesn’t fit with my life plans, I have run businesses for 10 years, and trained to deal with hard nosed city folk and think about marketing challenges.

Yet somehow, in a moment of honesty I found another part to myself however inconvenient it currently feels. Here’s the back story…

For the last 5 years on and off I have been going to ‘Ceroc’ partner dancing lessons, learning basic moves to pop tracks to whack out at weddings, v cool, earns loads of man points, especially if you dance with a granny, then a little girl, then make a beeline for the most attractive single bridesmaid! 🙂

The dancing plan was going well! 🙂

In the last 6 months I have started going on weekends away with my dear friend Marcus who opened my eyes to the world of dancing with no coffee, alcohol or drugs till 7 in the morning to blues music!

WOW my mind was blown!!

I then went to a blues house party with Marcus’ friend Christina, an entry into a sub culture of affectionate, sensitive people who love to connect and experience a closeness not usual in everyday british life, it was fascinating!

But the Clanger came when I went to Costa Rica over Christmas on my own with no phone or outside communication for almost 3 weeks.

I went to think about God, my faith and to experiment with ‘what my life would look like if no one was watching?’. I did go 10 rounds with God, and I did experiment with unusual decisions, but the thing that surprised me the most was how much I thought about dancing!! Not just doing it, but thinking about its implications, culturally, with gender roles, how to teach it as a life skill, its relationship with music and on and on, It was almost all I thought about, I had become fascinated.

Driving down the west coast I stopped in a hippie town called dominical on the way to the corcovado rainforest, the most bio-diverse place on the planet!!! I drove around and stopped to look in a yoga retreat and ended up talking for half an hour with the teachers about the basic nature of movement and physical communication. I off loaded a weeks worth of thoughts onto these poor unsuspecting victims!

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I saw on their lessons menu that on Friday, when I was coming back through Dominical there was an ominous looking session called ‘ecstatic play’ It terrified me but I thought I should try it for exactly that reason!! So on the Friday I rocked up, bare foot, with football shorts and a t-shirt on, to join two instructors, one white dude from detroit with dreads and another girl from the states In what I was now learning was a free movement session in which a set of music would play going through 5 different styles going from light, intense, powerful, joyful and then to peaceful, and there would be no expectation other than for us to express ourselves.

I can honestly say In all the various things I have done I have NEVER felt so out of my depth as I did as the music began! I was all but literally shitting bricks! (thankfully not literally)

I stood up and tentatively started bobbing my head and swaying like I would with a bottle of bud in my hand at a bar to a good tune! I noticed everyone else was ‘in the zone’ doing their own stuff and didn’t care what I was doing.

I began to push myself to let go, to respond fully to the music, without theatre, without comedy, without reservation, and in spite of my crippling fears.

There are things that happened in that session that if there was a secret recording I would resort to Jack Bauer style tactics to recover and destroy it. The challenge for me quickly became that, the movements I began to express were looking alot like wannabe ballet moves, long, elegant and expressive. NOTHING LIKE WHO I AM / WANT TO BE!!!

But I completely went for it, the whole hour, and I loved it, still terrified but fully alive, with the layers removed of judgement and identity I was a ballerino. A terribly undisciplined, overweight, inflexible ballerino (new word to me too, just googled it)

I find it painful and cringeworthy, why does that have to be my authentic response to the music I was hearing, why couldn’t it be gangster style break dancing and body popping!!!!

It doesn’t fit, it isn’t part of my plan, people will laugh at me, flip, I am laughing at me. But yet in my most honest and free moment, this is what bubbled up.

Now, back in the land of normality, work, and home life I have 2 options.

1. Forget it ever happened and put it down to holiday madness

or

2. Follow the rabbit hole, believe that was a brief glimpse of how I respond authentically when normal forces are removed.

Understanding dance as a method of individual expression, as a universal physical language of communication between people, as a tool for intimacy and connection, as an embodiment of cultural and gender identity it is fascinating.

However much stick I might get, however crap I might be, the inconvenient truth is that dancing has captivated me and I know there is life for me there in exploring it further.

I choose option 2. I am a dancer.

As much as I believe I am a dancer I also believe I am a fighter yet something tells me I won’t be able to fight like I’ll need to until I learn to dance like I can.

I want to understand what it really means to dance upon injustice

I’m gonna try to dance before, and fight for an audience of one.

Well, here goes!

Addicted to Giving?

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Reading a tech crunch article by @nireyal on habit forming products has brought to the surface some thoughts that I acted on many moons ago but never articulated (http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/31/is-some-tech-too-addictive/?ncid=tcdaily)

We are trying to get people to habitually give as part of their every day lives which means making it as easy, rewarding and pleasurable as possible

There is an extent to which you can have ‘too much of a good thing!’ I wouldn’t want someone to use Givey to donate if it was going to cause them personal financial problems especially if was driven from a place addiction or people forgetting the value of their gift altogether, in a ‘What the Hell!!’ Moment

(See this article : http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/24/this-column-change-life-what-the-hell-effect)

“Companies who know when a user is overusing their product have both an economic imperative and a social responsibility to identify addicts and intervene.” – Nir Eyal”

I agree with Nir and even in attempting to drive good behaviours we must critique the value of our efforts and this is why we focus on giving ‘something’ everyday.

There are deep philosophical reasons why I believe engaging in a giving lifestyle is vital to our wellbeing and goes way beyond ‘Charitable Donations’ but it is a good place to start and drive these behaviour sets from.

Laying the Philosophical reasons aside for the purpose of this post and looking purely at the behaviour drivers, we needed to think carefully about who we wanted to be the winners in Givey’s giving community.

If we focus on the ‘amounts donated’ then we reward those who earn more money and can make big one off donations.

If we celebrated ‘recurring passive donors (Setup and forget)’ then there maybe very little active engagement in the givers consciousness

If we focused on ‘number of donations’ then we may be celebrating binge donors who want to give 100 times in a day to hack their profile to look good over the year.

We wanted the winner in the Givey community to be a person who authentically and openly engages with the online and physical world around them and allows themselves to be moved by issues they encounter and choose to take action on a daily basis.

We exist to reinforce the link between Empathy and Action in our modern society.

Our goal with Givey is to reduce barriers and increase incentives to complete a ‘real donation’ once someone has been authentically moved to contribute.

I believe what we measure defines our culture, defines what is cool and ultimately, how we define ourselves. Whether we adhere or rebel, we are affected, so have to consider carefully what we measure as it will end up defining us.

At the heart of Givey is a metric called ‘Wavelength’ or λ  

A Givey users wavelength is the length of time in days since their last Givey donation Moment

If a user ‘Binges’ and makes 20 donations in a day, only one will count towards their ‘wavelength’

Equally a donation of £1 or £1000 has the same value when calculating the metric we celebrate most, A Givey Users Wavelength.

This is our attempt to drive no more, and no less than the behaviour we want to see more of in the world. Engaging in an active giving culture in which we give a little every day.

There are 3 simple factors I believe the pursuit of which are paramount to the underpinning a progressive global society.

  1. Freedom
  2. Safety
  3. Education

Please check out @shepleyGreen work at the Social Progress Imperative as I learn heaps from him and they go into a bunch more very helpful detail.

Addiction looks to an external source of energy or escapism to feed our wellbeing. It inhibits our freedom and sense of autonomy and responsibility by giving that right to other sources.

I hate how addiction affects people! It limits principle 1, our freedom so I can’t allow it to be a part of the product we are building, even if it would be ‘Good for Business’ to have ‘Bingy Users’

Having said all this I Googled ‘Addicted to Giving’ and found this 🙂 I enjoyed it

Enjoy! Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts….