How to Be Unique


I gave a talk at the Global Speakers Summit in Noordwijk in the Netherlands in April entitled, ‘Unique’. It was essentially about finding out who you are by looking at what you’ve always done. Below is 12 minute edited version. I discussed my realisation that what I do now with my work is exactly what I was doing when I was last given the choice, when I was aged 7 to 15. To find out what and how, you’ll have to watch the film.

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Foxy


France 1982

There he is, just on the edge of the photo

Can you can admire and hate someone at the same time? Such was the case with Foxy.

I was 11 and it was my first trip abroad, a school trip to France. We set off on a coach from our school, Belmont in Durham at a quarter-to-early o’clock in the morning and headed south. Somewhere in the Midlands we stopped at a public school to pick up some older kids, presumably to share the cost of the visit. They were older than us, probably even as old as 14. One of them was a ginger curly-haired boy called Foxy.

The coach got onto the ferry at Dover. I felt queasy so couldn’t eat any breakfast. We were back on the coach in France and my travel sickness continued, fueled by the potent smell of teenage cigarettes that fumigated the coach. We stopped at some service station for lunch, but I couldn’t eat anything. Not even a salad, each of which was accompanied by a large green slug. Later we learnt it was a gherkin. We didn’t have gherkins in the North-East.

We drove on to Paris and spent a few days there in a guest house, then onto Orleans where we stayed in small chalets. Me, Richard, Steven and Ian stuck together and enjoyed our adventure. We didn’t see the older boys and girls much. We didn’t buy fireworks and throw them around or get drunk or smoke. We did drink too much hot chocolate at breakfast though.

But occasionally I’d notice Foxy. He was just a little bit cool, a little bit self-reliant and a little bit confident. He didn’t care about peer pressure or the official tours.

On the coach journey back he’d acquired a girlfriend and with his arm nonchalantly draped around her, rested his head on her chest as he defaced the white cotton head rest cover in front with her pink nail varnish. In big sparkly pink letters he wrote the word, ‘Foxy’ and underlined it.

Can you can admire and hate someone at the same time? Defacing the coach paraphernalia riled with my sense of fair play. But the guts, or arrogance to not care about what other people think and do it anyway was something I admired. I wanted to be Foxy, put my feet up on the coach seats, get the girl.

I don’t know what happened to Foxy after that. Maybe he went from strength to strength. Maybe he’s out there now, driving around in a convertible Bentley, head of investments at a large hedge fund. Maybe he’s a successful raconteur, a mover and shaker in the film business, now living in LA. Or maybe he peaked age 14 and it was downhill from there. Maybe now he’s fat and old, been made redundant from the local car dealer, just divorced from his third wife, paying what money he can to the children he had with the first.  Or maybe he’s the same old Foxy, a free spirt, no-one can tie him down, always on the go.

That was the first time I recognised self confidence in action. I knew it was something I wanted. It took me another ten years before I could claim it for myself.

When did you claim yours?

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The Battlefield of Ideas


‘Ideas’ seems to be such a positive word. We all like ‘ideas’ and yet there’s a dark side to the concept. You just need to take a look at the news to see that there are plenty of problems caused by different ideas. It’s never religion that causes war, but the difference of ideas (See more on that here).

Ideas are like electricity, fire or money: they can be used for good or evil.

New ideas move the world forward. Powerful ideas shape the future. But dangerous ideas, of which there are far too many, damage the future.

We need more ideas, not because there is not a shortage of ideas in the world but because there is a shortage of new, powerful and positive ideas. There’s an even shorter list of people with enough confidence and opportunity to take those ideas forward and act on them.

We need those new, powerful, positive ideas and the people to carry them through. We need them to combat the noise of bad ideas and the threat of dangerous ideas and those powerful people who proliferate them.

There is a war of ideas going on right now in the battlefields of the minds of the young, the old, across different cultures, at home and at work.

Dangerous ideas of division and hate appear to spread like weeds through the field while beautiful ideas like the flowers of reconciliation and positive change need to be tendered, fed, watered and protected.

Let’s turn the field into a garden, by planting and nurturing the ideas we want to grow, for ourselves and for the future.

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The future is strange


I’m always skeptical of any so-called predictions of the future. The reason is that so many predictions have not only turned out to be wrong, but so terribly wrong.

The reason for this is simple. Any prediction of the future is a guess based upon the patterns of the past extrapolated forwards in time. We see how things have appeared to have changed in the past and assume that they will continue to change in the same way. And that is why most prophets of the future always get it so wrong.

There are two types of prophets. There are the ones who are revered, who everyone hangs on their every word and who predict a predictable future based on the past. Everyone likes their predictions because they can see the logic in them: computers get smaller and more powerful so in the future computers will be even smaller and even more powerful. Take that to the extreme and we have a microscopic computer more powerful than the entire human race. People love that stuff. But those prophets are usually wrong.

The second type of prophet is the one who realises that it’s the type of changes that will change. This gives rise to visions of a bizarre future that has in some way taken a quantum leap in an unexpected direction that history and case studies could not predict. It takes a brave, lateral mind to be able to take a leap of imagination such as this. People hate or ignore this type of prophet. They don’t like unpredictability and they don’t really like change. The irony is that this type of prophet is usually right. Just study Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo and Leonardo for examples of unacceptable ideas that were spot on.

A true prophet has the imagination to notice possibilities of unexpected change but at the same time practical logic to know that the future always takes the path of least resistance.

This is why, contrary to every predictions, we do not have flying cars or personal jet-packs. The practical considerations of pilot competence, massive fuel requirements and serious safety considerations has meant that even though the technology is available, the idea has no future. Left ‘brain’ critical thinking is required to accurately extrapolate a future.

We don’t walk around wearing silver foil jumpsuits. Pure logic suggests we should, for practicality and heat retention. But we don’t because we don’t feel like it. We prefer wool and cotton. We prefer colours and fashions. Any prediction of the future needs to incorporate ‘right’ brain emotional thinking.

We all need to be prophets. We all need to be able to anticipate the future to a certain degree to be able to cope with the inevitable change the future will bring. To do it we need access to left mode logic but we need to use it alongside right mode pattern recognition and imagination.

The future will be weird, it will be strange – until we get there and then it will be normal. Normal thinking won’t help us guess at it, but strange thinking just might help us get close.

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The Curse of the Zero Sum Game


There are so many examples in our society of win or lose, black or white, right or wrong, right or left as if everything has to be one thing or another. There can only be one winner, one gold medal, one number one hit single. The danger with this is that it can stop people reaching their potential as they think, if I can’t be the best, the number one, then there’s no point in taking part.

What is a number one hit single? It’s the music track that sold the most from a select number of outlets in seven days. There can only be one, the rest of the chart is full of singles that are not number one and yet many more music acts have had wonderful success without it having to be confined to such arbitrary measures of sales.

What is an Olympic gold medal? It’s an award given to someone who performed the best at one task on one particular day. The rest of the participants were also-rans, they lost.

Because these type of successes are so visible we can make the mistake that the concepts should apply to our everyday potential. We fall into the trap of thinking that we need external verification for success instead of internal satisfaction and that for us to win, others must lose. The bigger slice of the pie I can get, the less there is for you. This is the Zero Sum Game, the ZSG.

There’s nothing wrong with being, or aiming for being, the absolute best in the world but if you feel that no other place counts then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I’ve seen this time and time again with aspects of people’s creativity. “I can’t draw” is the classic. Of course they can draw, everybody can draw. And like everything else, if you practice you get better. But people notice that they can’t draw like Leonardo so they label themselves within the ZSG: Leonardo can, I can’t. Leonardo wins, I lose or more seriously, they refuse to take part so that I avoid being labeled as a loser.

Being the ‘best in the world’ would be a wonderful thing to be, but a short lived and arbitary thing to be. Chasing the ZSG is a battle you can only temporarily win. But being the best you can be is different. Getting as far as you can get compared to what you’re capable of, compared to your own personal best is different. It isn’t a ZSG but a continuous journey to excellence and one where others can win with you along the way.

The most damaging thing anyone can do to their potential is to compare themselves with someone else. There is always someone who appears more successful, better looking, cleverer, richer, happier, funnier or whatever. Creating a secret ZSG competition like this between yourself and another person leads to stress. Such a race can never be won because unlike all sports competitions, the players will never have an equal starting position on all attributes except the one that is being tested.

If you’re on a racetrack aiming to take home the gold medal then you need to compare your performance with others to reach and snatch that discreet ZSG victory. You’ll know you’ve achieved it due to the brief externally verified reward. You know you’ll have won because others will have lost.

In almost every other endeavor we engage in this is not the case. Competition has its place, but when it comes to your talent, your goals, your desires, a much better idea is for us to aim to be our best, our personal best, every single day. Do that instead, aiming for internal satisfaction, and we can continually take the gold home every single day. And so too can everybody else. Decide not to play the Zero Sum Game.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com