The fight for truth against the tyranny of stagnant belief

Two great men were born in 1564. One was William Shakespeare in England and the other was Galileo Galieli in Italy.

Galileo became professor of mathematics at Padua in Venice, partially because of his great reputation for invention. He designed and built various instruments in his own workshop, which he then sold, including a thermometer and a slide-rule for which he wrote and published a manual.

Galileo was a short, red haired, attractive man and although remained a bachelor, was never short of lady friends. He was forty-five when he first heard the news of the Flemish invention of the telescope. He immediately designed and built one himself in one night, which had a magnification of three, about as good as an opera-glass. His next attempts were better with magnifications between eight and ten. With these telescopes he was able to see ships two hours of more away from the coast. He made quite a large reputation as well as a fortune by selling them to the government.

But it soon occurred to Galileo that he had more than just an instrument of navigation, he had an instrument of research. He stepped up the magnification to thirty and turned his telescope to the stars, becoming probably the first practical scientist in the process by building the apparatus, performing the experiment and publishing the results. The joys of what he found are best described in his own words from the account in his book ‘Sidereus Nunciu’, (The Starry Messenger):

“..stars in myriads, which have never been seen before, and which surpass the old, previously known, stars in number more than ten times.

“But that which will excite the greatest astonishment by far, and which indeed especially moved me to call the attention of all astronomers and philosophers, is this, namely, that I have discovered four planets, neither known nor observed by any one of the astronomers before my time.”

Galileo had discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, named after him as the Galilean satellites. He saw correctly that these moons orbited Jupiter as Copernicus has guessed that the planets orbited the sun. He then turned his telescope to the Moon:

“It is a most beautiful and delightful sight to behold the body of the moon…certainly does not possess a smooth and polished surface, but one rough and uneven, and, just like the face of the earth itself, is everywhere full of vast protuberances, deep chasms, and sinuosites.”

These discoveries and others showed conclusively that the Ptolemaic Earth centered heaven did not work and that Copernicus’ postulated sun centered idea had been right.

Galileo made two mistakes. The first was one that many scientists make. He believed that the truth, however disconcerting, was more comforting than being wrong and this led him to be completely open about his discoveries. He invited anyone who wanted to see for themselves the truth, by looking through his telescope, to do just that.

Unfortunately his findings did not please the prejudice of the establishment of the day. Galileo felt that all he had to do was to show everybody that Copernicus was correct and everything would be alright. His second mistake was that he could leave the fairly safe Republic of Venice and return to his native Florence, protected by his incredibly reputation as an inventor and salesman, and now scientist and writer. Sadly this would prove to be fatal.

The Roman Catholic Church had just begun its Counter-Reformation, a reaction against the successful Reformation of the Protestant Church and the Thirty Years War began. Galileo was strangely naive about politics. He felt that he could outwit the Church, which had made the country almost a police state, because he was so clever. But logical thinking and truth were the enemies of Faith and anyone who didn’t agree was, a heretic.

Galileo, however clever he knew he was, could never win. Unbeknown to him, a file had been opened on him in the Secret Archives of the Vatican, back in 1611, before the Counter Reformation of 1618 and long before his eventual trial in 1633, before he even considered going back to Italy. Galileo had been labelled as a trouble-maker as soon as he pointed his telescope to the heavens.

There were ten judges at the trial of Galileo. They were all Cardinals. One was the Pope’s brother and another his nephew. The trial was conducted by the Inquisition. Galileo did not have a copy of the charges against him or the evidence; the rules were not that of a court, but formalised in 1588 to judge ‘against heretical depravity throughout the whole Christian Commonwealth’.

What Galileo had actually done by pointing his telescopes to the sky, discovering craters on the Moon, the moons of Jupiter and sunspots, was to put an end to the classical belief that the heavens are perfect and unchanging and that only the Earth is subject to change. He had also defended the theory of Copernicus, now long dead, a theory that was not even his own but one which he endorsed because he believed it to be true.

By 1630 Galileo had finished a book that contained all his thoughts on science. His feelings were that the forces in the sky were the same as those on Earth and by performing mechanical experiments on Earth, we can learn about the stars. He found it very difficult to publish the book but by 1632 it was in print in Florence where it was an instant success. Almost immediately Rome attempted to stop the presses and buy back the books which had by then sold out. The Pope was furious at how the book came to be published at all and Galileo, now in his seventieth year, was summoned to Rome to answer for it.

On 12 April 1633, Galileo was brought before the Inquisitor for the last time. He expected to be asked to defend his book, instead he was quizzed about Copernicus’ theory once more.

Back in 1616, Cardinal Bellarmine had given Galileo a certificate which stated that Galileo must not hold or defend Copernicus’ opinion. He was, however, allowed to use it as a hypothesis.

Galileo was tried not for breaking the conditions of that document, but of another which stated he must not teach the ideas ‘in any way whatsoever’. Galileo had not signed such a document and neither had Cardinal Bellarmine, not surprising as the document was a forgery, but under the conditions of the Inquisition, they did not have to produce it. The Holy Office had attempted to dishonour Galileo and show him to have gone against an agreement. Galileo was shown the instruments of torture and confined to his villa, outside Florence, under strict house arrest.

Galileo had one more thing left to do. He wanted to finish his last book, the one which the trial had interrupted. It was a book on the ‘New Sciences’, meaning the physics of matter on Earth, not astronomy. He managed to get it smuggled out to be published in 1638, by which time Galileo was totally blind.

What the trial of Galileo had done was to end science in the mediterranean. The scientific revolution moved to Northern Europe. Also, the Church, by condemning Galileo, had made science strong, strong enough to become completely independent from the Church. It was Rome’s greatest mistake.

In 1979, Pope John-Paul II attempted to pardon Galileo, but the irreparable damage to the Church’s reputation to describe the workings of the Universe had been done, centuries earlier.

Galileo died, still a prisoner in his own house, in 1642. On Christmas Day of that same year, Isaac Newton was born…

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

The man who curved the world

Too many of us go through life without noticing, without questioning and without searching for answers. Instead we have to rely on the few that do the things that we’re all capable of…

In the Egyptian city of Alexandria, for three hundred years beginning in the third century BC, was a great library and museum. The city was founded by Alexander the Great and became the world centre of commerce, culture and learning which all centered around the library. The community of scholars studied the entire Cosmos, a Greek word meaning order of the universe implying a deep interconnectedness of all things. In 48 BC Julius Caesar accidentally burned down the library when he set fire to his own ships to block Achillas‘ attempt at sea supremacy. Who knows the depth of what was lost? We have heard from various sources that secrets and sciences that would take hundred if not thousands of years to re-discover where contained within the books of Alexandria.

How I would have loved to visit that Library!

The subjects explored included physics, literature, medicine, astronomy, geography, philosophy, mathematics, biology and engineering. The library may have contained half a million handwritten papyrus scrolls, acquired from all over the known world by agents sent out to buy up other libraries. Every ship that docked in Alexandria was searched by the police for books which were borrowed, copied and returned to their owners.

At this time of the early years of the library there lived a man called Eratosthenes. He was a philosopher, historian, theatre critic and poet. He was also the chief librarian of the great Library of Alexandria.

One day as he was reading one of the papyrus books, he came across a curious account. He read that far to the south, in the outpost of Syene, on the longest day of the year a strange thing could be seen. As noon approached, the shadows of temple columns or vertical sticks grew shorter and the suns’s rays would slither down the sides of a deep well that would normally remain libeain darkness. By noon the columns would cast no shadow and the sun’s reflection would be visible in the water at the bottom of the well. At this time, the sun would be directly overhead.

But so what? Sticks, shadows and wells. What possible importance could such an everyday observation have? But Eratosthenes was a scientist, (a scientist is of course a person who desires ‘to know’, the root of the work is Greek). His thoughts on that simple account changed the world. We could go so far as to say they made the world a ‘world’ because the experiment he performed would prove the Earth was not a flat plane.

He began by waiting until noon on June the 21st to see if vertical sticks would cast shadows in Alexandria. He found that they do.

Bu this puzzled him. How could it be that a stick in Syene casts no shadow at the same time that a stick in Alexandria casts a considerable shadow?

Having no shadows in both places is easy to understand, providing the world is flat. So too is having a shadow at both places, again provided the world is flat. But for a shadow at one and not the other the only explanation is that the surface of the world is curved. Not only that, but the greater the distance in the lengths of the shadows, the greater the curvature of the Earth.

Eratosthenes knew that the sun is so far away that its rays must be parallel when they reach the Earth, so sticks placed at different angles to the sun’s rays will cast different length shadows.

Eratosthenes imagined the sticks extending down to meet at the centre of the Earth. He calculated that they would intersect at an angle of seven degrees which is one fiftieth of the full circumference of a circle. Eratosthenes knew that the distance from Alexandria to Syene was five hundred miles. He knew that because he hired a man to pace it out. Five hundred times fifty is twenty-five thousand miles, so that must be the circumference of the Earth.

He was right. With just a small error of a few percent, he had calculated the circumference of the spherical world. The first man to do so. That’s not bad going for two thousand, two hundred years ago.

Along with this he invented the discipline of geography (as well as the word) and the system of latitude and longitude.

Erotosthenes’ careful ponderings of the ordinary, revealed something quite extraordinary. He had seen an observation from a fairly simple experiment that seemed to go against common sense. The discrepancy between what he thought he should find and what he actually found could only be explained in one way, that the world was curved.

This is how creativity and science work together: by noticing something, asking the question ‘why?’ and then devising methods to answer that question.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

Meaningful, beautiful, useful

We’ve all heard of time management, but what about space management? Just as with time management, we don’t manage time, just the tasks we operate within it. In space management we don’t necessarily manage the space we occupy but rather the physical artefacts within it. So this might be an article on Spring cleaning or it might be an article about productivity, or something else, you can decide.

In September, while my family and I were on holiday in France, I had a call from a neighbour who said there had been a water leak in our house. She’d managed to turn the mains off at the external water meter, but for water to be spewing out through brickwork at the front of the house something dramatic had happened. It turned out that water from the radiator in the bathroom had leaked, filling the ceiling cavity of the room below, bringing that ceiling down. The room below was my home office.

When we got back, it was a horrible scene. But by some miracle, my books and equipment were undamaged. The ceiling, floor, walls and furniture were destroyed. It was a long and arduous process to clear the room and get it re-built (with delays caused by an indifferent insurance company employing amateurs). We finally got the room back just a few days before Christmas.

So the task of re-populating the room with physical artefacts began. And that’s when the positive aspect of such a disaster became apparent.

When we ‘tidy up’ we usually just shuffle things around. We might get ruthless every once in a while and throw out something if it’s broken, it all depends on where you set your hoard threshold and the values you grew up with. I’m inclined to keep everything. If something’s broken it’ll be kept so I can fix it later. I’ll keep things just in case they may present some unknown future use.

This is why the stuff I took out of my office amounted to a larger collection of stationary than Rymans. I have enough staples and paper clips to last until the sun goes supernova. Then there was box files, papers, magazines, models, executive toys, children’s toys, dozens of Daleks, boxes of computer cables, boxes of audio and video cables, 1000s of CDs, boxes of reams of paper, card and printer cartridges for printers I don’t have.

You can’t gauge your level of artefact value judgement by looking at things in situ and shuffling them round a room. You have to remove them from their habitat to view their value independently. This is what the destruction of the room forced me to do: I had an empty room. There was no way I was going to clutter it up with all that junk.

So what was I going to put back in?

If taking everything out is the first rule, the second is to have a set of criteria with which to judge what to choose to put back in. So I came up with three categories. If an object didn’t meet one of those categories it either went into long-term storage or it was disposed of.

My categories were: an object has to be Meaningful, Beautiful or Useful.

By meaningful I mean that I’d keep things that had personal meaning and significance for me. These are actually few but include my business awards or family photos. Beautiful things include my Matmos lava lamp and a (few) model Daleks. So most things in the new room are useful: my computer, guitar, drum kit, pens, books etc. Even my book collection was subject to the rules. This cut the content of my bookshelves down by half.

The difference between long term storage (i.e. in the attic or some other room) and the bin arrives because we sometimes have to keep things (like accounts papers) and sometimes want to keep things (like Doctor Who annuals 1965 – 2012) but don’t need them on display with easy instant access.

I suggest you give it a go yourself. Don’t wait for circumstances to force your hand. Just as we know that getting control of time management by getting rid of unwanted, unnecessary tasks give you more time, getting rid of unnecessary physical artefacts gives you more space.

But the space it gives is not just more physical space to move around in. The external world is a mirror of the internal world (and vice versa). When you create physical space, you create mental space, space to think. Try it. You’ll find that by blowing the cobwebs from your workspace you’ll be blowing them from your mind, like a fresh Spring breeze.

So perhaps this was about Spring cleaning and productivity after all.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

Snow on Sherburn Hill

Sherburn Hill

I suppose she was the first authority figure we knew, outside our family. Mrs Hailes was headmistress of Sherburn Village Infants. A warm jovial older lady, and although she never took us in class, she taught me the difference between ‘a’ and ‘an’, just while we were waiting to do something else. I would now always know it was ‘an elephant’.

Perhaps ‘being good’ or ‘being naughty’ have little to do with right and wrong or good and evil. I was ‘good’ because I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs Hailes.

My friend Martin ‘lifted’ a Matchbox car from the hall where a jumble sale was being set up. He showed me it in the playground. It was a little second-hand, bashed, paint scratched combine harvester. He held it under the soapy foam that came out of a waste pipe from the sinks in the dinner hall, which was a separate building from the school. The flow of foam made the little combine spin round. It was brilliant, but wrong. I couldn’t believe he’d done it. I knew he shouldn’t have it. I knew we couldn’t put it back. I told him so. Then I dropped it into the drain. I don’t know how Mrs Hailes found out, but she did. We explained everything. She listened. We left. She knew that we knew and that was enough punishment: the shame of letting her down.

We only knew Mrs Hailes for those three first years of school. In 1978, we moved up to the junior side, and Mr Jackson was our headmaster. She retired and went to live on Sherburn Hill. We had a celebration in the hall and she got presents, given by Mrs Reed who would now take her place. She looked happy. But I felt it was sad. I often wanted to go up Sherburn Hill and thank her for the elephants.

If you liked this theme of childhood and school memories you may like:

I own the only surviving copy of time

My headmaster still owes me £50

Why do we remember what we remember?

Everyone remembers a good teacher

The Creative Troublemaker

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

Eureka, eureka! (this bath is too hot!)

If we lived in a world where things never changed, there would be no science because there would be nothing to figure out. If we lived in a world where things changed randomly, there would be no science because everything would appear too complicated to work out anything from the chaos. Fortunately (and probably inevitably) we live in a universe where things do change, but slowly, according to fixed laws of nature: When I throw a stick up in the air, it always comes down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again in the east. The laws of nature can be notices, then figured out and explored. In doing so we have improved and enriched our lives.

But the secrets of nature are sometimes not at all obvious and not revealed to us easily. In history we have had to rely on the reasoning, insight and often chance, of a small number of great thinkers for them to have been discovered.

Many of these momentous discoveries were often made by one solitary person, alone with their thoughts. What could have possibly made them think of such things that no one else had ever thought of before? What made them hit upon the right answer?  Was it luck, divine inspiration, thoughtful reasoning, a zest for experiment or a finely tuned creative mind?

Some world changing discoveries were made more easily than others, some made against a forceful wall of oppression.

This the story of Archimedes‘ revelation as he quite ordinarily and casually took a bath.

According to what we now call ‘Archimedes’ principle’, the specific gravity of every component is inversely proportional to the volume of water it displaces.  Put another way this means that if you put something in a bath, the volume of water that spills over the edge will be the same volume of the thing you dropped in the bath… It sounds obvious now, but before Archimedes took that bath, the only way anyone could tell how much of something you had, was to weigh it. We know that gold is heavier than silver.  But what if gold and silver had been melted together? How would you know how much gold you had then? You’d have to melt it down. But what if it had been made into a crown, how could you tell without melting the crown down?

The detailed account of Archimedes’ bath-time joy that we have today was written by the great Roman architect Vitruvius who lived during the reign of Augustus, around about the beginning of the Christian era, which although was about two centuries after the event, was based on long held traditional accounts and few historians have any real cause to doubt its accuracy.

So Vitruvius takes up the story.

“When Hieron reigned over Syracuse, this prince, being fortunately blessed in all his enterprises, vowed a temple offering to the immortal gods of a crown of gold. He agreed with a craftsman what sum should go into it’s making and weighed it out in gold. This artisan delivered his work to the king on the appointed day, who found it executed perfectly well. On weighing the crown it appeared to be of the same weight as the gold that had been issued; but a test suggested that the worker had retained a part of the gold, which he had replaced with silver in the crown.

“The king was very irate at being tricked in this way, but lacking the means of convicting the worker of theft, he asked Archimedes to devise one. Archimedes, while wholly absorbed in this matter, took a bath one day, and noticed that as he immersed himself in the tub, the water spilled over. This observation led him to the desired discovery, and he was so overcome by joy that he rushed out of the bath and, running naked through the house he began shouting that he had discovered what he had sought, which in Greek is ‘eureka, eureka, I have found it, I have found it!’”

What he had actually found was simply a rise in the water level. An obviously ordinary, everyday event, and yet he thought of using the effect in an experiment. He took the crown, and a equal mass of gold and of silver and placed them all in equal volumes of water and found that the crown caused a rise in the water level greater than that of the gold, but less than that of silver. Because silver is lighter than gold, the amount of silver needed to match the weight of gold would have been slightly larger, with a slightly larger volume and therefore displaced more water. This proved how much silver had been used in making the crown, replacing some of the king’s gold. Archimedes correctly disclosed that the worker had been a swindler after all.

The fate of the worker is unknown. There’s probably another law which states that the punishment he received was directly proportional to the cleverness of Archimedes’ discovery and that the subsequent metal the craftsman had to deal with would have been a blade that cut his throat.

Archimedes went on to invent a way of getting water to move uphill, a ray gun that would destroy distant ships as well as many mathematical methods.

But what can we learn from his bath discovery? Perhaps that the answers to our problems are often right in front of us – it’s our ability to recognise them as such which is the key.

It’s also no coincidence that Archimedes was in an intuitive creative state in his bath – aren’t we all…

 (Comic strip from ‘All About Science’ Vol1, Part6, 1973)

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

My headmaster still owes me £50

(What inspires children may not be what we think…)

He was The Headmaster of the junior side of the school. The title alone held us in awe.

He had an office, way, way down the far end of the dark corridor. You didn’t even want to peek in, through the haze of stale tobacco smoke. That room held far too much power. It was also home to the cane. I saw it once, but thankfully never felt its sting.

Mr Jackson carried the potent aroma of his tobacco smoke around with him. At 63 he was probably the oldest man we knew and reminded me of the first Doctor Who, appearing sometimes friendly, sometimes crotchety, sometimes god-like and sometimes fun.

He lived in a terraced house at the entrance of our modern estate. His authority didn’t require wealth to back it up. He’d often entertain us with stories in assembly like the one of his birthday when his son had bought him a new Jaguar car. He’d been told it was parked outside and had ventured out to find a 1:36 scale Corgi toy car in the middle of the drive with a ribbon round it. We all enjoyed the joke, although I wondered why he hadn’t told us if it was an XJ6 or XJS.

When Mr Jackson did get a new car it was a brand new cream coloured Austin Mini Metro. We all crowded round, amazed at the W reg which he pointed out was the first to be delivered in the county. It was the first new model of car that I was aware of. We’d all seen the adverts on TV and in the papers. The Metro just looked so futuristic and how cool that our headmaster was the first person to get one.

Mr Jackson was also a councillor and there was an election around the same time as the general election. The North East of England was always going to be a left-wing Labour stronghold, even with the impending Conservative landslide victory of Mrs Thatcher that year. But Mr Jackson stood as an Independent Labour candidate. I never knew why. Perhaps he felt official Labour was out of step with what the country needed under Michael Foot, but still held onto his socialist ideals. But whatever it was, Sean and I thought he needed some support. After all, he was our headmaster. So we made banners and strode around the village proclaiming ‘Vote Jackson’. We didn’t tell him that’s what we were doing, we wouldn’t have dared. But he found out and thanked us in assembly. I don’t know if our canvasing had any effect, but he did win.

One day he heard me talking to some kids at lunchtime about the Space Shuttle Columbia which was about to launch for the first time. He called me over and asked me to explain it to him. I told him all about it, how the boosters worked, how it would take off like a rocket, the duration of the mission, how it would land like an aeroplane, protected by the heat-resistance tiles and how it opened a new age in space exploration. He listened and then thanked me and went back to his office.

It was early summer, 1982 when we all went as a class for a nature walk up Sherburn Hill. Not the road lined with houses, but the wild, overgrown woodland and heath-like hill, that it was said, was partly an overgrown Victorian rubbish dump. It was certainly mysterious. Mr Jackson came with us and pointed out with a stick the trickle of water that carved its way down the hill, forging the dirt path that we were walking on.

“Look at that,” he said, “water always flows down, always makes its way downwards.”

I thought about this for a moment. He was right, it did. Then he turned to me.

“I’ll give £50 to anyone who shows me where water runs uphill!”

Then he turned and carried on the trek up the path.

I paused and thought. Water does flow downhill. Is there any an occasion that it goes the other way? £50? I had to find a way. Then it came to me. Of course! I’d seen water go uphill… when we put the car through the carwash, the blower blows the water droplets up the windscreen. I quickened my step to catch up with Mr Jackson. Hang on, I thought, what about, what-do-you-call-it, ‘capillary action’, if you put a tissue in a beaker of water and hang it over the edge, the water will rise up out of the beaker. Then I remembered making wine with my Dad too. We had the wine in large demijohns and when we wanted to get it out we’d put in a clear tube and my Dad sucked on it until the wine poured all the way through the tube and into the bottle: the wine had gone up hill. Then I thought about the Space Shuttle. I’d seen water, floating about in big blobs in the zero gravity of space. I’d thought of four ways that water flowed up hill! But I couldn’t catch up with Mr Jackson and most of the rest of the walk we were in single file.

Over the following week I looked for the opportunity to tell him what I knew and claim my £50 but the chance wasn’t forthcoming. Going up to his office wasn’t an option, I had to wait for a opportune meeting.

It was early summer and nearly the end of school. I would have to be quick. But for the last two weeks of term I was quite ill. I missed the celebrations of leaving junior school and, in the autumn we went to different secondary schools so I never saw my old chums again, except for Sean and Barry. I missed Mr Jackson’s retirement party too in that last week. Mr Hall presented him with a gift as he was due to take over, Barry said. The children had all been presented with a gift, an ‘Observers Book of…’ something. Weeks earlier we were asked what we all wanted. I’d chosen the Observer’s Book of Cars. Barry had picked up my book for me. They’d got me the Observer’s Book of Cats.

I never saw Mr Jackson again. Not long after his retirement I heard he had died, suddenly, from a heart attack. I never got that chance to thank him for the riddle, to give him my ideas and to claim the £50.

Perhaps to inspire children we don’t need to be magnificent. Perhaps we don’t need to be momentous. Perhaps all we need to be, is to engage with them and to be there with them, for them. Thank you Mr Jackson.

If you liked this theme of childhood and school memories you may like:

I own the only surviving copy of time

Why do we remember what we remember?

Everyone remembers a good teacher

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

The Creative Troublemaker

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

The ultimate joint venture for creativity: collaborate with your former selves

(Learn here the secret method of Experiential Creativity)

There are two types of creativity. One, we all have (but most lose) and that is the one we are all born with and use as children: the ability to experiment.

The second is not talked about, and again few use and yet we all have access to it. It is making new patterns from our experiences to create new ideas and new solutions.

We know we need to use our Experimental Creativity, to try new things without judgement, every creativity guru will tell you that (including me).

But what about this other type: Experiential Creativity. How can we harness that?

If you’ve ever watched the television programme Doctor Who, you’ll know that in its 48 year history a number of different actors have played the role. Each of the 11 official incarnations of the character are of course the same man. When his body wears out or gets injured he ‘regenerates’ into an new, entirely different looking man. It was a brilliant conceit by the writers that they could replace the lead actor with another one whenever they needed to and he didn’t have to look, dress or act the same. (Remember those annoying programmes that swapped the main actor to a look-a-like and expected us not to notice? Remember Joey from Bread?)

Ayd Instone as Doctor Who title sequenceFor the 10th and 20th anniversaries* of the programme the producers thought it would be a good idea for a storyline to have a threat so great that the Doctor couldn’t solve it on his own so he would have to have help – from himself, in the form of his ‘former selves’.

Now of course they could have pulled out of time a version of the Doctor from a couple of weeks earlier or months earlier. But that earlier version would have looked more or less the same, bar a different velvet jacket. It was much more fun to have coincidentally the Timelords pulling a versions of the Doctor from his previous incarnations. It made for a great story, they could argue and call each other names, but being different versions of the same man, eventually work together to solve the problem in the story.

My proposition to you is that we should all do the same.

Ayd Instone 1973

Now, unless you’re a Timelord with a number of regenerations, the chances are you look pretty much the same when you look back at your life. Perhaps you looked a little younger. Perhaps you wore different clothes.

Look back at your life and decide (arbitrarily of course) which eras of your life you can catergorise as separate incarnations.

It could be that the child version of us is one, the teenage version of us is another. When we were a New Romantic or Punk could be one, when we were a student could be another. If there was an era where you thought in a particular way or dressed in a particular way, define that as an incarnation. Perhaps we can divide out lives into 5 or 11 incarnations (depending on how long you’re own adventure series has run so far).

Ayd Instone 1989

You can see 6 of my incarnations on this very page. Don’t worry if you don’t look as odd as I do. You don’t have to be weird for this to work (but it helps).

Then define that key characteristics of each incarnation. What did they like, believe, love, hate? How did they dress and what did they do.

If you think deeply about it you’ll find there are differences. Just like how Doctor Who is the same man, the same essential character throughout, each version has idiosyncrasies that make him look at life in slightly different ways in each incarnation.

The same is true for us.

Ayd Instone 1992

This exercise is important because the greatest Mastermind Group, the greatest Think Tank, the greatest Team we can have working with us and for us is one that comprises of us in each of our incarnations. If we can get our experiences (comprising as they are of memory and emotions) ‘online’, i.e. accessible to us, we will have at our disposal the greatest creativity and problem solving methods there are.

It took three Doctors to defeat the renegade Omega, creator of the black hole, the Eye of Harmony, that made him the architect of time travel. It took five Doctors to defeat his former tutor, Borusa, who sought the immortality of the very first Time Lord, Rassilon.

Ayd Instone 1995

How many ‘yous’ will it take to solve your current or greatest challenge? The good news is that they’ll all available to be pulled out of time and be consulted to gain their unique take, wisdom and experiences to augment our current selves.

Who knows, perhaps our current incarnations will be called upon by a future version of ourselves to solve an even greater challenge. Just like in Doctor Who, we often find that we’ll have the answers within us all along.

(* They very nearly pulled it off again for the 30th anniversary, but for various reasons, didn’t. They did do something, but we don’t talk about that…)

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:


What the Beatles got wrong, part 1: Don’t flitter to the glitter

The success and longevity of the Beatles as a cultural and creative force is undeniable. And, as discussed here, their legend has a solid place in history.

But is wasn’t all plain sailing. To the people of 1962 (1964 in America) the Beatles seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, fully formed. Behind their overnight success lay many years of hard work, heartbreak, sweat and coincidence. They then went onto have hit after hit, everything they touched seemed to turn to gold for longer than seemed believable, evolving and innovating and getting better and better.

But there were a few, at first unnoticeable errors and mistakes and then later bigger decisions which nearly sank the ship.

Beatles 1968 by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1968. Drawing by Ayd Instone

Most people are aware of the criticism of the Magical Mystery Tour TV (the less-than) Special and the Get Back/Let it Be misery, so here are some perhaps lesser-known and hopefully more insightful decisions made, that had repercussions for the Beatles and their post-Beatles lives.

There are quite a few, so let’s choose just just one for now and it’s this:

They thought their All Powerful god-like success could be transferred to projects outside their experience and knowledge

In 1968 the Beatles launched Apple Corps (The name was a joke as it was pronounced Apple Core, although a more accurate pronunciation would have been Apple Corpse). It was a mess from the start. They attempted to transfer the hippy mentality of boundless creativity and expression, or freedom, peace and love into a retail outlet and a open door talent agency.

The Apple store lasted a few months before they knocked it on the head by announcing that everything in it was free. It brought out the worst in people who reportedly stampeded and fought to get their hands on kaftans and beaded garments. In the ugly scene that day, they even ripped out the shelving and flooring. That was the end of the Apple Store.

Apple’s idea that anyone who has a talent should just send in their stuff or turn up at the door showed another level of naivety. Like every record company and publisher, then and now, they were inundated with the bad, the ugly and the untalented. Of the handful of new acts they did pick up, only Mary Hopkin, Badfinger and James Taylor amounted to anything and they’d been discovered by the Beatles themselves, not from the slush pile of submissions.

Lennon showed admirable idealism in a 1968 interview about their business plans, for championing the unheard talented, creative masses, but also revealed his ignorance when he said that the Beatles were also going to be involved in “…what you call it, manufacturing …or something”. They really had no idea. Less than a year later Lennon admitted that if Apple continued to lose money at the rate it was, “We’d be broke in three months.”

Their decisions were bad and the implementation poor. But looking again at the ideas, they are actually very sound indeed.

The Apple Boutique was the first store of what is now an accepted concept. A shop that sells multi-cultural clothing and World music. Unheard of in 1968 and now everywhere.

The idea of encouraging talent, to give it the break it deserves is a magnificent idea. They just went about it the wrong way by using the old methods of opening the floodgate with no thought to how to manage it. Compare it with the different ideas of running initiative in schools or even television talent contests such as the X Factor. They have similar aims, but more manageable processes.

When I do my creativity talks and training, or my book writing workshops, one of the common ‘problems’ people have is that they say they ‘have too many ideas’.

So the problem is not, ‘not having a clue’, it’s more like being able to make the right choice from your ideas, to do the right thing at the right time.

The answer to this problem is easier than you might imagine: you chose the idea that you feel you can do best, that you will enjoy the most and that will give the greatest reward (in whatever measurement you choose to measure success, be it fulfillment, money or whatever).

We need to realise that we shouldn’t flitter to the glitter of the next and most brightly glimmering exciting looking idea. We should expand and innovate around our core and make the jump into something completely new only when it too has a solid foundation, just like the thing we’re leaping from.

This is the problem the Beatles had. They had too many ideas that all sounded to them as brilliant as every single idea they came up with. The mistake they made was to jump into these crazy ideas without looking where they were leaping.

The Beatles diversion into ‘business’ with Apple Corps showed them, eventually, that they were very, very good at making music. But little else. Sometimes we need to realise that it’s no bad thing to be very, very good at doing just the one big thing. If you’re going to expand into new areas, get the talent in to help so you don’t take your eye off the ball that you can play so well.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

The two year creativity rule and how the Beatles used it

(or Why you must turn She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows)

Beatles US visit 1964 ink drawing  by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1964. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Most things in popular culture have a shelf life of just two years. Two short years before they run out of steam, become passe or boring and disappear, or, change form into something different, and then last another two years.

If you look at the pop charts, there are few artistes there from earlier than two years ago.

Just take a moment to look at your own life. The two year rule appears to work there too.

It’s as if human projects, be it friendships, affairs, or bands, clubs or gym membership begin with an enthusiasm which powers it long enough to last 600 – 700 days before the energy runs low. If the project doesn’t have another burst of enthusiasm, it will fall apart. But if it does get another injection of energy, it will change, hopefully for the better.

If you look at television series, the first two seasons have a similar feel. The third has to change the format somehow which either makes the show a hit and lasts another two years, or loses it’s audience and dies off. When the format ceases to innovate for that third series and tries to keep everything the same, even if it appears to the writers that their stuff is as good as ever, often it has become a parody of itself, re-treading old ground and becoming self-referencing. This is the point it either develops a cult following, or flops and fades away.

It’s the same with our lives. The two year rule reminds us that we must constantly innovate, but must be prepared for drastic change every two years.

If you’ve been in a job, in the same role for two years, the third year will seem repetitive and stale. If you don’t get promotion, changes in your role, more responsibility or something else, you’ll get bored and it will begin to affect other areas of your life.

There are plenty of examples of how best to use the two year rule but my favourite is the story of the Beatles.

Beatlemania arguably began in autumn 1963. The Beatles were enjoying universal success in the UK with their third number one, She Loves You and had just performed for the nation live at the London Palladium. This is our starting point. They slowly evolved, producing hit after hit for the next two years, conquered America and the World, keeping within their winning mop-top formula, keeping the girls screaming and everybody buying their records.

Then the two year rule took effect in late 1965. If they had produced another ‘Merseybeat’ happy-go-lucky song and album at that time they could have gone the way of all the other early sixties beat groups. They didn’t. They went in the studio and recorded Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). In just under three years from recording She Loves You they had produced something which was just about as far away from that song as is possible to get, and which at the time sounded like nothing on Earth. (It incidentally and unintentionally lay a foundation for modern electronic dance music too).

Beatles Revolver 1966 ink drawing by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1966. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

They became the market leader in this new phase of ‘psychedelic’ music. A phase which again, like every other, had a shelf life of two years. Again, many bands tried to stick with this new sound past 1968. They would come to be seen as the next batch of old fashioned yesterdays groups. Instead, the Beatles went (as they described it) ‘back to basics’ on their White Album, which appeared as a literal antithesis of the garishness of Sgt. Pepper which came before it.

This re-found ‘rawness’ heard on The White Album, the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) and Abbey Road took them through to 1970 when another change was due. The change they chose then of course was to work apart.

The musical styles that followed also adhered to the two year rule as the Beatles handed the batten to a new generation of bands to carry it forward. But very few other acts managed to do as they did and survive the two year change and stride the changes that inevitably come, in music and in every field.

From the early 1970s onwards music went through a number of mainstream trends, (some overlap but essentially are) the heavy rock/folk rock of 70-72 into Glam Rock 72-74, Disco 75-77, Punk 76-78, New Wave 78-80, New Romantic 81-83 and so on.

Where are you in your projects, work and life? Have you been working within something for nearly two years? If so you may need to work out what will innovate and revitalise it before it loses power and is overtaken by newer ideas from outside.

Here are a few ideas to do every two to three years:

  • reignite your personal relationships, partners and friends with a celebration.
  • If you are in business, think of a new product or service to launch or a completely new marketing campaign to revitalise the old
  • Start a new hobby or take an existing one to the next level by getting advanced training, new equipment or new players and partners to join in with
  • Go somewhere new for your holidays
  • Have a massive ‘spring clean’ in your home, work and life, getting rid of what no longer serves or is broken

Ask yourself this question: If you’re doing well right now, at the top of your charts with your own She Loves You – how can you top it? How can you create something bigger, better, more influential and yet still very much you: what will be your She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows transformation?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.