The telescope, the printer, the past and the future…

Our 3D printer has generated a lot of interest in school and around on social media where we’ve shared pictures of the amazing things we’ve made. So what is it, how does it work, and what are we doing with it?

Our story starts a couple of years ago when one of our year 10 students, bought himself a kit to build his own 3D printer. He did it, it worked, but the results were not that impressive. The device sat unloved at the back of the physics lab for a year before he returned to it, customised almost all of it, installed new software and got it going properly. It could print items up to 8cm3 and he made some amazing things which we then painted and marvelled at. But it was terribly slow, taking hours to print the smallest thing. He and fellow 6th former and A Level Physics student, put forward a proposal for the school to buy a new, more advanced machine. Their white paper outlined numerous great ideas on what the device could be used for as both a practical tool and a learning experience. But school budgets have to be spent on what we need to have and sadly not on what we’d like to have…

Now the story takes an interesting twist. 45 years ago, one of the doctors from the local Robin Hood’s Bay surgery retired. Richard Whitehead Rutter was born in Wakefield in 1909, graduating in medicine in 1933 from Leeds University. He set up the surgery at Robin Hoods Bay and in 1961 formed, with a team of colleagues, what is now the Whitby partnership surgeries. He was president of the Fylingdales horticultural society and their bowling club as well as chairman of the Whitby Rural District Council in addition to being a keen golfer. He was also an amateur astronomer. Years earlier he had acquired a Watson Century telescope from a retired sea captain. The brass telescope was made at the turn of the twentieth century, probably just prior to the First World War. It was massive – over two metres long, with a large wooden tripod and was very, very heavy. 

Doctor Rutter’s son had been a student at Fyling Hall and it was perhaps for this reason he donated the telescope to Mrs White, daughter of the founder of the school and then principal, around the time of his retirement in 1975. That retirement was sadly short-lived as he died six months later, aged just 65. Mrs White passed the telescope on to the school and upon his arrival, a new teacher mounted it on its tripod and gazed through it to the stars. It was deemed too unwieldily (the tripod almost collapsed due to a crack in the wood), too heavy and large to set up permanently and after a valuation, proved too valuable to leave lying around. It was put back in its large wooden case and put safely away in the loft space above the labs in the Ramsdale building. That’s where I found it two years ago. We decided once again that it was not something we could use easily. It also was in need of a lot of restoration. Much as I would have loved to go through that process, it would be a costly diversion. So we decided to see who would be interested in buying it. Mike Dawson from the Whitby Astronomical Society came forward and it now resides in his home, undergoing a full restoration, stripping the layers of paint back to the original brass. Mike has said he’ll share the results with us when it’s back to its former glory.

Now we return to my students’ proposal. I was in possession of the proceeds from the sale of the telescope. The school had already had a more modern telescope donated to us recently so I felt it was appropriate to re-invest the money in a different device that would benefit the school in a new way, and I hope, in a way that Doctor Rutter would approve. 

In February this year we took delivery of an Artillery X1 Sidewinder 3D printer: faster, quieter, safer and more powerful than the older kit. It’s capable of making any object up to 30cm3 – that’s big.

If you haven’t seen a 3D printer, think of it as a cross between a sewing machine and a cake icer. It uses a large spool of a plastic thread (called ‘filament’). The printer melts the filament and deposits it as tiny droplets on the glass printer bed where it cools instantly. In this regard, it is almost the same as a traditional inkjet printer except that it can build up layers upon layers of tiny dots, making up complex structures in three dimensions. ‘Plastic!’ I hear you say, we don’t want more of that! The plastic we use, called PMA, is made from plant cellulose, not oil as most plastics are. It’s biodegradable too and non-toxic. It gives off no harmful fumes. It’s not wasteful as we make only what we need, one thing at a time, unlike a production line which produces thousands of items. We can get our filament in a variety of colours too.

To print something we need a three dimensional drawing, usually referred to as a CAD model (Computer Aided Design). There are thousands of these available on the internet for free that people have uploaded, or you can design your own using the appropriate software.

So what are we making with it? So far we’ve done the thing that everyone does when they first get a 3D printer: make toys. You’ll see here pics of Daleks and things from Star Wars. We’ve also made some unusual curiosities like the Impossible Table and the spinning fidget puzzle. One of our goals is to make a fleet of historic space vehicles, probes, robots and rockets. So far we have a model of Voyager and the Space X Falcon rocket. The other use is to design and build items that are actually of use. We have loads of ideas for equipment that will benefit our science experiments, holding equipment in place or casings for circuitry. One of the most simple and yet most useful was a wall cable rack for our electronic leads.

With 3D printers now becoming consumer units, we are now at the place where colour inject printers were about twenty years ago – once the province of print shops and educational establishments, they are now found in almost every home. We predict the same is true of the 3D printers where they’ll be used to print new Lego bricks for your children or replacement parts for your washing machine or car. Perhaps these future machines will have a plastic grinder attached so you simple drop in your plastic milk bottles for the machine to re-use the plastic to turn it into something else right there in your home. In industry, larger machines than ours are already being used to print joints and body parts for surgery. Maybe some of us we will have a new hip or knee joint printed on such machines in the near future. The plastic can be change for metal infused carbon or even concrete. Such large machines are used in disaster hit countries to quickly print refugee housing. In the next decade, similar machines will be shipped as parts to the Moon and Mars, assembled by robots and using the alien soil as their raw material, build strange igloos for human travellers to begin colonies on these other worlds. The future landscape of a human settlement on Mars may not resemble the glass domes of science fiction but a city looking more like giant termite nests that appear to have grown out of the alien soil, printed in exactly the same was as ours in our lab is operating today. 

Thanks to the generous donation from Doctor Rutter all those years ago and the persistence and ingenuity of my students, we now have a modern design and technology workshop installed in the Physics lab which will in time give a massive benefit to our classes and our students offering new skills as well as a valuable glimpse into the future.

The story of a long lost friend, found again

Palitoy Talking Dalek

In the attic…

I’ve become obsessed with an idea, or rather a feeling or memory of an emotion. It’s linked directly to an artifact that you probably don’t have the same interest in, let alone have any connection to. But the object isn’t the point of this, the linkages and thoughts that are connected to it are. So for you there may be a similar effect but with a very different artifact. Let’s see.

Five days before my sixth birthday, on Christmas morning, I awoke to find a box in my stocking, left by Father Christmas. It measured 8” x 6” x 6”. It was still dark when my brother and I climbed excitedly into my parent’s bed to open our presents. I unwrapped the box to discover what would be the most treasure toy of my childhood and my most valuable possession until I owned a computer six years later.

I played with the toy constantly until I was around eleven. Then it became an ornament on my windowsill, on display to see every day. Then, when I eventually left home to go to university, never to return, it was packed in a cupboard in a box which a decade later made its way into my loft.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of Doctor Who. My parents knew I was that Christmas as I opened my presents to reveal The Dr Who Annual 1977 (which I wasn’t capable of reading until a year later) and the joy of joys: a Palitoy Talking Dalek.

Even the box was exciting. It had an illustration of a red Dalek on one side and a silver one on the other side. Mine was silver, with blue spots. There was a little bag in the box that contained the appendages; the eye, gun and sucker-arm. I put it together and put in the two HP7 batteries and pressed the black button on the Dalek’s head. It had four phrases, “Exterminate, Exterminate!”, “What Are Your Orders?”, “You Will Obey!” and “Attack, Attack, Attack!” Later I would discover that these were located on a small vinyl record disc inside the Dalek. David McKiterick took the record out of his bothers Dalek and put one in from a talking doll. So the Dalek said “Mama! Mama!” and some poor unfortunate little girl’s doll said “You Will Obey!”

I made the later, regretful, decision that I didn’t need to keep the Dalek’s box. It got thrown out on Boxing Day. That was the last toy box that I didn’t keep. So with future toys I would be able to keep them in pristine condition, return them to their box and open them up again, re-enacting opening them for the first time. But with my Dalek, the box had gone.

I did see a box, one more time, the following year when we were in Durham’s department store, Doggarts (later to become a branch of Boots). They had Talking Daleks on sale there. I longed to have a red one to compliment mine, but at £5, they were far too expensive. Simon Payne brought his red one to school when we were allowed to bring in a toy one day. I took in some teddy bear. There was no way I was going to risk any damage or loss to my Dalek.

But somehow, even with my due diligence, the sucker-arm was lost. I made a replacement one from a sucker dart from one of those guns that fired suckered darts. I made a replacement arm, gun and eye for Simon Mckiterick’s too. His dad had bought the last Talking Dalek from Doggarts, without the box or appendages. His Dalek didn’t last long, after losing the record, it got totally dismantled. I saw the shoulder section from Sarah Woolfenden’s bedroom window, inexplicably on her garage roof.

The following Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a Doctor Who doll (in the likeness of Tom Baker) and his Tardis, as well as the most prized book of my childhood and beyond; Terry Nation’s Dalek Annual 1978.

It was then that I noticed that something was amiss with my Palitoy Talking Dalek. Namely, it had the wrong number of spots. Looking at the pictures in my Dalek annual it seemed that the number of skirt panels were wrong too. Even though it was, to date, the most accurately reproduced model Dalek, the head was a little too small and squat too. Why did the sucker arm have a central spike and why was it and the eye red? I had suddenly become visual discerning.

The inaccuracy in Doctor Who toys is startling. The Cyberman had a nose. Tom Baker’s face looked exactly like Gareth Hunt from the Avengers (that was because the Tom Baker mould was damaged just before production so they actually did use a Gareth Hunt mould). Later 1980s toys had big errors such as the six-sided Tardis console having five sides, Davros, famous for having just one arm, had two, and the robot dog K9, who everyone could tell you was grey; was green in the toy.

But these things didn’t stop me having fun playing with my Dalek. I painted the eye the correct colours and in 1979 stuck on black stickers on the shoulder slats to match the on-screen look of the Daleks in Destiny of the Daleks.

By 1981 my Dalek would no longer talk. He stood on my windowsill until I went to university  in 1990 and was then packed into a box that sat in a cupboard and then was shipped out to my own house and made it’s way to my loft.

Someone on ebay makes replica arms and boxes. What a crazy and yet genius idea. So now I have the parts to restore my Talking Dalek. But can I get him to talk once again?

I brought him down from the loft, dismantled the mechanism and washed him, taking off the stickers from 1979. His silver grey plastic had a slight golden tinge to it, probably due to exposure to light over the years. The inner mechanism is a tiny record player with a transparent disc that contains the phrases. I cleaned all the parts and removed the dust but nothing happened. I feared the motor had given up the ghost but after attaching the batteries directly to it, it started to spin. It too was probably clogged. I left the battery connected for ten minutes and the motor span faster and faster. Putting the needle back in and assembling the whole thing, I pressed the button.

It was a magic moment as an unearthly voice from the past grated out those famous words. What you need to appreciate is that sound coming from the Talking Dalek is not electronic; we’ve become too familiar with toys that have sampled digital sounds stored on computer chips. This is different. It’s an analogue, organic sound. The whir of the motor and the scratchy, wobbly sound echoing from the tiny disc. The Dalek toy is designed inside as a sound box which echoes and amplifies the sound, reverberating it throughout the inside of the Dalek.

Perhaps that why this was not just my favourite and most treasured toy; it was somehow alive. I wonder how he feels now, working again, being played with again. I wonder how he feels looking up with his red eye into my eyes, to see I’m no longer a five year old boy.

Palitoy Talking Dalek and boxIn February 1977 we sat on my parents bedroom windowsill, looking out into the evening as the snow started to fall. We watched it fall, my Dalek and I. First it covered the black tarmac with a powdery white covering. Within the hour it had hidden all sign of the curb as the pavement and road became a single blanket of white. We watched as the night fell and the street lights came on in the silence that only snow knows. Then it was tea-time. Outside the snow continued to fall and the wind blew drifts over the village.

That’s why there’s a value for me in this adventure. By restoring my Talking Dalek I’ve somehow re-connected, not with a old plastic toy, but with the little boy who used to treasure it. We are the same he and I, separated by a gulf of half a lifetime, of sorrows and joys. I need to remember that we are the same. Whatever trials and tribulations face me today, I owe it to that little boy to not let him down.

I also have children of my own now. There are at the age when they will be forming memories that will define for them their own history of who they are. It’s my job to facilitate and support that process in whatever form it takes. It’s unlikely to be a Talking Dalek that will excite and inspire them. They had fun pushing the button for a while before running off to play some other game.

My Talking Dalek also remind me that we are all unique in our loves, our passions and our journeys. My parents could not have guess the relevance of my Talking Dalek and I may probably never know what memory triggers my own children will find.

So have a think at what connects the dots in your life. Is there an artifact, a sound, a place that connects you to that small child from all those years ago?

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.

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Gratitude and Forgiveness

Fortunately there’s no such thing as time travel. And even if there was, I wouldn’t be travelling back to this month, ten years ago with any advice for my former self.

The past has gone and everything that was within it has gone. The light that lit the past has gone out. The energy that powered the past has been transformed. The atoms that shaped the past have moved on. Nothing remains of the past except the faint echo of memory.

A photograph isn’t the past, its atoms here in the present, shaped in a pattern that mimics where light fell onto a light sensitive substance long ago. Even we are not the past. The atoms that make up our bodies change with every breath and we have an entirely new body every ten years or so.

So the past doesn’t exist and the future is out of reach. We approach it on the slow train at the speed of one second every second. Although we can’t see into the future, that slow pace allows us to shape what we’ll find there by the time we arrive in it by what we think and do today.

The way to get more of what you want in your life and less of what you don’t want is to focus on what you have that you do want and celebrate it and be thankful for it. This is what we call gratitude. I can now say that I’m grateful for everything that has happened in my life because of what I’ve learnt and the changes I’ve been able to make because of those events. That doesn’t mean I’d rather it hadn’t happened in quite the way it did, but since that was what was required to get me to this point, I’m not making a fuss. To be grateful for everything requires one extra giant step and that is perhaps the hardest one to make. But to be truly free of what has happened to you in the past, you must be ready to forgive.

I’d never really understood forgiveness properly, apart from abstractly, until this point.

I don’t believe that forgiveness means that you should necessarily forget, unless you want to. It doesn’t mean that you should be best friends with those that have hurt you. It doesn’t mean that you expect compensation in return. It doesn’t mean that your pain is negated or unimportant. It doesn’t mean that you have to justify what was done to you. It doesn’t mean that you have to take any blame yourself.

All it means is that you hold no malice, anger or resentment. It means you have no emotional attachment to what happened. It means you no longer hold a grudge, seek retribution or demand punishment. It means you have let go.

It feels like a hard thing to do, but to me it felt like a release. What’s rarely discussed is the self-benefit of forgiveness. It’s not so much a gift that you are giving to the other party but a gift that you are giving yourself.

So I had already forgiven her, but since I had no contact, she didn’t know. Then out of the blue came a text message. At first I didn’t know who it was from since I had long erased her details. She said that she knew that she deserved the misery that she was now suffering (which I knew nothing about). She said that she wanted to tell me that “we reap what we sow”, so we can only guess what may have happened to her. She then asked could I ever forgive her. I replied simply that I could and that I already had.

Life is what you make of it. The good and the bad. Every single situation can have a negative, positive or neutral angle on it. Those angles aren’t really there, except in the context of the person experiencing them, who can choose which meaning to ascribe to the situation.

So nothing good, bad or indifferent really happens to us. All that happens is that events occur. Being human creators, we naturally search for meaning in events and look for significance by stringing them together into narratives designed to fit our pre-judged criteria.

So was what happened to me bad? Obviously, I’d been cheated on, betrayed, lied to and left. Are the outcomes greater than what I would have had if all this hadn’t happened? Absolutely. Thus we notice we’re part of the complex paradox that is life. Do I wish all the pain hadn’t happened? Naturally we want to avoid pain, but what if that pain allows us to grow?

Fortunately, we don’t have the power to change the past. We don’t really have the brain power as mere humans to calculate the effect that minute changes in space and time could manifest in the universe. Fortunately we can change how we think of the past.

I’m a big fan of Doctor Who, the television series with the mysterious traveller known as ‘The Doctor’ who has a machine that allows him to travel through time and space. Even with all that power he rarely tampers with the natural flow of events. When his companions try to prevent the forthcoming invasion of the Spanish to South America leading to the extinction of the Aztec people, the Doctor tells her, “you cannot re-write history! Not one line!”. When he is faced with one of his greatest foes, the Egyptian god Sutekh, he summarises the danger by saying, “it takes a being of Sutekh’s unlimited power to destroy the future”

But most famously of all, in one story he travels back to the creation of his most dreaded enemy, the Daleks and has the opportunity to destroy them before they were even created. “Have I the right?” he asks himself, “a lot of people became allies because of their fear of the Daleks. Out of all that evil, one day some great good will come”. He decides to let time and coincidence take its natural course. He doesn’t get the result he wanted or expected but the result is good.

Some dreadful things have happened in history. But who can tell what has come to pass because of the complex tapestry of history. There’s no point in saying “oh if only I’d done such and such” or “if only things had been different”. What we have experienced has taught us the lessons, which enable us to embark on the next phase of our lives.

Can we love again? Can we trust again? Those are no more important questions than asking after a bout of food poisoning, ‘Can I ever eat again?’

The price I had to pay to gain what I now have wasn’t really so high. It was so definitely worth it. I’m grateful for it beyond measure.

Because of the changes and decisions I made after the events of ten years ago I am more healthy than I ever was. My business has been transformed in ways I could only have dreamt of. I’ve spoken to and hopefully inspired thousands of people, all over the UK and around the world. I’ve been paid money to do something I love doing. I’ve taken my guitar to Africa and sang songs for children on the beach. And of course I have my wife and three wonderful children.

All we have is today. That’s all we will ever have. But to live a happy and worthwhile life, today is all we need.

The only thing we can control is our thinking today. Our thinking today determines our actions today and our actions today determine our future. Let’s change our thinking today into even more powerful positive thoughts for an even more wonderful future.

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

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.

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Douglas Adams

I met him in 1992 and he signed my copy of his new novel, Mostly Harmless. An abridged version of his unfinished Doctor Who story Shada has just come out on video that week and I asked him about it. He said he “didn’t think it was any good” and had decided to donate all profits from it to charity. I told him I’d enjoyed it and he seemed genuinely surprised.

Last weekend would have been his 60th birthday. He died way too early, in 2001.

Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams

For me, Douglas Adams is just about as cool as you can get. Writer, environmentalist, part time Python, Mac Master, Beatles and Pink Floyd fan and philosophical observational genius. We all know that he wrote the multimedia storyscape that is The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. But there are other things, subtle little things that make him a hero for me.

It was said he was the first person in Europe to have an Apple Mac (Stephen Fry being the second). He was script editor of Doctor Who from 1978 to 1979 during Tom Baker’s craziest period (the two of them hit it off so well they encouraged the most ludicrous behavior in each other). He wrote three Doctor Who stories, including one of the best ever, ever, ever, ‘City of Death’, set in Paris, about an alien who steals the Mona Lisa and gets Leonardo to knock up a few copies in the past so he can sell them to private buyers in the present to fund his experiments. Genius! His fingerprints are all over the other stories of that era of the programme.

Since Adam’s untimely death in 2001, Shada has been made into a cartoon and a novel out this month. Adams himself re-tooled the story into Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Hitch Hikers too was a spin off from Doctor Who, especially the third installment, originally titled Doctor Who and the Krikkit Men which proved too expensive and over the top for Doctor Who so became Life the Universe and Everything with Slartibartfast taking the role of the Doctor.

How did you first come across Hitch Hikers? For me I was a little too young to hear the original radio series on first broadcast so it was a couple of years later when I read the novel. Then the radio was repeated just in time for the television series. A friend had the LP too so we could listen to an abridged version over and over again.

There was something about it that just spoke to us. It was as if he’d written it knowing the questions we would ask had we thought of them. He knew what we’d find funny even though we’d never heard anything like it before. It was the unexpected twist in language such as saying a drink was like, “being hit over the head by a slice of lemon, wrapped round a large gold brick”.

Adams found the inspiration for his stories all around in everyday things. When working as a security guard he noticed that the lifts would start operating on their own, going up and down. It made him think that they had some form of intelligence and were getting bored just sat there waiting for passengers. What if they had the foresight to be able to anticipate that someone needed the lift and be there ready before the person realised it?

The underlying theme in his work as I see it, especially Hitch Hikers is that everyone is insane. Everyone is out of order, with their own chaotic agendas, their own insecurities and their own erroneous beliefs that they follow. Arthur Dent represents us, everyman, an ordinary person swept up in something bigger and stranger than he can imagine and yet he’s fundamentally a part of the weirdness. There’s something compelling about this proposal because deep down we know it to be true.

That the intergalactic review for planet Earth in the Hitch Hiker encyclopedic guide reads just ‘harmless’ (“Well, they had to edit it down a bit” says Ford Prefect, the journalist who sent in his report of Earth after 20 years of study). Then the Earth is destroyed to make was for a hyperspacial bypass. It’s shocking. All that we have known. All the animals and plants, all the culture, the achievements, the struggles, all wiped out in seconds for no real reason. It’s funny because we know it’s a metaphor for something else, something very real and pernicious.

What Adams achieved with Hitch Hikers is the highest form of art: it entertains and informs and yet points to a greater, hidden reality. There’s a message put across in the strongest way possible and yet it’s never preaching or patronising.

There’s a freedom that comes from having a Hitch Hiker attitude. You’ll have seen it before (and since) in a few similar comedy worlds such The Goons, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Vic Reeves Big Night Out. In their worlds, ordinary things become intensely interesting. And funny. Even with all the pessimism and hopelessness there’s an optimism that shines through from being flippant in the face of seriousness, boredom or totalitarian authority.

To me, this is Douglas Adams’ legacy. Things aren’t always easy. They don’t always go to plan. No matter what we think, or how important we think we are, there’s always a bigger picture that doesn’t have us in it. And yet, amongst all the chaos, uncertainty, the salmon of doubt and irrelevance there’s always something, however tiny, that’s funny, beautiful, hopeful and our job, or rather the key to our happiness and fulfillment, is to find and focus on 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:

Questions are better when there are no answers

The original Rubik's CubeI heard about someone recently who said they refuse to do crosswords because they ‘didn’t want to waste time solving a problem for which the answer is already known by someone else.’

It’s an interesting viewpoint.

When we attempt to solve a puzzle set by someone else, we are really attempting to re-modeling our thought processes into the same setup as the author of the puzzle.

This is nowhere more true than in exam situations. The candidate is trying to get inside the head of the examiner to deliver the answer they are looking for.

This is why, when we understand how a particular problem works, such as a computer adventure game or lateral thinking puzzle, we know the formulae and get complete the tasks quite quickly.

I’m quite proud that I can complete the Rubik’s Cube. I shouldn’t be though. I could only figure out how to complete one side on my own. Then someone showed me the moves to complete it. At one point I could complete the cube, from any position, in 30 seconds. It’s a great party trick and a wonderful boast, but am I really being that clever? Does learning a set number of moves, i.e. having a standard set ways of solving a problem, make me remarkable or creative? I think you’ll agree that it does not. Anyone can learn those moves and anyone can then solve the Rubik’s Cube in no time.

The point is this: having learnt the moves to solve the cube allows me to solve the cube. It does not allow me to solve any other puzzle.

The Rubik’s Cube is a good example as unlike most puzzles it has no set way of solving it. There are as many ways are there are moves, which is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 moves (i.e. 43 quintillion).

Had I worked out the inter-spacial relationships of the elements of the cube and how they moved as the sides were turned, I would have had to engage my brain in a totally different way than I did by following someone else’s instruction. I would have, hopefully, worked out my own method of solving the puzzle. The difference between the two methods would have been that my brain would have been uniquely stretched by the experience of figuring it out from first principles.

What if it’s the same for exams? What if the subject is taught as a set number of moves to get to the required answer which is then used in the exam to complete the cube in the set, required way?

You might well say that it’s a waste of time, figuring out everything for yourself when you can take the short cut by asking for help. What’s wrong with learning the quick way to do things? After all, it’ll take a long time for students to figure out how to get there themselves, we can give them much more data by handing them the answer which they can easily memorise.

That’s true, but it’s also a curse. With somethings it’s right to just hand the student the tool and say, ‘use it like this’. After all, if you were to get a job with the council emptying the town’s bins, they don’t want you having to figure out the most efficient route, they don’t want you to organise the methods of collection and they don’t want you to innovate the machinery. They just want you to do as you’re told and empty the bins.

I’ve nothing against binmen. It’s an honourable job in my eyes. The problem is that we might well be training all our people to be binmen. The fact that they don’t all empty bins is irrelevant; they’re being trained to do a particular pre-arranged task in a set way using predetermined tools.

And just like me and the Rubik’s Cube, we all think we’re being clever but in fact we’re just maintaining the status quo and working in an environment where innovation is non-existent.

Don’t get me wrong, this is often a very good thing. Somebody has to empty the bins. And sometimes the system is so good that innovation is not needed. Look at bees; they haven’t changed how they operate their hives in millions of years, they’ve got such a great system.  But what if something changes in the environment? What if a new disease spreads through the hives or human intervention changes the flora surrounding the hives or even moves the hives on lorries around the country? What resources do the bees have to cope with such change? The answer is that they have none. All they can do is rely on the natural selection process of the survival of the fittest in a vain unconscious hope that by some random chance some mutation in their genes might just give them an advantage.

Humans don’t (and can’t) operate in that way. The survival of our species, our civilisation and culture, (not to mention your life and business), relies on cerebral innovation: of thinking our way out of problems.

Just being able to empty the bins and solve the Rubik’s Cube because someone else showed us how is not going to cut it.

Of course we don’t have time in our education (or our lives) to work everything out from first principles. That’s not what I’m saying.

In the television series Doctor Who, the executive producer and award winning writer, Russell T. Davies said that they made the decision in 2005 to give back the character of the Doctor his ‘sonic screwdriver’. Decades earlier, a previous producer had taken the magical device away from the Doctor claiming that it made solving the problems in the stories all too easy. All the Doctor would have to do would be use the sonic screwdriver and escape. Russell T. Davies disagreed saying that we didn’t want the Doctor constantly being locked up and the story stalled while he tried to escape. He wanted the Doctor to be able to solve those simple problems quickly so we could all get on to having a more exciting story with bigger problems to solve than just a locked door.

Doctor Who never uses the sonic screwdriver to solve the main dilemma of the story. He never uses his Tardis to go back in time and make it easy for himself. He has to use his wits. He has to use his problem solving abilities. He has to use his creativity.

We all need to be able to do the same. We need to be taught the basics, how to hold a pen or brush, the rules of grammar and arithmetic, how to kick a ball or hold the violin.

We may be interested to know that Hitler came to power in 1933. But we need to know how Hitler came to power in 1933 to have something useful and important.

We might learn that E=mc^2 but we need to know how Einstein came to that conclusion to understand its meaning and significance.

Traditional education and training in most disciplines purports right and wrong answers as that’s the simplest way to test someone: ask them a question and mark them on whether the answer is right or wrong.

The problem with this, if it becomes the standard way of learning is that it programmes the mind that there is a right or wrong answer, that there is a set way of doing something and that getting the answer right is more important than how you got the answer right.

This is why I detest multiple choice tests (see my rant on that here) because it frames up the universe into right and wrong, when in fact most of the universe falls into a third category that is neither right or wrong, or both states exist at the same time depending on context. This means that a better answer to many questions may be ‘it depends’. When answering a multiple choice question we cannot say ‘it depends’ even though it so often does.

In most cases in life, there is no answer. There is no right answer, there is no wrong answer. When people think they have the answer and force it on someone else, they are often deluded, wrong or only have the so-called ‘right answer’ correct under certain circumstances.

On a breakfast television programme Good Morning in 1994, former Doctor Who actor Jon Pertwee was asked to pull out from a hat the winning answer to a question that viewers had sent their entries in to, in order to win a prize. The question was ‘who created the Daleks?’

A simple enough question, but what’s the answer? Jon Pertwee pulled an entry out of the hat. On it, a ten year old boy had written ‘Davros’. “Wrong!” said Pertwee and fished out another entry, that too said Davros, ‘wrong again’ he said. Nearly all the entries in the hat said Davros. Davros was of course the evil scientist who was revealed in the fictional world of the programme to have created the Daleks. But the answer the breakfast tv show was looking for was Terry Nation, the writer who in the real world created the Daleks in his 1963 script.

But even that’s not the definitive answer because what we recognise as a Dalek was designed by the BBC in-house designer, Raymond Cusick. Even that’s not the complete story as the actual props used on television were built for the BBC by a company called Shawcraft. There are also stories that it was comic actor Tony Hancock (who nation wrote for) who came up with the idea that Nation used.

If you want to annoy a Doctor Who fan ask them another simple question: how many actors have played the role of the Doctor? Again, the casual viewer might remember that the chap on telly at the moment is described as the 11th Doctor, therefore the answer is 11. But it isn’t. What about Peter Cushing, who played the part in two films? What about Richard Hundall who played the first Doctor in the 20th anniversary special? What about the many actors who have played the role onstage (including yours truly!) in official productions? What about the number of stunt doubles employed in the series? What about the alien impostors in various stories? There’s more than 11.

So if you want the ‘right’ answer, you have to qualify the question, then it becomes easier to answer. If you qualify the answer too much it becomes way to easy to answer and it becomes not a real-world question. Real, tough, pressing questions about our lives and our world are not pre-qualified and not laid out as multiple choice. We can’t use the sonic screwdriver or any other prescribed tool to solve them.

We don’t learn anything much by learning answers. It’s the same as the old parable, ‘if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life’.

Let’s reword that: ‘If we give someone an answer, they can solve one question. If we teach them how to find answers, they can solve any question.’

Simply being told the world is round, the sky is blue and the law is the law is really just handing us empty dogma that is really no different to the worst dogmas of old. We need to know how we know the world is round, why the sky is blue and how and why we need to behave as we do.

Because if we learn how the universe works, instead of how an examiner works, if we learn how to think for ourselves, rather than become blind faith disciples of accepted wisdom, if we figure out how to figure out and think how to think,we might just find the answers that no-one else has ever answered before.

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:


Why do you do what you do?

Doctor Who Target books

Some of my favourite Doctor Who books

Have you ever stopped to wonder why do you do what you do? I don’t mean just the big picture like ‘I wanted to work in a big/small/famous company/charity doing a job description’ or ‘I always had a dream to do x’ or even ‘I have a talent for it..’.

I mean examining the actual tasks that you undertake in doing that role. Which bits do you find motivating and easy. I believe it’s in these micro-tasks that you’ll find the tendencies and traits that reveal what your ‘talent’ actually is.

I loved Doctor Who novels. They were novelisations of the television series adventures, often by the original scriptwriter and published by a company called Target between 1972 and 1990. In the 1970s and 80s they were the only way to re-live stories that had been on television. Doctor Who was very, very rarely repeated and stories weren’t released on video until the late 1980s and even then, most of the earlier black and white stories from the 1960s had been thrown away by the BBC. So the novels remained the definitive versions.

They triggered a few interesting traits in me. The first being the most dramatic. When I got my first one, age 7, I couldn’t read it. I had to learn to read, the book motivated me to learn.

The second was the concept of collecting. I didn’t just want to read them. I didn’t just want to re-read them, I wanted to collect them and keep them together on my shelf and sought out missing ones for my collection. By the late 80s when I had a computer that could print, I printed out a list of all the televised adventures with their number of episodes and broadcast dates and a box to tick when I had the book of that story. It was printed on a dot-matrix printer on that roll paper that had holes down the side. I stuck the list, which was 3 foot long, on my wardrobe door. The tick boxes by the way were colour coded: Red for Hartnell, Orange for Troughton, Yellow for Pertwee, Green for Tom Baker, Cyan for Davison and Blue for Colin Baker. (McCoy was added later in purple.)

The third trait was that I studied the design of the covers. I noticed that the early ones were the best, with highly graphical representations of the elements of the story drawn by Chris Achilleos. I noticed that the Doctor Who logo had changed through the years.

Doctor Who Target books

All my Doctor Who Target novelisations

And then there were the spines. The spines were my favourite part of the books. It was because that’s what you saw when you displayed them on the shelf. I noticed that the design of the spines had changed too and that if I displayed them in publication order, I could see the evolution. They used the same typeface, in various colours on a white spine for the most part until the early 80s when the spine and back cover became a colour. Sometimes the typeface was a condensed version, or smaller size to fit on the longer story titles. The Target logo started of big and in colour and got smaller and became white or black in the later years. But I didn’t display them in publication order. I ordered them in broadcast order, from November 1963 to October 1989.

In 1983 Target did a thing that infuriated me. They started numbering the books, “This book is number 60 in the Doctor Who Library” it said on the inside and had a number printed in a different typeface to the spine text on the spine. The reason this was so annoying was that the numbers represented the order that they had published the book and they applied the numbers retrospectively to the older books on their reprints (often replacing the great Chris Achilleos artwork with something inferior and the crummy late 1980s logo). But even that wasn’t the problem. It was that they’d numbered the books, published prior to the numbering idea alphabetically and then consecutively from that pint onwards. So The Abominable Snowman was ‘Book Number 1 in the Doctor Who Library’ and yet the story that followed it in broadcast order or publication order had no connection at all except that it began with A. If I was to follow this obscure system I’ve have two unconnected systems and the books in apparent random order on the shelf. This was intolerable. On top of this, Douglas Adams refused to novelise his three Doctor Who stories and Terry Nation had withdrawn the rights to two of the early Dalek stories so they would always be gaps on five books in my collection. I ignored the numbers and kept to broadcast order.

Doctor Who Target books

Here are some spines. Hang on, they’re in random order!

So what does this tell me about what I do now. The love of books is still there. The ‘collection’ reveals itself in my work as a drive for order and completeness. The interest in the covers revealed itself to be an interest in graphic design and illustration, especially on products like books. The interest in the spines also revealed a trait for accuracy and systems that have meaning.

It should be no surprise that a large part of my work involves all those traits. It’s what I’ve always done. What traits do your early interests reveal and do you incorporate them into your daily routines and your work?

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 Memory Cheats?

One of my Dalek drawings, aged 14

Can we trust what we remember? Can we be sure that what we saw is what really happened, or does ‘reality’ not really exist unless we remember it?

Perhaps there is no truth, and no real shared reality. How can we really ever be so sure if there can only ever be our interpretation of it…

There’s a joke amongst fans of the television series Doctor Who that if you want to wind them up all you have to do is say, ‘the memory cheats’.

It’s a phrase that came from the producer of the programme throughout the 1980s, John Nathan Turner, who had the arduous task of updating the programme for the new decade. Some say he made too many changes too fast which gave fandom the idea, for the first time, that the programme ‘wasn’t as good as it used to be’.

Fans cited that the stories were more gripping, the production values higher and the acting better. They claimed the programme in days gone by was grittier, more meaningful, more realistic and more adventurous.

Nathan-Turner’s response to this was that the ‘fans’ who were now a few years older than when they were watching in the mid-seventies as children, were remembering the older episodes as better that they actually were. This was of course very possible and since the old episodes from the 1960s and 70s were never repeated, there was no way to check either way.

What Nathan-Turner had underestimated was that home video revolution was about to begin and shortly after his words were spoken he would find himself having to eat them.

Episodes of Doctor Who from what was now being referred to as its ‘Golden Age’ were fast becoming available for all to see. It was then pretty obvious to all that 1975’s ‘Pyramids of Mars’ with Tom Baker was indeed a better televisual experience all round than 1988’s ‘Silver Nemesis’ with Sylvester McCoy.  By 1989 more people bought the videos of the old stuff than were watching the new stuff on tv and the programme was cancelled by the BBC after 26 years.

John Nathan-Turner died in 2002 and never got to see the massively successful re-launch of the programme in 2005. However the successes and failures of his 10 years as producer were key to making the reborn version a success. Russell T Davis knew that you can’t go back and pander to what we thought was good 30 years ago; the new Doctor Who could not be overly nostalgic or self-consciously retro, it had to appeal to a new audience. But at the same time, with, by 2005 all the existing previous 25 years of the programme out on video, the audience would be able to make a direct comparison with the high water marks of the programme’s past. Davis got the balance right and with an average of nearly 10 million views tuning in each week, Doctor Who continues to be the BBCs most profitable programme and has lasted seven years so far.

But there’s still something about John Nathan-Turner comment, back in the mid eighties that niggles…

When we view the best of the episodes from the 1960s, 70s or 80s, there isn’t really a lot different between them, the production values are fairly consistent across the 26 years. There are a lot of good monsters and a lot of very, very poor monsters in every era of the old show (although there were never wobbly sets as is often insinuated). The main difference between the episodes is that some stories are better than others (and it does appear that there were a larger number of more consistent compelling, gripping stories in certain earlier eras of the programme than the late 1980s.) But it’s only when we compare an episode from the new series with, let’s say the best of the old series that something else, something new becomes apparent. There are notable differences.

Firstly there’s the quality of the picture. Before 2000, most BBC programmes were recorded in an aspect ratio of 4:3, the shape of your old television. Since then all recording has been filmed in widescreen, 16:9, giving a bigger, wider picture. Old programmes look odd sat in a square on a new tv, or get stretched to fill it. Since 2010, the BBCs flagship programmes have been filmed in HD, a higher resolution than the standard broadcast quality used since 1970 when colour was introduced.

The old series was recorded on film (for exterior location scenes) or video (for studio scenes) with multiple cameras. This means that the programmes was effectively filmed in the studio as if it was a play. The actors acted out the story and the director and the vision mixer sat up in the gallery and switched between the many cameras filming the action in the studio below. The old series (as all television drama of the period) has the feel of a live play, it is often slow, the actors voices sound echoey, there are mistakes made and lines fluffed but there are kept in as it would often be too time consuming to reshoot the entire scene.

In the 1960s it was so expensive and time consuming to rewind and re-record video that many mistakes were left in such as Daleks zooming into the set, unable to stop and crashing into the opposite wall of the set. The first Doctor, WIlliam Hartnell played the character as a cantankerous old man, but some of his characteristics weren’t acting as he struggled sometimes to remember lines, most famously saying that the Daleks would destroy a planet leaving it “like a burnt cinder, hanging in Spain….. in space”.

The new series by comparison is filmed just like a cinema motion picture, with one film camera, one shot at a time, with each shot perfected before the next angle is filmed. This gives a very different look to the finished programme.

But perhaps the most obvious and startling difference between the old and new series is the fact that the new series takes advantage of being processed digitally allowing computer effects to be added later. In the old series, almost all effects had to happen right there, live in the studio. It wasn’t until the mid 70s when we actually saw laser beams from Dalek guns or from K9’s nose.

And this is the point where we see how ‘the memory cheats’. So many Doctor Who fans of the programme from the 60s and 70s would swear that they’s seen laser beams from Dalek guns as far back as 1964, but they’d be wrong. The story implied a better reality than was actually there.

On New Years Day, 1972, the Daleks appeared on television for the first time in colour, in a new Doctor Who adventure, The Day of the Daleks. This story was recently used as an example by physiologists looking into to concept of memory and how it works.

Dalek drawing

One of my Dalek drawings, aged 13

At the climax of the story, the Daleks invade Earth, coming out of a railway tunnel, flanked by their ogre-like warriors the Ogrons. They march slowly forward, firing their weapons at the UNIT solders who are defending a large country house, protecting a politician the Daleks have come to exterminate.

What’s obvious to us now, watching 40 years later is that there are only three Daleks in this ‘assault’. There are flashes and bangs of live explosives, but no laser beams. And yet the memory of those that watched, aged 5 to 10 distinctly remember seeing the most exciting invasion force they could possibly imagine.

What this highlights is a number of interesting insights into how memory works and how it, in some ways does ‘cheat’.

When we see events, we don’t record them in memory. What we remember is snapshots of images and emotions where those images and emotions have meaning and significance to us. So a child watching in 1972 would remember the exciting bits with the Daleks but not the boring bits with the politicians at UNIT HQ.

But since the programme consisted of four 25 minute episodes broadcast over four weeks and never seen again, the child’s re-imagining of what they thought they’d remembered becomes part of the memory. At that time, there were few books and magazines about Doctor Who so any reference such as in the Radio Times (Day of the Daleks was heralded with an exciting illustration on the front cover) would have been memorable and that would have been incorporated into the memory of the events. As too would be the novelisation of the story, published a few years later which differed in many respects to the broadcast story (it could afford to many more than just three Daleks in the final scene). This is known as ‘blended memory’ where various sources are mixed together to form what appears to be a single memory.

So was John Nathan-Turner was right all along? The memory does ‘cheat’ in a way. What it shows it that a compelling story can act as a trigger or seed for the imagination which will them embellishes it to form a more exciting and memorable memory worth remembering.

Most people today tend to live ‘literal’ lives, hell bent on thinking that there is one ‘truth’ and that there is only one all-encompassing meaning to everything. Most people are reductionist and anti-paradoxical, searching for and expecting cold facts, thinking that bare logic is better than personal meaning and experiential significance. I believe they are wrong.

I’ve used Doctor Who as an example here, because it’s a clear example for me to explain, but I could have used anything that creates memory and fires imagination such as football, religion or music, all of which are enveloped in magic, myth and paradox.

Is Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks an irrelevant, old-fashioned, poorly produced an conceived children’s programme that is as corny and unbelievable as it is boring? Or is it an exiting adventure about the dangers of time travel, the nature of terrorism and freedom fighters, and the fear of totalitarianism?

It is of course both and neither depending on its personal connection to your imagination (as with everything). The memory doesn’t ‘cheat’ at all – it creates our reality from the meaning and significance of the events that happen to us.

We need to face the fact that there is no truth, and no real shared reality except the ones we create which are always slightly different from each other. How can anyone of us every be so sure that we’ve got it right when there can only ever be our own interpretation of reality. Perhaps if we realised this and accepted it, just maybe we’d all get along just a bit better.

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:

How I was labelled ‘sick’ by some school kids

boba fett star wars comics

My comics from aged 10 (left) to age 13 (right)

(click on any of the drawings to make them bigger)

“But they’re amazing”

“Totally sick”*

I’d shown a group of fifty 14 years olds my comic strip drawings from when I was 12 from Doctor Who and Star Wars (more here). I delivered four sessions that day, to batches of fifty pupils each time and got the same reaction from each.

They seemed to think the drawings were pretty good even before I told them they were done by a 12 year old. I then told them that by the time I was their age I’d given up on wanting to be a comic strip artist. You can see my final drawings, done aged 15, below.

“But why? You’re really good.” they said.

Daleks Cyberman

Drawings of a Dalek and a Cyberman, by me aged 13

I told them it was because I didn’t think I was good enough. I’d compared myself with the professionals and felt I obviously didn’t have the talent so I gave up. I told them how I’d gone down a different route that was less frowned on by parents and teachers but was not my real passion. (For the full story, click here.)

“But all you had to do was keep at it.”

“You just needed to keep practicing” they said.

They had got the message. The previous exercise I’d done with them to write down what they really enjoyed doing, just three things they were passionate about suddenly made more sense.

Dalek Masterplan

My drawing of a Dalek, done aged 15

“But I like horseriding. How can I make a living from horseriding without doing racing?” said one girl. The girls next to her reeled off a list of horse related ways she could live a life of horseriding and make money.

That’s what my session is really about. Getting the students to realise that there already is something they can be inspired about. That their creativity can help them imagine a better, more worthwhile future right now, even when they’re constrained in the restriction of having to keep their heads down and focus on GCSEs.

In fact, a student who is inspired about their worth, about future plans and understands that the life they might like to lead can actually be theirs with application of time and energy (rather than abstract talent they may think they don’t have) does better in school right now, getting better grades as a result.

K9 from Doctor Who

My last drawing, of K9, my me aged 15. I didn't draw again until I was 23.

Unprompted, two students separately gave me a great testimonial (which I’ve actually had before a number of times):

“You’re like Willy Wonka. Not the new one, the original one.”

I’m very happy with that. It’s spot on. Do you remember the song?

“Come with me and you’ll see a world of pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free, if you truly want to be.”

For more see:

Do you have contacts in schools who may like to bring in external speakers to inspire the students and get better results from them? If you do, please let me know.

In addition to me and my creative thinking sessions I have some great colleagues who cover a range of topics that inspire, improve and educate students in topics that schools don’t have the resources to tackle internally.

Please do pass this list onto the schools you’re in touch with.

Dave Hyner

Dave Hyner

Dave Hyner is the Rhino man of massive goal setting and personal achievement in schools. He runs teacher and parent workshops too to get the messages of how to achieve more and better get embedded.

Angela Whitlock

Angela Whitlock

Best-selling author Peter Roper delivers sessions on ‘natural’ presentations skills, how to speak in public with confidence in your own style. Best suited for 16-18 year olds.

Angela Whitlock is an expert coach in communication skills, improving students, teachers and parents emotional resilience, often working one-to-one with parents and children to help connect them to their future.

Miguel Dean unlocks learning potential for disadvantaged youngsters, especially those experiencing homelessness.

Chris Matthewman

Chris Matthewman

Chris Matthewman is a comedian and self-proclaimed expert at all things to do with love and relationships which he presents as a highly entertaining and thought provoking ‘stand up comedy for schools’ show. Especially suited for PSHE and 6th forms.

James Burch inspires 15-19 year olds after overcoming challenges and adversity developed from been knocked down by a hit and run drunk driver to now creating the best out of every situation and help teenagers reach new levels in life.

Nigel Vardy

Nigel Vardy

Nigel Vardy survived temperatures of -60C in 1999, losing his fingers, toes and nose to severe frostbite on Mt. McKinley in Alaska.  Regardless of that, he still climbs internationally and has tackled some if the worlds toughest mountains. He talks about overcoming adversity and project management, guaranteeing to give pupils a huge dose of reality.

Paul Kerfoot, aka ‘The Bulletman’ is a creative director and award winning designer who has a session where the pupils (usually aged 14-16) create their own comic-book style superhero exploring themes of imagination and confidence.

Michael-Don Smith helps pupils create a success mind style using his NLP for Young Mind s programmes.

Barry Jackson gives pupils interview skills to prepare them for the world of work and help them to be memorable in front of an employer.

Penny Mallory

Penny Mallory

Penny Mallory delivers a knockout 2 hour workshop to Year 9-11 students based on her experience as a homeless teenager turned rally driver and TV presenter – a high impact presentation that inspires students to achieve their maximum potential.

Lee Jackson talks about motivation and relationships at school. His fantastic and original new book ‘How to be Sick at School’ written for pupils, taps into what makes the children want to listen to the message to achieve more.

* I’d only recently learnt from Lee Jackson that this word is used where previous generations would have used ‘wicked’, ‘bad’, ‘skill’ or ‘cool’.

Talent: How we were ripped off and gave up on our dreams

There’s a 52 year old man who claims he invented a character called Davros, creator of the Daleks in BBC TV’s Doctor Who, for a magazine competition in 1972, when he was 13. He said he was shocked to see his ‘idea’ appear on television in 1975. You can read the unlikely story here.

Ayd Instone comic strip Daleks K9 Quarks Doctor Who

Dalek comic strip, drawn by me, aged 12

It reminded me that when I was 12, I too was drawing pictures of characters from Doctor Who and in one comic strip I envisaged Davros being given Emperor of the Daleks status and having a spherical top mounted on his base. This was in 1983 and yet it’s exactly what the BBC did on television in 1988. I won’t be making a fuss.

But for a bit of fun I posted the page of my comic strip on the Doctor Who forum.

A couple of people on the forum said it was a pretty good effort. It was only then that I realised that that was the first time anyone had said anything complimentary about my drawings. That was not surprising since this was the first moment I’d actually showed them to anyone. Why hadn’t I showed anyone before? Because of the killer reason that people don’t reach their potential.

Because I didn’t really think they were really any good.

It was one of my early dreams: to be a comic book artist. But I abandoned it aged 14. Why? Because looking at my drawings I was frustrated that they didn’t look as good as my heroes Ron Turner, Dave Gibbons and Frank Hampson.

I didn’t have much encouragement. Part of the reason for that is linked to what John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi said to him when he started the Beatles, “A guitar’s all right John, but you can’t make a living out of it”. The understanding of career options by those who offered it to us then and even more so those who offer it to the children of today is frighteningly narrow, short sighted and past-focused. My parents knew you could make a living from being Constable or Lowry – that was proper art. But comic books? Graphic design? That was childish nonsense. And in my case the working class ethic coupled with St Paul (I Corinthians 13 v11), “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” meant that I had to grow up and do something sensible.

Reluctantly I did, for a while. Did you?

Those two comments on the forum made me think, 18 years later, that compared to the average 12 year old’s drawings, mine were pretty good. The actual story was a pretty good idea too, re-reading it now without the self criticism of the past.

Davros Daleks comic strip Doctor Who Emperor

My vision for Davros, from 1983

So why did I give up? Because when I was 12 I thought that it was talent that counted. I thought that if I was a truly talented illustrator I should be able to do it better than I this. I didn’t know that it was actually practice that made a great comic book artist. I’d been doing it since I was at nursery (and still have the drawings to prove it). I already had hundreds of hours of practice which is why I was pretty good by 1983.

If I’d continued with the same intensity from aged 12 for ten years by the time I was 22 I would have been pretty good, if not world class. That’s not a boast, that is just how it works. If you continually work at a process, constantly failing and improving, making mistakes and modifying, you get better and better. Instead, I’m not really much better now than I was then, which was just above average for a 12 year old but just about average for my age now.

You just look at someone you know who is good at something, be it writing, football, debating, maths, cooking, whatever. You study them and see how much time they have spend doing the thing that they are good at.

Someone once said to Yehudi Menuhi, “I’d give my life to be able to play like you”. “I did” was the maestro’s reply.

Here’s the formula for talent (also called more accurately ‘excellence’):

Talent = desire + intense practice

When it comes to our children we have to realise we can’t make them interested in something they’re not. They have to choose what excites them. And if it’s something we have no knowledge or interest in we have to accept it.

We can’t make them practice. If we do they will grow resentful or burn out and lose interest.

But there is something big that we can do. That formula is not compete. There are two further conditions that we need to add that are in our remit:

Talent = desire + intense practice + opportunity + encouragement

Our job is to make sure we provide the opportunity to try and explore different interests. Our job is to encourage effort when we see an interest developing.

Our job is to make sure that we prevent the child from self criticism of failure as an end and instead help them understand how to modify it into improvement.

Through a series of misunderstandings about talent, how the brain works and what motivates people, our society is set up to manufacture regret, resentment, guilt and self-loathing.

What was your desire when you were much younger?

What did you give up on because of criticism or lack of encouragement?

Perhaps it’s not too late for you to pick up the paintbrush again, to kick the ball again, to write that book, to take that course, or to pick up that ‘how to’ book. Perhaps you can re-ignite your passion and build it into your life today?

By thinking over what you did right and where you went wrong, who could you inspire today to follow their dreams?

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