The truth is not out there


I’ve always loved paradoxes and alternative realities.

They are very useful things to be able to embrace if you’re a parent or work with young children. Children operate in a constantly changing, often incoherent and sometimes contradictory reality. As adults we often see our job as to ‘straighten them out’ by getting them to understand ‘the real world’ and to ‘get’ the ‘truth’.

I’ve put all those worlds in inverted commas because I don’t believe in any of them.

(But that’s just me. It is of course possible to prove or disprove a belief in anything you like.)

So what is this ‘truth’ that we are supposed to be weaning them onto?

Here’s an example. Do you believe in Father Christmas? Most dull adults will say ‘no of course not’. Most of the people I hang around with will say, ‘yes’ because they’re a facetious bunch. But the more we think about it, the more that opinion is correct.

Let’s look at the facts: children have a strong image of the Father Christmas/Santa Claus being. There are pictures, films and songs of him. He turns up at school and/or in shops. They write letters to him. There is a mythos surrounding his story, paraphernalia and methods. But most of all: on Christmas morning, presents turn up, just as they have been promised.

This all means that Father Christmas is real. He exists. You can argue with me if you want to and say that it’s daddy who get’s dressed up and/or waits until their asleep. But that just proves my point. The problem with truth is that so many people want to be so blumin’ literal with it. If you want to take it further there are other strands to the mythology of the concept of Father Christmas that are ‘true’ and ‘real’, some positive, some perhaps not so: wishful thinking, positive thinking, hope, greed, consumerism, trust, joy. Those feelings are real.

So to those people who say that encouraging a believe in Father Christmas is ‘lying’ – you’re not only miserable joy snatchers you’re also categorically wrong, according go my evidence and my beliefs.

I’ve heard is said that some people think it’s bad form to let children believe in things that they think ‘aren’t true’. (The list usually includes Father Christmas, faeries and God amongst other things). They think we should tell our children ‘the truth’.

So where do I begin in this quest? And where do I end? Do I tell them about violent pornography and pedophilia? Do I give them the full truth and details of mass murder, torture and cruelty? Do I tell them the details of the Holocaust? Do I explain the pain of dying from cancer? That’s the truth isn’t it? Of course I don’t, and in the moment that I censor any of that ‘truth’, I’m presenting a modified and incomplete vision of the world and  its reality to my children. (And in my opinion, quite rightly so.)

Our children recently watched the Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine. They loved it and began acting out the stories and characters in imaginative play. As a Beatle fan, I have the Beatles records and their other films in the house. Over the past few weeks we’ve also watched A Hard Days Night and Help!

Mabel said, “I wish the Beatles lived in Oxford so that they could come to our house and sing for us”. I wish that too, but I know it’s not possible. I know that the events depicted in those films took place 46 to 48 years ago. I know that Paul is nearly 70 and Ringo is 71. I know that George died of cancer ten years ago and that John was murdered outside his home thirty-one years ago. So do I tell this ‘truth’ to my children, running around the house singing A Ticket to Ride and putting on Liverpool accents and saying “I’ve got a hole in my pocket”?

The answer is of course no. In the same was that I won’t be saying that Mickey Mouse or Scooby Doo is dead. The Beatles aren’t real, not in the sense that our family and friends are real. But in a sense that Thomas the Tank Engine or Tinkerbel is real, then yes they are very much alive. It’s only us boring literal adults, locked into linear time that say they no longer exist.

By the time they realise that Paul McCartney doesn’t now look the same as he did when he was 21 and is as old as their granddad it won’t matter because their understanding of the world will by default have ungraded their own mythologies as their reality changes as they grow.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’m a big fan of the television programme Doctor Who. My son is 6 but he’s not watching it because I’m withholding it from him. Why? because he’s what they patronisingly call a ‘sensitive child’. He has no concept of death, and frankly he doesn’t need to have one. Not yet. He will. That will come. But there’s no rush, why should there be? Doctor Who deals with death. It deals with nightmarish monsters that currently have no place in his straightforward problem solving world of Thomas the Tank Engine. So there I am again, creating and maintaining a deliberate different reality to yours (and mine).

My children believe in faeries. I didn’t encourage that belief, but neither have a dissuaded it. The reason is that just like Father Christmas, faeries are real.

My daughter may visualise them as flittering winged creatures, akin to angels, and princesses (and cats, in some surreal way. She’s 4). That’s her reality and who am I to stomp all over it with my Gortex boots.

After all, she’s probably right. Faeries are nature sprites. The small fluttery ones help the flowers bloom. The gnome-like ones work on decomposition and help fungus breakdown rotting matter. What if faeries are our anthropomorphism of these natural processes? That makes them real. I’d go further and suggest that faeries are live, actual beings that do indeed work with flora and vegetation, blossom and decay. Today we tend to call them the more uninspiring names such as butterflies, bees and woodlice. Perhaps faeries are the anthropomorphism of insects? When some people look at them they may see just an insect. Their boring lack of imagination sees a creepy-crawly. I see the miraculous circle of life. If I ingested enough ergot alkaloids I’d probably see pixie faces too, just like our ancestors did.

I’ve got grown up friends who have seen ghosts, spoken to them (and got replies). The fact that I haven’t doesn’t make them wrong either. It doesn’t make their experience less valid. I haven’t seen one and I know nothing about such things. My experience proves nothing about the subject.

The esteemed professor Dawkins and his cohort would have us not believe in God. His non-belief is his own rightly held opinion although he can’t have any evidence for it, only lack of it as you can’t prove a negative. But his assertion that such a belief is like believing in an invisible unicorn or a chocolate teapot in orbit around Mars or a spaghetti monster is not the same thing and his weakest argument. No-one believe in those things because there’s no point in believing in those things. There’s a great point to believing in a creator God or a Father God and many people derive great joy and meaning from their beliefs which is why they have them and keep them. (If someone has a belief that is a threat to others then we may well have to step in to challenge their reality but they’re not the people Dawkins et al go after, preferring instead softer targets, which is a shame.)

If you ever watched the 1990s television series about the unknown, The X Files, then you will be familiar with the phrase ‘the truth is out there’. I think that the truth is NOT out there at all. It’s in here, that is I have my version and you have your version.

Another more useful phrase from that programme was on a poster behind Agent Mulder’s desk. It said, ‘I want to believe’. I like it because it has a positive flexibility within it. I may not be able to believe, but I’ll seek out the evidence accordingly, rather than a default setting of disbelief which is as inflexible as any other dogma.

To those who still maintain that so-called supernatural beings aren’t real and don’t exist: our society has some fashionable concepts that are, by all modern definitions, ‘not real’ and yet we all believe unquestioningly in them. Money being a good example. We all believe in things that very few of us really understand (such as Electromagnetism).

In mathematics there are calculations that cannot be done unless you invoke what it called the ‘imaginary number’, i. It’s determined as the square root of -1, which is impossible (and therefore imaginary). And yet we need it to solve the equations that make our modern world possible as it’s needed for signal processing, control theory, electromagnetism, fluid dynamics, quantum mechanics, cartography and vibration analysis. Some mathematicians describe i as not ‘imaginary’ but ‘pure real’.

We need the imaginary in our lives which it is just as relevant and therefore just as real as anything we can actually see and touch, which, when you come to think of it, is such a tiny proportion of our so-called reality don’t you think?

Perhaps we live mainly in a ‘pure real’ world…

Ayd 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: www.aydinstone.com

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The 10,000 hour rule: can we trust it?


It’s been said* that if you constructively practice anything well for around 10,000 hours you will have become world class at it. The argument is that talent is less relevant than effort. What do you think? Is this the case?

The Beatles 1964 and 1966 RevolverLet’s try to make it simple and compare like with like. Take a dozen or so rock ‘n’ roll bands from Liverpool in 1960 and send them to Hamburg in Germany to perform 8 hours a night or more in various nightclubs for two to three years. They all have the same background. They all have the same exposure to influences. They all start with similar ability (they’re all aged between 17 and 19 so have been playing music for the same amount of time, between 1 and 3 years).

They are all the same, and yet only one of those acts becomes the phenomenon known as The Beatles.

I’ve been talking about, researching and training creativity overtly for 8 years. (Yes, before that I was doing it covertly).

Creativity is still a dirty word. By dirty I mean messy. It almost doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes when I’ve been talking about it I’ve had to keep it so broad, to encompass so many things that it can become almost meaningless. I make a great point that it has to be practical, that it’s not just to do with a particular artistic discipline, that it’s about making connections, problem solving, intuitive leaps, experimentation and so on. There are different facets to it, like a diamond, and so many differing ways to engage it, express it and use it. It’s what makes us human (as opposed to animal). It’s what forms our beliefs, it’s what allows us to explore the universe and ourselves. It IS science. It IS civilisation.

Here’s a new definition for you: creativity is a human’s ability to imagine a future in the minds and then use the hands to manifest it.

But even with this glorious definition there is still a misnomer that exists. So many people still believe that some people are more creative than others. We’ve got to admit, the evidence is compelling. But it is really true?

I think it comes from a misinterpretation of what creativity is and what it does. People believe in ‘talent’ and often think that talent = ability = gifts = creativity. It doesn’t.

There are many observers who report that talent is a myth. They believe that any concerted effort into consistent constructed practice will deliver exceptional performance. They cite examples in sport, mathematics, performance, art, business, chess, science and so on. Almost everything in fact.

Are they right? If you practice, practice, practice in a constructive way, learning and growing, learning and growing for 10,000 hours or 10 years, you will become a world class expert? Really?

I think the answer is yes, and no.

The 10,000 hour rule works with certain activities. It works with activities that have their basis in pattern recognition. Any sport that is based on pattern recognition will improve with practice. This is true for tennis, football, motor racing and chess. If you want to know more on why those activities are pattern recognition and not reflexes or memory then you need to read these books: Bounce and Talent is Overrated. I’m not going to be going down that route here.

Any sport that relies on endurance, motor skills or strength will not improve with 10,000 hours practice past the limitations of a particular person’s body. We can all get fitter and stronger, but not without limit. Those limits are set by our particular skeleton, muscle arrangement etc. So we’ve found one hole in the practice theory.

It’s said that the Beatles did their ‘10,000 hours’** of practice in the night clubs of Hamburg, playing, as they did, 8 hours a night. To be able to do that, to play and sing for that length of time they needed a few things or they would have collapsed. They needed youthful energy and endurance (this was enhanced by them ingesting Preludin, a drug that increases metabolic rate, then a freely available diet pill, now known as speed), they needed to be able to sing correctly so they didn’t damage their voice boxes. They needed a large repertoire of songs so that they or their audiences didn’t get bored.

So their time in Hamburg made them world class rock ‘n’ roll performers. So the story goes, there was their 10,000 hours, and that’s what made them musical geniuses, right? Is that it?

The time in Hamburg made all those bands blumn’ good at playing Twist and Shout. But the Beatles version is undeniably better than all of them.

There were plenty of bands that performed to the same schedule as the Beatles and who came from the same starting point. Many of them we know about, you can get hold of their record and you can compare. Many of them were also signed by Brian Epstein to EMI’s Parlaphone label. Many of them were produced by George Martin and many of them had a few number one records. But only the Beatles went on to write amazing hits like She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand within a year of coming back from Hamburg. Only the Beatles came up with groundbraking songs outside the rock ‘n’ roll genre of Hamburg like Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby. Out of all the Merseybeat groups that had exactly the same background and experience, only the Beatles re-defined rock music with Strawberry Fields Forever, Tomorrow Never Knows and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band.

So what did the Beatles and specifically Lennon McCartney have that the others lacked?

Can we really say that it was ‘talent’? And if so, where was that talent located and how did it emerge? Were they born brilliant? When did they become genius songwriters and how?

There’s even more to this question because if you looked at the Beatles in 1963 you would already recognise (as many comentators did) the genius songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney, but you would have ignored George Harrison’s songwriting ability. You’d have pricked your ears up in 1966 to his contributions to Revolver but it wasn’t until  1969 with his songs Something and Here Comes the Sun and his triple solo LP All Things Must Pass in 1970 that made comentators place Harrison’s songwriting on an equal par to Lennon and McCartney (some would even place it higher).

So when did George become a genius? Was it with him all along? Was it innate talent, or was it developed by hanging around with the century’s greatest songsmiths? If it was environment, why don’t we value Ringo’s songwriting skills as highly? He was there all the time too?

Their story does point to something else, some other mechanism. But what? Were they born with the talent and potential to write Sgt. Pepper? Were they unique in that respect? If so what DOES that say for the rest of us? Is 10,000 hours spent a waste on time for mere mortals? We’ll no doubt get pretty good at singing Twist and Shout but will we ever be able to transform the experience into A Hard Days Night, never mind a Hey Jude?

Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that the Beatles really, really really wanted to write the greatest songs. They certainly had a driving passion for their chosen field. But just being super keen isn’t enough either, otherwise all the contestants on those talent shows who ‘I’ll shrivel up and die if I don’t make it as a star’ would eventually shine. We know that they don’t.

Perhaps the teenager living next door to you, playing Wild Thing or Stairway to Heaven very badly on his out-of-tune electric guitar at all hours, may well be a future George Harrison, if only he had the chance to perform and/or hang out with some serious masters for enough time? How can we know?

There STILL are too many questions when it comes to creativity and the weird, obfuscated

world of talent (whatever that is) and still not enough answers.

So for now we’ll have to just keep practicing, crank up our 10,000 hours in our chosen field after all, and make sure we do our best to follow our own passion in the best way we can.

* Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
** It was more likely 2500 hours, but that’s actually no less impressive.
Drawing by Ayd Instone. 

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: www.aydinstone.com


Taxpayer! Beatles spoof


Someone said to me why haven’t I done a song about the MP’s expenses scandal? A great topic to capture in a song. I immediately had the idea of re-working the Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ by George Harrison to be from the point of view of the MPs.

Hear the song here. or click below.

I decided to do a studio recording of the song to sing my new lyrics over a backing that would be as close to the original as I could get. It’s one of my favourite songs off my favourite LP (it opens 1966’s ‘Revolver’). As I listened closer to it to figure out how it was made up my admiration for the Beatles as composers and performers grew (if that’s possible). It’s so neat and so tight. Paul’s bassline is groundbreaking (stolen by the Jam a decade later on ‘Start’) and his lead guitar (played on an Epiphone Casino, same as my guitar) is beautifully non-Euclidean. George’s snidey vocal shows him at his best and Ringo’s drumming is trademark minimally perfect. I don’t know who played the main guitar part – John or George – but I had to do a custom tuning to get close to the odd sound of that D7. Goodness knows what they were really playing. My effort (I play all the instruments the best I can!) recorded in a day, is just a meagre approximation. But I think you get the idea.

Hear the song here. or click video above.

The lyrics:

Let me tell you how it will be
With expenses claims on what seems right to me

Paid by the taxpayer!
Yeah by the taxpayer!

I’ll furnish my second home for free

Cos after all I’m your MP
And you’re the taxpayer!
Yeah you’re the taxpayer

If I have a castle you’ll pay for my moat
If I fancy sailing you’ll pay for my boat
If you question me I’ll sit and gloat

I’ll claim every penny, every shilling and groat
From you the taxpayer!

Don’t ask me if it’s within the rules
(Ah ah Mr Cameron)

For years we’ve treated you all as fools
(Ah ah Mr Brown)
And you’re the taxpayer!
Yeah you’re the taxpayer!

My advice to those who moan

Taxpayer!
Repay the mortgage on my non-existent loan

Taxpayer!

And you’re the taxpayer!
Yeah you’re the taxpayer!

And you’re working for no-one but me

I think George would have appreciated the sentiment.

(Photo: Haddon Davies)

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.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com