I’ll not lie; the future looks bloody scary.

If it’s not the oncoming eco-apocalypse, it’s the global and domestic economies. The sell-off of the NHS. Peak oil. The growing gulf between the haves and have-nots. Asteroids, God damn it (Bruce Willis is getting way too old to don a space suit for One Last Mission). Not to mention my own personal struggles and the unshakeable feeling that, no matter what you or I may do, the government (regardless of its political orientation) is taking us all to hell in a handcart.

So it was with a relief bordering on outright JOY to spend time with John-Paul Flintoff, Mark Stevenson and Oliver Burkeman, at their non-self-help workshop ‘The Future – and how to be ready for it’.

With a heady, head-turning, often head bending blend of information, examples, anecdotes, quotes and participation, the day gave flesh and bones to the 8 principles from Mark’s project, The League of Pragmatic Optimists;

  1. Police your own cynicism
  2. Have an unashamed optimism of ambition
  3. Involve yourself in projects that are bigger than you
  4. Commit to evidence – also known as ‘Think like an engineer, not like a politician’
  5. Making mistakes is OK, but not trying is irresponsible
  6. Engineer serendipity
  7. You will lose a lot (in the beginning) – also know as ‘Play the long game’
  8. You are what you do, not what you intend to do

For a full explanation, including many of the quotes Mark employed, click here for a downloadable pdf;

Lopo 8 principles graphic

As three-way wrestling tag-teams go, Messrs Burkeman, Flintoff and Stevenson proved to be unfailingly informative and entertaining;

  • JP gently brought both his improv and CPCC-qualified life-coaching skills to bear through audience participation throughout the day, kicking off by asking what brought us to the workshop, our best hope for the day and how we may sabotage that aim;
  • Mark’s whistle-stop tour through the future subsequently and hilariously dived into what we care about, what we enjoy and the dials we would have on the dashboard of our lives to ensure that we’re driving towards what’s important to us;
  • Oliver’s wealth of research grounded all of the ideas and intentions arising from the day with pragmatic mind-hacks and traps to avoid, including the knowing/doing gap, the major project fallacy, the principle of affordable loss, and strategic pre-commitment.

I’ll be honest. Some of it, a bare 24 hours later, is already a happy, giddy, fizzy blur. I’m gonna have to trust that piece of (possibly unsubstantiated) research (which I only vaguely recall), which showed that the subconscious mind is exponentially better at remembering stuff than the good ol’ conscious one. So the above is a mere tip and I heartily encourage, nay, demand, you experience the whole darned iceberg yourself.

What I do remember is how I feel. The silly joy at being involved in some audience participation. Being regularly encouraged to talk and play with new and different participants. Feeling fizzy when sharing and connecting with like minds. Walking my talk and being vulnerable in sharing a mistake I made to the whole room, and the response* that it generated. And laughter. My God, a hell of a lot of fun, play and laughter.

It was all rather marvellous.

Right. When’s the next one, guys?

Because the future just got a whole lot more exciting.


* I was deeply moved by the kindness shown to me by fellow workshop members, after that difficult confession. A fellow participant approached me at the end of the workshop, and asked if I was talking about Nick Talbot; it turned out Sam was a friend of Nick’s for the last ten years, and is in talks with Warp records to release unpublished demos made together. Another participant also asked me if I was referring to Nick; it turned out that Robert had tickets to the concert Gravenhurst was about to play, at London’s Scala. There is something about The Universe making sure that I need to be where I need to be, and saying out loud what I need to say out loud (despite my voice cracking), which just takes my breath away. Yesterday was just such an occasion.

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