The Armchair Revolutionary: on walking and chewing gum at the same time

It has become a commonplace to describe would-be revolutionaries as armchair warriors or armchair revolutionaries. The passion required to go into battle is for most people tempered by fearing the consequences of becoming a political street warrior.

I became aware of my comfort zone in pontificating from the armchair position recently, as the political events around me spun crazily out of control. 

The target for my armchair revolutionary chuntering was frustration at the lack of progress being shown by our politicians in dealing with the emerging economic crisis simplistically ‘explained’ by politicisation of the global oil and gas market by Putin’s regime. 

In England the Government became distracted with what became known as Partygate, the investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s illegal actions and his coverup efforts.

This was followed by two months of zombie Government as the economic crisis deepened, and the process for appointing a new PM dragged on at snail pace.

Then, no more than a week ago, Liz Truss won what can hardly be called the race to No 10. In two days, her pledges to fulfil her ‘bold plan’ began to unravel in the most tragic way with the death of the Queen. Another plan begins to reveal itself. The symbolic transfer of the Monarchy would involve another two weeks of ritual before the lying in state and funeral of the Queen.

From my armchair, I could not see beyond the further delays to what was seen in apocalyptic terms a month ago, and about which there now seems to be a collusive denial. ‘Don’t mention the crisis. The Queen’s hardly cold in her coffin’. 

Can we not walk and chew gum at the same time?

Stay alive, stay creative. A conversation with myself

I recently thought differently about something important to me. As its importance is only to myself, I would see it as an example of everyday creativity.

To share it with others, I posted it on Twitter, and started a note about the idea and how it began to suggest more ideas.

The note turned into a conversation with myself.

The tweet:

What’s the best way to retain your love of life? Give your everyday creativity every chance to flourish.

The conversation with myself:

At risk of sounding pretentious –

You are sounding pretentious.

I’ll ignore that remark

I found creativity early in my working life.

You are still sounding pretentious. Why don’t you add I suppose creativity found me?

So how should I explain what I mean?

Quit the health and wellness stuff. Get a bit more personal.

Good call. Let’s see. Take the time I was feeling a bit down on my birthday. Way down,

Understandable, it was your eightieth. Thoughts turning to shuffling off the mortal coil, no doubt.

Sort of. As if I was heading for a creative black hole. Yes, and the feeling of emptiness. Then I made a decision, And that led to another one.

Go on, that’s better

First, I’m going to give up writing books.
That’s the most negative thought you could have had.

Probably not. I had some other pretty black ideas. But then!

You rediscovered creativity and things started looking better.

Sort of. Instead of thinking what I wasn’t going to do in future, I saw what I was going to do.

You discovered podcasting.
That, and more.

I made the connection. Loss of creativity. Feelings of depression. Rediscovering creativity. Feelings of elation.
Feeling alive. Life’s worth living sort of stuff. In the zone. The inner child released.

A bit over the top?

That’s right.

It’s still a bit of a leap to start spouting about a life-enhancing moment.

I need to sneak in a few theoretical ideas which I’m finding important.

Now you’re getting away from your immediate direct experiences.

I was coming to that …

Hello Euston my old friend. Is this the way it’s going to end?

Euston Station, the gateway to the North, falls silent. But the silence, as the saying goes, speaks louder than words.

A BBC reporter has been dispatched to record the sound of silence. As she reports, and as we can see, the great Departures Llounge is deserted.

Good morning from a very eerie Euston station, where the first train doesn’t leave for an hour’.

Outside, a picket line in day-glow jackets. Among them, Mick Walsh, the reader of the striking railwaymen, is conducting an interview. His style is a model for any student of leadership. He is clear, speaks without few rhetorical flourishes or cliches. He is firm but with more regret than anger, even against the Government.  

He avoids repeating his last press interview by suggesting how the settlement would not require extra money from the public purse. 

‘If Andrew [that’s Andrew Waites, chairman of Network Rail] was to agree to releasing the huge bonuses paid to top executives, that would resolve the payment difference, the negotiation gap’.

The suggestion is unlikely to resolve anything, but the overall impact illustrates the style that differentiates Flynn from other spokespersons involved in the dispute.

The interview trends in the social media, largely positively. 

I picture the more familiar scene. The crowds of jostling travellers, gazing at the electric platform announcements, readying themselves to join the lines for the appropriate platforms. Then the Euston Rush, as a platform number is announced.

I wonder when these scenes will occur again?

Hello Euston, my old friend

Will we see ever see  these scenes again?

The hubble bubble of the hall

The surge of people to the call

To the blinking lights there high up on the wall?

Instead of silence?

The sound of silence.

Thought for the day. ‘When this bloody war is over …’

Oh, what a lovely war is one of the great anti-war films of all time. A scene sticks in the memory.

The regiment at prayer. The chaplain in gleaming white garments that would have been fit for officiating in a royal funeral stands before the battalion. 

The introduction is reverent. The voices of the young soldiers rise earnestly to the much-loved tune of What a friend we have in Jesus. 

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

The camera pans to a solder singing earnestly.Except he is singing the words of a parody that has become one of the great anti-war songs.

When this lousy war is over,

no more soldiering for me,

When I get my civvy clothes on, 

oh how happy I shall be.

Long before the film, I joined in the hymn as a member of a devout congregation. But outside the little chapel, the parody words were already as well-known as the sacred ones, by those who had actually served in and survived that lousy war. 

And as the words and music retreat into memory I am reminded of another bloody war that is far from over. Unofficial estimates of military losses in Ukraine suggest these are already the worse in Europe since World War Two.

Another war, another time, the same message.

Ghosts haunt the ground at Old Trafford

I used to go regularly to old Trafford with an old friend when his son was unable to use his season ticket. I remember the last mile walk.
Having left the car in the hands of unofficial but secure guardians of a plot of development land off the Stretford Road, we went with the flow of traffic heading for the Ground.
Our journey was hindered as we both jostled to secure the better side for listening. Eventually, we gave up and jostled on, mostly in silence.

I was reminded of those experiences this week, with the exploits of the Lionesses and experiencing the high drama at Wembley. I remembered those visits to Old Trafford, and the overwhelming atmosphere of the stadium as it filled up.

Ghosts haunt the ground at Old Trafford

Even on a quiet day you can feel their presence.
Some, restless around the clock
where time stands still, at four past three
On the south east corner of the stand
as time on other clocks move on.

Some are gleeful spirits
weaving around the highest ribs, when cheers ring out
for modern number sevens or eights.
or mournful for number tens.

Then, the groundlings,
memories scattered around the penalty areas
faintly urging a mis-hit.

Unnamed others leave a shiver.
Can you feel them, entombed
around the car parks?

The silence of the statues
whose masks never slip
although always under scrutiny
from a paused gaze.

Old Trafford. This theatre of dreams
and mausoleum of memories.

I meet Steve the Poet

This morning I met Steve the Poet
He was eating his toastie breakfast outside the Deli.
Heard about the local poet.
Approached him. He looked very approachable.

His features are those
of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors.
Grey bearded. Looks up at the grey-bearded interrupter of his progress on the toastie.
Confirms he is indeed Steve the Didsbury Poet.

I tell him I write poems, too.
With little encouragement, he pulls out his poems
From his carrier bag.
They are kept, loose-leafed, in a red folder
which has seen better days.
Says he doesn’t publish them.
I say I don’t publish my poems either.

Steve does open-mic readings, doesn’t like to call what he does performances.
The poems are collectively a love-letter to his life companion.
I want to record our conversation, take out my phone.
Wrong, find I have forgotten my phone.

Somehow, our talk gets round to the Universe.
I tell him about the spaceship that sends photographs back to Earth
from the end of the Universe.

What do they look like, he asks.
Like stars we see when we look up, I say.
I’ll show you on my phone.

Wrong. I have forgotten my phone.
One day, Steve will come back again for his breakfast.
I will have my phone that day, and will show him what
the view from the end of the Universe looks like.

A study of Twitter for understanding the concept of Everyday creativity

In earlier posts, I suggested that everyday creativity amounts to a thought translated into actions. The millions of tweets generated every day, gives us an excellent laboratory-setting to study everyday creativity.
Let’s set aside bots generating tweets for the moment, as they can be considered as a special case.

Everyday creativity as thoughts translated into actions supports the proposal that creativity is widely distributed.
How are the thoughts produced leading to a tweet being published produced?

Let’s start from my own experience. Every day I sign up to Twitter. I usually have had a thought I want to share. Why do I want to share it? because the idea has that property of novelty to me which I want others to know about.

Do I wonder if anyone else has thought about it in roughly the same way? Not really, although I might wonder how many other people receiving much the same stimuli will have much the same reaction.
The impulse to share is easily gratified through Twitter. Press send. Off it goes.
It is then given the mystic treatment known as the Twitter algorithm which decides who will read the tweet. This is the ghost in the machine, to use an old expression.
The next steps involve other Twitter users evaluating my idea. They have several options. They can ignore it, or like it (touch the heart shaped button). They can also resend it, with or without commenting on it.
These actions are through which the tweet gains attention (popularity, if you like). The process, like a radioactive decay process can accelerate, and go critical. Or, to use another metaphor we know recently from epidemiology, go viral.
The vast majority of tweets remain sub-critical, but a few increase in numbers of interactions exponentially, a meltdown which sometimes crashes the program.
There is no obvious way of detecting the viral process from the first tweet. That suggests it is a random process. But the selection process isn’t necessarily random. It may capture a more general reaction of the tweeters encountering it.
Put these two basic thoughts together and you have an idea generation and development on based on random variation and selective choice.
Sounds familiar? It’s the process of evolutionary change.
Yes, as research students will point out, I’ve bobbed about between the specific and the general.

For example, what about the bots I mentioned earlier? Certainly important. The embarrassing flip-flop of Elon Musk in the withdrawal of his bid for Twitter was said to be that the company’s value could not be calculated without more information about the number of bots and the number and nature of the tweets they generated.

At best I’m offering an explanatory line of thought.

In my next post, I look at a specific example of an everyday tweet and how its study helps understand more about the nature of everyday creativity. I’d welcome any comments, particularly thoughts turned into actions. You can even tweet them, if that’s your preference.

A Podcast from Womberly Stadium. The winners’ ceremony and beyond

An account of the final moments of triumph for the England football team in the 2022 Euros championships, and the media reactions, assessed as examples of everyday creativity

Yes! The lionesses only went and done it! We done it!! And without crowd violence or pitch invasion. A pushy interviewer left gasping, as Chloe Kelly, who came on as super-sub, dropped the mike saying ‘I jus want to celebrate with my team mates and sing Sweet Caroline’ and she did.

Slightly clunky awards ceremony. Not the climb to the heights of Womberly Stadium to be greeted by Football and English Royalty, but a rather hurried gathering on the scuffed pitch for the victors. To be received by the chief of English football, the Duke of Cambridge. And to receive a Crystal glass trophy not unlike the artistic creations earned by winners of grand slams in tennis and majors in golf. Is it a horse, a dolphin with a ball in its jaws? No, It’s a glass football.
Cut to shots of sorrowing German players. Empathy muted by recollection that they have won the tournament eight times already. Post-mortem discussion in the BBC match studio takes a bitter turn, as pundits reel out the injustices holding back the women’s game, including the media’s collusive guilt.
Meanwhile on the pitch, the interviewer, having retrieved the mike, has another interview hijacked by uninhibited players dragging the interviewee back to what looks like a rave kicking off.

Ten minutes earlier:
Five minutes of extra time left. Anyone’s game. Winner still in doubt. Then an England corner. The ball ricochets around and is scuffed into the German net. Five minutes of joy dissolving in anxious doubt. Then the final whistle. Collection roar of relief.
Late night main headlines are devoid of other news. Perhaps wisely, politicians did not intrude on the celebrations. A year ago, the mens team lost a disappointing final marred by crowd violence.
But today has been hailed as a milestone for women’s football, with the largest crowd, and record viewing figures. And the first major international trophy since that unique World Cup victory over sixty years ago.

Monday August 1st
The celebrations must have been up there with that of the famous World Cup win. Like most people alive today, I can’t remember them. Even those of us who were around then remember what they were doing. I was in a Hungarian bar in Upper East Side Manhattan which was showing the match on a small scale television to a small scale audience of mostly disinterested Hungarians and Germans.
Today the celebrations as much as the match dominate the news outlets.
Most papers have pull-out supplements to keep, and front and back pages exclusively on the football:

The Express: It’s Home!
The i: Champions!
The Times: Lionesses bring it home.
The Guardian: Game changers.
The Sun: Move over fellers: IT’S HOME!
The Mail: It wasn’t a dream. We DID beat Germany in a final
The Star England 2 Germany 1. ROARSOME

Emotion ratings
Simple joyfulness
Nostalgic pleasure
Nostalgic pleasure beating Germany
Lioness shirtless celebration (Special category for the picture in The Mail)

One small step towards removal of male prejudices in football and beyond. One step towards a media frenzy over a highly hyped match between a men’s team and a women’s team justified under the twin banners of emancipation and ginormous money making. But, probably not in Saudi Arabia.

Faint refrain: It’s coming home…it’s coming home it’s…

How to Dream up Great Ideas: A Workshop on Everyday Creativity

Tudor Rickards describes his widely-applied method for developing skills at creating ideas in everyday business or leisure situations.

The script which follows was developed originally for a podcast with thought exercises to illustrate the processes of idea generation and development to show how a process leading to everyday creativity took place recently.

I hope it is of use to help your personal creativity system. It can also be of value for creativity trainers wanting to use audio in their workshops or tutorials.

I’m addressing the listener as a specific individual listening to the audio, either alone or within a group. in either case, you might want to take notes as you listen. I’ll indicate the points at which note taking will be particularly valuable.

One way of thinking about creativity is to contrast ‘something special’ or ‘big C‘ point of view, to a ‘nothing special’ or ‘little c‘ point of view.

Rather than use the term ‘little c’ I prefer to talk about everyday creativity which is a universal human attribute, most often seen in personal discoveries which take place in everyday lived experiences. What may be ignored or considered ‘nothing special’ to others may be considered ‘something very special’ to the person who has thought of the idea.

I will demonstrate my general approach through a recent specific example. I’m going to present it so that you can join in actively, if you are interested.

My example took place in a discussion, not as part of a special meeting arranged to create new ideas or solve problems. The ideas came about following a social tennis game we usually play for an hour twice a week. One recent game was played with three participants, because Gail, had become stuck in a motorway snarl up and abandoned the journey.

As a result we played a version of ‘two versus one’, which is halfway between singles and doubles. This substitute for the intended game of doubles is better than no game at all, but not much better.

To explain what happened next, I’d like you play a thought game.

Imagine you had been one of the three players. You have just finished the rather unsatisfactory two versus one game. You have just seen a text from Gail explaining what her problem had been. You should also know Gail is fantastically reliable. This is the first time she missed an agreed game over quite a few years.
How do you feel about what has happened? Here’s a few possibilities which came from our conversation at the time.

That explains it. At least, Gail has not had an accident

The traffic is getting worse. She should have started out earlier.

The one v two version of tennis is not much fun

We need a substitute to be on call to make up a four for our games

It would better if we started with five players with one dropping out.

Maybe your thoughts chimed with these to some degree. We were expressing how we felt, and moving towards what I’d consider to be examples of everyday creativity. Can you see the way one idea led to another?

What happened next was more unexpected. One of the group picked up on the general dissatisfaction with the outcome of Gail’s absence, saying:

It’s a pity one v two is not very enjoyable.

Can you see how the last comment could be a starting point for more everyday creativity?

There’s no correct answer. For me, it signals a trigger for new ideas. Why? Because it shows a dissatisfaction and also a starting point for thinking about what to do about it.
In more structured ideas meetings, a facilitator type of meeting leader would write it down maybe on a whiteboard. A favoured way is as an action statement or
‘How to …’

In this case, the ‘how to’ would be something like

How to make a game of tennis with three people more interesting

Back to the thought exercise. In the actual discussion, general chatting was going on between sips of coffee. Some about other matters of interest to those present around the small table. I was still thinking about ideas suggested by the ‘How to’ , and had fallen silent as several ideas came into my mind.

Did the ‘How to’ start turning your thoughts towards ideas for dealing with the posed challenge? If not, I’ll have to resort to the old teacher’s trick of saying ‘this approach often acts as a trigger for new ideas, and in the case we are studying it did for me, as I’m about to tell you.

But don’t start assessing my, or your, ideas too quickly.

Back again to the discussion at the tennis club. I had the start of an idea I wanted to share. ‘I’ve thought of an idea for making three-person tennis more interesting’. I was reminded of the gym where you’ve got people cycling away. That’s pretty boring. But someone had the bright idea of making it more interesting by competing with others at a distance.

Another thought experiment. Maybe you are adding to my idea with your own thoughts. In the more structured meetings you have found a Yes And. Again it’s the process of idea building or ‘Yes anding

I struggled to share several ideas which were jostling for recognition in my mind.
Here’s the idea’, I said, ‘it’s how to make tennis more interesting, like Gym cycling. I want an electronic system.’

We began to see further ideas:

We could use mobile phones for a solution’ I said hopefully.
The computer programme would keep score’ someone else said.

Are you seeing new possibilities in the ideas suggested? If so, you are experiencing the process of everyday creativity in action.

But creativity can’t be turned on and off at will. The ideas continued to nag away at me. So much so, that a few days later I had worked out several ideas in more detail. Strictly speaking each one was a fleshing out of the original idea of how to make three-person tennis more interesting and how to develop an electronic game linked to tennis.

I haven’t chosen this example to show how creative I am, or how clever my ideas are.
This is everyday creativity, remember. But for me it was a Big C idea, which appealed to me if no-one else.
Not special enough to share. But enough for me to discuss one of them later (the mobile phone intervention) in an interview for another podcaster.

In this post, I have tried to explain with examples how everyday creativity takes place: Yes and … why not try out the process the next time you are in a discussion at home or at work?

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the mystic racquet

‘Did you see that, Holmes?’ I exclaimed.
My friend had been dozing gently in the veranda to the tennis club, where he had solved the case of the vanishing tennis balls (a fox had been appropriating them).
I see a group lesson for school children continuing on the distant courts, well away from those allocated to members. I wanted to show that I too, as a highly trained physician, could observe and draw conclusions from my observations. ‘The mysterious way the racquets fell over without any intervention, as if by some inexplicable force’ I said.
‘Come, Watson, you a man of science subscribing to mystic forces’
For once, he had taken the bait.
‘Of course not, Holmes. There is a perfectly rational explanation.’
‘Indeed. And how have you reached the explanation?’
‘It was the coach. He has a most stentorian voice’
‘Enough to make the wire netting vibrate and disturb the racquets?’
‘Precisely, Holmes.’
‘Precisely, but not entirely correct.’
‘How so?’ I asked, now conscious I may have misread the situation
‘The coach had an accomplice, although one not aware of his role in this business. But you noticed, him, no doubt? The student who arrived late, looking like snail, creeping unwillingly to tennis training.’
‘He was sulking,’ I agreed. ‘Deliberately obstructive.’
Holmes changed track as he often does.
‘How many racquets were there up against the netting when the coach shouted, put your racquet down?’
‘Five. No, six. The snail added his, reluctantly.”
‘And thereafter he did everything to oppose instructions’
‘And when the coach saw him picking up his racquet, he called out for him to put it back. That was the most noisy shout of the day which I believe caused the entire netting to vibrate, and the racquets to fall down.’
‘How many fell down?’ Holmes asked.

Six, no wait, I ran the scene back in my memory. ‘There were five.’
‘Indeed, and even as the coach was shouting, the young troublemaker had smashed his racquet into the netting, thinking he would not be noticed.’
‘Causing all the racquets to jump and fall over!’
‘Remarkable, Holmes. How do you do it?’
‘Everyday creativity, my dear Watson, everyday creativity.

You can listen to the TudoRama podcast of the case of the mystic racquet, on Buzzsprout.