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Life Is Art Or It Is Nothing

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

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Learning To Be Me

My biggest surprise/shock/thrill of writing for the internet is that this thing of unfeeling wires and circuits, moulded plastics and plasma screens demands that I be human. And not just human, but the most human I can be.

When I first started this journey of writing for the internet 3 years ago, I was an abysmal failure. Now this was quite a surprise to me because I had been writing for over 25 years by that point. I had completed two books; I had written one of them completely from scratch four times (but that is another story); I had many other books in various stages; and a large part of my business consultancy business was writing reports – which I did well. So, this internet-thingy should have been a doddle. But it wasn’t.

In fact, you could taste the indifference. I struggled to find out why. I looked at people who were successful. I found advice from fellow writers. I changed subjects and found that didn’t work. I tried messing about with various programs. None of that help.

Then I found the answer by accident. I was chatting with a friend who used to be an amazing salesman. He was complaining that somehow he had lost it and wondered if I could recommend any good books on the subject so that he could re-learn this skill. I went away and looked at the books that I had read and discovered that there was no single book that was any better than the rest and all of them were missing some part of the complete picture. I had done what I have always done: I had taken a good idea from this book and a good idea from that book and amalgamated them into a more complete working model. In order to help my friend, I sat down and started putting a framework together so that I can send him off to particularly useful chapters at least. I started by separating ideas into the two very different types of selling: personal, face-to-face selling and impersonal selling done through writing, voice recording and video. Then I realised that there was a third type of selling – internet selling – which used the impersonal forms of writing, voice recording and video but insisted on using them in a personal way. It was as if the internet was saying,

“Cut the crap. Just talk to me”.

I wondered why this was the case. Then I realised that there were occasions that I had done just that in the past: whenever I had been communicating to friends who were not in the island for whatever reason. There was no formality. There didn’t need to be, these were my mates and I acted just as if they were in the room with me. That is what the internet requires: I must treat everyone as if we have been friends for ages; for, who knows, we might be so in the future.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Phil you’re a bit slow, that is so obvious”. Well, I do tell people that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer and occassionally I go out of my way to prove it.

So where does that leave us: well the internet has turned the world into one giant house with many rooms; everyone in the world is now a friend waiting to be discovered; and all it requires from us is to plumb the depths of our humanity and become the best human we can be. Not a bad job considering that it is just bits of metal and plastic



What’s the Big Idea?

What’s my big idea for doing this blog? Well it all comes down to jigsaw puzzles. My wife loves them. But I hate them because:

  • You already know the solution before you start

  • Someone else has decided how you are going to solve it

  • Loads of people have already solved it

 I can’t see the point in using my precious, irreplaceable time doing something that someone else has already done. Don’t they call that “re-inventing the wheel”? And it’s not as if there are no more problems to solve so that the only way we can kill time is to go over the same old problems. In fact, there are now more problems than ever to solve in the real world so why not solve them instead.

 Over thirty years ago I was set a puzzle: a big puzzle. It all start innocently enough with what sounded like a simple little puzzle. The pastor of our little local church asked us to think of ways of making the message of the Carpenter more accessible to people in our little island. So being the compulsive problem solver I am, I started looking at the problem. It became pretty apparent that it was not a simple question. In fact, it was a Trojan Puzzle. Inside it’s belly were hiding a whole bunch of puzzles – and they were armed with swords and teeth. After fighting with loads of little puzzles, it became clear that in fact, there was only one big problem:

Is it actually possible to eliminate pain and suffering?

That is the one problem behind

  • Can we solve world hunger?

  • Can we stop human trafficking?

  • Can we stop war?

  • Is there some way to be happy?

  • Can we defeat drug abuse? and domestic abuse?

  • What about disease? What about death?

  • And a gabblezillion more questions that blight and tarnish our lives

 As you can imagine,. it has been like the scariest bits of a rollercoaster ride and a maze and a ghost train combined. But I finally have an answer.

 So, is it actually possible to eliminate pain and suffering?

Yes, it is using the internet

 You see people make the mistake of thinking the internet is just an exobrain; and it is.

 But that is not its biggest strength.

It is also an exoskeleton – like the one Ripley had in Aliens, but bigger, much bigger. In fact, this exoskeleton allows me to connect with (and so influence) anywhere on the planet at the same time. Say I come up with a design for a better solar panel and people want to buy it. I can organise for manufacturing companies in (say) America and India to manufacture them and ship them to fulfillment companies who will ship them on to my buyers. And I can do all of that from a laptop in a coffeeshop on a little island in the English Channel.

But that is not its biggest strength.

It allows me to connect with people who have shared interests. And if we are prepared to do something about those shared interests, we can join together and form a swarm or a superorganism like a colony of bees. The scary thing is that with each person who joins the effect is geometric – so two people are 3x more effective than one; three people are 7x more effective and so on. So a small number of people can have a huge effect.

This strength of the internet has hardly been tapped yet. Yes there have been flash mobs and viral fads but nothing serious yet. However, it has started. Wikinomics and Crowdfunding has shown that you no longer have to deal with loads of middle men and expensive structures to support something – you can now go direct and give a small amount of time or money or something else to that one project. You have complete control over what you can do.

So, the question is no longer: can we eliminate pain and suffering. It’s now:

What pain and suffering shall we join together to eliminate today?

 So its over to you, what particular pain and suffering would you like to see eliminated?

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You Can Choose How You Die

Have you thought how you are going to die?
You may believe that you have never thought about it and don’t particularly want to do so now but actually you have thought it and do so with every decision you make.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine called Neal Holliday. After his funeral we all went to a pub and a friend asked me why I hadn’t gone to see him in the hospice before his death. I told her that I didn’t because I wouldn’t be sympathetic to his death at all. She looked surprised so I explained. I would have gone there and said,
“Well, Neal, well done. You chose the way you were going to die. You chose to kill yourself with alcohol and cigarillos. And you had decades of enjoying them – of savouring fine port and those silly cigarillos you loved. And now you have to pay for all that pleasure. But your pain will be short. So you had decades and fun and you paid for it with a small amount of pain. Well done.”
She laughed and said that I should have done that because Neal would have appreciated it.
That is true for all of us:
Every day in every minute decision, we choose how we will die but how we choose how to live

Who Am I and Why Should It Matter To You?

I find it difficult to talk about myself for a number of reasons:
  1. I learned very early on in my life that the vast majority of humanity were not interested in me; they were only interested in themselves. And I learned very quickly that if I tried to get them interested in me, I would be wasting my time. So I talked about them. An unintentional benefit of this was that I got to learn all sorts of really interesting stuff
  2. Because things don’t happen in chronological order. Yes, its true that time comes at us at the rate of 1 second per second. However, events and understanding do not happen in the order we experience them or perhaps that should be that events and understanding are not experienced in the order that they actually happen. For example, I went to school and learned some stuff but it was only much later that I saw the relevance of it
  1. I am just one of 7 billion people (and counting). My story is no more important than any of theirs – or yours
  2. As we will probably never meet, I am less important to you than people you will bump into as you walk down the street
  3. Because you are the most important person in your life – and so you should be
Because my story and my experiences may just be able to help you and it is vitally important to you that I am not a criminal, a conman or a complete idiot.
There are four main themes to my life. When added together, they can make my behaviour and my logic seem, well, illogical. They are:
  1. THE MAZE: If you were unable to see a maze and just saw the behaviour of someone trying to solve it, their actions would look bizarre and contradictory. First they go one way and then another; then they go forward, now back. It makes no sense. However, if you see the maze, you immediately make sense of the behaviour: a person hits a dead end and then has to go back. The problem with the maze that I follow is that it is not physical. I am trying to solve a problem for which there are many “solutions”. So I try one. If it doesn’t work, I move on. And worse, sometimes the solution works but only for a short time or in the correct situation so it has to be abandoned. Ironically, when people play computer games, they are quite happy to do the same thing
  2. THE BEST FORM OF PATIENCE IS TO DO SOMETHING ELSE WHILE YOU ARE WAITING. A project is going along swimmingly and then it hits a brick wall – a brick wall that cannot be pushed through, jumped over or got around. So you’re stuck. What’s the obvious thing to do? Well, you have two options: you can sit and wait for the wall to be eroded away by time; or you get on with something else. As my life is limited (and short), I choose to do something else until I can find a way around the wall. Unfortunately others see that as quitting because that is what they do
  3. THINGS CHANGE AND WE HAVE TO ADAPT. This an axiom of every major religion and belief system and yet people still refuse to live by it. They think that tomorrow will be just like yesterday. This is why there is so much debate over Climate Change: because people don’t want change; because people fear change. My own feelling is that change is happening faster in the Twenty-First Century. I am having to adapt on a daily basis
  4. I TRY TO TRUST MY SUBCONSCIOUS. My research has shown me that the Subconscious sees everything, hears everything and remembers everything. Unfortunately, it speaks in code. In that way, it is worse than Yoda. Haiku poetry and Zen sayings about the sound of one hand clapping – hah! They’re amateurs compared to the Subconscious. The Times crossword puzzle – yawn! Try deciphering what your Subconscious is telling you.Thankfully, most of the time it uses physical sensations: gut feelings, something make your skin crawl or just feeling uneasy about something. Now, by defintion, the Subconscious is illogical, at least as far as Conscious Logic. I suppose a more accurate description is that the Conscious and Subconscious use completely different forms of logic
If I were to sum them up, it would be that I choose to take action whilst the majority choose to wait. “All things come to those that wait”. Who said that? They are a world-class murderer. How many people have gone to their grave waiting to lead happy lives with great relationships and the wealth to enjoy it all? How many of the people who got those things tell others “All you need to do is wait and they will find you?”
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Bad Art and Life

I wrote this comment on an article entitled Why I Dont Believe in Bad Art:
I believe that there is such a concept as Bad Art. I have a friend D. who is a professional artist. He paints what he calls his “commercial” canvases to sell – but he despises doing them. Now he also paints his “real” paintings that he loves – which sell as well. So I told him that I was a little perplexed: why does he paint pictures he abhors when he could just paint what he adores because they all sell? Although I find all of his paintings drab and depressing, at least his “real” paintings have integrity because he wants to say something. But his “commercial” painting just growl at you: “I hate you. You’re tasteless if you like me and I all care about is your cash”. Now that does not make them Bad Art. Using art to express your emotions because you feel them is fine – even dark emotions. But to waste your time doing something you loathe just for money kills. It may do it in little stages but it does do it. I don’t care what work it is: when you fill your existence with contempt just to earn cash, you die inside. And that is Bad Art because it is Bad Life
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Looking Back on 2012

What an amazing year it has been for me. 2012 has been the Year of Discovery
First, I discovered Jason brubaker
He said two things:
You no longer need anyone’s permission to make your movie
What movie can I make today with the resources I already have available?
I have been trying to make a movie for some years but could never get enough funding and had keep putting it on the back burner. But this first statement girded my loins to take another look at it and the question made me look at what I could do rather than what I couldn’t do.
Not surprisingly, I found that I could go ahead and make a movie.
But it didn’t stop there. I found that I could broaden those statements to any part of my life or to the whole of it at once, namely:
You no longer need anyone’s permission to live your life
What life can I make today with the resources I already have available?
That has certainly opened up the creative circuits in my head and lead to the rest of the discoveries this year.
Thank you Jason
Then, I discovered  Chris Guillebeau
Earlier in the year, I joked with my friends that part of the reason for developing a web-based business was so that I could finally travel the world as I have wanted to do since leaving university. With a web-based business, as long as I have an internet connection, I can run it from anywhere. I told them that if I should start thinking about it seriously from this year or I was going to wake up at 90 and realise it was too late.
Then I just happened to find myself in the local library, just looking around at what they have, when this book leapt out at me. “The Art of Non-Conformity” was about someone who had travelled around the world and how I could do the same. On the website, he also showed how you could set up a website that would allow you to do just that. In his book, But he went one stage further. He had written a book called “A Brief Guide to World Domination”, in which he asked two questions:
What do you really want to get out of life? 
What can you offer the world that no one else can? 
For some reason, although I had seen those questions before, something about them (perhaps the wording) made me stop, take a second look and really think about them this time. When I did, they took me back 32 years to when I was aged 21 and I wrote a book called “Culture, Church & Community”. This was my attempt to answer the question: did the church have any relevance in the late Twentieth Century? My opinion was that it did to the extent that it was prepared to get out of its stained glass churches, get back to its roots and get involved with the pains of the world around it. So I dedicated myself to doing what I had written. Except there was a problem: my book did not have any answers to the problems it had highlighted. So I set out to look for answers that I could put into practice. Unfortunately, over time and due to the enormity of the task, I slowly lost sight of why I was doing it and how it was actually going to help others. I got caught in the minutae of life and woke up one day to find myself decades older and not really much closer to my goal.
So I took another look at my original goals and corrected my course to follow them instead of the trillion and one distractions that fill every day.
My answer to the first question is (to misquote Troma Movies):
World Peace Through Cyberspace
And my answer to the second question is simple. You see the question is a trick question. There can only be one thing that I can offer that no one else can:
Of course, some of you may think that is not much of an answer. But it is because over the decades I have learned not to be myself when writing. I had learned to write for business which is very stylised, even cryptic. I remember writing a very strong letter to the Income Tax Department on behalf of a client. I showed it to him and because he did not understand the stylised way of business writing, he thought that it sounded very weak. At that moment, a friend and fellow businessman popped in to see him. My client passed the letter to our friend for his opinion. After reading it, he said “Wow, you’re not taking prisoners are you?” At that point, my client thanked him and signed it.
The clincher came recently when I was talking to friends about the writing I have done on the net. One said, “I would love to read them, they must be so funny”. And I had to admit that they were not. In fact, they were quite sombre, even dreary and before Chris Guillebeau asked me that second question, I didn’t know why.
So learning to write like myself is a big deal. I am having to unlearn how to write Business-ese. It is really strange. When I speak, I find it easy to speak as myself and I find it easy to switch from that to Business-ese when I am in a business environment or even when I am just discussing business. Whenever business is discussed I transform into Business Maguire, faster than fibre optic broadband, able to leap business problems in a single bound and invulnerable to criticism and office politics. Then when I am finished, I put away the superhero costume and become mild-mannered Me Maguire. Yet when I write, I really am finding it hard not to be impersonal and distant because it has been so long since I have written that way. What I may have to do is get some speech recognition software and just chat to my PC. Nonetheless, I think the journey will be a useful one and worth the effort
Thank you Chris
Finally I discovered Pat Flynn
So here I am wanting to start a web business and I know that the website is the least important part of a successful business. You need a following. And to get that you need traffic. I had tried various things in the past and they have generated a small amount of traffic, got 29 followers and in my first year of business, I managed to earn 42 cents fromGoogle Adsense. It was clear to me that I had this great big yawning Grand Canyon-sized gap in my knowledge.
As I was thinking about this, I came across the  NicheSiteDuel where Pat and his friend Tyrone Shum were in a friendly competion to put a niche site into position 1 in Google. And he graciously put down exactly what he did to achieve it, how we could follow his example if we wished and what the results were. A complete recipe for getting more traffic
Thank you Pat

Empowerment: I hate the word but I love the concept

Empowerment. Grr! Every time I hear it, it makes the hackles on the back of my neck rise. Its a matter of redundancy, you see. You don’t need the “Em” or the “Ment”. Power is fine. Its like Pro-Active. Grr! That means exactly the same as Active. However, I do understand that you need to distinguish between being pro-active and being re-active. And I can see how you need all those extra letters to make it clear that it is not just about power but taking back power over our lives. And if a few extra and technically unnecessary letters are the price for effectively communicating this understanding, I shall live with it.

Empowerment. What an amazing concept! Having the power to choose how we live our lives. You may be wondering what I am whittering on about. I live on an island rescued from Nazi oppression and returned to a democracy over 65 years ago and has had a free democracy all of that time. Well, yes, that’s true but that doesn’t make me completely free. There are still loads of decisions made for me without my permission. Lets take a silly thing like my electricity. The one supplier, Jersey Electricity, buys the bulk of its supply from the French company EDF and 80% of their electricity comes from nuclear power. Now regardless of whether I think nuclear power is a good or bad thing, I have little choice but to use it. The only other choice was to manufacture my own power and take my entire house off-grid – a task that would have been very expensive as well as a challenge to find the room for all of the batteries we would have needed. Recently, the States of Jersey has passed a law requiring Jersey Electricity to buy electricity from anyone who produces it locally. This means that I can now choose to turn my home over to green power of my own at a more leisurely pace as funds allow. In fact, I can choose to start producing more electricity than I need and sell it to Jersey Electricity so that other households could use less nuclear-generated power. The 21st Century has seen lots of opportunities open up to give us more choices. I can choose to buy Fair Trade goods if I don’t like the way Third World producers are treated by other coffee manufacturers. I can choose to travel anywhere in Europe for fun and/or profit without needing permission. I can choose to travel the world because methods of transport are easy, fast and cheap.

Empowerment. The concept is wonderful but it is also scary. As we gain more power and control over our lives, we lose any excuse for not having the choices we want. We can’t blame anyone else for our choices when we have to power to make the ones we want. If we don’t like where our choices have taken us. We can choose to change those choices and go down a new path.