Bump, Spark, and Swim Upstream


It ‘s raining outside and I can see the venue from my hotel window. I make a dash for it – I find my boot is leaking and the green man at the crossing seems to be off on a coffee break. I wait, willing him to return as my hair sticks to my head and water slowly drips down my face, taking my make-up with it.

I blunder towards the Massey University Albany campus, take a wrong turn, walk through a farm gate, startle a pukeko, climb a fence and find myself in the student car park. Ok, so I’m thinking the opening keynote speech better be bloody good!

Linda Jenkinson is the speaker; she hails from Parmy (ouch, remember the John Cleese comment!), and decided early on that she wasn’t cut out to be a secretary being chased around the board room table by an old lawyer! What she has become is a serial entrepreneur and the first Kiwi woman (and second New Zealander) to list a company on the New York Stock exchange.  Her social enterprise company WOW for Africa,  is a Social Enterprise Fund investing in women-owned businesses in West Africa and as a result of her work she was invited by Bill Clinton to discuss rebuilding Liberia……. By the end of her keynote I get the sense that she is fearless. I feel it coming on, a very uncool, but almost uncontrollable desire to exclaim “You go girl!” I have long forgotten my wet soppy sock.

For me it has been a year of intellectual bumping and sparking.  There are extraordinary people in this world of ours and my greatest insights and inspiration in 2013 have come from bumping into some very cool people.  People, who light a spark – who inspire me to think more, dream bigger – to be bold.

I read recently that “Building a network is like cultivating a botanical garden: You don’t want everyone in your network to be one colour or one species. You want a variety of ages and stages and professions and passions, and to tend them carefully.”[1]

The footnote to this are the poisonous plants and a whole lot of weeds that tend to trip you up now and then, but on the whole each relationship creates a new set of possibilities and there is nothing more inspiring than people who get excited by ideas, who build on them, advance them – try them on and rock them!

Rocking new ideas often involves rejecting the status quo in some way. It is a big call as its means doing/thinking differently. It means having the courage to swim upstream. This is not an easy swim as it has been said, ‘Society frequently tends to honour its living conformists and its dead trouble makers’.

Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a nurse and teacher.  At great risk to herself she started collecting supplies and donations and delivering them to the battle fields during the American Civil war. The War Department was shocked – women can’t be allowed on the battlefields! Clara treated both Union and Confederate soldiers. Knowing they might not survive the long trip to hospital, she began treating them on the battlefield, which was a radical idea at the time.[2]

Clara went on to establish the American Red Cross and was named its first president. She was a staunch believer in women’s rights, saying “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay”. Clara rejected the status quo.

clara clara 2

Clara and Linda made a big call – to do business differently.  Imagine what Clara and Linda could do together?  In a sense Linda has built on Clara’s efforts by chairing an American Red Cross group that raises $2 million a year for disaster preparedness through events that are key dates on the San Francisco social calendar. Getting people to put money into disaster preparedness – I pay homage!

The 21st century offers a whole new world of risk that Clara could never have imagined and it is hurtling its way towards us like a freight train. The complexity of this new world demands that we work together differently. That we take the wisdom of the past and innovate, co-create and build meaningful partnerships like never before in history. The greatest challenge to achieving this might be ourselves and our ability to put mission before ego.

“Co-creation involves letting go of control, listening – really listening – to people around you, and delegating responsibility to them. Most of all it means building trust: earning the trust of others, trusting them in return and trusting that together you can build something bigger, and more inspiring than you could achieve on your own.”[3]  This is freaky stuff for many of us.

I figure a lot of this starts with ‘intellectual bumping and sparking’ through which we can create coalitions of awesomeness and form schools with others who are keen to swim upstream. It could be said that it is the strength of our relationships that will determine the fate of our world. If that is the case we need to supersize our networks – the botanic garden needs to become an Amazon rainforest! The Humanitarian Decision Makers Taxonomy is a good example of a ‘supersized’ network’s basic structure.

Imagine if 2014 was the year when people with new ideas were encouraged like never before, a year in which people were kind to their dreams, where they were connected to others networks to ‘bump, spark, and swim upstream’. It is exciting to think where it might lead…. to a safer more resilient world perhaps?

[1] Sunny Bates: Networking in a Connection Economy.

[2] The Angel of the Battlefield, Clara Barton in “They Stood Alone 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference”.

[3] Mark McGuinness is a coach for creative professionals and author of “Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

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