All images by Leonora Oppenheim. Christiana Wyly doing what she can uniquely do.
Yesterday I introduced the Do Lectures 2011 with a flash of party glitter from Steve Edge and the statement, Things are not just the way they are. This first emerging theme from the outward bound ideas conference in West Wales last week, reminded us to keep asking difficult questions, challenge the status quo and trust our instincts when we feel something isn't right. Today the second theme, of the five I'll be writing about, tackles that sense of being overwhelmed when we know something big needs to change. "But what can I do?" we ask in a slightly meek high pitched voice.The paralysis of fear
Christiana Wyly, yes she of the difficult questions, had a wonderful slide in her talk which brilliantly articulated how with all this bad news around us we can become completely paralysed by the prospect of everything that needs fixing in the world. Poverty, pollution, food, finance, fuel... oh just starting to list them induces that panicky feeling inside. So I'll stop.
Christiana Wyly's panic slide
What is your unique ability?
The question as Christiana explained isn't really "But what can I do?" (meek voice) but "What can I uniquely do?" (strong voice) It turns the emphasis around from little ol' you against the whole world, to you having some unique combination of skill and talent that can be used for specific purpose in the world.
This moment in Christiana's talk reminded me of a quote from the great designer Charles Eames. "Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world."
How do you learn best?
But how do we choose our corner? Joe Casey spoke about the importance of careers guidance and helping young people understand what they are good at. He showed us that people's brains and bodies have a propensity to learn in different ways. Do you learn best through words, data, music, space, or movement? We don't all understand information in the same way. As Joe says, "When you know yourself, what you like to learn and where your strengths lie, you love to express yourself."
Phil Minton letting it all out with the Feral Choir
Let go and find your voice
One of the most extraordinary and powerful moments in the Do Lectures tent last week was all about finding a voice and learning to express yourself. When the jazz singer Phil Minton brought everyone together to form, what he calls, a feral choir we had no idea what sort of sound we could or would make. The sense of discomfort and trepidation in the tent was palpable when Phil asked us all to imitate the noises that he was making. But somehow, by relying on 'System 1', without thinking too hard, we broke through our inhibitions.
Connecting to Rob Poynton's improv mission of using what is in front of you Phil coaxed out of us the most incredible primeval sounds that I don't think anyone in that tent imagined they could make as individuals let alone in public with a bunch of strangers. We were encouraged to let go and use our voices instinctively and you know what? It was incredibly liberating.
Trust your instincts and jump
That freedom of finding your voice was illustrated perfectly in Tom Fishburne's talk about how he has combined his childhood passion for cartoons with his successful career in marketing to become The Marketoonist. Tom had wanted to speak several years ago at the Do Lectures about the company he loved working for. That company was Method, those people against dirty. However, Do Lectures founder David Hieatt recognised that Method was in fact co-founder Adam Lowry's story, not Tom's.
Three years later Tom Fishburne was back at the Do Lectures to tell his very own story that only he could tell. Why he left Method to become a cartoonist and how that seemingly mad leap into the unknown has generated great success for him. Tom has worked out what he can uniquely do with his skills, he let go of the secure job and went with his gut instinct. The risk has definitely paid off.
Tom Fishburne realised his wish in the Do Lectures tent
Cultivate your craft
What it really comes down to in essence is the cultivation of a craft. It seemed to me that every speaker at the Do Lectures was talking about their own craft in one way or another. It could be a very literal interpretation, as it was with Nick Hand whose passion for the hand made saw him bicycling around the UK and Ireland documenting traditional craftsmen in their workshops. In his Slowcoast project Nick captured ancient skills that are dying out in a beautiful series of interviews and photographs.
A slide from Nick Hand's talk on the importance of craft
If you can imagine it you can make it
Then in contrast we had Zach Smith talking about the contemporary craft of 3D printing machines which people can now buy and make pretty much anything they want in their own homes. But, is 3D printing really a craft? Zach's talk created some tension in the tent as he showed a series of incredible toys essentially made by robots. "But is that all that they can do?" People were asking themselves. "What happens if everyone in the world just makes lots of plastic toys?"
Zach Smith speaking at Do Lectures 2011 "I love living in the future."
Wrong question. Or as Zach retorted, "But all the plastic is biodegrable PLA!" The right question is, what can you uniquely do with a Makerbot? Zach's skill is, "Empowering people to make the things they have in their head." So what do you want to make? Do you want to make toys that delight people? Or tools to help people? It's your choice. Both have value, you just have to be able to imagine it. Choose your corner as Charles Eames would say.
Think of it as a gift
Or as graphic designer Frank Chimero would have it in his talk about the gift of giving, use your gifts to "build a machine that turns into a gift giving machine." Frank's Big Do is this: "How can we uncover the auspicious wonder that lies at the heart of making?" What a beautiful challenge that is.
More on The Do Lectures
Do Lectures 2011 - 5 Lessons on How to Love Life & Improve the World Around You
The Do Lectures' Bold Designer Posters Deliver Motivating Resolutions for the New Year
Not a Dry Eye In The House - Maggie Doyne Tells Her Incredible Story At The Do Lectures 2010
The Do Lectures 2009 - Bonfire Brands
The Do Lectures 2009 - The Axeness of an Axe
The Do Lectures 2009 - Take The First Step
The Do Lectures 2009 - Turn Off Your TV
The Do Lectures 2009 - Big Hairy Audacious Goals
The Do Lectures: It's Like TED In A Welsh Field