Sherlock Holmes and the law of attraction

18 10 2010

Over the past year lots of people have asked why I object so strongly to The Law of Attraction so here goes!

First of all, it isn’t a law!

The definition of a scientific law that I favour is “..a concise verbal or mathematical statement that expresses a fundamental principle of science.” For example Boyle’s Law states that there is a constant relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas. Independent measurements can be, and have been, made to confirm Boyle’s supposition. Newton’s Law of Gravity predicts that objects will fall to earth and over centuries of measurement and observation not a single instance has contradicted this law.

Scientists do not bestow the term ‘law’ frivolously. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is just that and while vast amounts of evidence have been collected to support the theory,  it remains just that, a theory. Now we could debate the merits of inductive and deductive reasoning in scientific proofs and there are, of course, alternative definitions of what a scientific law is, but the law of attraction fails them all.

Secondly, I am a linguistic pedant!

Words are very important. In the early twentieth century a whole school of philosophy, The English School of Philosophy, grew around the ideas of Bertrand Russell and focussed almost entirely on the way in which we use words.  I’m not the kind of person who rages at the radio each time I hear a split infinitive, rather it is the sloppy use of words that allows language to conceal real meaning. During the 1970’s and beyond the BBC have been prone to say that a terrorist organisation has “claimed” responsibility for an atrocity rather than say that they have “admitted responsibility”. You claim a prize. It should not be acceptable use of language to claim a bombing.

By using the word “law” the perpetrators intend to evoke science – they attempt to disguise their ideas behind the cloak of scientific language. It is strange to me that the worst offenders are practitioners of NLP. They should know better. Our habitual thinking creates shortcuts in our brain. In NLP we are told to create new patterns of thinking to break these old habits. Supporters of the law of attraction seek to use the fact that, thanks to our years at school, we all shortcut from the word “law” to assume that there has been rigorous, scientific proof of the idea. There isn’t any scientific evidence or research that would support a “law” of attraction and it is clear, therefore, that supporters are being deliberately misleading in their use of language.

If we allow this improper use of language to persist it allows charlatans to imply knowledge when they have none. If we all agree to use the word “law” to apply to real laws, not ideas or ideals, then it will give the fraudsters, of whom there are plenty in this area, no place to hide.

Thirdly, it demeans us as human beings.

It puts your ego at the centre of the universe, implying that your needs can be met above all those of all others. You wish it and the universe will make it so. I hope that now it is written here the ludicrous nature of this assertion is clear. If the universe has a conscience (and in the interests of creating a blog post rather than a book, I’ll save the arguments against this for another day!) then I am sure it has better things to do with it’s time than deliver my dreams.

It is far better to rethink the law of attraction completely.

In our every waking moment our senses are bombarded by millions and millions of bits of information. We cannot, and do not, process them all. Our brain helps us to choose which to pay conscious attention to and which to ignore. I can give an example. If you move house to a place next to a sewage farm you would be aware of a foul smell…to begin with. After a relatively short time you will not notice the smell. It is still there but your conscious mind no longer notices, or at the very least notices the smell less than when you first moved in. The same is true for people living near train tracks on flight paths.

But as the great Sherlock Holmes says “Everything is always there.”

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. If you haven’t seen the films, read the books, listened to the radio plays or seen the recent TV adaptation, then you have been missing one of the great literary creations in the English language. Anyway, Sherlock Holmes will attend a crime scene with his assistant Dr John Watson.  Dr Watson will emerge having noted the nature of the crime, perhaps the type of victim, murder weapon, cause of death…the obvious things. Sherlock Holmes will have noticed much, MUCH more. All of the clues, all of the evidence was available to both men. Everything was there but only one man was open to all of the information.

My assertion is that we should take responsibility for our own experiences. Everything is always there.  We have to change the way we think in order to become aware of the opportunities that present themselves every single day. We have to act. We are not passive dreamers waiting to attract good things from the universe.

I propose that we ditch the passive, egocentric and misleading law of attraction and replace it with an ACT OF AWARENESS. We all need to make a conscious decision to change the way we think and sense and act in order to become truly aware of the universe we live in and make the most of the opportunities that will then be clear to us.

Everything is always there. Making an Act of Awareness, making a change within yourself to improve your perception is what will really make a difference to your life.

Is it what you know or who you know?

4 10 2010

There was a perception, and perhaps there still is, that getting a place on the board of a quango depends upon who you know. If you had a pal on the board of a public body, or knew someone who was part of the appointments process, then they would give you the nod. There was a feeling that jobs were spread amongst a few of the usual suspects.

Over the past few years the application process has become more open and the intention has been that it should be ” what you know not who you know” that is the important factor in selection. But has this change in attitude brought a change in the composition of public bodies? I wonder?

When you look at the individuals who hold board positions you can see that many of them hold more than one post. It would appear that board positions are still being shared amongst a relatively small number of people. True, the more open process means that posts can no longer be allocated through the old boy network so how do the same names keep appearing?

My suspicion is that increasingly the “what you know” does not apply to the complete skill set of the individual but to their ability to navigate their way through the application process.

In my discussions with Karen Carlton recently, she indicated that the language used on the application forms was being interpreted by lawyers in a way that wasn’t intended and which had resulted in them being disadvantaged in the process. When I spoke to Anne McLean OBE she spoke about a recent meeting she had had with women at the STUC. The women didn’t recognise that the talents that they exhibited everyday were exactly the expertise and experiences required to sit on the board of a public body. The language used on the forms did not allow them to match their skills to the requirements of the post even when they had all of the skills needed.

Both of these experiences, and the comment made by Roseanna Cunningham MSP when we met that she was quite often presented with the same names when making a ministerial appointment, suggest that board members are being selected from a small pool of people who know how to apply.

But the problem of selection from a small pool works form the other direction too. In speaking with Beth Edberg she indicated that board members of the Women’s Fund are found through their own network, for example, via their own fund raising events. And a friend who is the full time official at a small charity which helps individuals with severe mental health problems found their newest board member from the circle of friends of the charity. I can’t help feeling that we are not making the most of the talent available when making public appointments.

Beth identified that the main reason that there are so few women on the boards of public bodies is that “no-one asked them!” That is probably true but is it good enough?

Time has been cited by many as the reason why more women don’t get involved and Anne McLean OBE and Jane Irvine are particularly eloquent in this regard but I, at least, cannot use this as an excuse. As most readers will already know, I spend several evenings and most weekends helping at a community for adults with moderate to severe learning difficulties so I can find time but for all of the voluntary work and the fact that I have held board positions since I was 29 years old, I haven’t once considered applying for a position of governance.

In my defence, I had assumed that these posts were only awarded to the great and the good. Reading the biographies of the fabulous women who kindly agreed to give their views in the3rdi magazine this month, it is clear that they are great and good but it is also clear that they are there on merit.

One of my intentions in forming the 3rdi magazine was to make a difference in the areas of work where women are still disadvantaged. To make a difference on a national or global scale what better way than to become involved in the public bidies that affect all of our lives? So, in line with Ghandis famous saying “be the change you want to be” I will issue a call to public bodies to come and get me and a challenge to myself to put myself forward!

Charity Tourism

27 09 2010

I was faced with a dilemma in deciding the title for this weeks blog. The issue that I want to raise is the proliferation of overseas jaunts purporting to be in aid of charity.

We are used to seeing celebrities swanning off to Africa in order to be filmed chatting to locals and aid workers in a famine ravaged village, the footage to be transmitted at some future date as part of one of the regular gala fundraising TV spectaculars. On these occasions the cost of making and televising the film, complete with celebrity expenses, is quite probably exceeded by the amount of money donated by viewers when the programme airs.  And in these days of falling newspaper circulation it quite probably raises awareness of the plight of people in places that would never otherwise be on the radar of most TV viewers. If I were a celebrity I might well want to use my celebrity to bring famine and war and injustice into comfortable suburban sitting rooms, so to speak.

However the idea of visiting far-flung places in order to raise money for charity has taken a new dimension over the last few years. It has become charity tourism.

Essentially charities organise trips abroad and participants are asked to raise a certain amount of money in order to be able to go on the trip. Participants, therefore, approach friends, family, business colleagues, clients and strangers to collect money towards this financial target.

Has it not occurred to anyone else that we are simply being asked to pay for someone elses holiday abroad?

True, an amount of the money raised will go to the charity organising the trip but a significant proportion goes to pay for the trip itself as the costs of taking UK nationals to far-flung corners of the globe, feeding them, moving them about and returning them home safely are not inconsiderable. If I raise £5,000 for charity I would much prefer that the full £5,000 went towards the work of the charity than some pay for a jolly overseas trip. If I want a trek through the Hindu Cush I’d find a way of paying for my trip myself.

Another problem with charity tourism is that in order to excite the potential tourist the destinations chosen are ever more remote and ever more distant. I’m sure that there are many charity tourists hiking to Everest base camp, pounding the Inca Trail or cycling through Malawi as I write.

So what about the impact of tourism on these regions?

We fly thousands of miles with not insignificant carbon impact, invade local environments, buy a few trinkets and head home from these impoverished regions having improved their lot very little and raised a small amount for relatively wealthy western charities. Unlike the celebrity visits to remote regions this type of fundraising does nothing to raise awareness of these remote regions and nothing to help the local people out of poverty.

Why do people chose to raise money in this way? Whatever happened to sitting in a bath of baked beans in the local leisure centre?  I can only think that it is vanity. “Look at me. I’m walking in the Andes to raise money for ‘chaarideee'”, as Smashy and Nicey of Fast Show fame might put it.

I know that we all suffer from giving fatigue and that charities have to be more and more inventive to persuade us to participate and to help them to raise funds, but paying to take a UK national on holiday to China in order to raise money for a local hospice makes no sense at all. Look at the great work Maggies do with their Bike and Hike endurance events in Scotland. Innovative, challenging, integrated with local communities and fantastic in raising huge sums of money.

So next time someone approaches you looking for a tenner towards their trip to The Andes, please politely refuse and give your money somewhere where all £10 will go towards the work of the charity and let the vanity charity tourist pay for their own holiday to South America

Why is it OK to be ignorant?

13 09 2010

Why, in the 21st century, is it still socially acceptable to be ignorant about science?

Recently, on BBC Radio 4’s flagship programme Today, I heard a piece explaining why genes inherited along the maternal line might promote selfishness. The scientist responsible for the research under discussion explained his findings clearly and in a way that was easily understood.

All human bodies are carriers of genes. One might imagine that genes will always cause the bodies which house them to act selfishly in order that the genes are protected and then transmitted to future generations via reproduction.  Altruistic behaviour might be beneficial if it promotes the survival of copies of the genes held in other bodies, ie the bodies of those to whom we’re related.  JBS Haldane in his discussion of Kin Selection famously explained that, “I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins”

It would seem that in our distant past that it was the women who dispersed when finding mates and tended to live in family groups with the fathers family. The woman, therefore, was not related to anyone else in that family group; shared no genes with the group. Selfish attributes in genes carried by women may have proliferated under these circumstances in the maternal line.

Now, this is a fascinating idea and not difficult to understand, is it?

The interviewer on the Today programme reduced debate to “Ha Ha, blame your mother” There was no attempt to  understand and explain the findings – just a rush to the ‘amusing’ punch line – blame your mother.

It was perfectly acceptable for the well educated journalist to show a complete ignorance of science – to take the “if it’s too hard I wont understand it” approach. It should not be acceptable to be proud of such ignorance. Imagine had a scholar come onto the programme to talk about Shakespeare or Michelangelo. You can be sure that not only would the radio presenters have spoken to the expert in hushed, reverential tones, they would have been keen to show off their own knowledge of the arts.

It would not have been acceptable to be unaware that Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel and created the sculpture of David sited outside The Ufizzi in Florence.  But it is OK not to have the vaguest idea of the laws of science that allow the universe to exist. It is socially unacceptable to be unfamiliar with the novels of Dickens but perfectly acceptable if you cannot recite Newtons Law of Motion. And further, such ignorance of science is often a badge worn with pride – as if it is beneath the dignity of artists to sully their intellect with base technological knowledge.

It is not good enough and it should not be allowed to persist.

I am a scientist and am well read. I am proud that I have a broad knowledge. It enriches my life.  Journalists, and the rest, who refuse to engage with science should be ashamed of the gaps in their knowledge and not feel able to flout their ignorance.

It is important that this is not allowed to persist.

While young people are still getting the message that maths is hard, science is dull, chemistry boring, then we as a society will continue to struggle to get enough people to take science at university and to consider a career in technology.  The economy will suffer in the increasingly technology driven 21st century if we do not produce enough scientists and enough lay folk with a pride in the understanding of science.

For this reason it is important that we do not allow ignorance of science to be a badge of honour.

Why I’m a vegetarian

25 08 2010

Lots of people ask me why I’m a vegetarian so I’m writing this blog so that, in future, I can in the style of our politicians, refer questioners to the answer I gave a moment ago.

I’ve been a vegetarian, on and off, but mainly on, for about 25 years and while the question arises less often than it used to, probably because there are more of us about, but it still arises surprisingly frequently.

The reasons, in fact, have changed over the years and each casts a light onto the way I view the world in which we live.

I decided to become a vegetarian when I first had to commute to work. It was not a commute as is probably visualised now…three lane carriageways completely blocked by cars wedged bumper to bumper..but it was a 25 mile trip from my home to work. I was young, early 20’s, had my first company car and was always dashing from one important meeting to another. My drive to work took me through the Cheshire countryside and I became aware of the dead bodies of creatures, mainly rabbits and hedgehogs but including foxes and badgers and birds, strewn across the roads. For me their flattened bodies became a symbol of the way that we all race about with little or no concern for the world around us.

Becoming a vegetarian gave me daily thinking time – a physical reminder that my actions were not without consequence.

My job took me into factories, hospitals and, crucially in this context, food factories. Here comes the second reason.

The casual cruelty inflicted on pigs waiting for slaughter at a bacon factory was shocking – animals being tormented and teased in their pens.  Once again it was the thoughtlessness that affected me. I don’t think that the guys were being deliberately cruel..they just didn’t think at all.

The third reason came later when considering the role of industrial scale farming.

Millions of acres turned over to rearing animals for meat. Even at a hugely simplistic level this cannot be energy efficient. If we eat a vegetable the energy stored in the vegetable turns into energy that can be used by the human body. If animals eat vegetables the energy is converted into animal body. We kill the animal and eat some bits so, also taking into account the loss of energy in sustaining the animal up to the point of slaughter, the use of energy is less efficient by having the animal as a middle man.

So vast areas of the world dedicated to rearing livestock rather than growing crops … but I do eat dairy products and I expect that dairy cattle farming is a responsible for more acreage than beef cattle so I don’t totally follow my conscience here …. but I am aware of the conflict.

And where are the animals reared? Beef flown to the UK from Argentina and lamb from New Zealand.  Now I know that this is true for vegetable products, the only apples I was able to buy in a small store in the north of Shetland had been grown in Brazil, but it was the transport of meat that first made me think about the excessive air miles needed to get cheap food on our tables.

So my arguments for being a vegetarian are not really about animal welfare, I  agree with limited animal testing of pharmaceuticals in certain circumstances,  for instance. but they are about THINKING.

We don’t do enough of it.

We should think and not just rush headlong through our lives, filling our trolleys at Tescos with barely a thought for the impact of our purchasing decisions, hurtling through the countryside without any consideration for the world around us.

So rather thatn asking me “Why are you a vegetarian” as yourself why you’re not.  Or ask yourself do you really need lamb from New Zealand…or apples from Brazil.


19 08 2010

Tony Blair put education at the forefront of his first election campaign. While he now shuffles around the world in search of his legacy it was education that was his first hope for booking his place in history.

It wasn’t just about raising standards in education. His strategy had a focus on entrepreneurship at it’s core. Those early, cringe-worthy Brit-Pop meetings at Number 10 were not only so Tony could meet his heroes. The aim was to encourage government to connect with youth culture and through it encourage a more enterprising generation. The big idea was to inject the spirit of enterprise into a tired, old schools sector.

So how did innovation and enterprise come to be forgotten and the focus to narrow even further on exam results and school league tables?

In my view the error came right at the start when the emphasis was put on pupils rather than teachers.

Programmes were developed to encourage pupil entrepreneurship. These, supported by the huge expansion in personal access to information driven by the growth of the internet in the 90’s and into the 21st century, allowed pupils to be put at the centre of their learning experience. This is perfectly right and proper. In theory.

But while there is so little room for enterprise within the teaching profession – being solely driven by academic achievement and league tables and commonly having no work/life experience beyond the education system – enterprise is squeezed out of the curriculum. How many times have we heard that teachers train children to pass exams rather than educating them?

The focus on academic achievement has meant that vocational training has been sidelined by successive governments. After much debate 14-19 years diplomas have been introduced in subjects such as construction and media but the initial intention of offering vocational study options in mainstream subjects such as English and modern languages has been shelved. This has meant that vocational courses are still seen as the poor relation to academic study.

Free schools, much vaunted by Michael Gove, may improve the situation by giving schools more control over the curriculum. However, looking at the experience with the current free schools, the city academies, they have been accused of doing away with ‘harder‘ academic subjects to focus on ‘softer‘ vocational options to improve the performance and position on school league tables.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

While we have this differential thinking that equates academic to difficult and vocational to easy how will we ever be able to give equal value to practical study and to properly introduce courses such as enterprise and entrepreneurship into our schools.

In my own recent experience I contacted the Determined to Succeed Team here in Scotland. This is a great programme and driven by talented and committed individuals. The programme, however, is delivered via the local education bodies. I was able to offer my own skills, and those of hundreds of entrepreneurs who are involved in the3rdi magazine, free of charge, to support enterprise and work experience initiatives within schools.

To my huge disappointment, but not surprise as my own son has recently left the education system in Scotland, not one school in Perth and Kinross, not one – primary or secondary, thought that they could benefit from this opportunity. They were all too busy, focussed solely on year tests and final examination results. All too blinkered. My own son had not a single class on enterprise in his whole secondary education. Fortunately he has lots of role models outside the classroom but most kids aren’t that lucky and rely entirely on schools for the totality of their education, academic or otherwise.

We are now working with Glasgow schools and so maybe all is not doom and gloom.

If you want to share your thoughts on this issue, follow the3rdimagazine on twitter or the3rdi group on linkedin or join our fans on facebook.

Mumpreneurs – new thing or just what we’ve always done?

22 06 2010

The July issue of the3rdi magazine will focus on working from home and in advance of that we have posted to find out about different peoples experiences and opinions.

As part of this process, and to stimulate debate, I thought that I should wade into the area of mumpreneurs. Well, when I say wade in I really mean jump in with both feet.

Firstly, I dislike the word. I am an entrepreneur. Really. I am. I have started at least 5 businesses in different business areas, using different skills and different technologies.  This qualifies me to use the term entrepreneur. And I am a mum. These are separate and unrelated parts of my life. The two do not fuse. I am a mum and I am an entrepreneur.

The prefix mum, it seems to me, has been deliberately chosen to confer some sort of protective shield around the word and hence the person. Everyone loves mums, like we all love apple pie, don’t we. It’s a given. And woebetide anyone who critises mums.  How many times have you heard the question asked, “Do you have kids?” and if the answer is “no” the respondent is given a sympathetic look and told, “You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.” It’s as if having a child, as long as you are not one of those demonised single-parents on sink estates, confers a cloak of invincibility. This is plainly nonsense.

For me the act of childbearing is a natural act unique to my gender due entirely to an aspect of physiology. Having a child may have altered my perspective on what was important in life but it did not change my understanding of business, the universe and everything and did not raise my intellect by a single IQ point. In other words being a mum had no affect on my entrepreneurial abilities.

As women we are often reluctant to criticise other women, especially mums and the mumpreneur seems particularly immune from critisism. I’m going to buck the trend.

Let’s accept that those that call themselves mumpreneurs are, in fact, mums. Many display their kids on their websites, blogs, books and across social media platforms so I’ll accept that the mum part is true. But are they also entrepreneurs? In the main I think not.

There is a huge difference between entrepreneurship and enterprise.

Lots of women decide that they are unwilling or unable to follow a career in full-time, paid employment once they have had a child. This is completely understandable as the demands placed on home, family and a full-time career can be intolerable. It is not surprising, however, that the previously successful and energetic woman, finding herself at home 24/7, should seek to find something to occupy them beyond changing nappies and watching ceebeebies. So many mums start a home-based business.

But here’s the thing. This is nothing new! This is home-working. Women have done this for generations. They have taken in washing, done ironing, dress making, knitting, book-keeping, writing kids books from home for decades. They use the skills that they had at work to make money from home. This is not entrepreneurship – this is enterprise.

My own mother started a number of very successful playgroups when my brothers were small. She took what she knew, looking after kids, and turned it into a home-based business. She would not consider herself to be entrepreneurial and neither would I. She was extraordinarily enterprising –  and successful.

Modern stay at home mums have the benefit of new technology to access larger markets for their enterprise but the principle is the same. If you write a book about bring up baby you are an author not an entrepreneur. To get that book reviewed on Womans Hour is enterprising, not entrepreneurial.

For me an entrepreneur sees new market opportunities and develops and grows businesses and business skills to exploit those opportunities. An enterprising individual builds a single business on the skills they already have. For example, someone who has worked in the HR department of a large corporate and goes on to run a small HR company from home while bringing up kids is enterprising not entrepreneurial.

Now I should say that I am not being derogatory about enterprise. Far, far from it. Enterprise is hugely important and I value enterprise just as much as entrepreneurship. Enterprise can find a new angle, a new niche a new way of working and build strong businesses. Entrepreneurship requires a different skill set and while it may have bigger rewards there are often larger risks. Mums are often unwilling to take these risks, which is why they focus, quite properly, on enterprise.

I know mumenterpriser isn’t as catchy as mumpreneur but it is nearer to the truth. The use of entrepreneur when we mean enterprise devalues both.