On Creativity.

The definition of creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.

The funny thing I’ve found about being creative is that, at its purest form, I don’t have to worry about what other people think. When I create simply as a means of expression, it is an intimate conversation with myself. I think that few people are fortunate to experience this as a way of making a living, such as fine artists.

Back in my psych undergrad, in my final year I took a fringe elective module, and it was called something like ‘Imagination in Science and the Mind’. Looking back, it was all about creativity, and psychologists pursuit in understanding the mental processes involved with creativity within the scientific field.

In attempting to understand how creative processes differ, psychologists classify creativity as p-creativity and h-creativity. Arguing that it is of more fundamental importance, P-creativity is with respect of the mind of the person concerned, even though others have come up with the idea before. H-creativity adds that no other person has had this idea before. I think, we have a tendency to inhibit creative mental processes by getting hung up on wanting to be original.

A psychologists definition of creativity further asserts that creativity is adaptive. Not only is the idea new, it must be workable and functional. They argue that creativity enables a person to adjust to novel circumstances so as to solve problems that unexpectedly arise. In thinking about whether this applies to fine artists, my mind casts to the large collection of dreamy works by historical painter William Turner. He is known for his powerful illustrations of the effects of the first industrial revolution on our landscape. To remain relevant, he adapted his paintings, depicting society itself adpating to huge technological changes.

There is a huge body of research on the subject of creativity, one only needs to glance at the length of its Wikipedia page. Here I draw on my thoughts based on my past learnings, which presents an incomplete view of the subject area.

Creativity engages in a thought process known as divergent thinking, the individual generates ideas and explores many possible solutions. It is described as spontaneous, free-flowing, and non-linear. Reference is made to the short time frame within which this should occur, in order for unexpected connections to be drawn. Following this, divergent thinking may be employed, to organise these ideas for the purpose of arriving at a single solution to be actioned.

I think it is necessary to have a balance of convergent and divergent thinking, in order to succeed in life. However, I am self-aware enough to realise that the balance is skewed towards divergent thinking for me. What this simply means is that it takes more mental effort for me to engage in the process of convergent thinking, whereas divergent thoughts come naturally to me.

Anyways, those are my thoughts on creativity this week, and I hope you learnt a thing or two as well.

When This Is Over: AV Experience.

The Avicii Experience coming to Stockholm in 2021 has got to be at the top of my travel bucketlist.

 

Got my Google alert for Avicii’s biography release date but now, the most comprehensive analysis of his death I have found online is this article: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/who-really-killed-avicii

My Very First Podcast.

Back in 2017, when I was doing some associate work for a social tech incubator, I had the opportunity to interview some of the founders from the 2nd “mission” which was about solving problems relating to globalisation and automation. I’ve dug up the interview which I posted online years ago, it was designed to help potential future founders understand what it’s like to create a business within a business incubator.

[Founder Spotlight] Interview with Sophie: CTO @ Project Kitchen Table

Zinc

Zinc

Jul 27, 2018·12 min read

Welcome to Zinc’s Founder Spotlight — a series of interviews with Founders from Zinc’s first mission. This month we’re interviewing three of our CTO’s, Sophie from Project Kitchen Table, Alfredo from Better Space, and Mihir from Squad. First up is Sophie.

  • To listen to Sophie’s full podcast (24 mins), go here

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sophie: I am Sophie, CTO of Project Kitchen Table. I studied Computer Science and Maths and then I went into teaching people about code and all things digital including cyber security before I jumped on the bandwagon and decided to join Zinc!

And how old are you?

Sophie: I’m 25.

What you were doing before you joined Zinc?

Sophie: I was in-person facilitating a range of senior executives from different companies, teaching them all they need to know about the digital transformation that their businesses were going on. And we did that very hands-on, getting them to actually code, live the life of a developer for the day, so that they can experience and understand a different mindset in order to enable them to make better decisions. The other thing I did alongside in-person teaching was build a chatbot that taught people about cyber security. That was to expand the amount of people that we could reach with the education, and we really wanted to replicate the human feel which is why we made a chatbot.

What technologies have you mostly used?

Sophie: The chatbot was built all in Ruby on Rails, loads of JavaScript, horrible, horrible JavaScript now I can think about it! We used a great UI framework called semantic UI, and MongoDB backend. When I used to teach, I used to teach the three languages of the web, so HTML, CSS and JavaScript. We used those because they’re the simplest ones to get your head round in a day in a very short period of time, where you can actually see that something is happening. Some of the back-end languages, like Python, is my absolute favourite language, but you can’t see the result in the same way. So actually when you’re teaching someone it’s nice to get that visual recognition for people before you move on to the more complicated hidden away stuff in the background.

Where did you learn how to code?

Sophie: On my degree, I learned a lot of Python. I learned some strange languages like Lisp and Prolog, I don’t even know if they’re used in industry applications! I did quite a bit of Java and I did some C#, but they didn’t set as well with me. It wasn’t actually until I was in the outside world that I touched a web-based language, or even really learnt about the principles of software development, and software development within a team. That was quite a big gap in my knowledge, but my degree just didn’t teach me that. It’s quite interesting that actually, even though people might have that degree, a lot of the learning, that’s the real industry experience, comes from afterwards and comes from working with other people, learning from the people that are around you and that you’re working with.

How did you hear about Zinc, and why did you join?

Sophie: I was in a hotel room in Stockholm teaching a company how to code when I saw the advert for Zinc come up on Twitter. I read the Medium post and thought I completely missed the boat. I thought I’d missed the deadline, scrolled all the way down to the bottom, turns out I hadn’t missed the deadline, and thought oh my gosh, I have to be involved. I’ve always wanted to start my own thing and the fact that this was centered around mental health, which is an area so close to my heart. I just knew I had to be involved. I kind of thought, oh my gosh, I’ll never get on, I’m not equipped to do this, but I filled in the form, then you guys said come and do your video interviews, I said okay I’ll do the video interviews, then you said come in for a day, I came in for a day, had an amazing day at the full day interview, and then six months down the line, I have a business. Don’t really understand how I got here but it’s been an amazing adventure!

It was literally a random Tweet?

Sophie: It was such a random tweet and I was in a really random hotel room in Stockholm, and I remember that I couldn’t change my location on the form, and I was thinking oh my god they’re gonna think I’m in Stockholm, they’re not gonna let me in because it’s based in London, but I am in London based…but I knew that I had to get my application form in, I had to do it. So I just did it on that day as soon as I saw it!

Can you tell me about your personal interest in Zinc’s first mission?

Sophie: Definitely. Mental health is something that everyone has. People don’t talk about it, or haven’t talked about it too much up until quite recently when it’s really just come and kind of exploded into the public’s attention. I’ve been touched quite personally for mental health distress. I have a couple of close friends that have gone through some really kind of dark episodes, and I’ve always been the one on the outside helping them out, rather than going through those episodes myself, but even being an observer to that, and being that supporting role, made me realize how unequipped we are to deal with this…and I knew I had a set of skills, a very special set of skills, that could be used in a very productive way, to make a real difference in people’s lives. If I can apply the skills I’m lucky enough to have to help people, then that to me is incredibly rewarding.

It sounds like you like sharing knowledge and building things for people to benefit from.

Sophie: Yeah, definitely. I actually got into teaching when I started to teach women how to code through an organisation called Code:First Girls. Seeing that change in people from something that I had already learned and kind of knew and assumed was okay, being able to pass that on, being able to see people change the way they think, potentially change their careers was such an incredible feeling and it felt almost selfish to keep it inside when I was lucky enough to be taught it myself. I think if we’re in a privileged position where we have a set of skills, we should be sharing those skills with others.

Tell me about your current business.

Sophie: I have founded Project Kitchen Table with my co-founder Aimée, Project Kitchen Table is a business that wants to bring more shared laughter to families. We’re doing that with our first product, which is a conversation partner called Kit, and you will be able to speak to KIT through voice-based technology. So we want to encourage and empower the next generation to find their social confidence, to find their voice, in order to safeguard their mental health.

Tell me about your role at Project Kitchen Table.

Sophie: And day to day, what does being the CTO look like? Well it varies. If we’re really striving towards a next user test, we know exactly what we’re testing, I’m in lockdown build mode. So coding away building out KIT, building the Alexa skill that it is currently available through. If we’re doing a user test I’m on-site, speaking to kids in schools, speaking to parents, really getting in touch with our user base. Otherwise, it’s all about thinking about the feasibility of the technology around us. So what can we do with KIT? We’ve got great ambitions to make it really artificially intelligent, but that technology is quite far away. So how do I speak to those experts, what’s happening in the field, and how do I make sure that KIT can drive that agenda forwards. Alongside doing a loads of other stuff that needs to get done when there’s only two of you! Like legal documents, we’re trying to recruit for some summer interns, thinking about our values, our mission. And I spend a lot of time talking to other people that have already built startups, to learn from what they’ve done, to learn from how we’re presenting ourselves, and what they immediately think. We’re just trying to absorb as much feedback as we can possibly get.

How did you and Aimée come up with Project Kitchen Table?

Sophie: Aimée and I were actually having breakfast at Aimée’s kitchen table. We’d had a great coffee where we knew we really got on. We were just talking about what motivated us and what hit home for us. We started to think about what the drivers of mental health and we knew one of those is good communication. We know that something that detracts from mental health is bad communication and we started to play around. Where actually do the skills of communication come from? The majority of the time, it will be when families sit around that kitchen table. They’re sharing that time, they’re sharing a meal, and they’re learning from each other. But actually kitchen tables are on the decline, the Office of National Statistics removed the kitchen table from the basket that judges inflation and replaced it with a flat screen TV. So it stemmed from that but things have consistently evolved since then, but it was definitely a shared idea. How do we change mental health for the long-term? How do we break that cycle of it being passed down generation to generation?

How does your product KIT work?

Sophie: So when we started to speak to teams and do user testing, they actually said that they don’t want a product that they share with their Mum and Dad, they want something that is solely for themselves. So that’s what we’re working with at the moment, which is a journaling-based app. You can speak to Kit, it will ask you five or six questions about your day, and get you to release and get those emotions that might have been inside or any weight that you have from the day and any angst, it’s out. It’s gone. KIT’s taking it away, and we’re just releasing that pressure, we want to be that pressure release. And while we’re doing that through KIT’s language, we’re going to start to expand the vocabulary that the child is exposed to so that they will be able to better identify with their emotions as well.

Does KIT provide advice or feedback?

Sophie: So that’s a great question. We would like it to be a coach, so coaches don’t normally pass judgment, give feedback, they actually equip the individual to help themselves, that’s more the goal than that direct feedback and advice, but it depends on the scenario because we might offer feedback in the range of vocabulary used or the different scenarios that people might work through with Kit. But directly on a day to day basis, will it give feedback or advice? Probably not.

So Kit’s coaching role is to be the prompt, on topics such as bullying, conflict at home etc?

Sophie: Exactly, yes. Prompt them to think, prompt them to reflect.

What did you get out of being part of Zinc?

Sophie: So I guess three main things. First of all, I have a business, I met Aimée who is my wonderful co-founder whom I’m very privileged to have met, because she’s amazing and we’re a great match. The fact that I even have a business and someone to build that business with. The second part would be the fact that we got exposed to so much knowledge, so many specialists, and just got that real deep dive into areas that I would never have access to before. I think the third thing was the fact that, you know, I thought about starting a business… I don’t know if I ever voiced it out loud, but I thought about it, but there was always that fear aspect of: well how am I going to support myself? How am I going to pay my rent? How do I even know where to start etc? Zinc of gave me that cushion to get me comfortable with the uncomfortable for those first six months. And now I feel like we’re on our own, we’re free, we’re ready to fly, but I’m fine with not having a steady paycheck that comes in, I’m fine with the methodology that goes alongside building a startup.

If you didn’t join Zinc, where would you be today?

Sophie: I think if I hadn’t of joined Zinc, I would have probably gone to work for a very small startup. I would have liked to have been employee one, two, three, but I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to be a founder.

What have been your key wins and challenges?

Sophie: I think if you’re thinking about doing something, a key challenge is the first couple of months when you’re trying to find a co-founder and you’re trying to find your feet because there’s a lot of people around there’s a lot of new knowledge and that’s a challenge because that’s just emotionally draining. That’s just the way it is. You’re working with people but you don’t really know if they’re the right one and the real win I guess came when Aimée and I really solidified our relationship, and I feel very lucky that she was with me and also joined Zinc and we were able to come together.

Was it early on?

Sophie: She was courting me, and I was very coy about the whole thing! But we probably came together in November and then really solidified ourselves early December time. So it took some time, it took going through a couple of breakups with other people, and things not working out. Sounds a bit bit like dating…

Turns out that it’s quite a natural process, isn’t it?

Sophie: It’s definitely a normal thing to do, but it’s still a challenge. So that was a challenge that ended with a win. I think another challenge — and this is a question we ask in every mentoring session that we go to — is managing your own energy. So how do you keep the momentum going where you stay healthy, are able to go guns blazing, and what techniques and strategies do you need to put in place for that. So Aimée and I have kind of two really core things. We both really try and do yoga quite a lot. That was the one piece of advice I got from anyone else about managing your energy. Aimée and I have said we also do not work weekends. We always need that break. That’s to prevent us from burning out in the long run, we need the balance.

So you’re giving yourself the mental health.

Sophie: Yes, yes. And I think we both came together on that very early on, you know, we’re building about mental health, let’s not damage our own in the meantime.

So what does the future have in store for you?

Sophie: So for me, well, I feel like for me my future is the company. This is the plan for the next ten years. We want to bring more shared laughter to the world. We want to enable KIT to reconnect families and to reconnect individuals with themselves. We want to push the boundaries on voice tech, we want to push what businesses look like with voice at their core. That’s the long-term, in the short term, we’ve got really exciting beta tests coming up. We’ve got a couple of interns in the pipeline to help us push the product over the summer. We’re looking to get KIT into more schools to test, and to just get it in the hands of as many children as possible.

What are the main things you learnt in the past 6 months?

Sophie: Before this, I hadn’t built an Alexa skill, that’s been incredible. Being able to think more holistically about things, and being empowered to make decisions that I used to make as part of team, whilst quite scary at first but does kind of show you, I can do this without needing other people’s help and advice.

So in a sense, teaching yourself how to learn better?

Sophie: Exactly, exactly. Which is a weird thing to think about for someone who used to teach people things!

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in joining?

Sophie: So I went out for dinner with my friend that is going to apply to Zinc, and the advice I gave her was think about what the worst thing that could have happen is. For me, the worst thing that could happen was that I learnt loads over three months. That I left at Christmas, I didn’t have a business there wasn’t the right person here for me, but I learnt loads. So actually thinking about the positives that come out of like the worst case scenario. The second thing is if you are thinking about applying and you’ve not immediately gone “oh my god, that’s ridiculous, why the hell would I ever do that?” you should apply, because it’s going to be the majority of people that think what we’ve just done is utterly ridiculous, and the fact that people even consider applying means that they should apply. Just fill in that form, just see where it takes you, and see what the adventure will hold!

Flashback Excerpt: I Accidentally Started a Romcom Story in 2018.

We were sat in a busy pub in Wimbledon called The Alexandria, on a school night.

“I’m your first EVER date?” Tom asked, eyebrows raised with a cheeky grin.

“Yeah, I was in a 9-year relationship!” I exclaimed, whilst chuckling to myself.

“If I’d known I would have taken you somewhere nicer than the local pub” Tom gested, in his thick scouse accent.

And there I found myself, at 28, single for the first time. The funny thing about being in a stable relationship with the same guy from the ripe age of 18 is that I never had to worry about what most girls worried about throughout their 20s – being attractive to men. I’ve always been that carefree girl that paid little attention to what society cared about. Suddenly, I found myself scrutinising my appearance, observing other women, and trying to fit in.

My Top 3 Books of 2020.

Last night, 4-part series Incredible Journeys with Simon Reeve aired on BBC, in which Simon recalled some of the most memorable humans he’d met on his travels in the past decade or so. This series is very moving because Simon chose to weave in his own stories of personal struggle, admittedly I cried beautiful tears. Anyway, this prompted me to share my top Goodreads reviews from 2020, with Mr. Reeve’s autobiography coming up in first place.

1. Step by Step: The Life in My Journeys – Simon Reeve

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What can I say? This book made me laugh and cry! This man is a role model that has inspired people all over the world. His intellect, empathy, and profound optimism for humanity is like no other. This is a very revealing autobiography which covers not just his travels but also his very relatable personal struggles… it helped saved me from the ‘narrow’ view of my own despair. And thank you Simon Reeve for dedicating Chapter 19 of your book to my country of origin – a place that still does not ‘exist’, I have never felt more seen and represented by a person hailing from the West.

2. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything – Elizabeth Gilbert

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It took me 2 years and 2 days to finish this book! Looking back, it kind of feels like I absorbed it at exactly the right pace: in line with my very relatable personal experiences. I have so much respect for writers that share deeply personal stories like this. Understanding how she attempted to make sense of it all offered additional perspectives to me. Liz was like a silent and patient tutor in the background on my journey of self-inquiry. I suspect this will be the first book that I will re-read.

“To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life.” – Wayan, Balinese Healer

3. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple – Jeff Guin

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I became curious about cults after the recent case in the news of the downfall of the cult NXIVM. Jeff Guin and his team or researchers did an excellent job at putting together a compelling description of a complex series of events that lead to a horrendous Jonestown massacre in 1978. This is an in-depth read but a truly valuable lesson from history that should not be forgotten, because given the circumstances everyone is susceptible for falling in to to a cult!

My Life Hacks: 10 Products That Make Daily Life Easier.

  1. This de-tangling hair brush + shower comb.
  2. This skin replenishing face serumface cream.
  3. This convenient & cool water bottle.
  4. These incredibly warm & long-lasting boot slippers.
  5. This super gentle face wash.
  6. These warm & comfy jeggings.
  7. This warm & conforming underlayer.
  8. This non-oily & effective lipbalm.
  9. This clean & quick coffee maker + hand grinder.
  10. This mindful & therapeutic daily journal.

It’s all about things that last and make a difference 🤓

My Startup Story — Lessons from a Psychologist turned Entrepreneur.

A famous writer, cartoonist, and animator once said:

“Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” — Theodore Seuss Geisel

And for me, the understanding of my moments came after I started to understand myself. Alas, beholden to you is a story of self-discovery…

I was the ripe age of 23 when I started my first business (in the back of my garage, as the story goes…) and waited until I was 27 to quit my full-time job. Now at 33 I reflect on lessons learnt from the past decade.

Until now, I have never been able to ‘tell my story’ — because what I went through didn’t make any sense to me (and yes, I felt like a mess inside).

Like many a reader, during lockdown I spent a lot of time by myself, with my own thoughts. The silence was deafening until I decided to open up and speak to whole host of coaches, consultants and therapists.

When I first started out with my business, I had all the symptoms of a first-time founder: imposter syndrome, burnout, and a rocky relationship with taking risks, to name a few…

I desperately (and somewhat embarrassingly) craved for a startup coach/consultant to ‘show me the way’, but had a mortgage to pay and was feeling extra frugal having just quit my corporate job, so I gave myself some macho-talk and ended up deciding against it.

And ultimately, I never ended up getting a coach/consultant at all in the ~2-3 years that I worked more or less full-time on it. I ended up closing the business when an unexpected fire burnt my warehouse down. I was broke and burnt out. AND get this — it happened around the time of a solar eclipse (~March, 2015) — an eclipse is often mystically observed to provoke changes that are more external, and force us to find a different route.

Trump and Melania observing the last solar eclipse in March 2015 — perhaps it foretold that he’d only have one term in office as president of the united states?

You could call the warehouse fire sheer bad luck, but there are 20,000 fires caused by electrical faults in the UK, and getting insurance is #business101.

Unfortunately, no matter how many ‘what if?’ decisions I made at warp-speed I fell short time and time again, either due to a lack of capacity or perspective. What I desperately needed was a half-time pep talk.

Of course mistakes are inevitable, but looking back I realise this: as a solo entrepreneur, persisting without a coach/consultant lead me to make a series of bad decisions and poor executions that could have easily been avoided.

Some harsh truths rang home, for example: ‘hindsight is 20/20’ and ‘people are your most important asset’. Shoulda, woulda, coulda…

You might say to yourself, ‘now is not the right time for this’ but I believe that in most cases it’s never a bad time to invest in yourself. And the home truth for me was that, I really needed to adopt a ‘beg, borrow, and steal’ attitude to this and just make it happen.

An even bigger irony perhaps, is that I was blindsided by my academic background too. There’s a tongue-in-cheek notion in social science circles: whilst psychologists understand others well (in their chosen specialisation) they are terrible at understanding themselves.

I think a lot of people get put off by the ‘self-help economy’ or any kind of consulting because it’s a lot like SEO: hidden and abstract. After all, psychology is a bit of a dark art — we analyse exactly how sociopaths, dictators and cult leaders, think. Unless in your spare time you take a specific interest in these subjects, one is left to simply muse about the ‘mad world’ we live in. Take the Peoples Temple as an example, how exactly does the cult leader Reverend Jim Jones persuade 900 Americans to willingly commit suicide together in a jungle in Guyana? Dark, dark arts.

People also — fairly or unfairly — give coaches and consultants flack because they’re expecting results on first try, or they want them faster. Most of the time this is not the case. But when you think about it, the value lies in realising that you are asking the wrong question and therefore, looking for the answers in the wrong places.

It just takes several forays to decipher the combination lock. Or to offer an alternative analogy, there are several missing keys to locate in the forest. Looking at it holistically, coaching and consulting is a unique combined approach to problem solving involving several attempts and techniques. Seeing it as a journey of discovery is a healthy expectation, as one thing leads to the other. Patience, young padawan.

Research unequivocally shows that the key to an effective ‘therapeutic alliance’ is 1) the willingness of the client to get help, 2) the relationship between the coach and coachee. Hopefully I have argued the first point in this post. The second point is a process — of joint exploration. The coach asks, “do I see this person, and can I get through to them?”. The coachee asks, “do I feel seen by this coach, and will their approach resonate through me?”. And then a conclusion is drawn by both parties. If jointly positive: “we feel we can work reasonably well together to get what both parties want and need out of it.”

After voyaging through the rough seas of entrepreneurship, encountering both friendly and hostile pirates along the way, occasionally jumping on board to help chuck water out of ships under siege— it feels good to return to my proverbial armchair as a coach and consultant.

I recently caught up with a good friend, an experienced and highly-skilled full-stack developer living in London. He’d been complaining to me for years that he was working insanity hours, and now, his health is suffering. He told me that he’s thought about getting a coach, but finds it difficult to quantify the impact that they might make. But here’s the thing, you can’t really quantify the statement “she changed my life” or “he completely changed the way I looked at things”. I can attest to this, personal growth is personal. We don’t talk about it much.

The story I now tell is that I committed to the study of entrepreneurship by seeing through other entrepreneurs (and their startups) before I was eventually able to see through myself as an entrepreneur. In all honesty — it felt like a bizarre and unintended anthropological experiment. And I humbly accept the realisation (again, this is backed up by reams of psychology research) that people don’t know themselves as well as they think they do, and we’re all pretty terrible at understanding each other.

If you’re a first-time founder or early entrepreneur, and have that nagging feeling that ‘things could be better’ then I implore you to knock on the door of the unconscious boss in the back of your mind — you have been re-booted in ‘risky startup mode’ (seeing red, for want of a better colour). Ask yourself: are my defences right up? And if your gut says that it is probably so, it’s time to find a crystal baller.

As woo-woo as this all sounds, I sit here tapping away feeling like some kind of ‘old hand’ that’s seen way too much. Then I realise, this is how I know that I am ready for my next journey of offering startup coaching/innovation consulting. I know exactly what kind of clients I am looking for, and what kind of problems I can help with. So it all makes sense now. And I trust myself to have the ability to use my intuition, balanced with judgement — drawing on wisdom gained from one too many good, bad, or ugly experiences. Adversity is, after all, the best teacher…

What a Cliché! Four Platitudes That Do More Harm Than Good.

Definitions: Platitude & Cliché

Before I launch in to the mother of all rants, let’s get some definitions straight:

A Cliché is “An expression, idea, or element of an artistic work that has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.” —Wikipedia

A Platitude is “A trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, often used as a thought-terminating cliché, aimed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease. Platitudes have been criticised as giving a false impression of wisdom, making it easy to accept falsehoods.” —Wikipedia

Platitude #1: Everything happens for a reason

If ‘everything happens for a reason’, that means it’s possible to find meaning from suffering. This platitude is designed to instil faith, in God having a plan, or belief, that the universe is transmitting an important message.

We have a tendency to conclude that everything happens for a reason when something good comes out of something bad — especially in the face of tragedy. Sometimes it is by chance, and other times it is by our sheer determination to turn things around. In either scenario, it all made sense in the end.

The idea that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is massively therapeutic for many people, but equally, it is downright frustrating advice for those who don’t subscribe to this philosophy. It is important to be careful ascribing this perspective to someone else’s situation, because it might be easier for them to accept that the bad thing happened if the explanation is that there is no reason for it whatsoever.

Platitude #2: Good things come to those who wait

This internet meme nicely summarises the hypocrisy behind the platitude ‘good things come to those who wait’. The truth is, both statements can be true, it isn’t a case of either or. In some circumstances, being patient is a virtue, but in others, it is better to seize the moment and make haste — thus time is of the essence.

To preach ‘good things come to those who wait’ as a blanket statement is akin to promoting a laissez-faire philosophy to living your life. It is not wrong, it just isn’t always true. One must be especially cautious in doling this out as advice to young or impressionable minds, who might misinterpret it to mean that if they act impatiently then good things won’t happen to them. Contrary to popular belief, being impatient has value in certain situations, especially in the context of challenging the status quo and rousing change for the better. Negative emotions such as impatience, anger, fear, and disgust all have functional value so long as it is not a pathological concern.

Used wrongly, this platitude is offered as inappropriate advice for tackling a problem, or a wrong conclusion drawn about a past event (luck post-rationalised as patience). In it’s worst form, it is adopted as a dangerous do-nothing mantra, that flies in the face of the spirit of action and experimentation. In most cases, it is well and truly redundant to say this to someone, and is best applied when observing a very precise situation where illogical, perennial impatience has been displayed.

Platitude #3: Times heals all wounds

Whether you are thinking this to yourself or saying it to someone else, this platitude is problematic. The passage of time is something that we as humans all experience but the process of healing wounds is one that requires active effort, time is simply a byproduct of that effort. Sure, if you fall on the sidewalk and graze your knee, time will heal this wound. Imagine it was not sterilised and bandaged, got infected by the life-threatening bacteria tetanus…woops. Why not just say, treated properly, that should take 2 weeks to heal. It’s cringe-worthy imagining a child parroting this false wisdom when trying to deal with something slightly more complex than a graze!

It is perhaps most futile to say ‘time heals all wounds’ to someone that is suffering immense grief, there is no actual advice or empathy being transmitted apart from telling the person to do nothing, sit back, feel the pain, and wait for time to pass. Even worse perhaps – if the sufferer is in a vulnerable state and desperate for advice, they might see this as permission to avoid dealing with their problems and emotions, assuming that the hard feelings that they are experiencing will miraculously disappear over time. Then, the inevitable passage of time rages on, the sufferer carries on with their life choosing to blank their pain rather than address it, eventually they become numb and forgot. This may lead to repressed thoughts and feelings, and it is a very powerful defence mechanism, which unfortunately, often comes back to haunt people later in life. The moral of the story? Most wounds in life are best treated at the time that they actually happened.

Platitude #4: Every cloud has a silver lining

…Except for this mushroom cloud caused by a nuclear test at Christmas Island in 1962. This counts as a real cloud, right? Yeah, cause this cloud is the picture of war, and war creates chaos, destruction, and immense suffering. Oh wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a world where we’re all pacifists and everyone got along? But at this point in the lifespan of humanity, the world is a complicated and messy place, and that is all we realistically know of, so far. See, the idea that every cloud has a silver lining is just very optimistic, it means that it’s always possible to find a positive from a negative, and it is probably, annoyingly true in a whole range of normal, everyday situations we face in life. However, the irritating thing about this platitude is that is too nice to think this way all the time, because the world is an unfair place, and some people never see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s exactly the kind of thing that people with first world problems would probably say. Okay, so it’s not the worst piece advice in the world to hear from someone that cares about you… it’s just not always true. And it’s most definitely overused, thus going in the hall of fame of platitudes.

Privacy vs. Safety: My View on The Snowden Affair.

All my life I’ve never really identified a role model beyond that of fictional characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Clark Kent of Smallville, and Veronica Mars. That changed after I read Ed Snowden’s autobiography Permanent Record which was released in October 2019.

In 2013, Snowden revealed to the world that a global system of mass surveillance exists and highlighted that it violates our fundamental right to privacy, and such a system (of ‘permanent’ data collection and storage) could be dangerous in the hands of the corrupt or evil. His act of whistleblowing brought the issue to the global stage for debate. Since then, playing ‘big brother’ has been made illegal, stricter data protection laws have been introduced (i.e. GDPR), and internet encryption standards (i.e. HTTPS) and protocols have been tightened, making it harder for cybercriminals to commit political, economic, or social crimes.

It’s hard to imagine what could go wrong until it does – especially when it is historically unprecedented. I believe that Snowden’s act of whistleblowing (i.e. revealing the system was bulk collecting US citizens telephone records; and basically backdoor spying on whoever they wanted however they wanted with no permission whatsoever required) was equally a demonstration of how it was possible to hack (from the inside) arguably the most secure and self-monitored organisation on the planet – the National Security Agency (NSA). And once the data was stolen, he used clever disguises to transit the data to carefully selected journalists without getting caught by the very people that were capable of monitoring him.

Data is meaningless unless it is used for a specific purpose and collecting and storing data only sounds scary when it is used against us. Like famous people (or anyone caught in the public eye) who sue journalists for hacking into their personal devices for a juicy story or picture that sells. It’s even scarier, when we don’t realise that data is being used against us, such as the subtle behavioural manipulation from advertisements by extremist political groups (i.e. the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Brexit misinformation). The most lethal example is always of governments turning against its people, abusing the digital architecture to identify dissidents and stay in control (i.e. China abducting and torturing influential Hong Kong protestors).

People will continue to debate about whether Snowden did the right thing or took it a step too far by “compromising national security”. What I admire most about his actions is the sheer amount of self-doubt he must have had to overcome to realise that sometimes, we have no choice but to force a difficult conversation to happen before anyone is ready to have it. At the end of the day, he ultimately gave up a comfortable life (in Hawaii!) and now faces persecution because he felt the need to warn us that the very system that he had helped build was starting to look unethical from the inside. After the 9/11 attacks, the world was an imminently more dangerous place, but the extreme security measures enacted under emergency executive orders, could not be historically justified in his eyes. He must have been somewhat frightened of the machine’s capabilities, the potential abuses to it with the way his country was going and realised that it was not in the public interest, after 7 years working there.

I hope that Snowden will be able to return to his home country one day rather than live in exile, because I do believe that he prevented a great historical injustice from happening somehow. He is arguably one the most intelligent whistleblowers in history; he also represents a completely new generation of technologists and his influence in the modern democratic world in invaluable. He is not a criminal, he is good person that stood up for our ideals in a passive, eroding democracy. Nonetheless, I am happy that he is not facing this alone and has so much global support, and most importantly the love from his long-term partner who moved to Russia to stand by him. I like the way Ed put it, “Saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say”.

It is now 2020, and there is growing concern around the world, with big budget movies like ‘The Social Dilemma’ being produced on Netflix to an staggeringly large global audience in the millions, demonstrating the extreme consequences of people willingly giving up their privacy when they sign on to social network platforms. The debate continually grows, yet most people are sleepwalking through it – that is, by hastily clicking the ‘ACCEPT’ button and overlooking the incomprehensible small print that virtually gives up all their legal rights. People are, more or less, a property of these social network platforms. But the worst is still to come; Communist China’s digital currency is being rolled out in a few experimental cities, this will force all its people to use a central government controlled digital currency. In China and in time to come, every penny that everyone spends or receives, where, when, and what, will be recorded in China’s central bank computer system.

So that’s the story behind how a real-life person captured my imagination much in the same way as a fictional character – such as Will Smith, trying to save humanity from a rogue AI supercomputer in ‘I, Robot’.

Original Soundtrack: The OST For My Life.

I’ve always been a music person more than a movie person. The longest entertainment subscription I’ve ever had is probably with Spotify. I recently took a trip down memory lane and put together three playlists that summarise distinct periods of my life. Explore three separate embedded playlists below – ADOL, ADUL and TEEN (each are approx. 3 hours listening time).

ADOL is for Adolescence (7-13):

TEEN is for Teenager (14-19):

ADUL is for Adult (20-29):