Positivity Bias

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

When I pause and reflect on my morning pages in my soul journal, I realise that there is a lot happening in my life. Most of it is good—very good, in fact.

I become aware of this because I begin each morning with gratitude. I write down three things from the previous day for which I am thankful. Often, there are more than three things vying for my attention, but I restrain myself with a smile.

Giving thanks at the beginning of my morning routine of journalling is one of the most emotionally healthy practices I can do. I have been doing it for so long now that I no longer consider it trivial or contrived. It has gently shifted me from a relatively depressed and fearful person to someone who is excited about what God has in store for me today.

Noticing is important. We ‘see’ things we might never have before. Has the external world become a more hopeful place? That is hard to say, but my perception of it certainly has changed. My heart is healthier. I would like to think that the ‘me’ that shows up in the world is more positive, hopeful, and, yes, loving.

Sometimes all I feel that I know is that this is a far better way to live. So I live it.


AI Wars

In a future not so far, far away…

The world of AI seems to be explosively accelerating at the moment. Some are alarmed, calling for a pause to give time for us to take stock. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called Your Irreplaceable Mind and I wrote:

No AI will ever match the Creative’s Mind.

Really? To some, my prediction now seems severely challenged by the astonishing advanced in large language models such as GPT-4.

It has been my belief for some time that AI might make some roles in the workplace redundant. Yet, generally that would only free knowledge workers to engage in more interesting, creative, higher order work. If anything, those who work primarily from their intellect and knowledge would be freed from the mundane and the repetitive as AI does such work for us.

Two pieces of recent news now tend to confirm my belief.

First, many illustrators and host platforms are not at all happy with the way one popular platform, Midjourney, is using their work. A group of them are now taking legal action.

One of the outcomes of this could be that intellectual property law now catches up with the AI revolution. If this happens, hopefully the result will not be as arcane as the time when automobiles first came on the scene and an early law that required a pedestrian with a flag to walk in front of each vehicle.

What it could mean is that there is some kind of attribution, even compensation to these original artists and their platforms.

The second and even more encouraging news is that Barnes and Noble Education has launched an AI Content Detector on Bartleby called IndentifAI. This is still in beta, but it is a development I was expecting. This Detector aims to scan any document submitted to detect whether it was totally AI-generated.

I guess the message here is that:

It takes a large language model to know a large language model.

Ultimately, however good or flawed such AI language models and their consequential AI detectors are, as an author I recognise that I am the brand. If one of my works is exposed as completely AI-generated, my business would be destroyed. Indeed, I suspect it would be the case for most creatives.

I write about this in my new book, Thinking It Out in a chapter I have called, the Rise of the Creator. You can download your digital copy here.


Disturbed by My Journal

Something has troubled me about my work over recent weeks.

My growing uneasiness was triggered by a journal I keep—and I’m not referring to my soul journal as I describe it in Writing with God. No, this is my five-year diary called Some Lines a Day: The Five Year Memory Book.

My 5 Year Journal
My Five Year Journal

Each night, I write a few lines of the highlights of the day, and there are five sections on the page for that date, one for each year:

March 31 with four year sections entered

The fact is, I’m in Year Four of this diary now, and it is interesting to read what happened, say, a year or two ago on this day. Usually, it is a delightful reminder of pleasant times with family and friends.

However, what is not so pleasing are the comments I wrote a year ago (2022) where I have written something like “getting on well with TIO” and “nearly finished with TIO”. (“TIO” is my short code for my latest book, Thinking It Out.) And I have yet to bring this book to publication…

So, this realisation that delayed publication has bothered me. When would I be able to finally get it out there?!

Sure, I have had a couple of good reasons—one practical/physical and one existential—that have delayed publication. The practical/physical reason is that we moved house some 11 months ago, but the disruption to my writing flow has been much longer than I had reckoned upon.

The existential reason is that researching for and writing the book has actually changed me, its author. You see, I made myself a natural experiment for trialling the systems I discovered before writing about them, and the results have surprised me… a lot!

So, for these reasons more than anything else, publication had seemed to recede into the distance…

Until now.

I asked myself, “How can I take this to market sooner, and still change it in response to reader comments?” Traditionally, to publish a book meant completing the author’s best and permanent effort the content, structure and layout, before it was published. Then, and only then, with no hope of changing it afterwards, it could be published.

If you are considering taking a book to market, then what I am about to share with you might become your publishing solution as well.

Before I go into that, I want to share a couple of concepts from the days I use to manage the rapid development and delivery of software:

  1. There is the concept of MVP, which stands for Minimum Viable Product. Here, rather than attempt to release all the features of the required product at once, the initial effort is to release the barest minimum that will work, the bare bones, he bare bones, the essence of what the customer wants without frills.
  2. The second related concept is of releasing frequent improvements and additions, often in response to customer experience and feedback.

Then I was listening to a recent podcast interview and heard about the leanpub platform. Leanpub allows an author to do just that: publish an MVP of a book and get feedback from people who buy the book. The author can then use this feedback to publish again an improved manuscript in the light of those comments. That new version of the manuscript becomes freely available to everyone who bought a previous version.

Leanpub’s strap line is “Publish Early, Publish Often” and although it is currently limited to digital formats—the ebook ePub and pdf—it seems to deliver on its promise.

The Cover for my New Book

I know this because I have now published Thinking It Out on leanpub! In fact I have already changed the content and format a couple of times on this platform.

So, I invite you to download it and send me your comments.

If you do, I will include your name in the book’s acknowledgments. (If you would rather remain anonymous, just let me know when you send your comments. )

I am excited. I have at last broken through to publishing early and, I hope, often.

Leaning to Action

Nuttin’ Like the First Cuppa Tay


Towards the latter years of her life, my great-grandmother lived with my grandmother in Cork City, Ireland. I remember as a young boy that she had a saying: “Dere’s nuttin’ like da first cuppa’ tay!” (Translation: “There’s nothing like the first cup of tea.”) And so, using her Irish logic, she chose a huge mug with which to enjoy that first tea in the morning… and so made it last longer.

I was reminded of my great-grandmother’s habit when I came across a study into what urges us to keep going. Apparently, researchers noticed that it is largely negative factors. In a paper in The Review of General Psychology, these researchers argue that bad inputs have a more powerful impact on us that good ones.

From this study, behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, in his book Indistractable, summarises four psychological factors that make our satisfaction temporary. These might answer the question: Why is there nothing like the first cup of tea in the morning?

These are:

  1. Boredom. We repeat something often enough and it becomes more tedious with each repetition. It spurs us to experiment. (Hat tip to Taylor Swift and her song, “Shake it Up”!)
  2. Negativity Bias, where our natural alertness to the down-sides help us seek safer, surer, easier alternatives. Fear can change what we do, but only temporarily
  3. Rumination, where we dwell on past negative events and outcomes. We can replay them in our minds over and over again. So, we seek a better outcome this time, and
  4. Hedonic Adaptation, the experience we all have that a pleasurable experience first time is less so as it is repeated. Like that first cup of tea, it wanes in pleasure with later cups. So, we return to the wisdom of Taylor Swift.

However, “Enough of the dark side,” I say.

I believe there are positive equivalents to these four that can maintain, even increase, our satisfaction and maybe even help motivate us to improve as well.

  • Instead of boredom, we can excite a sense of curiosity. For example, before reading any new book now, I write down three questions I want the author to answer. This helps me focus as I read, and it respects the way the human brain works, which seeks to close open loops (questions). Rather than starting a book with vague hopes, like “Impress me,” or “Entertain me,” I read hunting for clues. I give my mind permission to be curious.
  • Instead of giving in to a default negativity bias, I cultivate gratitude. In my daily journal, I hunt for three things for which I am grateful and explain to myself why I am thankful for them. As well as raising my level of emotional contentment—as it invariably does—this helps me in the present moment to contribute to tomorrow’s gratitude statements, such as while I am writing this article, for example. This too helps spur me on.
  • Instead of negative rumination, I practice what Cal Newport describes in Deep Work as savouring: allowing myself to remember and dwell upon a happy event or sensation. Such meditation spurs me to take actions such as put aside some cash for my family celebrations and holidays. I do this, because savouring helps me realise the bliss of those experiences with my loved ones.
  • And rather than giving in to hedonic adaptation, I take joy in the familiar, in the present moment. I encourage myself to laugh with family and friends. Joy rises in me when I am walking outdoors. And we all need to laugh more. Children get it. We adults have forgotten to laugh.
Ben White on Unsplash

So, maybe our defaults are negative, but we can exercise agency, by choosing consciously positive practices. These may need us to be a little more intentional, but these routines can help us sustain, or even increase, our levels of satisfaction , our physical and mental health, and motivate us to live fuller, richer lives.

So, if you identify with a lifestyle of boredom, negativity and fear, dwelling on past hurts and failures, and finding the familiar now somewhat less than exciting, you don’t have to buy a huge mug; just be more Taylor Swift!

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work


This fourth edition of my ebook shares more on the Seven Keys to that I have discovered that lead to exceptional work and outcomes.

Positive Outliers

Should We Be Our Own Journalist?

people at theater
Photo by Monica Silvestre on

Responding to my earlier post, Intentional Ignorance, my friend Cécile commented as follows:

Totally agree. The pandemic period was the revelation point for my family, we completely stopped watching or reading the news. However when friends tell us about something of interest we do use media to seek more info. But reading about it afterwards, once all the “drama” wore off always gives us a clearer and fresher perspective I believe.

I warmly agree. There is much wisdom in Cécile’s observation. The word ‘drama’ is very revealing. There are times when drama is legitimate, such as when some friends in Northern California had minutes to vacate their home with an advancing forest fire.

Most of the time, however, the drama is false, exaggerating to grab our attention.

There may be important facts in the story. But we can come back to it and see the facts more clearly once the emotional drama has passed.

Maybe in this sense we need to be our own journalist. What do you think?

Positive Outliers

Are We Not More Than Knowledge Workers?

bored teen boy preparing for exam
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I’m writing my new book, Thinking It Out for knowledge workers. Yet the terms ‘knowledge worker’ and ‘Personal Knowledge Management’ (PKM) trouble me.

There is something very limiting about this emphasis on knowledge. Knowledge worker usually refers to people who work from a desk—although not always!––who use their knowledge to make decisions. Some of the people I know personally could be described as knowledge workers, but it is not sufficient. These friends produce some great work from their knowledge, yes; but it is so much more than the accumulation of knowledge.

My friend Mike, for example, commands a lot of knowledge, but his impact and influence extend way beyond this. When he stands up to speak, he is doing far more than merely regurgitating his learning. As Mike speaks, there is insight, connection, craft, presence and wisdom that he brings to bear out of a deep understanding of his audience and of the context of their lives. He is riveting in his relevance; it is far more than merely imparting knowledge.

Likewise, the same is true with PKM (Personal Knowledge Management). I do not like this term because it seems to put all the emphasis on knowing stuff, whereas I have learned that a good personally curated system helps me develop insight and, as others tell me, uncommon wisdom.

Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

My father once told me when he discovered he could no longer keep to rhythm in dancing with my mother, when he found himself stumbling a lot and became hopeless at playing darts in his local pub. He was referred by his doctor to a specialist medical consultant. This medic had deliberately arranged his desk in his consulting room so he could see his patients as they walked in. 

When my father entered with a slight shuffle, this consultant could immediately diagnose the early onset of Parkinson’s Disease. You see, over years of experience, this doctor had taught himself to recognise the small giveaway signs, the characteristic gait of someone in the early stages of this disease. Since then, it has always made me wonder how many vital clues doctors miss in their clinics when most of them now seem so absorbed with medical records on their computer screens.

It seems that my father’s consultant was a lifelong learner who paid attention.

In this complex, challenging world, we need to show up with more than the mere knowledge we have acquired, otherwise we are all in danger of merely becoming at best irrelevant, at worst clever devils. 

My book is written for the knowledge worker, yes; but in the hope that we all will become so  much more than a mere wielders of our learning.

Positive Outliers

Persist When Ready, Not Mere Productivity

After avoiding COVID for the last two years, my wife and I tested positive this week. Whilst we are ill, we are doing fine. We are being kind to ourselves.

We are thankful for our immune systems, which seem to be fighting off this infection and will make us more resilient as we go on.

However, my work has had to take a back seat. This includes a presentation I was supposed to be giving today to a major UK government department. It has had to. I am about as clear as a muffled goat right now, so my vocal clarity is just not there.

As I have stood back from my work, it has made me reflect once again on productivity and how it can all too easily become a driver, where we choose quantity in the short term over value in the longer term.

Gentle persistence—seeing a project through to completion—is more important at these times than mere productivity.

This is not universally true at all times to all people. Some of us have roles that must deliver to deadlines. That is not me right now. I’m in for the long game. Are you?

In fact, I now have a growing aversion to goals, that is, outcomes or dreams with a deadline. Quite apart from COVID, the world around us is chaotic enough to mock our plans. Just ask the UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss. What an astonishingly disruptive couple of weeks she has had at the start of her prime ministerial office.

I am working on an advanced draft for my fourth solo book. I had hoped to get this to reviewers this month, but it will likely be October now. Is that such a big deal? Sure, I may now be missing a Christmas launch date for the book, but I learned to play the long game. My first solo book was published nine years ago and is now selling more copies than it ever has. In our instant economy, 9 years is an eternity. Yet, I’m so glad that I saw that particular project to its completion.

So, I am learning gentle persistence. I will not fret about matters outside of my control. It does not trouble me as much if I am delayed. I will press on—when my stamina returns and my body is healthy.

My new book has a working title of Thinking It Out and is about the power of externalising our thoughts, ordering them, linking them and observing emergent themes. I argue for a non-mechanistic approach to this and share examples both from the digital world as well as the paper-based one. Also, I make the case that having such a private set of organically linked notes is an investment in oneself, a cumulative compound interest effect, in fact.

It was Peter Drucker, I believe, who coined the phrase “knowledge worker”, and we now talk about the knowledge economy. I would rather aim higher and participate in what Drucker really was an advocate for, the wisdom economy.

If the subject of my work seems relevant to you, let me know if you would be interested in being part of my final review round.

Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Look Who’s Come Into the Room

I felt I was receiving a lecture.. and I was not convinced.

I had come in for a BP reading and a blood test. The clinician told me that I was overweight––which I was––and at risk of heart disease or diabetes––which I was probably was. She told me to cut out various foods, and to change my diet and exercise. All this is grounded in good medical research. But it did not motivate me to change.

Why not?

God bless her, this person was doing her best to help me. But my real barrier to being persuaded was that she gave me cognitive dissonance. This clinician did not model what she said. Quite apart from the crude Change or Die strategy, the problem was… well…she was clearly clinically obese and depressed.

What I am NOT saying…

Now, this is not a criticism of who she was as a person, but the person in the room did not match the message.

Nor am I saying a normal BMI should be mandatory of healthcare professionals. God knows, we need each and every one of them right now, and I’m thankful for them.

And I am not making a case about something as superficial as our physical appearance or weight. And I would not want to leave you thinking that I am that prejudiced against fat people! I myself was clinically obese for a number of years, as I was at that particular appointment…hence the lecture.

The Internal Journey

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My point here is that when any of us seeks to influence others to action, then the job needs to start with ourselves.

We can have the right information, good methodology, superior research, but we are unlikely to influence those around us if we do not walk the talk.

Every leader needs to be authentic in leading themselves into that better future first.

Usually, when I have been presenting to a room of leaders, they are all invested on knowing how to lead their teams, their organisation, or their community better.

First, though, there needs to be an internal journey. Every leader needs to be authentic in leading themselves into that better future first.

The issue is often the person we bring into the room.


As adults, we have a highly-developed sense of discernment when engaging with other humans. What some call micro-tells, small pieces of evidence in the person before us, reveal whether they are a threat, or lying, or distressed. These micro-tells can be small eye movements, gestures, posture, as well as the pitch and tone of the voice.

When someone is trying to persuade us to change, to buy, to allow them to draw closer, they are communicating with us at a far deeper level than the content of what they say.

My worst moments

All my worst leadership moments were when I was over-stressed, hurried, depressed or angry. My most effective moments were when the future was the person I brought into the room in myself.

My most effective leadership moments were when the future was the person I brought into the room.

The uncomfortable truth for us is this: before we can lead others, we need to lead ourselves. Before we can expect our team to change, we must already be changing and show them in our own lives. Before the call, comes the example, the model in us.

Who is showing up?

It becomes vital, then, that we are self-aware enough to know whom we are bringing into the room. We need to become aware of the non-verbal messages we might be communicating. What is the best self we can bring to this engagement? And if we are too busy, stressed, driven or distressed, then maybe we need to postpone until we are ready.

Some will see this as an exercise in fakery.

If you can fake integrity you’ve got it made.

Hollywood graffiti

We are not that stupid.

No, this is a call to personal authenticity.

Resilient Hope Self-Awareness

What Kind of Hope?

Last year I reviewed Anthony Ray Hinton’s powerful book, The Sun Does Shine. It is the autobiography of a man who spent most of his life––28 years––on death row, wrongly accused of robbery and murder. Throughout that time, he was confined in a small cell until the trial was fundamentally questioned and he was released.

What I found remarkable above all else was that this man found the resources within himself not to give up. In fact, he seemed to grow in hope. It was not a linear growth; Hinton did have his setbacks, very low moments, such as when the person dearest to him, his beloved mother, died before he could get out, hug and care for her.

However, resilience does not do justice to what the man evidenced over those years. It was something more.

Relevance to now

Our temporary loss of freedoms at this time of pandemic seem trivial in comparison with Hinton’s story. Yet there are valuable lessons to learn from his story as well as those of others in more extreme situations.

In our shared humanity, it is imperative that we each need to learn how to live and grow in hope during this pandemic, amidst all our present circumstances, its threats, the personal losses and confinements.

A Fragile Hope

Most of us seem to live from our external circumstances, and the media has an attention-seeking agenda to make it appear that these circumstances are dire. One day we hear positive news of medical breakthroughs or falling rates of COVID-19 infections; the next day, there is some more bad news.

Living from our circumstances like this, focusing on the negatives, is a fragile way to live emotionally. We become like Homer Simpson, who one moment yells, Yippee!, and the next, emotionally turns on a sixpence with a Doh!. He then repeats the cycle. This is not living with any kind of emotional intelligence. I fear that the long-term effect this has is that the negative wins and we are led into deeper depression and despair. The Yippee! becomes rarer and rated and the Doh! becomes habitual.

Should We Aim for Resilient Hope?

I have recently been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. I had assumed that the opposite of fragility is resilient.

Resilience rather is something different. In engineering, machines are made to withstand stress within certain parameters… and beyond these limits, they suddenly break. In this sense, they are designed to be resilient.

Taleb argues that there is a certain class of phenomena that are neither and that the true opposite of fragile is not resilient, rather something he calls Antifragile. It is a phenomenon we see in the natural world of something growing through the right kind of stress. He uses a number of illustrations from the medical world, such as our bones, which actually gain strength from moderately acute stress.

Taleb’s Triad (My Visual Interpretation)

If we aim merely for resilient hope, it could break us emotionally.

And maybe this is what we have seen happening among many of us when it came, for example, to the New Year. Some of us caught ourselves hoping that a New Year would me a different, liberating year. 2020 had become synonymous with COVID-19 and lockdowns. We indulged ourselves with thoughts such as, Surely this New Year will be better?

And maybe this is what we have seen happening among many of us when it came, for example, to the New Year.

And, for many of us, it just isn’t. In fact, for many of us, it is worse. Doh! doesn’t do justice to the disappointment and emotional tailspin that we might experience. For some, this has become a spiral of depression and despair to something worse.

The Stockdale Paradox

See another earlier article I wrote on Stockdale here. Admiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking American officer to fall into the hands of the enemy during the Vietnam War.

050706-N-0000X-001 Navy File Photo: Newport, R.I. (1979) – portrait of Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, while President of the U.S. Naval War College. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Rick Doyle (RELEASED)

After seven and a half years of imprisonment and torture, Stockdale was finally released and returned to his home country.

He endured because he kept a twin perspective on his life in the camp:

  • he faced the brutal reality of where he was and what he was going through; and
  • he kept his focus on a future beyond the camp.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, interviewed Admiral Stockdale about his coping strategy whilst in prison. At one point Collins asked the Admiral which prisoners didn’t make it:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, We’re going to be out by Christmas. And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, We’re going to be out by Easter. And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Stockdale was vehement in his denial of blind optimism. Collins stresses the common denominator of all companies making the break to greatness as being able and willing to face the brutal reality.

I believe this holds true for us as individuals, families and communities as well.

This seems to be important in developing a strong hope. It is not a hope that flies in the face of the evidence. But is does hope, and remains dogged. I’m wondering if antifragile hope builds on doggedness, but that what Stockdale has explained is not the complete picture?

Resilience is Brittle

I believe Taleb offers us something beyond the binary thinking of fragility and resilience.

I did have an email series called Resilient Hope, in fact, but Taleb has given me pause to review this work again.

Is there a kind of hope that gains under stress?

I believe there is. Hinton and Stockdale model this for us, as do others.

We find echoes of it in myths and legends, those stories we are drawn towards. For example, in Die Hard, John McClain grew in stature during the story. Whilst the police chief and the FBI were at best resilient, and McLain’s vest was fragile, our hero was revealed as antifragile. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf seems reduced to nothing in grappling with the Balrog, but emerged later even more powerful than ever. And, of course, there are the confrontations of Christ with the religious legalists, his deceptive capture, rigged trial, execution and resurrection. The hero who appears defeated in battle, rises from the ground, having learned from the stress how to endure in the fight in a different way, and goes on to become even more powerful.

And why do these stories inspire? Do they connect with some profound truth about ourselves and a better way to live through adversity?

In my earlier post, Building Something Bigger than Us, I referenced those world-changers who looked beyond even their own lifetimes towards something they started that leaves future generations with a powerful legacy.

My point is this:

Antifragile hope is functional now.

Rather than thinking like survivalists in some sort of zombie apocalypse fantasy, we can think beyond mere survival and build. Generative, antifragile hope leads us to dream bigger, connect with a purpose higher than ourselves, a transcendent purpose. Survivalism is the chronic stressful worldview of every man and woman for themselves; it is a fragile hope. Antifragile hope does not abandon our history or our future but builds. Taleb calls such people the antifragilistas. Their eyes are fixed above or beyond their immediate circumstances

Antifragile hope is functional NOW.

Frankl and his conclusions

He who knows the why for his existence can bear almost any how.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Searcn for Meaning.

Leaders deal in the currency of meaning. They ask and attempt to offer answers to the Why question. To deny people a clear reason for the change they are going through is an abdication of leadership. How much more true is this when it comes to the matter of self-leadership?

Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, vividly demonstrates from his own experiences in a concentration camp during World War Two, how emotionally healthy it can be to connect with a greater purpose. People can deal with almost anything if they have a sufficiently good reason for doing so.

Thinking and acting beyond our lives is humanity at its best.

Frankl survived the horrors of the camp, in part because his hope was fixed on a hope beyond the camp, beyond his immediate circumstances. It was transcendant.

Focus on Legacy

Thinking and acting beyond our lives is humanity at its best.

During the dark days of early 1944, the British Parliament debated building a future UK, homes for heroes and its health service. This infuriated Hitler, who had hoped (resilient?) that the British would be too absorbed in their current battle to dream beyond. He was wrong.

Apart from incarceration and enduring the extremes of oppression by other human beings, what do Hinton, Stockdale and Frankl have in common? And what do they show us in our own restrictions right now?

I’d love your thoughts on this.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Resilient Hope

Starting Something Bigger than Us

Walter & His Dreams

Young Walter was born into this world as part of the elite. He was drilled in his family lineage and was taught how to steward the family fortune. He would go into another career, though, but his world view and life skills would travel with him.

Walter found favour with the king, and after paying the king a small fortune, he became Lord Chancellor. He was Chancellor for nine years before making another career change. He became a bishop.

Not unusual in those times, bishops were often political appointments from the aristocracy. He was appointed Bishop of Worcester for a couple of years, before taking the second-most-senior ecclesiastical title at that time, Archbishop of York. Walter had an even larger dream, though, larger than his own career. In 1220, work began. He began to build, in the Gothic style of the day, a cathedral. It would be such an edifice that he wouldn’t see it completed.

Sure enough, thirty years later, Walter died…

… and four centuries later York Minster was completed!

Forgive me, if you are a historian and indulge me in my historical fiction of Walter de Gray’s early years. But let me ask you this question …

What kind of person would embark on this kind of enterprise?

And what kind of people would continue with the dream until it was realised, so many generations later?

I’m fascinated by the minds behinds historic monuments, edifices that sometimes take generations to complete.

There is even an example happening right now. The beautiful Sagrada Familia in Barcelona will not be complete until 2026 or later, and its original architect, Gaudi, died in 1926 when it was only a quarter completed!

Why would Gaudi and his contemporaries commit to such a project?

By C messier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

And there are other examples. The Great Wall of China, the pyramids, Petra, and most of the ancient wonders of the world.

The poor, the middle class & the wealthy

I have been studying the work of Dr Ruby K Payne, a remarkable Texan educationalist, who began to unravel the mystery of why poor kids do so badly in school systems designed from in a Middle-Class mindset. In her, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, she sets out the differences in three mindsets:

  • Poverty Mindset
  • Middle Class Mindset
  • The Wealthy Mindset

The attitude to money and financial horizons of each mindset is a particularly interesting one to me. This is part of a table Ruby Payne shares in her book, abridged by me:

PoorMiddle ClassWealthy
Spending & PaydaySaving & End of LifeInvesting and Generational Legacy

The Poor

The Poverty Mindset sees money as something to be spent for almost immediate gratification or pain-relief, so the horizon tends to be when the next payday comes. The horizon of focus is now.

Moreover, living in a community of need, having money sometimes means it must be given to those in the community who have greater immediate needs. The needs of friends and family, who are vital relationships among the poor, regularly work against putting money away for later.

The Middle Class

The Middle-Class Mindset in a different way is much more selfish, although it has the appearance of prudence. Money is saved, is put by for retirement into a pension pot or a 401K. The focus is on providing for ourselves until we die. Many of the decisions made from this mindset are also made from an awareness of scarcity.

The Wealthy

The Wealthy Mindset, or as I prefer to call it, the Noble Mind, invests for others. (Note: I have avoided the term Wealth Mindset because of its unhelpful associations with being or becoming financially rich. Whereas, the Noble Mind alludes to an ancient way of thinking from inheritance and the responsibility to leave a legacy.)

The Noble Mind thinks generationally, both from an inheritance from past generations and for future generations. It has a sense of noblesse oblige from its inheritance and sees itself having a purpose greater than itself.

So, it is a Noble Mind that decides to build a cathedral. It is a Noble Mind that continues to build even after the original entrepreneur or architect is no longer with us. Walter de Gray had a Noble Mind. Gaudi may have had a Noble Mind. Those who continued after them had, to some degree, a Noble Mind.

How do these mindsets play out in the present pandemic?

The pandemic and countermeasures such as lockdown, as well as the emotional reactions we all have to this threat, tempt us to become emotional survivalists: people who think only of ourselves and the horizon of when this will be all over.

Fear tends to drive us towards a Poverty Mindset.

This is situational, short-term, selfish thinking. It is either a poverty or a middle-class mindset. Fear tends to drive us towards a Poverty Mindset. Many of the us-and-them narratives feed a Middle Class world view, and these stories we plug into keep us in scarcity thinking.

The Opportunity

And yet.. in the neighbourhood where I live, I have seen the rise of a kind of care and generosity that I hadn’t experienced before. Neighbours have offered to go shopping for us, plus a multitude of other kindnesses.

I find it exciting that, for some of us, this time is an opportunity to do this; to remember where we have come from, to recognise what we have, and rethink our futures, our horizons and our dreams for this world.

Climate Change

When it comes to the big issues of global sustainability, for example, we do not need initiatives driven by scarcity thinking:
“Time is running out!” “It may already be too late!”
Rather we need a realistic hope, a Stockdale hope. We need to train our young people to innovate with a Noble Mind, drawing upon what we leave them, rather than focusing on what we lack or have consumed.


In Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, he argues that organisations rallying to a Just Cause, to a purpose that is greater than any of us, are likely to prevail far longer than competitive, me too responses so common in business and politics.

When it comes to building businesses, we need leaders who are aware of their need to create missions bigger than themselves, their products, or their services; longer, even, than their lifetimes that make a real difference for future generations.


When it comes to crafting government policy, we need leaders who will lift our eyes to a better future, not driven by the mass media optics of the moment or the short-termism of considering the next electoral cycle. And as we think with a Noble Mind, we might recognise and find such leaders and perhaps vote for them.

What is your just cause? What’s your dream? Is it bigger than you and your lifetime? If it is, bless you.