Spoken by The Tribe: I May Have Found a New Hero.

November 2014: I nervously applied to become a member of The Escape School’s first ever Escape Tribe – despite my innate pessimism and the compulsory resistance screaming that it’s a ridiculous thing to be spending ones time doing, let alone pay money for. Shouldn’t I be working and earning? Why can’t I find my own answers without the need for someone else telling me to think differently? Is three months seriously going to be enough time to change?

December 2014: After spending a fraught Saturday afternoon wondering why the hell Rob hadn’t emailed me at noon like he promised, I suddenly received an email at exactly 5:32pm entitled ‘The Escape Tribe – Good News’. Cut to Richard jumping up and down excitedly like he’s just had the hair transfer he’s been so desperate for (one day Rich… one day) – despite having no clue as to what the first three months of 2015 would actually involve.

February 2015: We’re barely one month in with the Escape Tribe and I already feel like my life, or rather my mind, has changed beyond recognition. Perhaps that’s due to the stunning line-up of speakers I’ve had the privilege to sit before. Perhaps it’s due to the 49 other genuinely stunning Tribe members who I have the honour of advancing with every week – all of whom I’m still in awe of and most, if not all, I’d be happy to continue being connected with long after we graduate. Perhaps it’s due to Rob, Becca and team at Escape The City for being so accepting of me and the other Tribe members and providing a sanctuary for us to feel like it’s okay to ‘not know’. Or perhaps it’s due to the three double gin and tonics I knocked back earlier. In any case, with all these winning elements combined, there’s been a distinct shift in my perception of me and the world I live in.

Now don’t get me wrong, the past month hasn’t been easy – there’s been a lot to absorb and a lot of action to take – and as many of us in the Tribe have experienced recently, I’ve ‘wobbled’. That is to say that I have had times where I still panic that I don’t have a job: I’ve sacrificed some independence by moving back in with the folks to help save some cash. I’m in my 30’s yet I’m living like a student. What the hell am I going to do with my life? Have I got the confidence to ‘hustle’? Why can’t I stop feeling like an imposter? Why does the future seem so bleak? Questions, questions, too many questions! Fuck knows what those who haven’t yet made their Escape are thinking. Make no mistake: wobbling isn’t fun.

Then along comes Mark Stevenson, author of ‘An Optimist’s Tour of the Future’ (hurry up and deliver it Amazon!), a guy so aware, intelligent, charming, funny and genuinely humble that the aforementioned wobble I had a week earlier suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. I’ve accepted my wobble and moved on. It may come back but fuck it! I may have found a new hero.

“The future and what to do about it.”

I’ll be honest, despite the title of our evening session there came a point very early on when I wondered why Rob had booked this guy. Why is he talking about 3D printing machines? What could that possibly have to do with me? Then it all fell into place in a big way, and I felt like such an idiot for dismissing it. The problem with me is that I’d spent so much time looking backwards and wondering what went wrong that I couldn’t focus on the now or the future, let alone be optimistic about it.

“Be careful about being doubtful of new technologies.”

We’re living in an age where technology is evolving and advancing more than most of us can imagine. 3D printers are in existence and we’ve already used them to ‘print’ handguns that can be successfully fired, computer parts, kitchen gadgets and even clothes. In fact, 3D printers are being hailed as the ‘sewing machine of the 21st Century’ because one day we’ll be printing everything we require from home. Mark went further to explain that we’ll soon be able to ‘email’ a vaccine/drug/cure from one country to another and print it as desired through a 3D biological computer, cutting out the middle men, wiping out the threat of disease and even further increasing our life expectancy.

Young patient Esther Perez was born with an unusual life-threatening heart defect which would ordinarily have required multiple complex surgeries. Cardiac surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles recently printed a 3D model of her heart which enabled them to decide on a course of action before opening her chest and having to act whilst she lay on the operating table. This resulted in a streamlined process through the need for only a single surgery, less anaesthesia and a much more rapid recovery for the patient. She’s expected to be able to live a life free of medical complications. Reduced costs to the hospital were another noted convenience.

Future athletes may well be deciding to biologically print a stronger heart or a set of bionic limbs in order to set new world records and in fact, the Oscar Pistorius’ of the world are already being labelled with “12 second advantage” for using bionic technology. The concluding statement from the first of a series of articles that were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in November 2009, written by two of the scientists who’d been involved in the research which ultimately led to the legalisation of Oscar Pistorius’ carbon-fibre limbs announced, “We conclude that the moment in athletic history when engineered limbs outperform biological limbs has already passed”.

Another positive example given by Mark is that of the ‘Telomere extension’. Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of the strands of DNA called chromosomes which protect our genetic data, making it possible for cells to divide and protect it from ageing and its vulnerability to disease, rather like the protective plastic tips on shoelaces protecting it from fraying and becoming useless.

Each time a cell divides the telomere becomes shorter until the cell is rendered obsolete; think of it like the fuse of a bomb. In January of this year researchers delivered a new procedure that quickly and efficiently extended a telomeres length forcing it to behave as if it was a much younger cell and therefore multiplying with abandon. The slide we were shown outlined a patient with such advanced cancer that he was given only days to live. By having this new procedure his cancer had almost completely regressed 15 days later. Mark kindly shared his calculation on his odds of developing prostate cancer, taking into consideration hereditary and environmental factors.

As someone who has supported family members with cancer, this excites me to no end. Rather poignant that I’m writing this on World Cancer Day. However, what if the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world lived to be 350 years old? Not so attractive perhaps and one may well be left to ponder the pros and cons of the advance in Technology, and our morality. Where do we draw the line? Should we be scared and run the other way?

We’re already our own travel agents, estate agents and publishers – we may even become our own doctors one day. With websites such as this, we’re now creating communities who are living better together by sharing their support and research, (you can now track your health over time and the results will be shared to advance medicine for everyone).

The end of the middle-man is fast approaching and we’ll need to be open to change because we’ll be required to ‘do’ more.

Douglas Adams an English writer, humorist and dramatist but best known as the author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, came up with a set of rules which describe human reactions to technologies:

  • Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  • Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  • Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things and you’ll likely shy away from it.

To back up his statement, Mark showed us a YouTube video of a driverless car. A car with two passengers, one of whom was shit scared at being inside a machine that could think for itself and maneuver accordingly. The BBC example (not the one we viewed) is here. Amusingly we’re currently deciding  how to insure for such a time when driverless cars are the norm, as insurance is based on human error! I’m not yet 35 (I’m sure I look it) but I didn’t want to be in that car. I’ve never ‘tweeted’ because it seems pointless. Why do I need an audience?

When Mark showed us the example above it really resonated with me because I’d spent a number of years hiding myself away, assuming that I should look less into the future and live more in the now, not realising that in this day and age I need to be ‘hustling’, as Rob Archer would call it, and connecting with what Steven D’Souza refers to as the ‘C’s (those people who have no preconceptions of me and those I can be introduced to through my A’s and B’s: friends, colleagues and acquaintances). It’s taking a little work but I’m not as scared to put myself out there now. The old cliché of ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ is finally resonating and I’m on the cusp of proving to the world that I’ve got something it needs. I’ll likely need a lot more gin though, but for the most part I’m definitely excited.

Like everyone who joined the Escape Tribe I’ve proven that I’m open and ready for change. There’ll be more wobbles and it won’t be an easy ride but I have support. I now have some fucking amazing support actually and I’ll be a lot less dismissive in the future. I take comfort though that there have been many before me who have thought and said things they’d later regret and history, highlighted by Mark, has shown that those who founded companies (which are still in existence today) made some whopping, if somewhat amusing, gaffes:

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
– H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

Wilbur Wright, one half of the Wright brothers never imagined that in 1903 he would indeed be flying the first successful manned flight ever made. Two years earlier he said, and I quote, “Man will not fly for 50 years”. But he did it. He challenged his own beliefs and he changed the world, and over 100 years later we still remember him for it.

But what about those who didn’t move with the times? Blockbuster, Kodak, and ICL are examples of companies who were once the champions of their respective trades and who refused to spot and accept progression of technology. See ya!

“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

  • PayPal wasn’t invented by any of the then existing banks.
  • Amazon and eBay weren’t set up by an existing high-street retailer.
  • Spotify was launched in 2008 by a Swedish start-up and as of January 2015 now has 60 million users.

Good news. We are changing and becoming open to new ideas and technology much faster. It took 46 years for electricity to be used by 25% of the US population (from 1873), yet the internet was available from 1991 and took only 7 years for 25% to begin using it. We’re heading in the right direction despite our apprehension and social conditioning.

“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly:

  • The Bad: Our institutions aren’t fit for purpose.
  • The Good: We have the tools to remake.
  • The Ugly: It’s going to get messy and there’ll be a lot of resistance.

It got ugly for Werner Forssmann in 1929, a German physician who developed a procedure that allowed for cardiac catheterisation. Ignoring the severe resistance from his department chief, he befriended the operating-room nurse in charge of the sterile supplies and persuaded her to assist him. She agreed only if he performed the surgery on her instead of himself. He tricked her by restraining her to the operating table and he pretended to locally anaesthetise and cut her arm whilst actually performing it on himself. When the head of the X-ray department discovered what was happening, he furiously attempted to forcefully pull out the catheter until he realised that the experiment was indeed successful. Forssmann was subsequently allowed to carry out another catheterisation on a terminally ill woman whose condition improved after being given drugs in this way. Forssmann won the 1956 Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing this procedure.

How many of us can count the number of times we’ve had our ideas and work obliterated by an ignorant boss drunk with power? How many of us have had the courage and determination to act against their wishes despite knowing what we’re doing will achieve better results? It’s happened way too often for me and much earlier than my working life.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once we grow up.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels like the government and our education system have failed me. Although it’s easy to blame others, I worked hard – I worked really hard in fact – but throughout the whole period of schooling I was lost. Not once was I encouraged to focus on my values, my beliefs, or what I thought was important. I loved Mark’s example of the child that we’ve either been or someone that we’ve likely experienced, somebody who says something so profound that it makes you sit up and want to say, “What the fuck?” The kind of inquisitiveness that we’re educated out of during our school days and we’re told is wrong, because our outdated curriculum says so. I remember my perception of being an adult was someone that had responsibilities and not somebody that had fun or enjoyed their working life! That perception is changing.

How else is technology affecting us, and how else are we innovating?

  • Bioengineers are rebuilding bacteria to produce crude oil.
  • Climeworks are working alongside Audi in being able to filter out 80% of CO2 from car emissions.
  • The Solar Fuels Institute are now able to ‘pull’ carbon dioxide from the air through the use of their artificial trees.
  • Swanson’s Law is an observation that the price of solar photovoltaic modules tends to drop 20% for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume. Solar power is the future and is on track to be as cheap as or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states by 2016. Conservatives and environmentalists have been at odds for decades, but the rally against taxation, big government and the successful lobby for more energy from solar sources have helped form the Green Tea Coalition.
  • Bitcoin is a counterfeit-free way of using money online by each single coin being tracked through a set of ledgers
  • A change in behaviour through the explosion of connecting through social media is resulting in a ‘disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged’ public turning away from politics. Jeremy Paxman who once criticised Russell Brand for not voting admitted he did exactly the same thing after becoming tired of “tawdry pretences”. Are we on the cusp of a revolution?

“Wealth is your ability to influence the world based on your values and how you’d like to be influenced.”

Mark encouraged us to live using the LOPO’s (League of Pragmatic Optimists) 8 principles:

  1. Have an unashamed optimism of ambition about the future.
  2. Engage in projects that are bigger than you.
  3. Engineer Serendipity: how can you increase creativity and innovation by creating chance meetings between people that may not otherwise meet?
  4. You are what you do: NOT what you say you’ll do.
  5. Make mistakes: and get used to it, because that’s how we get better.
  6. Think like an engineer, not like a politician (enough said).
  7. Play the long game: you will lose a lot in the beginning, however it’s a principle Mark swears by – it changed his life.
  8. Police your own cynicism.

“Be defined not by what you own, but by what you create.”

Despite being bombarded with information, facts, figures and philosophy, I found myself becoming more and more energised throughout the evening. Mark has helped me open up my awareness to a world of optimism and possibility. A world which I really didn’t know existed, but one that excites me even if I don’t yet know where I’m going. Thank you Mark.

“The road to success is littered with corpses – but they’re all suicides.”

I’m astonished that I feel so different in such a short space of time. We’re all finding this journey a bit like a rollercoaster, but as Rob has cleverly pointed out: by not wobbling we’ll end up in a trap of a new ‘comfortable’ and will be less likely to leave our comfort zone and change. I don’t particularly like the thought of wobbling and as one of Mark’s slides showed, asking ourselves what we’re going to do with our lives is paralysing. It’s more important to ask, “How am I going to live my life?” Driving along an uncertain road with a set of values on the dashboard helps us to make sense of and accept what we see in the rear-view mirror. I’d rather do that than go back to where I was six months ago, and I have a whole bunch of new friends to do it with. Rob Symington, this talk couldn’t have been better timed. Thank you.

If we weren’t feeling fragile before, then the Tribe’s touching open mic’s of the evening pretty much reduced some of us to emotional wrecks:

  • Ali, using his father as inspiration, reminded us that despite our backgrounds and upbringing we still have the tools to change, search and pursue our interests and determine our own future.
  • Pav made his escape and will no longer be wasting his time on campaigns that’ll get shot to shit by middle management (congratulations, and welcome to the club!). He also explained the virtues of getting our head above the clouds where the sky is blue; from there we can gain a new perspective, feel less connection to paralysis and perhaps play around with what we’re seeing.
  • Andy read the final blog post of his wife, who has sadly passed away, explaining that she’s leaving this world without any regrets. I felt that her spirit was very much alive in the room and my level of inspiration shot through the roof. Andy you were incredibly brave!
  • Jen read out an amusing passage from her own written story regarding an ex-boss’s desire to build a one way portal to Mars and throw all the people on benefits into it, via a gas chamber! Please finish your book Jen so we can all go out and buy it!

I’ll leave you with a quote which first resonated with me when I was about 11, and one which I haven’t forgotten. It is from an unlikely source, and recently bounced back to the front of my mind during that rather unpleasant wobble I had. Spoken by John Koenig (played by Martin Landau) in an episode of Space:1999 (I know, but stay with me!) after he struggled to resist being brainwashed into acting against his values by entering into a life without pain, sorrow or fear,

“It’s better to live as your own man, than as a fool in someone else’s dream.”

This is a guest post by Richard, a current member from The Escape Tribe. 

For more information on The Escape Tribe, visit here.

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