Friday, October 09, 2015


Under your own umbrella?
It was raining on Monday morning this week, and as I emerged from the train station into central
Birmingham to face the day I pulled my hood up to protect myself from the rain.

All around me fellow commuters opened umbrellas and as I walked across town to my office I was dodging multicoloured brollies all the way.

If I'm completely honest, I think umbrellas are a bit of a hazard on rush hour pavements - they take up too much space and no-one's really looking where they're going!

Everyone seems to want their own umbrella, even the giant golfing ones, and no one wants to share. In many ways it sums up a lot about the rat race and competitive environment around us.
"Everyone seems to want their own umbrella, and no one wants to share"
It's better to be open handed...
It's funny how often we want to shut people out, to put up an umbrella around ourselves, feeling like it's maybe a way of preserving our individuality, of our stuff - our ideas, creations, dreams, even problems.

And yet there are more and more examples of how opening up - widening our umbrella to include others - is a better way for our creative potential to blossom.

I'm writing this on a laptop running Ubuntu, a free linux based open source operating system which I can't praise highly enough, ever since it rescued all the files on my machine after a fatal Windows "blue screen of death" incident. I've been running it for years now with no issues.

The name Ubuntu comes from an African word or philosophy which expresses the idea of community and kindness. Hence it was an apt title for an operating system born out of collaboration, openness and shared ideas.
"Widening our umbrella to include others is a better way for our creative potential to blossom."
More and more successful ideas are built on the foundations of sharing and community. I've recently read Chris Anderson's excellent book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, which is all about the democratisation of manufacturing. A key point of the book is that the new maker movement is characterised by collaboration and community. People openly sharing their skills, ideas and time to help each other and contribute to projects they're passionate about. Companies built on these community projects are able to be much more nimble in their approach to new ideas and making things happen.

It's a point observed by Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. By and large the days of solo ideas are gone, and in their place are shared, collaborative breakthroughs.

There's something very freeing about not having to do everything all by yourself - as the phrase goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. I do feel like there can be a pressure to be self-sufficient, independent, but the truth is that we were made for community. If I look at my own life I know the areas I'm strong at, and there are plenty of areas I'm less strong at. That's where collaboration and teamwork are so powerful - playing to our own strengths and allowing others to play to theirs leaves us all with a better and more satisfying outcome.
"Playing to our own strengths and allowing others to play to theirs leaves us all with a better and more satisfying outcome"
The more people are involved, the bigger the community, the more shared ownership there is as well - important when we face huge societal, environmental and ethical challenges in the years ahead. It's unlikely that one person alone will be able to fix a broken society or solve problems like climate change. Instead there are likely to be millions of grassroots solutions, all contributing to effect major change. And that starts by looking up and opening up our individual umbrellas to include and connect with others.

How can you open your umbrella to others?
I was at the UK Podcasters Awards a few weeks ago, and as well as picking up an award, the thing
that struck me most was the sense of community and lack of competition.

People were celebrating the fact that others were passionate about the same things as them, and ideas were being exchanged freely. I picked up some great ideas myself and hopefully also encouraged other podcasters too - encouragement being a strength of my own!

As a deliberate act to widen my podcasting umbrella I've reached out to various other podcasters to come on The Potting Shed Podcast and impart their wisdom and talk about their shows to a different audience. It's good to be part of a community.

So next time you find yourself opening up your umbrella in the rain, why not invite someone else underneath? And no matter what your field, passion or interest, how can you build or contribute to your community? The best future starts with shared and open umbrellas...


Thanks for taking the time to read Umbrellas. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

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