The Satirist

Sami Shah is a Pakistani comedian, writer and ad-man based in Karachi. When I first met in him in 2009, he was hosting News Weakly, Pakistan’s version of The Daily Show, while practising his act using virtual second-life comedy clubs. He takes his jokes across the country with nationwide tours and has a weekly column The Express Tribune. And now, my friends, I’m going to duck and cover as I ask you to give a warm welcome to Mr Sami Shah…

THE LESSON: Fortunes change faster than you can order a gun made of gold. As Libya country was wracked by revolution and rebels overtook every city, I could see that the years poor Gaddafi spent preparing for just this moment were not enough. For too long he believed in his own infallibility. He thought that surrounding himself with a shield of Amazonian hotties and sleeping in golden mumus, that did not hinder sprinting, would keep him safe. The bulletproof tents should have helped too. But in the end, I learned that none of it can prevent you from ending up in a drainage pipe pleading for your life. The lesson this has taught me is if I ever end up being a brutal dictator, I won’t shortchange the brutality. Go all out. Kill everyone. And do it in urban casual. It is better for blending in. Also, keep an extra Ukrainian Nurse handy at all times. You never know.

THE QUESTION: Where can I find the perfect pair of skinny fit jeans? Every time I buy a pair that are perfect in how they hug my rump, they tend to be too tight in front, crushing all feeling in my groin. Is it too much to ask for a pair of tight jeans that understand the need to hug my butt, leave space for my tackle and still outline my muscular thighs?

THE INSPIRATION: News coverage of Bin Laden’s porn collection changed me as a human being. All too long I have suffered guilt as I surfed the Internet, searching for just the right video to get the job done. Am I a pervert? I wondered. Are my needs out of the norm of society? Then, a few days after Seal Team 6 put a bullet through the head of the winner of Creative Terrorism 2001-2002, I learned I was not alone. If Osama Bin Laden, a man who had 3 wives in his compound, could watch filmed pornography without his conscience bothering him then why should I feel shame? Now, whenever I load up youporn, I think of Bin Laden. I think that’s what he would have wanted.


The polymath

James Bowthorpe does. Always has done. He does things like set a new world record for cycling round the globe, building a boat out of salvaged wood and sailing it up the Thames, making music videos, designing sets for Florence & the Machine and passionately campaigning for Parkinson’s research. A proper polymath. I saw James last month and returned a mini-disc player he’d lent me 10 years ago, complete with a little wooden holder he’d crafted for it. Reckon that just about sums him up — craft + tech + generosity.

THE LESSON: 2011’s big lesson is, give it a go, you never know. This is not a new strategy for me but the lesson has come through the range of results, some good some bad, and it’s helping me to whittle my pursuits down a bit.

THE QUESTION: I don’t really have one constant burning question that consumes me; in many ways I wish I did. I am looking for that question though – my question is, what’s the question?! Frustrating for everyone.

THE INSPIRATION: Lots of inspiring things happened to me this year, here’s a couple. Lake Tear of the Clouds in upstate New York blew me away, twice, with its understated portent and dignity. I didn’t know a little lake could do that. I was also inspired by the documentary film Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. Lastly I’m doing some work with a company called Finisterre down in Cornwall – they are an inspirational group of people and no mistake.

The Guantanamo Lawyer

 Tara Murray was furiously typing on her laptop in a Lahore coffee shop when I met her. Fresh off the plane from the US, the Reprieve lawyer was doing the whole, hitting the ground sprinting thing.  From the start,  I was moved by Tara’s calm commitment in the face of what must be one of the most frustrating jobs in international law: representing Guantanamo inmates.

THE LESSON:  I’ve learned so many lessons this year that it’s really quite difficult to choose one.  But something that I’ve received confirmation on this year, something that I think I already believed (albeit abstractly), is that people are intrinsically the same and that if we focused on the things that make us similar rather than fighting about the things that make us different, this world would be a much better place to live in.  Perhaps it sounds naïve and idealistic, but sometimes it’s the simple truths that we have a hard time accepting!

THE QUESTION: What happened to the “Change We Can Believe In” president?  I’m so disappointed in Obama…

THE INSPIRATION: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl…if you haven’t read it, you must read it…though it was written more than a century ago it is still relevant in terms of the lingering tendency of the US government to dehumanize poor people and people of color and view them as expendable or merely commodifiable beings to be exploited for political and financial gain.

The crusading strategist

I first met Daniel Maree in LA. He was working for Participant Media: we talked storytelling and social change over a sunny Sunday brunch. Fast forward a few years to a wintry New York, where we recently caught up over a hot cider and I discovered that his passion for global justice has taken a very personal turn. He’s a man on a mission to free his father, Olympic runner and anti-apartheid activist, Sydney Maree, from prison in South Africa. Daniel is making a documentary, setting up an advocacy campaign and  starting the Second Chapter  (a project to “realize of the ideals of South Africa’s liberation struggle”). Thing is, he’s also got a day job… Head of Social Strategy at McCann.

THE LESSON: A good idea, well-crafted and pursued with passion, doesn’t need a gatekeeper’s stamp of approval to succeed. I learned this after successfully funding my documentary film through kickstarter this year. I spent years developing grant proposals for independent documentary development funds I will not name—(cough) Sundance and Tribeca (cough cough)—only to be turned down for funding. I was devastated. I almost gave up. Instead I decided to try kickstarter. I was able to raise over ten-thousand dollars in less than three weeks. Power to the people!

THE QUESTION: Will I ever make it back to the gym? I haven’t worked out in years, and with the holidays coming up, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Oy veh. Oh, I’m also curious to see how things will turn out in Egypt (and Occupy Wall Street)

THE INSPIRATION: Watching Dewey Bozella accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2011 ESPYs after having served 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Like Muhammad Ali and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Bozella endured the inequality of systematic power structures and came out on top. He’s a huge inspiration to me and to the campaign to free my father from prison in South Africa. Check out Dewey Bozella’s story here.

The radio star

Karachi based Munizeh Sanai quite literally rocks my world. In addition to hosting her own daily drive time show, she’s also runs an entire radio station. Yup, she’s the General Manager of Pakistan’s City FM 89, which is hands-down the country’s best music station (bestness as measured by my incredibly scientific broadcasting quality metrics).

Last time I was in Karachi, we spent an amazing Sunday together, discovering where colonial statues go to die, zoning out in the sunday book market and wandering round the christian graveyard at dusk, (where the bodies were rather less buried than we would have liked). Ladies and gentlepeople, I present to you, the one, the only… Munizeh Sanai…

THE LESSON: They say that babies only grow when they’re sleeping. I learnt this year that grown ups only grow when they take their time out. When you realize that you can’t be good at everything all of the time and the only way to be really good at some things some of the time and the only way to really move forward is when you once in a while stop and do nothing. Whether this is a daily half hour of mindful meditation or a once every six month getaway, the only way to survive and thrive in your reality is to leave it constantly.

THE QUESTION: In reference to life and living in Karachi, Pakistan – Are we amazingly resilient or completely delusional?

 THE INSPIRATION: This July, while in New York, I had the chance to see Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience produced by the British theater company Punch Drunk. To describe it in too much detail would be depriving someone who hasn’t seen it yet of one of the most essential elements that make it so riveting – surprise. But I can say that the 4 hours that I spent checked in to The McKitterick Hotel were transcendental. My understanding of reality was left compromised or rather, shifted in a way that no drugs could ever manage. I was thrilled with the human imagination, blown away by our bodily strength and mental focus, turned on by our openness to experience and in love with a man with a moustache who may or may not have been Macbeth. The fact that we are capable of creating such an overwhelming and rich emotional and physical experience has had me lost in a world of dreamy possibility ever since.

The Social Technologist

I’ve  known Christian Payne on twitter for a few years as @Documentally, the grandson of @granumentally and the father of @minimentally . We finally got to meet at the Do Lectures. Over  beers in the barn, I realised I had a lot to learn from him. This man wields social media like a freakin light saber. Never seen anything like it. Christian started off as a photojournalist and has never looked back, from vlogging for the British Council in Pakistan, to working alongside Reuters with  political leaders, to documenting the plight of Iraqi refugees for the UN. Using every medium out there, he describes himself as “eclectically equipped”. This Do Lectures storify is a great illustration of the richness of his storytelling.

THE LESSON: I feel I should answer these questions twice. Once for those who have kids and to whom I’ll not sound like a cliche and once again for those that don’t. I thought after watching my first child born it would be hard for me to be amazed at anything else. I was wrong. Last week I witnessed the birth of my second child and it was as if I my eyes had been temporarily taken out and scrubbed clean. Any filters I had been growing over the last couple of years had once again been removed and my appreciation of things was once again set to “Wow!” The biggest lesson I learned in this last year was that you never need to cease to be amazed at the world around you and this amazement reflects in everything you do.

THE BURNING QUESTION: I’m a Social Technologist. That’s a pretentious title I’ve settled on in order to package my skill set. Mobile media making, blogging, talking, teaching, are all things I do to earn a crust. For me to survive as a freelancer, to keep innovating, I’m armed with all kinds of questions. I ask one question more than any other. What’s the next big thing? This burning question has stayed the same ever since I decided to diversify as a photographer. The only fluctuation is in the translation of the word ‘big”.  Big used to mean most popular or most adopted means of communicating effectively. It might still mean that, but more importantly, values like ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ are being added to the mix. I share, advise and educate in all forms of social technology and as a result am responsible for the message I propagate. When I look for the next big thing, I’m also aware that people in my field can easily become advocates of the things they share.

THE INSPIRATION: Apart from the birth of my little girl, the most inspiring thing I have seen this year was the virus like wonder that emanated from the Do Lectures. I go to hundreds of conferences but none came close to that spontaneous gathering in West Wales. You will see a number of articles online trying to fathom what it is that makes the Do Lectures so special as a meeting of minds, a sharing of ideas and a call to action. It’s quite simply the people. The journey they have been on and the journey they undertook to get to that place, at that time.

Inspiring people inspiring people. Who then headed out on their separate paths to do the same.

The design storyteller

Leonora Oppenheim- where to start? She’s one of them with many strings to her bow. One of which is Creative Data, which is all about experiential storytelling. Twang. Another one of which is Elio Studio, a design communications practice. Twang. And then there’s her journalism for Treehugger and Coolhunting. Twang. Twang. Twang. I’ve worked alongside Leonora and love the craft of her storytelling and the way she approaches journalism as design.

THE LESSON: Listening to my instinct without trying to rationalise it. I have a tendency to over analyse questions in both my professional and personal life. Something I’m working on is listening to what kind of feeling I’m getting from a situation. What is my instinct telling me? In the past I have often overridden a sense of unease because I couldn’t translate that feeling clearly in my mind. Now I realise I don’t need to intellectually understand why I do or don’t want to do something. Our instinctive reaction is inherent knowledge, so rather than ignoring it and getting myself into trouble, I’m listening. Basically I’m learning to say no, which is a pretty vital skill if you want to stay sane and healthy.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Scale. How much is enough? There are loud voices in the field of sustainability who are rightly concerned about the speed of change we’re achieving. We need to move faster, they say, to avoid global catastrophe. There is a current obsession with digital because of its ability to scale, but with Creative Data. I am swimming against the tide. Our physical and spatial exhibitions are designed to work at a local level reaching hundreds of people at a time, not millions. I’m pursuing this route in the belief that we need to work with communities to help people emotionally engage with the issues and understand how climate change will directly affect their own lives. My question is: how can Creative Data projects have a large-scale impact while still working on deeper personal engagement in future landscapes? How can the physical and digital work together in this context? Tom Uglow, head of Google Creative Labs EMEA, recently said that the future of digital is physical, which boosted my confidence and made me smile.

THE INSPIRATION: There are so many extraordinarily exciting projects happening out there, I am inspired daily. But with respect to my “burning question” I think a brilliant realisation of local creativity with global reach is the work of French street artist JR. Addressing the theme of identity he uses large-scale photography of local people on an architectural scale in their communities. He works guerilla style, without permissions or corporate sponsorship. It’s fast, radical and provocative spatial intervention which creates powerful emotional reactions and a sense of pride in place.  He won the TED prize this year for his Inside Out  project, which scales up his personal work, allowing anyone in the world to transform their own identity into a community artwork by sending them enormous posters of their own portraits. The quote below is from his TED talk and resonates very clearly with me about the purpose of Creative Data.

“Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world and create an energy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things, makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions and then enables you to change the world. What we see changes who we are. When we act together the whole thing is much more than the sum of the parts.”

The innovation jedi

Tom Farrand is a force of nature. He’s one of the incredible Pipeline Project team who are changing the way the communications industries change the world. I first came across Tom at one of his  Good For Nothing social innovation weekends, but it was on the long train journey west to The Do Lectures that we really got to chat. He was buzzing with his 50/50 project that has taken off like wildfire- 50 projects in 50 days to stop famine in Africa. Also on the conversational table: iron man contests, tarantulas and er, shower gel…

THE LESSON: It’s hard to pick out just one thing as I feel that I learnt more last year than I did in the previous 15 years of my working life. That’s mainly down to us hatching our own social mission called Good for Nothing a year ago and seeing where the energy and community that’s building around it, takes us.  A couple of things stand out – the first is that ‘by doing interesting things, interesting things happen to you’. We’ve deliberately tackled as many different challenges as possible in the shortest space of time and opened everything up to the community on the way. From a 4 hr gig with 50 D&AD students, to creating 50/50, a big global challenge to raise awareness and money for famine aid, to getting purposeful companies doing Good for Nothing, we’ve had a go at lots of stuff. The more we’ve put ourselves out there and tried things, the more new opportunities have opened up. The second big thing we’ve learnt is that ‘a demanding common task builds community’ –  by creating these focused social innovation challenges, and bringing together diverse people to solve them collaboratively, there’s a growing community of like-minded people on a similar mission who are starting to share their skills, time and experience to help each other. This new purposeful energy feels exciting and we hope it could lead to even more good stuff happening over time…

THE QUESTION: The big question that we’re asking ourselves is how to accelerate the pace of change towards a more sustainable way of living in the face of seemingly impossible resource constraints. We’re asking ourselves whether the way in which we work can change for the better to enable this – human energy, collaboration and experimentation, feel like a part of the answer. This is something we’re keen to build on, getting more diverse stakeholders working across siloes to solve the bigger issues in creative ways – with collaboration between business, government, 3rd sector and citizens. Our other burning question is how to build Jedi and rave influences into our new web platform in a meaningful way…..

THE INSPIRATION: The thing I’ve been most inspired by in the last year has been the Masters paper in Sustainability and Responsibility that fellow Jedi Dan Burgess has just finished at Ashridge Business School. It plots his story from being stuck in advertising feeling like there’s nowhere to go, to meeting and starting to work with us, to upping sticks with his young family to live in a treehouse in Costa Rica for a year, to changing the way he lives, works, sees and interacts with the world. The paper is based on the process of action learning which has become central to how we now work as a team. And on route he’s uncovered many amazing bits of wisdom in his reading about how we can be more connected to nature, live more creatively and consciously and learn from natural systems to make collaboration work. There’s an amazing book in the making right there….

The Marketoonist

Tom Fishburne left a dream job to follow his lifelong dream of being a cartoonist. A Harvard Business School grad, it didn’t take him long to realise that the cartooning industry was broken, with thousands of cartoonists clamouring for a tiny number of commissions. Take the New Yorker; apparently to even have your work considered you need to submit one cartoon a day, for a year. Then your submission will be one of 1000 that get considered every week, only 18 are chosen. In response, Tom developed the Marketoonist, a thriving business that develops cartoon-based marketing campaigns. Now he’s on a mission to reform the entire industry, by both developing new markets for cartoons, and by developing tech platforms (cartoon banks) that will enable cartoonists to license their back catalogue.

Tom taught me how to doodle and has seriously transformed my note-taking, but that’s another story. He literally put down his paints to chat on a freezing afternoon.

THE LESSON: The power of the tribe. I spent 10 years building my community. Anyone can build a tribe, even if you don’t think you have a reason for it.

THE QUESTION: Why do so many things launch that are mediocre? How do we close the gap between aims and reality? Why, so often, does the dream becomes watered down into the equivalent of apple sauce?

THE INSPIRATION: The Republic of Tea

The Pictureteller

Laura Brunow Miner is the founding editor of Pictory, an online photojournalism magazine that publishes big photographs grouped into stories. Anyone can submit one large, captioned image to each of Pictory’s editorial themes, from the moving, to the epic, to the stomach churning. In addition to her dayjob Laura also builds creative communities.  Inspired by Foo camp, the annual American hacker event hosted by publisher O’Reilly Media, she has established Phoot camp, an annual creative retreat for photographers, and Eat Retreat for leaders in the Food Community.

I met her at the 2011 Do Lectures where we talked, clutching cups of tea on a blustery Welsh afternoon. I loved her focus on catalysing creative communities, her philosophy of the more you give the less you feel you need to take & always asking “what can I bring to this situation?”

THE LESSON: impulse control. Like many designers, I’ve always had a tendency towards obsessiveness, but getting a puppy last winter has helped change that. When you watch your teenage dog fixate on something she’s not supposed to (creepily stalking another puppy or staring down the cats) and just pray that she’ll let it go, it teaches you a lot about your own behavior. It’s helped me move on really quickly from inevitable issues like personal conflicts, getting overly attached to plans, professional disappointments, etc. I’ve realized, “I don’t need to win, I just need to keep moving.”

THE QUESTION: “How do I find peace in a system that’s so broken? Or are we even supposed to?”I’m feeling especially unsettled lately by the amounts of consumption and pollution around us. It’s a tough issue everywhere, but especially for communities that don’t have the resources for things like city-wide composting, or even recycling. It feels daunting, but I think a personal step I can take is to focus on buying things second-hand or from small, trustworthy producers — even though it requires breaking my cycle of cheap clothing addiction!

THE INSPIRATION: I’ve gotten a lot out of Creative Mornings, the lecture series for creative professionals started by Tina Roth Eisenberg, and my favorite one is from super talented photographer and storyteller Andrew Zuckerman. In his talk, He shares stories of talking his way into getting to interview folks like Nelson Mandela, and how anyone can be a good interviewer if you’re genuinely curious about the other person.

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