Lifestyle Design

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Glasgow, Scotland, UK • November 2016 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes

It’s a question that every child gets asked. A question that fills them with excitement and sets their imaginations running wild. And whether it comes from a teacher, a parent, a peer, or even an overly fussy distant friend of an aunt, they are rarely afraid of giving an honest answer. ‘Unrealistic’ isn’t a word many children associate with. After all, this question is usually preceded by a statement indicating that ‘when you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be’. The sky isn’t the limit, the edge of the Universe is. I vividly remember Mrs Leslie asking us this in primary school. I must have been six or seven years old at the time. She stood in front of the class and said, What do you want to be when you grow up?” An open-ended thought that brought with it endless possibilities.

“A fireman,” yelled out one of the boys at the front.

“A nurse,” added a girl to my left, enthusiastically.

“A spaceman,” said my best friend.

Somewhere along the line, though, these desires fade. Reality takes over. We lose passion. We get side-tracked by the monotony of daily life and short-term thinking. Doubt creeps in. Dreams are suppressed to when we are asleep. As an experiment, I recently posed this to a work colleague of mine. The response was a bemused and confused wrinkle of the face followed by the statement, “I’m not a kid anymore. But I suppose when I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian.” Wanted. A verb used in its past tense.

Yes, people change. I understand that. And something you wanted to be ten years ago may now be something that genuinely doesn’t interest you. As we learn new things and grow as individuals, different influences and wishes take over. This is why it is so important to keep asking yourself this question. What do I want to be when I grow up? I don’t care if you’re eighteen or eighty. Until you are dead you should still be wanting to pursue new things. Why should fantasising and dreaming about our future lives be constricted to only when we are children? I’m a 25-year-old 'man' and still get a kick out of what some may consider ‘unattainable’ thoughts and ideas. As far as I’m concerned, if something is deemed to be unattainable, then it’s all that more exhilarating and exciting when you finally achieve it.

My response to Mrs Leslie’s question? – “I want to be an explorer.”

As I head off next month on a tour of Oceania and Asia to compile stories for my sophomore travel book, this ‘dream’ is now very much still a reality. It’s a goal, I suppose. And what are goals but simply dreams that have timelines attached?

So ask yourself today, tomorrow, and the next day: What do I want to be when I grow up? You’ll probably be surprised with what your brain comes up with…

How Do Behaviours Spread? - The Hundredth Monkey Effect

Glasgow, Scotland, UK • November 2017 • Length of Read: 3 Minutes

The remote island of Kojima in the South West of Japan has no human inhabitants. Its picturesque shores and forested landscape are, however, home to a very special group of primates. The wild band of macaque monkeys that reside here have been so unaffected by man that they’ve become the subjects of numerous fascinating academic studies, one of which made international news.

Researchers became captivated by the species when they discovered that one of the monkeys had learned how to clean dirt off the freshly dug sweet potatoes that grew on Kojima. With their other foods requiring no preparation, the tribe were reluctant to eat these dirty potatoes. This monkey managed to resolve the issue, though, by washing them in a stream, and was soon teaching her mother and playmates to do the same. As this skill was passed around, sweet potatoes soon became a source of food for monkeys of Kojima, whereas their distant relatives on neighbouring islands continued to leave them untouched.

Then, something incredible happened. Once a certain number of Kojima’s macaques – about one hundred of them – had acquired this knowledge, monkeys on the smaller island of Torishima began washing their food as well. There was no way they could have interacted with the original monkeys, but somehow the behaviour spread. The researchers were baffled. How was it possible that such a rare social trait should suddenly appear in two geographically distinct areas? Was there some recessive ‘food washing’ gene that had only now kicked in? Could the monkeys on Torishima have peered across the water and somehow understood what the other monkeys were doing and then copied them? Could this be some kind of simian extrasensory perception? Or were we witnessing a rare leap from one evolutionary plateau to another? The theories grew and grew, yet the mystery seemed intractable.

Some prominent scientists and brain researchers came to believe that there may be a collective consciousness that all members of a species can pull from. It has been noted, for example, that when one physicist makes a breakthrough, physicists elsewhere will simultaneously get the same idea. It is thought that when we align ourselves through belief, through focus, through optimal physiology, we find a way to dip into this collective consciousness and act in remarkable unison. In his book Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins used this hundredth monkey example to conclude that “The better attuned you are, the better aligned you are, the more you tap into this rich knowledge and feeling. Just as information filters to us from our unconscious, it may also filter in to us from completely outside of ourselves if we’re in a resourceful-enough state to receive it.”

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well that’s because it is. Only decades later, when someone with a rational mind decided to ask the local fisherman what they thought, did this theory become debunked.

“Well,” the fisherman replied, “the monkeys do swim back and forth between the islands. Maybe that has something to do with it.”

Are Employees Being Promoted Until They Become Incompetent?


In organisational structures, the assessment of an employee’s potential for promotion is often based on their performance in their current role. As such, in most standard organisations an employee’s appraisal process will broadly follow these five steps:

  1. Feedback is received for work completed.
  2. This feedback is then collated and used to form the basis of an employee’s business case for promotion.
  3. The aforementioned business case is then presented to a senior management panel.
  4. The senior management panel will agree on an appraisal rating for the employee based on the strength of this case.
  5. Promotions will be weighted towards employees with higher appraisal ratings.

On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. Why would you want to promote an employee who is not already crushing it? The issue with this retrospective-style of appraisal, however, is that it doesn’t take into account one very important thing: Just because an employee is a great asset in their current position, it doesn’t mean that they will have the abilities needed to succeed in their new position.

Following this line of thought, it goes to say that employees will only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform their duties effectively. In turn, employees rise to the level of their incompetence. With no chance of further promotion up the ladder, they will reach a career ceiling and remain in a role which they cannot fully perform effectively.

This management theory concept is known as the Peter Principle, so named after the Canadian educator who formulated this concept in 1969, Lawrence J. Peter. He noted in his book Why Things Go Wrong that incompetence is most likely to occur when newly required skills are different, but not more difficult. For example, an excellent engineer may be a poor manager because they might not have the interpersonal skills necessary to lead a team.

So how does one, as an employee, avoid the Peter Principle coming to fruition? Well, the Harvard Business Review suggest asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Is my boss interested in my welfare or does he see me as a competitor who needs to be neutralised? If it is the latter, then the chances of an employee being able to fully spread their wings become severely grounded.
  2. Can I correctly work out what my boss wants or am I stuck second-guessing from what he's actually saying? Don't be afraid to ask further questions at the initiation phase of a project. Better to fully comprehend what is required to be done than being told half-way through that what has been completed is incorrect.
  3. Will my boss reward or punish me if I make improvement suggestions? Some employers love employees who think outside of the box and constantly try to add value to the company. Others regard this type of attitude as evasive and threatening. Ensure you know when best to, and when not to, express yourself.
  4. Am I capable of doing my job? it may take you longer to find your feet in a role than expected. This is OK. Don't feel pressured to race for promotion and the next rung on that career ladder. There is no finish line and gold medal waiting for you at the top. Feel free to stick in your current role until you have mastered it.
  5. Do I want to emulate this boss, or should I distance myself from his poor example? Consider whether the job your boss has is actually what you want to work towards. If you don't admire their actions and position, then what is the point of being promoted one step closer to it. Be lateral thinking in your career development and don't become stuck in a silo.

Competent managers are likely to promote a super-competent for the betterment of the organisation. Incompetent managers, on the other hand, will feel intimidated and threatened by those who excel too much. The answers to these questions will help give you an indication of how to avoid hitches and obstacles in your career progression... and avoid becoming incompetent.

Where did the word 'meme' come from?


I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a huge Richard Dawkins fanboy. Along with the late Christopher Hitchens, he has dramatically empowered my religious worldview and debating skills, whilst his books have been of significant education. As an evolutionary biologist, he has been at the forefront of the gene-centred view of evolution, and his 1976 publication The Selfish Gene put forward the hypothesis that a lineage is expected to evolve to maximise its inclusive fitness; being the number of copies of its genes passed on globally rather than by a particular individual.

In addition to the DNA molecule, Dawkins explored the possibility of there being other replicating entities and wrote that ‘a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet… still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily above in its primaeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.’ He defined this new replicator as a ‘meme’:

“The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’. Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”

God love the man. I wonder if he could have guessed that, 30 years later, this new addition to the dictionary would be best used to define un-PC .GIF images posted on social media sites as opposed to 'the soup of human culture'. But then again, I suppose in  a way these memes (a few of my favourite shown below) are extensions of our ever-developing sharing culture. The last one is of particular pertinence.








An Airport Layover Rambling

London Stansted Airport, England, UK • October 2016 • Length of Read: 1 Minute

Bag on, belt off, liquids in the clear plastic bag, and through the scanner you go. Anticipation rising. Nostalgia brewing of a place you still haven’t technically left yet. But airport lounges are all the same, aren’t they? Holding pens until you are released on the next adrenaline wave of adventure. Staring at the rolling departures board the world lights up in front of you: 15:10 to New York at gate 54; 15:30 to Tokyo at gate 12; the 16:00 to Amsterdam showing as delayed by 30 minutes whilst the 14:45 to Sydney taunts you with its final call for boarding. And you are off. As the mandatory safety briefing commences you stare out of the window at the ant-sized people below. You traverse countries, oceans, and continents. The only evidence being the jet trails that soon disperse and vanish.

Then you slow right down to a snail’s pace. Taking in the unfamiliar smells and cultural sounds. Trying your best to decipher the foreign tongue being spoken until you are stopped dead in your tracks. Mesmerised by the beauty of the smallest and most insignificant thing. People always try to see the beauty in things first. Blemishes and false hopes come later. Breathe. Take it in. You may not be here for long. But you are here now. And now is all we really have. You look behind. You look ahead. You realise that this won’t last forever. You are okay with that. Because this gives you the drive to keep going. To keep exploring. And with one more step forward you are on your way again. Further on up the road.