Welcome to my world!
As one soul, I play many roles in life – social innovator, author, speaker, global activist, leader, consultant, trainer, synnervator, human ecologist, philosopher, father, folk singer, theatre director, rugby trainer, husband, energy worker…
The logo that was developed for this site captures well core elements of my identity. On the one hand there is harmony in the image, designed as it is using the golden proportion and sacred geometry. For me, this represents the deep knowing of the oneness and interconnectedness of all things. Also the Absolute dimension of reality in which nothing happens, from which we come and to which we return – moment to moment. On the other hand a dynamism, wildness and power to it – that represents the radical aliveness in this Relative world that I feel it is so important to cultivate. The combination of being in the Absolute and acting in the Relative is what I believe represents a non-dual experience – deeply liberating, joyful, connected and creative.
I loved that tractor!
I was born on the 22nd of January 1969 to a mother who was brought up as a Quaker and worked as a children’s nurse, and a father who was a mechanical engineer and officer in the Royal Navy. That combination of feeling and action has definitely shaped my life, and I continually seek for a healthy dynamic balance between the two. My father’s family came from Devon and my mother’s family from Yorkshire. Although we moved around a lot as a child, we always went back to the beautiful village of Dent in the Yorkshire Dales, and that is still the place that feels most like home to me. It also turns out that we are descended from the first King of Scotland! I am the eldest of three children, with my sister Rachel and brother Tim.
In my final years at school I specialised in languages, studying English, French and German. That choice definitely influenced my future. On leaving school I spent a year working in Heidelberg, Gstaad and Berlin to bring my German up to speed before going on to study French and German at Exeter University. At Exeter I discovered the world of absurdist theatre (with the likes of Sartres, Camus and Jarry) and ended up directing and acting in a number of plays in French and German. I was particularly inspired by Peter Brook’s approach to acting and theatre, as in The Empty Space. We even won the National Students German Drama competition with our haunting production of Peter Weiss’ Marat Sade.
I think one writer / artist probably had the biggest influence on me – Antonin Artaud. Ultimately locked up in a lunatic asylum himself, his writings on the nature of sanity and insanity struck a deep chord with me. He strips away illusion after illusion, exposing raw humanity and the nature of existence. His work and the Absurdists got me deeply questioning the apparent norm of our society and civilisation. (This short story I wrote was inspired by Artaud).
With my critical faculties fully awakened, my mother chose her moment to give me a copy of EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. That’s another book that changed my life. Schumacher questions the foundations of our economic system and exposes very simply the fundamental flaws that lead to the degradation of the human being and the rest of life around us. That put me on the path of environmental and social activism. I was soon joined up to multiple NGOs and out protesting multiple issues. The movement that captured me most was the anti-roads protest such as Reclaim the Streets – for people’s deep commitment to nature and their radical yet joy-filled approach to making their point. Extinction Rebellion reminds me a lot of those days.
Leaving Exeter with a degree in French and German, and fired up to change the world, I went to Paris to teach English at Paris X (Nanterre). Knowing this was the home of Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord I was determined to find a theatre company I could work with. Fate dropped the perfect contact into my hands. Saddredhin Zahed had worked with Brook on the Mahabharata, and started a theatre troupe called Théâtre D-Nué – inspired by Brook’s simple theatre as well as Grotowski’s Poor Theatre, Stanislavski’s method acting and Persian storytelling. A perfect combination! 6 days a week for 5 hours each evening we worked – acrobatics, yoga, relaxation, improvisation, discovering texts – all designed to bring us to a place of simplicity and authenticity of performance. It changed me fundamentally and I owe a huge amount to Zahed and his great work.
Acting with Théâtre D-Nué
In the meantime however, I was reading global economics and development, through the lenses of people like Helena Norberg-Hodge, Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich and Wolfgang Sachs. At the end of that amazing year in Paris I was asking myself – did I think theatre could change the world? My answer then was “no” – and so I signed up for Voluntary Service Overseas to experience for myself what it was like in a “developing country”. I chose for a rural community called Bole in northern Ghana. I was to teach English in a secondary school. There were about 100 kids per class and maybe 5 text books. They had been taught to teach by learning and reproduction. So I jettisoned the text book and embarked on teaching them to really learn, bringing interaction into the classroom and showing them how they could think for themselves. At the same time I had shipped out a big box of books to read, including more radical stuff on economics and politics, mixed with some esoterica including Gurdjieff. It was a powerful first year, where I surrendered to the possibility of death, liberating me into a freedom to live every moment of my life for what I believed in.
Now Ghana was going through a World Bank / IMF imposed Structural Adjustment Program – like so many developing countries – involving massive loans in exchange for policy changes to bring their country into the Thatcher-Reagon era of liberal free market economics. Part of the deal was to cut public spending, including on education. Our school was meant to charge school fees but most parents couldn’t afford to and so paid in chickens or goats. However once the spending cuts were implemented the school had no choice and had to enforce the payment of school fees – anyone who hadn’t paid by a certain date was to be kept out of the dining room and would have had to go home – end of education. When the day arrived a group of the kids went to town, got drunk and stoned, and burned down the school.
So there I was with a burned down school in the middle of Northern Ghana holding an awareness of the chain of events that lead from decisions in Washington DC to the village of Bole. I decided at that moment that rather than spend my life trying to clean up the mess, I was going to go back home and do what I could to change the cause.
I signed up for a Master of Science program in Human Ecology at Edinburgh university but still had half a year before it started so headed down to London to be an activist. I did voluntary work with the Tibet Support Group, and got involved in the Reclaim the Streets movement and Green politics.
My year at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh was another life-changing step. It was a transdisciplinary approach and included environmental science, psychology, economics, a mini-MBA (“You mustn’t leave here as a rebel without a clue”), spirituality, deep ecology… I did my thesis on work – how to create global and local economic systems that would create work to benefit both people and planet. I published it many years later as a book called Why Work?. I met some amazing people, learned a lot about the world and myself, and played lots of Scottish music!
During that year in Edinburgh I also discovered how I could integrate my passion for creating a better world with my love of theatre. As part of the Master’s we studied Paolo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and through that I came across Augusto Boal’s work called Theatre of the Oppressed. It is a form of interactive theatre that enables people to identify the things they feel oppressed by and practise overcoming them in what Boal calls “a rehearsal for reality”. I decided to make that my craft for a while and set up my own business which I called Beyond the Mask (it is still the name of my one-man business).
Through my work with the Green Party and their youth arm, I discovered the world of international youth work. I went to some programmes organised by the Council of Europe, and soon ended up in their Training for Trainers. I spent some wonderful years travelling all over Europe designing and facilitating powerful learning experiences for young people around the themes of intercultural learning, ecology, empowerment, using the interactive theatre methods as one of my main tools.
It was during one of these events that I met someone who was to impact my life more than any other person. I was invited to be the Council of Europe’s trainer for a session run by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Marcella was on their team. By the end of the week we were hooked, and are still living together – three amazing boys later…
In that same period I threw myself into politics and was on the Executive Committee of the Green Party of England and Wales, as their International Coordinator. I helped to orchestrate the 1999 European election campaign in which we got two people elected to the European Parliament for the first time ever. Caroline Lucas has gone on to be the first ever Green Party member of Parliament in England and a well-loved voice for the movement.
However, after that intense trip, I was starting to feel a little uneasy with the green movement – mainly through the preaching of love and respect, but the lack of practice of it towards anyone who didn’t believe in the same things. A number of things then coincided – I wanted a change of scene, Marcella got a job in the Netherlands, and I discovered Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory. All change!
We moved to the Hague in 1999. Through my exposure to Integral Theory and getting serious about my own inner life, with a disciplined meditation practice, I realised that the one sector I didn’t understand well was the corporate world – and that they needed to be part of the solution somehow. I also felt that the methods I had learned as part of the international youth work could be used to great effect in organisational contexts. But I needed at least one partner to feel confident developing that work. And the universe provided – firstly with Arjen Bos, a Dutchman who I had met through the international youth work, and then secondly my brother Tim who came to live in the Netherlands. Together the three of us built Engage! InterAct.
Our purpose with Engage! was to create a container for us to make a living doing what we cared about. It started with the international youth work, but soon expanded out into consulting and training with organisations and businesses. We had a radical commitment to each other – that whatever profit we made as an organisation we would split three ways, as we recognised that our work was of equal value whether it was for a community, an NGO or a multinational corporation. We also committed strongly to our own learning, with a day’s retreat together per month and a longer annual retreat. Thermal baths were a favorite location… We pioneered in the early days of Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and the Art of Hosting. We also hosted a number of young people through the European Volunteer Scheme who participated in our experimentation and development.
One of our Engage! retreat venues
With Tatiana and Arjen as Engage!
Tim moved on and Tatiana Glad joined us from Canada – bringing a deep passion for sustainability and social entrepreneurship. We did major organisational development work in IBM and lead a learning journey for Shell executives to explore a more sustainable future – including inviting my friend and mentor Alastair McIntosh to challenge them to their core! The three of us grew together in our work with clients and our work on our own organisation. Around 2011-2012 we each found ourselves being called to a next level of work and leadership – Arjen to help develop and lead a social investment fund, Tatiana to establish the Impact Hub in Amsterdam, and me with Ubiquity University. We shifted the container of Engage! from being our shared business to being a learning space where we could have a trusted space to share our successes and challenges and support each other in our new leadership roles. We still meet monthly.
In around 2003, having followed all the Spiral Dynamics Integral trainings with Dr Don Beck, I invited him to the Netherlands, and we gave birth to the Center for Human Emergence (CHE). It was a call to people who were holding an integral perspective and wanted to explore with each other what it would mean to live and work from that perspective. We started with weekly salons, which still run every other week, and built a community of people committed to their own personal development combined with trying to make a positive difference in the world. In 2005 we put ourselves onto the Dutch stage with our Klaar om te Wenden event. Klaar om te Wenden is a sailing term in Dutch which means “Ready About”, preparing to change course. Herman Wijffels (“the best Prime Minister the Netherlands’ never had”), Dr Don Beck, Ervin Laszlo and myself addressed 900 people facing each other across two banks of seats about the state of the world and how we could make a difference. It was a huge success and a big moment for the CHE team. We also launched my Evolutionary Leadership book in Dutch at the event.
Speaking at Klaar om te Wenden
Some of my Center for Human Emergence friend and colleagues
The CHE was an amazing space to try out and learn what it meant to build an organisation from an integral perspective, combining deep inner work with experimental organisational design and development. We were the first organisation to bring holacracy to the Netherlands, as we sought a way to run ourselves that reflected the culture we wanted to develop. Seeing the possibilities for taking our experiences more into the world, we set up Synnervate (it means to interconnect and vitalise) as a training and consulting company, specialising in particular in the application of Spiral Dynamics Integral and Holacracy. Arjen Bos was a big help in getting that going before he went on to the social impact fund.
After seven years of leading the CHE, I was starting to get restless. I could feel a new phase emerging for me and knew I needed some time and space to give it attention. We had been exploring the world of energetics with the CHE, as we sought out “the simplicity the other side of complexity” that would help us create the conditions for solutions to humanity’s complex challenges to emerge. I had embarked on the four year vocational training with the Center for ECOintention, where I was learning how to work with information and energy fields of large-scale systems such as organisations and large areas of land. I really needed some time to think about what my experiences were telling me about the nature of reality, and so decided to embark on a PhD, as a way of giving myself the time that I needed to think and write.
I handed the CHE over to the team and focused on my learning about energetics. I signed up for my PhD with Wisdom University, and during the first couple of years the idea for Ubiquity started to emerge. Excited by the potential of creating a global online university that would provide transformational education to people worldwide, I joined the team. In my final year of the ECOintention training I took Wisdom University as one of my projects, and within the nine month envelope of that energy work, Wisdom University transformed into Ubiquity University, with a Wisdom School.
In my first years with Ubiquity I was really busy developing the concept, creating tests and trying things out, building iterations of the learning system that we wanted to take into the world. It was an exciting and challenging time. Having got the learning concept and practice in place, I moved on to looking at how we could create the technology for the competency-based learning that would completely personalise and modularise the student’s learning journey. Once more we tried a variety of technology solutions until what has now become the UbiVerse fell into our laps. We suddenly had a social platform for changemakers that could host people and organisations aligned with our mission to make a positive difference in the world while acknowledging the central role of our inner worlds in that process. Connected to that we created our beta test for the UbiPass – a ubiquitous competency passport mapped to global standards that would allow someone to build their skills over time and have them recognised anywhere in the world. It would seriously disrupt the current education system.
On tour with Ubiquity colleague Tanisha at AIESEC event in Tunisia
Through one of our Ubiquity events I got to meet the people who run Broughton Hall Estate – a beautiful 3,000 acre estate bordering on my favourite place in the world – the Yorkshire Dales. I knew I had a role to play there and when I visited I could feel how something powerful really wanted to happen. It was ideal for me – an amazing place committed to supporting transformational experiences for people and integrated sustainability. I ended up helping the team there to develop the concept and programming, as well as create an agile organisation.
Hosting an interactive session at Broughton
There are a great many synchronicities around Broughton. One of the most exciting is that we are partnering with Brenda Dunne who ran the 28 years of research at Princeton University on consciousness and how human intention impacts the world around us. We are setting up all the equipment from the Princeton lab at Broughton so that people can have a direct experience of how they are connected to the world around them. There are many more great projects brewing, so watch this space!
The Yorkshire Dales
Ultimately I believe that we can all do great things if we put our minds and hearts to it. Of course we will bump up against ourselves when we commit to it – but that’s the whole point. The trick is to be compassionate with ourselves, smile at our shortcomings, and just keep going, one step at a time to take our particular piece of the puzzle into the world. And remember we can never know how things are actually going to turn out. All we can do is to proceed until apprehended…
With my beloved Manchester United
With the family on a windy holiday in Ireland