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Hello World!

Posted by Simon on April 1, 2014

Now, that wasn’t so difficult was it, Simon?

Get those thoughts out of your head by writing a few words, think up a catchy title, and there you have it: A blog post!

Now don’t go waiting an entire year for the next one, eh?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

From the Guardian: Jason Russell: Kony2012 and the fight for truth

Posted by Simon on March 3, 2013

So much to discuss and learn from this article, but this quote sums up the dilemmas of social media:

“The democratisation of information is both liberating and beautiful and also totally horrifying because it can be built on lies and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. … It wasn’t that there was a plurality of stories out there. There was a multiverse of stories out there. There were so many stories, so many rumours, so many repeated untruths, so many unchecked facts and retweeted opinions, and half-baked half-lies, that the story, let alone the truth, never had a chance. In the brave new world of viral media, and socially mediated information, authoritative news sources are just another voice fighting to be heard.

http://m.guardiannews.com/world/2013/mar/03/jason-russell-kony-2012-interview

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Circle of Tears

Posted by Simon on November 4, 2012

Tears had already been shed on this beautiful Sunday morning, when sharing in the grief of losing our neighbor, Mary, 89, who had passed away in the early hours.

So we weren’t exactly far from more tears most of the day as the time drew near to take our friends and neighbors, K~ and A~, to the airport.

At the terminal we hugged and cried and expressed our love for each other once more, and said goodbye.

Sitting there at the bar, contemplating, my tears fell again.

Then I noticed our daughter M~, 5, looking at me. I don’t think she’d ever see me cry before. And I don’t think I’d ever seen such a heartbreaking look of sadness on her face as she felt my sadness.

So there we went, in this circle of tears, and the most comforting embrace you could possibly imagine.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Encounter, Time and Place. Neighbors become friends.

Posted by Simon on November 2, 2012

Our neighbors are leaving.

A~ and K~, and their children, T~ and L~, are moving to North Africa.

We love them and we’re desperately sad they’re going.

Movie nights; pasta-making nights; sharing tools; shopping favors; book-lending; baby-sitting swaps; recipe-swaps; music-swaps; car-lending; taking both sets of children to the playground; doing multi-family yard sales together; kids’ sleep-overs; kids trashing each other’s places; sharing stresses of work or lack of work; easter egg hunts from the age the kids could only just walk; singing Happy Birthday in English, French and Spanish; A~ jabbing our daughter with an epipen to save her from an anaphylactic reaction to nuts; meals on their back deck; bbqs in our back yard; chats on their stoop; chats on our stoop; chats while snow-shoveling; chat’s beside storm-blown trees; chats beside fire/police/ambulance visits; chats about God, science, history, the future, family life, everything; sharing in grief of losing my dad; K~ sharing story of losing his dad; welcoming each other’s visiting parents, relatives and friends; keeping M~ partying to 4am on New Year’s Day; learning California Stars on the guitar. And so much more.

That’s the both the substance and the fruit of the friendship that’s grown over the years. Friendships are emergent. You can’t decide ahead of time who is going to be your close buddy. You’ll totally freak people out if you do. And not every person needs to become a ‘friend’. There is plenty satisfaction and reward in a simple, cordial relationship. But we’ve had the enormous pleasure of real friendship grow over the years.

It’s not that complicated. Friendship or just good relationship can emerge from simply being around – a combination of encounter (face to face meeting), time (frequency and continuity) and place (meeting in different contexts). That’s all we had really, none of us set out to make friends of each other. But encounter, time and place were the foundation upon which reciprocity, a bit of risk taking, reasonable boundaries, shared and divergent interests bore fruit in a deep affection for one another.

Along with our other amazing neighbors, they’ve given us such a sense of belonging to somewhere, of mattering to someone. It’s been so rich, and so unspeakably fulfilling, to live life on this street with A~, K~, T~ and L~.

God bless you, friends.

Posted in Continuity, Directness, Multiplexity, RelationalProximity, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Two talks this Thursday March 1st, Boston – Taking Relationships Seriously

Posted by Simon on February 28, 2012

Those of you who have read this blog over time know that relationships are  a recurrent theme; call it an obsession. There are two talks at an event I’ve arranged this Thursday March 1st. The first at noon is on “Relational Thinking”, by Michael Schluter, who has pioneered not just Relational Thinking but relational practice, for 30+ years. The second, at 1pm, is from Jonathan Rushworth, from their report “Tranforming Capitalism from Within: A Relational Approach to the Purpose, Performance and Assessment of Companies”.

If you’re in Boston on Thursday please come along!  -Tweet me at @sifowler  if you think you might come. Details below.

Taking Relationships Seriously

Lunchtime brown-bag presentations and Q&A with Michael Schluter and Jonathan Rushworth

Thursday March 1st

Park Street Church, Boston (entrance on Park Street)

12:00-12:45 An Introduction to Relational Thinking

12:45-1pm Coffee & Mingle!

1:00-2pm A Relational Business Charter

 

Relational Thinking: Personal and social wellbeing depends upon the quality of relationships within families and communities, and within and between organizations.  This presentation and Q&A will introduce you to Relational Thinking; an approach to society’s challenges that places relationships – not individual rights and freedoms or material wealth – at the center of our decision-making, purposes and actions.

You’ll hear how thinking relationally can lead to innovative and practical solutions to these challenges. For over 30 years Michael Schluter has taken the relational heart of “love your neighbor as yourself” and applied it to domains as diverse as conflict resolution in Sudan, Sunday trading in the UK, organizational stakeholder assessments in South Africa, the impact of work-life balance on family breakdown in Australia, philanthropic investment vehicles in the UK, and more.

Relational Business Charter: Since the financial collapse of 2008, there has been much economic and political hand-wringing about what is to be done to address systemic economic instability. The typical solutions are through regulatory or tax responses.  In this presentation and Q&A, Jonathan Rushworth will argue that these problems can be addressed if companies put relationships with stakeholders at the heart of their operations.  The presentation summarizes their recent report: “Transforming Capitalism from Within: a Relational Approach to the Purpose, Performance, and Assessment of Companies.”

I welcome you to join either or both of these presentations and encourage you to come at 11:45 or 12:45 to mingle with each other and meet Jonathan and Michael.

Please RSVP to me, Simon Fowler (simon.fowler@virgin.net). I encourage you to pass the invitation to others you think may be interested and ask also that they RSVP to me.  If you are unable to attend but are interested to know more about Relational Thinking please also contact me!

Jonathan Rushworth was a partner with a major City of London law firm for 26 years, specializing in company and finance law. He retired from practice in 2007 and is Chairman of Relationships Global.

Dr Michael Schluter CBE is an economist, author, and social entrepreneur. He worked as an economist with the World Bank and a Research Fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute. He founded the Jubilee Centre, Relationships Foundation and Concordis International. He is now Chief Executive of Relationships Global.

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Snapshot of American Relational Life

Posted by Simon on February 9, 2012

While considering Americas relational life recently I pulled together the following facts. I wonder what you make of them? If you see a problem, what do you think the essence of the problem is?

Note: of course it’s easy to cherry pick facts or extract them from context to make a point. And I always have questions about research methods and controls and correlation/causation confusion. But on the face of it, the situation looks pretty grim.

Americans have too few relationships About one in four Americans has no one with whom to talk about weighty matters, and nearly half of the population is one close friend or family member away from being socially isolated. (National Conference on Citizenship www.ncoc.net/290)

Americans have too many relationships The average American has 634 ties in their overall network, and technology users have bigger networks. www.pewinternet.org/reports/2011/technology-and-social-networks.aspx

Note: in case you wondered if there’s a limit consider “Dunbar’s Number”: according to Robin Dunbar, the size of our neocortex — the part of the brain used for conscious thought and language — limits us to managing social circles of around 150 friends no matter how sociable we are. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/mar/14/my-bright-idea-robin-dunbar)

Lenders and borrowers are further apart:

  • geographical distance: local lending institutions no longer make a significant proportion of the loans that are originated.
  • transactional distance: there little direct contact; instead intermediaries such as mortgage brokers, appraisers, insurers, and closing officers, separate the principals.
  • financial distance: many borrowers have no equity (or negative equity) in their homes, and due to the securitization of loans through the secondary mortgage market, few originating lenders retain a stake in the loans they create.

From “The Structural Causes of Mortgage Fraud” James Charles Smith, University of Georgia Law School http://www.scribd.com/doc/35886545/The-Structural-Causes-of-Mortgage-Fraud.

More Americans are incarcerated
Adult Correction Populations
Bureau of Justice Statistics http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/corr2.cfm

Americans are having fewer encounters (over last quarter of 20th Century)

  • 58% drop attending club meetings
  • 43% drop family dinners
  • 35% drop having friends over
  • 10% more people bowling, but 40% fewer bowling leagues
  • http://bowlingalone.com/

Couples are committing to each other less, and staying committed less.

  • Since 1970 the number of Americans living together outside of marriage has increased more than 1,000 percent, with such couples now making up about 10% of all couples” (NMP Cohabitation Report 2008)
  • 20% of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced, about 50% of couples who married in 1970 did. (NMP, “Evolution of Divorce” Wilcox 2009)
  • Cohabiting couples have a significantly higher dissolution rate than married couples. One recent study found that “children born to cohabiting versus married parents have over five times the risk of experiencing their parents’ separation.” (NMP Cohabitation Report 2008)

Posted in American Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Zack McLeod meets Tim Tebow on Saturday at the playoffs!

Posted by Simon on January 13, 2012

I wept while reading again the diary, photos and videos about Zack McLeod, whom I’m privileged to know at church.

Three or so years ago Zack suffered a traumatic brain injury on a high-school football field. He’s still recovering but his speech hasn’t returned and he suffered damage to his cognitive and physical abilities; but he still has an unquenchable joy and love of Jesus Christ and other people.

You’ll have to take my word for it that Zack and his mom and dad are the most incredible, courageous, joyful, faith-filled people I’ve ever met. I don’t know the other siblings but I’m guessing they’re made of the same stuff. They’ve suffered in ways I can’t imagine, yet their faith in Christ and their love for others (the two most important markers of Christians: faith expressing itself in love) is humbling and challenging to experience.

Zack has always been a die-hard Denver Broncos fan. He later adopted the Patriots. So I’m guessing tomorrow may be a conflicting day for him! But he’ll be more excited to have been chosen by Tim Tebow’s W15H Foundation to meet Tebow before and after the playoffs on Saturday. We’re praying that it’ll be a great gift for Zack and joy for Zack and his family and friends.

Theological side note:

When Tebow thanks God for his abilities, he’s just doing what all of us – believers or non-believers – should do; be grateful for the gifts, dispositions and opportunities we’ve been given. You don’t believe he’s actually thinking God will intervene in the fourth quarter, or that God will trip the opposition to let him through, do you? I suspect Tebow would find that highly annoying! Going through all that agony and pressure only to have someone else do the final push and get the credit?!

Everyone knows – except 42% of Americans!that a game outcome a) is not God’s primary concern, and b) is impossible to validate/deny as God’s doing. Thanking God, “giving him the glory” is not saying “it’s not me, God did it”. That’s not the kind of ‘credit’ one gives God. If it is, what’s the point of me? Tebow, or Brady, really are throwing that pass, and throwing it that well! It’s them, praise them! But not as though they’re God. Praise God for being God. He is the ultimate source, giver, lover, of all, and so he rightly receives the thanks and praise.

But God almost exclusively works through people, through his creation. God’s glory is shown, not in the gaps, not in the things-we-can’t-otherwise-explain, but through his creation doing what it does best and rightly; flowers flowering, seas roaring or lapping, creatures emerging, and humans doing what they can with what they have, with love*, faith and gratitude. The God of Jesus Christ also shows his glory, in an asymmetrical way, through suffering and death, and ultimately resurrection. That’s the uniqueness of Christianity, the way life is, and the way life seems to play out for most of us, including Zack McLeod.

If God has any impact on Tebow’s game it’ll be because his trust in God gives him courage. He knows that life is more than a performance or one game. That’s Tebow’s story, so it seems, from what I’ve read about him. And it’s Zack’s story. Let’s enjoy the game and give thanks and praise for what and to whom it is due.

Hmmm, that was a bit long for a side note.

Updates (some videos):
ABC News

CNN Interview

CBS Denver

*Yes, I know, American football doesn’t exactly look like an expression of love, but that’s for another time!

Posted in Faith | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

One week with zero inbox. How I did it.

Posted by Simon on January 9, 2012

No, srsly! A whole four days of work with the same working people I work with all the time at work working! And my inbox, when I left every night, was at zero! This meant I was not hammered by the worry that comes from not quite knowing which of the 300 emails actually needs an action.

How? A bit of Getting Things Done mindset, “One touch”, and some tools into which to put tasks, information and files.

“One touch”: I read it once, then I do one of the following immediately, then I delete it or file:

  • If it’s part of a chain I delete every prior email in that chain immediately (I don’t know why I ever kept them).
  • If it looks like it requires a reply that day, or I think I can reply that day, I hit ‘reply’, then delete/file, even if I don’t have the answer or information immediately. The open email is then a visible task and I don’t have to go looking for that email I knew I had to reply to.
  • If it requires an action, or can be replied to on a later date, I create a task in Toodledo (giving it a due date, priority, status, project), or I create a calendar entry, then I delete/file.
  • If it contains information I copy the information into evernote and/or (if it’s a web link) into diigo, then delete or file.
  • If it has attachments, I download to desktop and/or dropbox, then delete or detach then file (because of absurdly low limits on corporate Exchange mailbox size).

I have a Dell laptop, an iPad 2 and a Galaxy Nexus (android) and the tools mentioned above allow me to  take those actions on any device: on my laptop when I’m at my desk, on the iPad when I’m in the office but away from my desk (the laptop isn’t very quick or reliable to make ‘mobile’ when it’s in a docking station),  or on my phone when I’m commuting.

A few other notes/tips:

I use Toodledo over Outlook tasks because of all the mobile accessibility, because it’s more geared towards the Getting Things Done methodology, and because its flexibility is easier to work with than Outlook (creating custom fields was okay if you only needed it on your computer).

I use the same naming conventions for my Evernote notebooks as I do for Toodledo folders, which makes it easier to know where things are, although text search on both Evernote and Tooledo are super fast so i rarely need to go searching via folder names.

The tools all have excellent web-based interfaces or apps on Windows, iPad and Android. Most are their own apps but for Toodledo “DGT GTD” (by @gdtale) looks the best ever since GotToDo went off the market.

I tag and label like crazy in Evernote and Toodledo. Though it takes a few extra clicks and a bit more typing (than simply leaving the  email there!) it’s totally worth it for sake of the confidence of knowing what I need to do or where to find stuff.

I hope this is helpful and I welcome questions or suggestions for improving the system. Here’s hoping I can make it two weeks!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention what I did to reduce the number of emails coming in. In one instance I managed to convince Person A to use Google Docs instead of a round-robin email to gather input they wanted from 5 other people. Excepting the emails I sent & received to make this happen I reckon this saved at least 15 emails, at least two from each plus who knows how any chasers.

More importantly it removed a ton of mental load:

  • wondering if or when Persons B-F would respond
  • wondering if they were looking at the latest version
  • having to mess with ugly fw:fw:re: email formatting
  • trying to remember who they were supposed to send it to next
  • wondering if the next Person was getting all antsy waiting for you
  • where the ‘final’ version with everyone’s input and wondering when or who to ask for it

Person A sent an email to Persons B-F (i.e. total 6 people)

Posted in Productivity | 4 Comments »

Want to change the world? Start right where you are.

Posted by Simon on January 6, 2012

In 1990, at the age of 23, I set out on a trip around the world. I was planning on a leisurely ‘sight-seeing’ journey. But God rudely interrupted my life, and as my heart started to change my hike along the Inca trail in Peru was replaced by an uncomfortable two months in a children’s home in El Salvador. The civil war was still raging. Some time later I found myself working with Burmese students and guerrillas in Bangkok, Thailand and at Manerplaw on the Thai/Burma border.

My cosy upbringing and my rose-tinted view of the world (and of myself) was shattered by that year. For the next two or three years, back in the UK at college (I was what is hilariously known as a ‘mature’ student), I wrestled with what to do about it. I didn’t have the benefit of ignorance, and the reality, extent and complexity of the vast problems in the world were too big for me, emotionally and practically. I’d lived with abandoned, abused children. I’d seen people moments after they’d been shot dead. I’d talked to people who’d witnessed or experienced horrendous injustices.  I’d corrected the English of Burmese students writing stories of how “the villager’s legs was were  blown off”. I’d met the Prime Minister-in-exile of Burma, seeing him try to establish a government  in the malaria-ridden jungle on the Thai/Burma border while most of his NLD party members were in prison near Rangoon, Burma. What was I, this one little person, supposed to do with that knowledge?

By the grace of God (for my sanity, and for doable next steps) I came to the conclusion that the minimum I must do is act justly, and seek justice, where I am, in my immediate sphere of influence. If I’m not treating people around me with justice, then what kind of hypocrisy is it to campaign for justice elsewhere? And by people I mean family, friends, business owners, musicians, artists; everyone.

This is isn’t a matter of order – it’s not to say one must fix ones own back yard first – but a matter of integrity.

The closer we get to people, the harder it is to act unjustly, or the more the injustice is exposed for what it is. But if we want to change the world, we have to start where we are. I hope, I pray, that at the very least that’s what I’m doing.

For a story of how a mega-church did that in a declining neighborhood of Indianapolis, read “Before ‘Transforming’ Your Neighborhood, Talk to your neighbors“.

Posted in Directness, RelationalProximity | 3 Comments »

2012: Make more stuff. Watch less. Read less. Do.

Posted by Simon on January 3, 2012

The full text of  Scott Hanselman’s productivity tip is:

Spend 10% of your time consuming and 90% of your time producing. Make more stuff. Watch less. Read less*. Do.

That’s how I want to to live & work in 2012.

This won’t be easy for me. I have ingrained habits of information consumption. And there’s barely a topic in all of reality that doesn’t interest me, so focus is a … oooh! what’s that?!.

But “there’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Eccl. 3:1-8). And I’m made in the image of my Creator – and so are you. So I believe, for me, now is the time to build, the time to speak, the time to create, the time to do.

Posted in Productivity | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

 
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