Manfred Max Neef
Manfred Max Neef‘s work, the Chilean Ecological Economist, has probably been the biggest inspiration to me over the years. I went to a talk by him in 1989 that literally changed the direction of my life. He talked about the disconnect between the dominant language of our times – Economics – and the issues we faced which are Ecological and Social. It is from him that I have learnt to dream of a better future as well as so much more. I had the privilege of working with him in the early 1990s and am still in contact with him. Manfred’s work on human needs has been particularly influential on much of my work with nef, especially the Five Ways to Well-being and National Accounts of Well-being. I sincerely believe that he is an under-recognised genius of our times. Thanks, Manfred.
Stafford Beer was a pioneering but practical systems theory thinker. He was an exceptionally interesting character and is perhaps best known for his role with the Allende government in Chile that was ousted by the US-backed coup that instilled General Pinochet as President. He worked in a field of study called that was then called ‘cybernetics’ and wrote several books including Brain of the Firm, Platform for Change and Heart of the Enterprise. Cybernetics is really the study of control; not control as in oppression, but control as in self-regulation. It is from Beer that I have become fascinated in thinking of indicators as systemic feedback loops that allows a system, whether it be an individual, an organisation or the whole of society, to positively adapt to changes in the external environment. This has inspired both the Happy Planet Index and my work on Well-being@Work. There are two nice recent books on his life and works – one a memoir and the other a retrospective with a great title “Think before you think”.
Psychosynthesis was a system of psychotherapeutic inquiry developed by an Italian Psychologist Roberto Assagoili. He was a peer of Jung and Freud though his approach was based more around releasing potential than simply alleviating distress. In the early 1990s I did a three year training at the London based Psychosynthesis and Education Trust which has been very influential on my later thinking. Probably the biggest insight I take forward is the idea that at the centre of every problem is a good quality seeking to emerge. So to overcome conflicts (whether within ourselves or inter-personal) one can always try to identify the core good quality on both sides of the conflict. I have found this a great way of finding compassion for people with views that I disagree with!
Martin Luther King
I have always been inspired by MLK’s speeches – I have had a book of them for several years but it was only when I started to research for my TED talk that I heard his voice and saw video clips of him. His slow delivery – with repeated phases – I still find spine tingling today. He certainly gave me courage to slow down my delivery for my TED talk – a classic example perhaps of less is more. I also read the biography about him – Let the Trumpet Sound by Stephen B Oates – an extraordinary life in challenging times. His commitment to non-violence is central to his power I believe. An amazing man.
Positive Psychology is a growing field within empirical psychology that seeks to redress the bias within psychology to focus on distress. All the pioneers of this endeavour have influenced my work: Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and especially Ed Diener. Ed I think is a hero of the movement as he took great risks with his academic career by stubbornly researching Happiness when it was unfashionable and probably detrimental to his progress through the hierarchy of academia. He is also one of the most supportive and decent men you will ever meet.
Recent research by Barbara Frederickson and her experimental lab into the role of positive emotions from an evolutionary perspective is fascinating and starts to lay out a strong empirical basis to the importance role well-being can play in creating a better future. She has a good accessible book called Positivity and is currently working on follow up which will explore the psychology of love.
There are many people within the environmental movement that I have learnt a lot from over the years. None more so that someone I feel I have almost grown up with he has been a friend for so long – Tim Jackson. Tim has recently written a book which I think should become the ‘small is beautiful’ of our generation – Prosperity without Growth. We worked together on creating the UK’s first indicator which sought to challenge GDP as the dominant measure of progress – the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) – known in the USA as the GPI (Genuine Progress Index) and developed by the former World Bank economist Herman Daly.
Other people I would like to thank include of course my family. My mum was a counsellor and introduced to the field of psychology really. My father was a business man and ran a large organisation for many years; he once gave me the advice to be brave enough to employ people brighter than myself! Speaking of which, all the past and present members of the centre for well-being at nef have shaped this collective work with me. So thanks Sanjiv Lingayah, Hetan Shah, James Whiting, Nicola Steuer, Saamah Abdallah, Sam Thompson, Juliet Michaelson, Jody Aked, Susan Lee, Charles Seaford, Sorcha Mahoney and Laura Stoll.
I hope that our work at nef can inspire a whole a generation of thinkers and doers, in addressing the very real challenges we face to create a Great Transition to a World We All Want where Good Lives don’t Cost the Earth.