Spike Lee has been talking about his new film BlacKkKlansman and told his interviewer Matt Frei from Channel 4 that to understand what’s going on around us politically and socially we should look at history.

He reminds us that ‘America First’ was first used as a rallying cry by the KKK in the 1920s.  And now its Number 45’s presidential strategy. (Lee calls him Agent Orange). Spike has a point.

Sometimes a grainy old text or reference can suddenly illuminate the crisp technicolour present. In the 1960s Herbert Marcuse was a hero of the young Liberal Left in the US. And the ‘grainy old text’ that throws some light for me on the current state of organisational health of so many of our institutions is ‘One Dimensional Man’, published in 1964.

While working with a quite (very) compliant culture recently, I was struck by how tricky everyone found it to generate new alternatives during a discussion about the future. Marcuse talks of a gap between two dimensions in which critical thought, and the possibilities of futures different from the present (the current system) can flourish. The dimensions are (roughly) ‘the system’ – and its opposite.

How can this opposite be expressed?

In culture and expression that is different, is counter to the orthodoxies of the system, delights in conflict, and can distinguish between real and false needs.  By the time we are all homogenised into wanting (not really needing) the same things through technology and convergent media, and accustomed to a magnolia ‘culture’ that is folded into one mainstream flattened accepted form, the gap has disappeared and we are lost.

Too comfortable, under the impression that we have free will, and in a fantasy position of congratulation about how tolerant we are, we become merely -one dimensional- and incapable of change.

Terrifying, isn’t it?

It’s an old book, Marcuse failed to see the social movements of the late 60s, and for lots of reasons it now feels dated. But in some ways how startlingly relevant.  Too comfortable and ‘tolerant’? It might just be time to wake up your ‘unhappy consciousness’.

One question only needed.
Is there enough of the ‘opposite’ in your organisation?


Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageA contrarian café today. The corners are light and bright. The window seats are dark. The espresso sparkles. The latte droops. Nothing is as it should be. Or is it?

A dark thought, then a laugh. A really dark thought. Addiction.

To the jolly, convivial, comforting familiar, enabling, ritual of coffee and its amazing power to shrug off the guilt and remorse that cling to other lovely consumables.

As substance abuse side effects go, insomnia is an interesting cookie to crumble.

Insomnia image - Penny Hunt's blog on the surprising benefits of loosing sleep

Let me convert you. Let me suggest that taking
an opposite view, just for fun, will yield something of value. Let me suggest that what seems bad may be good.

In the spirit of things not being as they seem: is a night’s sleep of an uninterrupted 8 hours absolutely the best and only sleep pattern for us? The World Service reported a while back on the loss (I heard the programme during the night of course) of a ‘two sleeps’ pattern that had been common until the late 17th century. Imagine. No panic. Permission not to agonise. Just wake up after 3 or 4 hours, have a potter about, write a bit of a diary, chat to the family and then back for another little sleep.


Or in today’s world, send those texts that were bothering you, find that address you were looking for, watch that bit of The Bridge you missed and then just shimmy back to bed. It’s all here for you:

So many possibilities when a familiar truth is reframed: just by embracing an opposite viewpoint, just by letting a dark thing be a light thing.

An undreamed of benefit of staying awake in the middle of the night- this between sleeps time- is the changed quality of experience. It is not just the pleasure of the radio, but its heightened weirdness as the brain chunters A 1950s radio - Penny Hunt and the pleasure of late night listeningalong on over-drive. Insomnia delivers a Through the Looking Glass vividness to sound in the middle of the night.

I’ll share an example of an unexpected gift. This nighttime joke changed the following day beautifully. It encouraged me do the precise opposite of what was expected, to swap goods and bads, to zig not zag, and be in a generally contrarian place the whole jolly day. It was wonderful, productive and a great creativity boost.

Radio 4 Extra was whispering that night: Lord Peter Wimsy, Wilkie Collins, Mark Gatiss all danced through the small hours.

And then – a familiar voice.

Eric Morecombe?

Was it a trailer? What was happening? An unfamiliar sketch was rumbling along. Eric was apparently pretending, as he impressed another character, to belong to a local church.

The lie got bigger. Perhaps he was actually … the Vicar?

Then a challenge:

“But I don’t recall seeing you there on Sundays”

And our lovely Eric made the heroically contrarian response-

“ Oh, I tend to go on Saturdays: fewer people”.

And if that isn’t a little light coming out of some darkness and worth a sleepless night or two, I don’t know what is.

Light from Dark -  Penny hunt's blog