Everyone can dance says Ashley Banjo

IMG_5905This post was originally written as a ‘live blog postcard from the beach’ in my role as beach writer at The Purple Beach Experience 2015.

Only 26 years old, Ashley Banjo has already achieved more than he could have dreamed of, but something tells you that this intelligent, thoughtful and modest young man has a very long way to go. With his positive outlook and disciplined approach to life, he gives the impression that he can achieve any goal that he sets himself.

Before his dance troupe Diversity discovered fame on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, Ashley was already taking responsibility for others. When the Executive Producer asked them to go on the show, Ashley felt the weight of trust from the boys in the group and that his job as a leader was “to steer them in the right direction”. Ashley didn’t expect to win, but simply wanted the group to be “the best we could be”. The rest is popular TV history, with Diversity beating that year’s other phenomenal act, Susan Boyle, (who had already made it onto ‘The Simpsons’!) to win the competition

The group’s first reaction was disbelief – you could see it in their faces. As they later faced a frenzied media conference of 300 people, they realised that “life was about to change forever, and they had to choose whether to embrace it or be destroyed by it.”

Coming to terms with their achievement, Ashley has since reflected that “the public are much cleverer than people give them credit for in voting shows: we were real and public responded to that.”

So how has Diversity become such a highly innovative dance troupe? “I don’t believe concepts are just from me, we still train together 6 hours a day… we store information, like bits of a puzzle in the air – someone learned a new flip, seeing something in a movie e.g. the ‘slow motion dodge’ in ‘The Matrix’. Then we put things together because everyone unites.”

Ashley tends to be at the front of the group’s creativity and knows what everyone in the group is physically capable of, but he describes Diversity as “one big think tank”: “ no matter how many ideas I come up with, the relationship with the group is the key to our creativity, I bring an idea to the table, everyone brings their experience to bring the idea to fruition” Ashley’s mantra is “be open, be honest, take on everyone’s opinion.”

The idea for ‘Secret Street Crew’ came about when Ashley told a TV producer about his belief that ‘anyone can dance’ and to give him a TV series to prove it. The idea of the show is to get people to form a street crew in secret and perform at an event, one of the best examples being a wheelchair basketball team – “Of course they can dance if they want to!”

In describing his coaching method, Ashley says he does not teach, but “gives people the ability to believe in themselves that they can do it, to harness what they have already got.” The show is all about breaking down people’s perceptions of what they think they are capable of and where they belong. “Its about me unlocking someone’s mind a bit – giving someone the confidence to believe in themselves. Breaking down barriers in people’s minds about what they actually can do – its about self belief.”

Ashley sees dance as a “further level of communication”. While describing himself as a very controlled direct person, when he dances, he believes “anything is possible.”

Although not the original leader of Diversity, he naturally became the leader due to his increasing interest in dance and choreography, based on his ambition “to be the best he can be”. As a result, his group members “started to look to me for the answers.”

Ashley also discovered financial responsibility early. At the age of 14, his mother, who ran a dance studio, damaged her knee, which meant that Ashley’s life from that point, including his choice of University (he studied Natural Sciences at UCL) revolved around the need to get home to teach the 5pm dance class.

His biggest challenges in recent years have been to maintain the trust and respect of the group, understanding that this means sometimes having to keep his distance from his best friends to “preserve trust in the interests of the bigger picture.” This gets harder as inevitably team members get older, get married have kids and have their own responsibilities. For Ashley, success is based in legacy; for people in twenty years time to know what they have done.

Commenting on his experience as a judge on “Got to Dance”, Ashley explains how he encourages people to see their so-called ‘failures’ as “steps on the root to success.”

By his own admission, Ashley is intensely critical of his own team’s performance and group members are surprised if he has no critical comments after a routine. He motivates himself by “watching mistakes over and over again”, shuddering to recall when dancer Perry fell on his head in front of the Prime Minister, but got up the next day and did the same performance perfectly.

So what does the future hold? Ashley’s view is pragmatic, to “react to what happens”. Diversity still has “whole new countries to explore” and that is very exciting.

Ashley’s overall philosophy is that “so long as each step is in right direction, we don’t have to look at the final destination… if someone had told me at 15 what I was going to achieve I would have said no way, never in a million years. It’s not about blind belief, but knowing you can achieve something if you want it.”

– See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2015Postcards/viewBlog/8/Everyone-can-dance-says-Ashley-Banjo#sthash.YxbUlKgi.dpuf

Revealing mathematical my5teries with Marcus du Sautoy

This post first appeared as a postcard in my role as beach writer at PurpleBeach.com

Maths is a ‘Marmite’ subject, you either love it or hate it, says Marcus du Sautoy who is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, as well as being a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and an author.

Marcus began with some questions to the audience: What is Maths? Is it a language? An art form? A secret code? And what does a mathematician do, other than (as many people think) long division sums to lots of decimal places? According to Marcus, mathematicians search for patterns to help predict the future. For example, can you predict the next number in this sequence: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55…. This is the famous Fibonacci sequence, and did you know that the number of petals on a flower Is always a number on this sequence?

Marcus also introduced us to the mysteries of triangular numbers, circle division numbers, even lottery numbers. But his favourite of all are prime numbers, because they are the atoms of arithmetic, used to build all other numbers.

Prime numbers appear in nature, for example the life cycle of the Magicicada septendecin, a very noisy North American insect that hides underground for 17 years, emerges for a six week party, lays its eggs then goes quiet again for another 17 years. Why does it do that? Did prime numbers help these cicadas outfox a predator?

Marcus ended by talking about chaos theory and how in some systems there are thresholds where patterns go from predictable to chaotic. Weather forecasting is a good example of this. With their incredibly complex mathematical models, meteorologists can’t reliably predict more than 5 days in advance. Yet there is no doubt that simply knowing whether you are in a predictable or unpredictable region of your business is very powerful to help you understand the future.

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2014Postcards/viewBlog/7/Revealing-mathematical-my5teries-with-Marcus-du-Sautoy#sthash.DE6QDd0f.dpuf

Are you a psychopath? asks Kevin Dutton

This post first appeared as a postcard in my role as beach writer at PurpleBeach.com

Psychopaths get a bad rap in the popular media, but really, they’re not all bad, says Kevin Dutton, research psychologist at Oxford University and author of “The wisdom of psychopaths – Lessons in Life from Saints, Spies and Serial killers.”

While pure psychopaths with an uncontrolled violent streak are invariably ‘toxic’, for others who are somewhere on the psychopathic spectrum, it’s about achieving control by tuning the dials on the mixing desk to the right level to be successful. In other words, it’s OK to display some psychopathic characteristics in the right context.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that CEOs often score highly for psychopathic traits, such as charm, persuasiveness, confidence, fearlessness, ruthlessness. Similarly, micro-surgeons need the ability to ‘switch off’ their empathy, so they are not thinking about the patient on the operating table as someone’s spouse or child, to help them make cold, clinical decisions. In general, people who score highly on the psychopathic index are often better able to make rational decisions when faced with moral dilemmas; too much empathy can result in procrastination.

Kevin described how an insight from research into 1970s serial killer, Ted Bundy, led psychologists to discover that people who scored highly on the psychopathic index were sometimes better at analysing people’s behaviour, for example detecting people who were smuggling goods through airport security. Kevin says this is due to the psychopath’s skill as a ‘social predator’ in studying people’s body language to see whether they are having an effect. They are matched only by Buddhist monks who can achieve similar ability through years of meditation and self awareness.

Having psychopathic traits can also help people become more creative, through being more comfortable with rule breaking. One way of looking at cheats is that they are also natural creatives!

To find out how you score on the psychopathic index, you can take the test at www.kevindutton.co.uk

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2014Postcards/viewBlog/8/Are-you-a-psychopath?-asks-Kevin-Dutton#sthash.0n12eKJ1.dpuf


What can we learn from pirates about being more creative?

This post first appeared as a postcard in my role as beach writer at PurpleBeach.com

What can we learn from the golden age of piracy? That was the question posed by Kyra Maya Phillips, co-author of ‘The Misfit Economy’. Sadly, Kyra began by debunking the myth that pirates spent their time making people walk the plank in shark infested seas, had peg legs and said things like, ‘Aye,Aye me hearties’. Instead, pirates were early adopters of hierarchy-free enterprise. All crew members received an equal share in the booty, except for the Captain who rarely got more than a double share. Compare that to modern CEOs!

The quartermaster, responsible for dividing the booty,was also the main recruiting officer. According to Kyra, many merchant sailors who had been press ganged into joining the navy, hoped to be raided by pirates as their only chance to escape the tyranny of their own ship captains. No wonder the punishment for piracy was death by hanging!

Despite pirate crew members’ reputation for being ‘mad, drunk and illiterate’, they were still able to pioneer democratic models of working, based on shared values and common purpose. There is also evidence of early pirate social protection schemes involving compensation for injuries and payments made to their widows.

While not condoning the illegal activities of pirates, or their modern day equivalents (hackers, counterfeiters,etc.) Kyra suggests there is much we can learn from how they organised themselves, giving the example of small gaming companies with ‘no management’ philosophies, who encourage team members to collaborate and innovate spontaneously. It may not work for large organisations, but if you want to make your team more creative, think how they can be a little more swashbuckling!

See more at: http://www.purplebeach.com/pBexp2014Postcards/viewBlog/3/What-can-we-learn-from-pirates-about-being-more-creative?#sthash.EhG0fLK7.dpuf