Author: Oli Barrett

THN… (The Honours Network)

THN… (The Honours Network)

Here’s an idea which I’ve been pondering over the past ten years. I return to it from time to time, more convinced than ever that it remains a huge opportunity to unlock social impact.

Before I begin, I had better put on record my belief that it would be an entirely positive idea to change the name of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to The Order of British Excellence.

Now I’ve got that (provocative) idea out of the way, here’s the main point…

It seems strange to me that there isn’t (yet) an Honours Network in the UK.

Put simply, I see an opportunity to connect the recipients of Honours, across the UK (at all levels, including CBE, OBE, MBE), for the ongoing benefit of the country.

Firstly, I think that by making these connections, the UK could become a better place. Imagine those new conversations, opportunities and ideas. People from across industries and backgrounds, all of whom have been recognised for making a difference. 

My hunch is that you’d do this locally, by town or by region. I live in South Oxfordshire, so that would be my local network. Through it, I would be able to meet and connect with a wide range of socially motivated people.

What is the point?
For some, it would be a chance to meet new people, however the aim is higher than that. This would be a chance to solve problems together, to share ideas, to rally behind causes. 

This is a big one. My guess is that nationally, you’d need a co-ordinator, however this network would thrive if it was devolved. A regional co-ordinator (a volunteer) would help to convene events, perhaps maintain a noticeboard of local opportunities. 

In practice, you could be invited to join after your Honour had been announced. The messaging would be completely un self-congratulatory or smug. The chance to join a wider group across the UK. To continue to serve. As a member, you would be invited to local or national gatherings, and invited to share things happening, which could be shared with the wider network. I believe that a good proportion of recipients would accept such an invitation. 

I shared the idea with a number of trusted colleagues (all of whom have received honours). Here are few reactions;

“This is a brilliant idea. The diversity of this could be amazing.”

“It’s crazy that we get given these things and meet other amazing people then… that’s it. No more follow up.”

“Not sure why it doesn’t exist already and was one of the disappointments when we got ours that there was no more to it.”

We have a system which, like it or not, goes about highlighting people who make a difference in their communities. Not to connect these people with each other seems like a waste. So I’m proposing THN (“then”), The Honours Network. You may think of it as a club or a group. Joining would be optional. Of course there would be personal benefits (hopefully enjoyment) in joining, however the overall idea is that Britain will become an even better place if we can connect people from all walks of life, who have already proved, in some way, that they want to make a difference.¬†


1) What do you think? 

2) Who might be up for helping to get this going?

3) Who would make a brilliant partner organisation?

4) Do you know anyone in a position of influence who might look favourably upon this and champion its development.

Let me know!

The Edge of Events

The Edge of Events

Pondering the future of events, physical and virtual, I think it’s worth considering what makes each of those two truly great.

If we think deeply about that, we’ll find their “edge”, and by doubling down on THAT, we’ll deliver outstanding experiences.

Yes, some things can be achieved by either physical OR virtual. But for certain goals, one may have a stronger “edge”.

Here are some questions I think are worth asking;

1) How do we create the conditions for two people to bond?

2) How do we make a group feel more united?

3) How do we create the conditions for happy coincidences to flourish?

4) How to we best include the diverse voices we need to hear?

5) How do we best make everyone feel comfortable to bring their whole self to the gathering?

6) How do we best increase the love a person has for our organisation?

7) How do we positively shift how a person feels about themselves?

8) How do we maximise the desire of a guest to want to work with us?

9) How do we tap expertise from every industry, globally?

10) How do we have deeply insightful, inspiring and informative conversations?

11) How do we ensure that value can be amplified beyond the event?

12) How do we maximise enjoyment?

13) How do we maximise personal value?

14) How to we maximise business value?

15) How does this gathering fundamentally help us to progress in our mission as an organisation?

16) How does this gathering, in however small or large a way, make the world a better place?

What have I missed? Where is the edge?

In Search of Lost Places

In Search of Lost Places

It’s just after half past eight on a chilly autumn morning and I’m standing on the train platform. Alongside me are four students and one village elder – I’m the only commuter, bound for London.

To Paddington, and as I meet my colleague from finnCap outside our office destination, I feel a sense of elation and conspiracy. We’re back in town, and it feels good.

We scan the list of tenants, seeing a mysterious company called Splunk and several floors taken by Sony Pictures. Deposited at the wrong floor, we joke about being cast as awkward extras.

I’m here to film an interview and within two minutes of meeting my guest, I feel like I’ve connected with them in a way that 6 months of Zoom couldn’t quite manage. We’re talking about their office, where they live, and the fact that we share an affection for the same local curry house. The coincidences are building a rapport in powerful ways which video calls just don’t unlock. Crucially, the interview which follows is massively more connected and insightful than I could have achieved from home.

Heading for our next location, my colleague and I have time for an impromptu lunch. Over lunch, a new event idea is born, complete with format and potential guests. A positive result for them, and a new opportunity for me.

A dear friend, Rowan Pelling, passes our table and my spirits again are lifted. After paying the bill I pop to see her and enjoy a serendipitous hello with the publisher of a new magazine (Perspective).

Our next location is in Covent Garden. It’s an old stomping ground and one which brings the memories flooding back. Standing outside the Paul bakery, I’m inspired to call entrepreneur and theatre producer, Tristan Baker, perhaps because we shared an office here, perhaps because the smell of madeleines has reminded me that he is in France. Our impromptu call sparks laughter, ideas and wonderful feeling of reconnection.

Walking back towards Paddington, I stop for coffee outside the BBC, where I’m one of just two customers in the coffee shop. Since I was a student, I’ve used locations to trigger ideas and today is no exception. As workers beetle in and out of the revolving doors, I sit, and think.

The mask on the train is a price to pay for a creative and uplifting day. Not “in the office”, because for me those days passed several years ago. But “back in town”. Walking, meeting, thinking, working.

I find myself looking forward to tomorrow, when I know I’ll be “working from home”. I go to bed happy in the knowledge that today was massively enhanced by seeing people, and meeting people – by serendipity and by spontaneity.

The philosopher Martin Buber once said that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. After many months of working from home, it is wonderful to rediscover all that I have missed.

Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers

The extraordinary Oak National Academy was created by a group of teachers in response to the pandemic. What does an Oak National University look like?

That’s the sort of exam question we should be asking this year. With a national spotlight on education, too much of the conversation has been about adjusting what is, rather than imagining what could be.

It isn’t just universities which need a rethink. If we scored today’s primary and secondary systems on their ability to foster creativity, teamwork, wellbeing, resilience, problem-solving and social skills, how confident are you that they would score an A?

Or how would you explain to an alien visitor that after 13 years of learning, we give our students a “passport” which contains, on average, just three letters?

In the wake of schools being “closed”, we should be asking how can we now make them more “open” than ever before. Open to ideas, mentors and opportunities from every country, industry and sector in the world.

As we focus on the detail and accuracy of grades, the next piece of paper to capture our imaginations should be blank.

To put it another way; if the “result” is a generation of happy young people, well prepared to make their way in the world… what is the question?

Other People

Other People

To quote an old proverb, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Or, as they say in France, “one man’s fish is another man’s poisson.”

For men and women everywhere, it’s a reminder that what might be heaven for you, is hell for someone else.

I’m not sure whether Jean-Paul Sartre was into his fish, but he certainly reckoned that “hell is other people”. A thought which may resonate with someone who has just experienced four months of lockdown.

Firstly, even within the same household, there have been many lockdowns and even the closest of families may have experienced things extremely differently.

Likewise, for an individual, lockdown may have seemed to be heaven or hell, sometimes within the same day, week, or month.

This matters because it should make us wary about rushing to a consensus about how we work.

When was the last time someone asked you these questions, and really LISTENED to the answers?

Where do YOU do your best work? How well equipped is YOUR home as a place of work? How important to YOU is being around other people? How can I make YOUR work more enjoyable?

These questions matter, because we are all unique.

Yes, “mi casa es su casa”, however when it comes to being at our best, I won’t confuse my house with yours.

How do YOU work well?