Climbing the tree: the case for chimpanzee ‘personhood’

I’m serious. Grant chimpanzees human rights, before they all get killed and eaten. ‘Bush meat’ is cannibalism.

The Latin name for our species is Homo sapiens. “Wise man”.How does that grab you, ladies? Rubbish name. Excludes 51% of the frugging species.

And ‘wise man’? You’re having a laugh, mate. Homo ludens? Better. We is good at laughing, telling jokes and stuff. Showing off. Ladies seem to like that. Homo bellicus? The warlike man? That too. As Douglas Adams pointed out, we think we are more intelligent than dolphins because all they do is fuck about in the sea and eat fish, whereas we invented war machines and nuclear bombs. Dolphins think they are more intelligent than humans because all they do is fuck about in the sea and eat fish, whereas humans invented war machines and nuclear bombs.

An actual wise man, IMHO Jack Cohen, suggested that we rename us Pan Narrans, the storytelling ape. Because we share 99% of our DNA with 2 other chimpanzees, the famous chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, and the critically endangered, polyamourous, feminist, peaceful Bonobo, Pan paniscus, the gracile ape. We are just the third chimpanzee. We stand upright, lost most of our fur, talk and invent stuff. Big hairy deal.

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

(“Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen are the source of the coinage Pan narrans, of which they say
”We are not Homo sapiens, Wise Man. We are the third chimpanzee. What distinguishes us from the ordinary chimpanzee Pan troglodytes and the bonobo chimpanzee Pan paniscus, is something far more subtle than our enormous brain, three times as large as theirs in proportion to body weight. It is what that brain makes possible. And the most significant contribution that our large brain made to our approach to the universe was to endow us with the power of story. We are Pan narrans, the storytelling ape”… “…if you understand the power of story, and learn to detect abuses of it, you might actually deserve the appellation Homo sapiens”

The Science of Discworld II: the Globe, Terry Patchett with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, Ebury Press 2002 )

I don’t need to remind my management consultant chums of the power of storytelling. Or my politician chums, if I had any.


‘Bush meat’ is cannibalism. Show that we are wise and compassionate, that we deserve the label ‘sapiens’: grant chimpanzees human rights, before they are all  killed and eaten.

Those Planet of the Apes movies don’t help either.

Play just is

I’m reblogging this for various reasons. Here’s what I just said in a comment on it:

Can’t disagree. Have said similar. My slogan: ‘through play we become human’ was intended to encompass a lot of what you have glidden over. Or overflown.

Through play we become human*.

This sentence implies that without play we won’t become human, as noted by two Browns. Stuart Brown on psychopaths and Fraser on Romanian orphans. It implies that play is a process, not a goal. It implies that play is an inescapable part of all of us.

Except the ones that didn’t get to play enough…

It implies that becoming human doesn’t just happen, like getting older; but rather, it is dependent on… Well it doesn’t say.

It’s only one little sentence, give it a break, it is working very hard for a little sentence. My little sentence. C’m’ere, little sentence, I’m going to give you a big hug!

*Said in a piece in this book, co-authored with the inevitable Penny Wilson and the inestimable and underrated Mo Palmer. The piece, not the book.

Playwork is jazz

Playwork is Jazz.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

The edge of any system is where it learns and changes, just like a tree is only living in the few layers of cells under the bark, surrounding the enormous dead woody centre. Life evolved on beaches, in rock pools, in the zone between cold sea and hot sand and rock. Organisations can’t learn in the centre (!) where senior management are all-knowing and isolated; change only happens in odd quirky pockets, close to the field, close to the customer, close to the new. (Read my book for much more on the complexity of systems and the edge of change: ‘Navigating Complexity’).

Similarly, in popular culture, pop music for example, the new always happens at the edge: because why on earth would fat and happy record companies take risks? It wasn’t coked-up record company execs who gave us rock and roll (or God, even though she loves it) and electric folk, progressive rock, punk, hip-hop, rap and all the new stuff that I don’t understand; it was edgy outsiders bursting to…

And so to jazz. Here’s a screenshot of the wikipedia page:


The many species of jazz according to Wikipedia

Look at all those waves! There is always a new wave. There is always an edge.

Some aficionados of jazz claim that it is a separate musical form, with its own disciplines and body of knowledge, as equally worthy of serious study as the pantheon of dead white males who make up the mighty European classical tradition. John Lewis founder of the MJQ, was the vanguard of the ultimately futile demand for jazz to have professional parity as ‘black classical music’.

And some playwork people insist that salvation lies in being just as serious as John Lewis.

‘Why isn’t playwork recognised, why isn’t playwork seen as just as important as education or social work? (They used to mention youth work, but, as we have since learned, being a profession doesn’t automatically insulate you from the cuts.)

Back to jazz. Miles wasn’t keen being welcomed into the hallowed halls. Miles was all about the music. When asked why he covered Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, by a perplexed and disdainful music critic, he pointed out that in the 1950s his records were in the top twenty, and on the jukebox in every bar in New York. People would put a nickel in the record machine and dance to ‘Kind of Blue’. Far from being a dusty unlistenable noise made by beards in an empty concert hall, jazz is the throbbing vibrant living cutting edge of popular music. Jazz is dead when it forgets its roots, said Miles, this is popular music, if you can’t dance to it, it ain’t jazz and it ain’t worth a plugged nickel (also the name of a revered jazz club, BTW). Who remembers John Lewis? Never knowingly over-played… Miles insisted on tagging his later recordings as ‘New directions in music’ because he felt that jazz had become an over-intellectualised irrelevant hobby, out of fashion and out of time. This ain’t jazz, it’s new and cooler, don’t call me jazz.

So if we accept this characterisation, and who dares to disagree with the artist who remade jazz so many times, then we have to see jazz, in its heyday, as the shifting evolving, strange symbiotic edge of popular music. You can’t define what jazz is, you can only look back and say ‘what was that?’, as the edge of the wave moves on.

Which is, say I, finally getting to the point, precisely what playwork is.


It isn’t a fixed body of work, even though it is showing signs of maturing as a discipline, rather it is the EDGE of what we are told to call ‘the children’s workforce’. Playwork is the unnoticed little rockpool making the strange new noises.

Has playwork failed? Sadly I really think that it has. Certainly the heyday has been and gone. For me, playwork is failing because it persists in wasting its time and energy trying to be all growedy-up, when it should just get on with it.

Playwork should stick to what it is, what it does best. Bollocks to the hallowed halls of academe. Don’t try to get a proper job, there aren’t any anyway. Don’t complain about being ignored, just get on with innovating. Life on the edge. Never boring, mostly scary, infinitely rewarding. Alive.

Just play, maaan.



How The Babemba Tribe Forgives

Here a different approach to Performance Management…

And it’s 360…

Creative by Nature


“In the Babemba tribe of Southern Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual.

Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the centre of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.

This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”

~Leonard Zunin~
Contact: The First Four Minutes

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Watch “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate

A superb piece by Kinetic Typography featuring the spoken word performance of Suli Breaks: ‘Why I hate school but love education’.

All I need to say is, if you care about education, development, consultancy, coaching, learning, whatever, then watch this.

You might have already seen it. I’m probably behind the curve. It’s from 2013. That’s twenty years ago in web years.

I’m adding it to my slide bank. It will feature in a so-called Systems Thinking Fun Day, soon.

File under: Lies to children*.

*’lies to children’ is an ironic term for teaching, coined AFAIK, by Jack Cohen and features in ‘Figments of Reality’ co-written with Ian Stewart. Google it.