Jon Barnes – Serendipity and its slightly arrogant cousin luck

Linda Larsson met up with Jon Barnes, this month’s speaker at CreativeMornings Gothenburg on May 24.

The theme this month is Serendipity – what does this mean to you?
Serendipity is a poor little misunderstood creature I think. It is often confused with its slightly arrogant cousin: luck. Luck is, well, it’s just luck. For instance, we don’t choose what social situation we are born into, that is down to luck.

Serendipity is far wiser and more courageous. Serendipity is a design choice. The choice to create the necessary conditions for positive outcomes to come from unexpected connections, whether these connections are people or ideas or both. That’s what Serendipity is to me, a design choice with a beautiful combination of order and chaos.

If you had one superpower, what would it be?
Hmmm… This is the question that gives me impostor anxiety. If I had to say something I’d oddly say my ‘breadth’. I have reasonable but limited depth in lots of different things and I think I’m pretty good at seeing the connection between them, forming a vision and articulating it in a way that is digestable. I think people can get behind that and get excited to do great things. So I wouldn’t say I’m awesome at anything particular but I think that might actually paradoxically be my superpower.


What inspires you?
Polymaths. People who manage to gain so much perspective on situations or broad macro-situations by understanding so many different things. They seem to respond with beautiful wisdom or simplicity. They find patterns or principles which allow me to apply to so many situations in my life and work. Yuval Hurari is a good example, or Alan Watts.

What makes you happy and why?
The million pound question. There are a few patterns I see in my happiness. One is that the more space I create, the more room there is for me to spend time with my own ideas and package them in ways I can share with others in a way that is hopefully energising to us both. That gives me a wonderfully calm buzzy vibration. Another is being with very few very close friends. When supported by genuine love, I find my mind seems to just silence. Like an extractor fan suddenly switching off in a kitchen.

So in summary I would say: time alone with no agenda, and time with my nearest and dearest.


What is your dream project?
I really don’t know. I think that’ll always change. Last year I wrote my first book Democracy Squared and it feels a bit like the genie has been let out of the bottle. I am creating more time and space to explore these big ideas. The other is advising and helping genuinely receptive people who have a lot of control and agency over important environments and topics (e.g. government, education…etc.) Having said that, I also get very frustrated with those systems, so maybe that would just do my head in.

I don’t actually know, thanks for the question, I’ll ponder on it more ;)

The mountain or the ocean and why?
This is a wonderful question as I’ve recently really designed my life for both. I grew up quite near the sea, I thought that was me. But a couple of years ago I fell in love with a valley in the French Alps. We call it Dream Valley. The vastness of it has this amazing way of showing me how limitless things are whilst also giving me the comfort of being protected by millenias of mountain. So I’m refusing to pick either or and decide on both here and I’m making a deliberate effort to design my life around just this at the moment :)


What do you want to do when you grow up?
I’m not sure I want to grow up so it’s a tricky one. I was also born pretty old. Since I was really little I’ve always hung out with adults rather than kids my age. I’ve never really partied but prefer long chats. I like spending time on my own instead of socialising too much. So if this trend continues, I can really see myself travelling with my family and maybe owning a house with garden off the grid for when the apocalypse arrives.

And finally: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Stop caring about what people think!” It’s a constant thing for me to practice as it has controlled my life in dangerous ways. I’m starting to befriend that devil but it’s taken us a while.

Interview by Linda Larsson

Want to listen to Jon Barnes’ CreativeMornings talk on May 24? The tickets are released at 11am on May 19.
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