A few days before Christmas, the doorbell would ring. A tall slightly stooped figure wearing jeans, a beanie hat, some kind of checked shirt, and looking earnest and intense would be on the doorstep. My brother Joss would embrace me in a surprisingly strong bear hug before striding purposefully through to the kitchen.

He never stayed long. He was social, booked elsewhere, but also dutiful to family and even though we were relatively new family – I knew him for just over half his life and just under half of mine – he made time for me and our other brother and especially our children.

We would exchange fast updates as I brewed the strong coffee we both liked on the stovepot, getting to the heart of things by the time we heard the familiar bubble and hiss. What did this or that behaviour in a fellow beloved relative mean? We were great cod psychoanalysts, he and I. We loved dissecting anxiety, motive, the murky depths of psyche.

Shortly after he would be off, planting three carefully chosen presents wrapped and labelled in his trademark spidery handwriting. Birthday and Christmas rituals were conducted absolutely punctually by “Uncle Joss”.

The absence of his presents under the tree, like the absence of his actual presence, remains a slow doubletake of surprise: I took the idea of his permanence entirely for granted. I think I still do. But he died just under a month ago. I thought I had all the time in the world to get to fully know him.

Why did I only meet him twenty years ago? It’s a story familiar to many: We shared the same father but not the same mother. Everyone makes their own arrangements in love and life. It was more minor intrigue than drama when his existence was revealed to me when I was thirty. I don’t know why, maybe because the minute I met him in a pub in Soho in the mid 1980’s he was strikingly familiar: he looked absolutely identical to our father, even more so than my other older brother, Andy.

Despite his wry sense of humour he radiated intensity and angst. He was a worrier. A perfectionist. A planner. He was restless. He had a big moral code. He liked the trivial and the deep, equally. He did not believe injustice, bigotry or social inequality should be tolerated. He wanted to change things. He believed in the power of literature and theatre and creativity to help make change.

He devoted his life to directing theatre, writing about drama teaching, and to a theatre company he founded called Present Moment. He brought to blazing contemporary light ancient and abandoned plays, musicals, breathing new life into classics. He used theatre to bring the present moment alive.

He kept up a relentless pace in his life. He was always off in Birmingham directing, writing to deadline, buying rights to a forgotten play to produce or off to Key West or New York. He read voraciously. He liked Patti Smith, being upgraded at airports, shopping at John Lewis, cycling out and about in Crouch End, and a nice big gulp of good wine at our local Italian. If I was stressed he would provide his trademark reassurance by phone: “Keep breathing deeply”.

He is gone but he was here and made his mark and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful to have known him for what turns out to have been too short a time. I’m grateful to have watched him grow in stature in his field, and to watch his children and grandchildren flourish under his tender loving care.

He was not, in some of his last words to me, “ready to go yet”. But fate had other plans. The last few weeks were hideous and painful and wrong and like a runaway train, but they were also full of love and closeness. The family was there. In the present as it slipped into the past.

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The clock ticks towards the calendar end of the year. Time dominates the waking thoughts of working people: Not having enough of it, spending it productively. In fact, the American consumer – about as good a bellweather as any – is reported to have spent a 119% increase on productivity apps in just a year – you know: PocketList, Wunderlist etc.

Time hurtles forwards and yet goes backwards: New research shows that the more time we spend online (billed as the great time-saver it has often become the great time waster) the less fulfilled we feel.

And time stops: Each year we mourn the passing of those we love whose lives end suddenly, or predictably, or brutally, or slowly. But no amount of futurism can extend life beyond a certain point.

So we live with the promise and expectation of infinity but we cope with limit: The twenty four hour day is, stripped of time to sleep and eat and do living things which cannot easily be combined with multi-tasking the 168 hour week shrinks to around 60 hours of *productivity* at a push.

So I say this as the year winds down to a close and the offices around the world and the schools all contemplate a tiny bit of time which is “off” for the holidays: Spend your time wisely. Use your time to feel engaged, energised, helpful, hopeful, and productive: Because time marches on. And then it ends.

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When David Cameron divulged a private telephone conversation with Her Majesty the Queen as he strolled along a UN conference corridor in New York, he confirmed two interesting social network theories in one fell swoop. The first, discovered in 1954 by Elihu Katz, a researcher at the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University, is that if you want to spread an idea, pick someone with influential social ties. Cameron chose Michael Bloomberg, ex Mayor of New York, billionaire philanthropist who is what the network science trade calls a ‘hub connector’. If the stray microphone had not made the remarks public they would have spread privately, as intended, through a global power network to convey to others political biggies that David Cameron had pulled of a coup which made someone else very powerful ‘purr’.

This kind of bragging happens naturally at conferences. They are made for sharing confidences because of the second theory: That face-to-face connection is far more powerful – and satisfying – than the online kind. The social anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, whose ‘Dunbar Number’ of 150 is widely used as the maximum number of ‘friends’ anyone can have and keep up with, did some research recently about satisfaction levels with different kinds of networking. He found that those who communicated directly, by face, voice, or eye (interestingly Skype counted too in this) people felt happier than if they just ‘spoke’ online. This is echoed by the recent Italian study of 50,000 households surveyed by Fabio Sabatini and Francesco Sarracino showing that trust from direct connection’ is at the heart of overall Wellbeing. Small wonder then that despite the cost, the expenses, the hideous purpose-built conference centres, the awful exhibition areas, the queues for ‘security rings’ people still flock to political party conferences: they actually have quite a good time. Networking first arrived fully in this country with the coffee houses of the seventeenth century, but it has come of age, ironically, in the twenty first century. The conference in particular provides a successful face-to-face corrective in a Facebook age.

Networking in Britain is thought of chiefly in American terms which are largely out of date. For the American business and political communities, ‘in person networking’ as they call it is chiefly transactional. You know, seal the deal. Hand over your card because networking is about ‘doing business’. This is bad networking, chiefly because it is incredibly short term. It’s the difference between the conference one night stand and the enduring relationship. Businesses often try and hurry up networking but the truth is – and back to trust – good networking takes time. Another kind of bad networking is the closed kind. If you’d like one more bit of sociology try this gorgeous term: ‘Structured Holes’. This phrase, coined by Ronald Burt, Professor of Sociology and Strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, holds that if you don’t have networks which are porous and diverse, you get insufficient oxygen of ideas, and a worrying Groupthink. Imagine how different the sub-prime mortgage crisis might have been if the traders let any other view prevail than their fateful one.

Hence the value of conferences with all their seemingly unconnected fringe meetings: From Battersea Dogs and Cats to Nuclear Industry Association to Royal British Legion all offer the chance for some random connections and conversations in which true democracy flourishes. Back to David Cameron. How will he apologise to our Head of State for his indiscretion at the conference of world leaders? Why face-to-face. Of course.

In the UK, less than a year from a General Election, the air is thick with political promises. In The Sun on Sunday the interesting and outspoken Conservative MP, Dominic Raab sets out his “Meritocrats Manifesto” for a “culture which, he says, “champions the underdog, shatters glass ceilings”.

The Raab recommendations are interesting. They include first and foremost opening up public schools to more financially underprivileged children and sprinkling some of the “best education” angel dust of private schools on to state ones.

Leaving aside the fundamentally mistaken idea that all public schools are better than state schools – a point made this week to me by Fiona Millar, the education campaigner (and Labour Party stalwart) there is no doubt that it is in the classroom – of school or of university, of being amongst peers, where aspirations and access to what The Sun on Sundays calls “the ladders of opportunity” get built.  Or broken.

Leaving aside the actual education bit – the learning, the teaching, the curriculum, something else happens in all communities, including those of what politicians insist on calling ‘Young People’. It is what the social psychologist Robert Cialdini calls ‘Social Proof’  – namely that we mimic the behaviour of those we are exposed to, and see around us.

The columnist and writer Caitlin Moran wrote in her Times column that the state is privatising care homes for children at considerably higher weekly cost than private school fees: “The amounts are huge..£5,500 is six times the amount it costs to send a child to Eton – but with considerably less networking potential”.

Ah yes, the networking.  Anyone who does it, from a market trader to a financial trader, from a politician to a businesswoman, from a job hunter just leaving journalism’s shrinking ship to a corporate executive understands the power of networking. But access to networking, to the skills required to navigate through the plethora of possibilities with guidance and help, that is still denied to the majority of those born without a silver networking spoon in their mouths.

Employers routinely complain that the young arrive unprepared for the world of work, without the confidence or social skills to look a person in the eye, to make small talk (let alone big talk). These essential tools can be learned, but above all they should be practiced. Not on a week’s work experience, but routinely, in social settings which the kids who come from Old Boy Network networks tend to take for granted.

When you look at networks, and network behaviour, there is nothing to suggest that the ability to do it comes from having a background of wealth and privilege. Pretty much all social network analysis points to better outcomes for better networked individuals, who have a wide and plural set of connections. The famous 1973 paper “Weak Ties” by the American sociologist Mark Granovetter is still being cited today by those who estimate that 80% of jobs go to people via networks rather than standard recruitment. Listen to anyone on BBC Radio 4″s “Desert Island Discs” who has ‘made it’ and some 80% of them cite a mentor or someone who believed in them, who ignited some passion in them or encouraged one they saw.

The same 80% are likely to have benefitted from enjoying the support and strength of several networks: not just friends and family, but professional groups whose tensile strength allowed them to add more and more connections on their paths to success.

Social Network Analysis shows the strength of networks as similar to the spread of ideas or other ‘viral’ spreads (including disease). It turns out that it is all down to something called “the threshold model”.  Recognising the diffusion rate, or the speed at which an idea or a connection moves and along which network or networks is part of the “spreading rate”.  So social mobility, and meritocracy is partly  the ability to spread your network and thus differentiate those who can move far more widely and freely in society than those who cannot and do not.

What do the majority of children and teenagers see around them by way of Social Proof compared to those educated at, say Eton? What exactly makes up the privilege which goes with the term most associated with the antithesis of meritocracy, The Old Boy Network? It is, I would argue, not so much the money itself, or the sports fields, or the quality of the teaching, although class size, like Class itself, does matter.

The lucky, the elite, (and some are by virtue of family systems or great state schools too) get access to networks. Not just networks of people but of ideas. Of possibilities. Great teachers of course do inspire. But networks happen out of school hours. In social settings and not only on social networks. Networking behaviour builds and accrues. It spreads.

Social Proof of the value of ideas, of argument, of difference develops in networks where ideas are discussed. The spread of festivals of ideas and books remains stubbornly but not exclusively, middle class. I’m not surprised if the culture of conversation and curiosity is neither learned nor practiced as widely as the curriculum itself.

The kids who go on large group holidays on vachts in the summer, or who join their parents for drinks and dinner parties, even with teenage reluctance, soak up something denied to so many others. It is this advantage which is carried forward into the working world of the very Establishment which needs to change and widen: The BBC, Parliament and the Civil Service, the Judiciary. Corporations.

But it does not have to be so. Every single day, right across the country, thousands of receptions, meetings, drinks, launches, briefings are happening organised by parliamentarians, publishers, TV networks, newspapers, charities, and each one of them has room to spare for someone who needs to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears how the world works.

Why does the Meritocrats Manifesto not include access to each of these events? A simple 1+1 policy, which we advocated on the under-funded but still optimistic http://www.talenttowork.com site which began to matchmake organisations like the British Council and Channel 4 with charities finding the kinds of kids who need chaperoning around a few times to get the hang of things.

It is in networks that ideas and connections flourish. It is in networks which those born with silver spoons flourish more than their counterparts who are often left out of the secret. All you have to do, really, is be in the right room, at the right time. But the door to that room remains closed because no-one routinely opens it.

Labour should, by rights be the natural political promoter of meritcoracy, and the idea that we are a networking nation. Labour’s key meritocratic poster child is the bestselling and prizewinning Alan Johnson, who largely built his skills and confidence in the other Old Boy Network: the trade union movement.

I know that I was born with a silver networking spoon in my family and it got me through a distinctly underwhelming academic record.  I came to academia far later than I came to simple conversation. Much can be done to widen the ability to network and to have strong groups of ‘weak tie’ networks – but we have to stop worrying that existing networks are either shallow or encourage nepotism.

Who and what you know, and your confidence and ability to connect widely with people is something which is taught by some parents but not all, and by some schools and not all. Most of “The Establishment” are sitting on opportunities to widen access cheaply and efficiently which they are ignoring.

This is the culture which needs to change, this is the ladder of opportunity which needs to be built. It is cheaper than you think. The cost of not doing it, of course, is far higher.

For further information about how to support a National Network, please get in touch with me: julia@editorialintelligence.com

 

 

Today I’m interviewing four people for two jobs – and each of them have come to us on a personal recommendation (sorry, headhunters). All of them have come via our networks – we know people who know them. In particular, one has come because I asked someone in exactly the industry we wanted, if he could recommend someone from his network – and he did.

Not every job can and should be recruited for in a closed network way. But actually, meritocracy is at work in the networks: What sociologist Mark Granovetter famously called “Weak Tie” theory, more than forty years ago, namely that you are more likely to get a job through word of mouth and friends-of-friends than via traditional recruitment.

Anyone can get to hear about jobs if they are well networked. But there is something else. Someone has to recommend you (generosity) and someone has to ask  about you (getting). And at the heart of this A-to-B process is an exchange of knowledge.

Knowledge Bartering works far more widely than job searching or job giving. Every time you speak to someone you are giving –  whether you realise it or not – some kind of intelligence they may not have, or may not value. Your conversation could change their perspective or their luck.

Likewise, asking for knowledge is as important as giving it, something we sometimes feel squeamish about. This is the “Give & Take” era of reciprocity as written about so well by Adam Grant of Wharton Business School.

Get out there. Get asking. Get giving. Right now, I’m back to the recuirtment. Know anyone  smart out there?

I just received an email from a friend, suggesting that I book tickets to hear a pianist in concert on a forthcoming Sunday morning. “It’s the most divine experience & you will bless me for telling you about it” she said, so I booked to see/hear Jeffrey Siegel and the Piano Conversation and will report back.

Another recommendation this week, from Helga Henry, a member of our eiClub at Editorial Intelligence. who kindly put in my hand the brochures for two things which had not yet been fully on my radar.

A friend in publishing regularly recommends titles or just puts a copy of a book she thinks I might like in the post to me, and the trust I place in her personalised, customised choice is generally rewarded: I usually like what she sends, and I usually make what noise I can by word of mouth and on social media about the author.

I already bless my actor friend before even seeing Jeffrey Seigel because she has helped me overcome the tyranny of of indecision, of choice, of finding jewels in the jetsam and flotsam of possibilities which swirl past us every second.

These recommendations are not just acts of generosity, they are acts of curation and of navigation. The value of being directed with a friendly guiding hand towards something which is enjoyable, and which keeps you smart and up to speed is, I believe, a defining element of connection today.

So send someone you know an email, or put a note on a leaflet and stick it to a postcard and put it in the post to someone you like with a note: “I thought you might like this”. And do you know, they probably will.

Sometimes you cannot turn back the tide. But, thanks to technology, you can turn it off. I am not talking about the awful tide of water engulfing the British coast, Thames Valley and Somerset Levels. I am referring to email. I tried, inspired by the innovator Tim Ferriss, using an automatic Out Of Office which simply said I would take time to reply. This was a year or so ago when everyone was still caught up in the frenzy of having to respond instantly. But after six months or so I could feel everyone responding slightly later than instant to email and now it is quite normal for people to wait a day rather than an hour. But the volume continues: For a start there is spam which is not caught in the filter. Or the emails which you think you want to read but don’t – the newsletters you do not recall signing up for as well as ones you are sure you did not. Or simply the ones which replace the phone call, which, oddly, is beginning to be a much forgotten form of communication. Then there are the “Backatcha” emails. The reply-to-the-reply-to-the-reply endless loop emails. All in all, we are drowning in an excess of email. It is normal to not be able to clear an inbox in a day. You do not have to be a super-busy person for this to be the case – just a working person. So the debt of unreplied, undealt with emails pile up. And now, I have decided to act. I’m declaring email bankruptcy – for a week’s holiday from the deluge. My out of office warns that all incoming email in a seven day period will not be read and not kept and that the sender must re-write in a week’s time. Luckily I have an efficient PA to help me achieve this rather dramatic course of action. But otherwise I will feel more overworked when I am back at my inbox than before I left: Some vacation.

I say try it. But please, and I’m not being rude. Don’t tell me what you think.

Happy New Year. You are reading this, so: Good.

I hope it is a universal resolution to read more in the New Year. To take your mind and expand it, to share what you learn or feel with someone else (in your family or your office or your classroom). Reading opens up the synapses and lets the creative juice flow. Here are fourteen books I recommend for reading in 2014 in one go, or in odd snatches. On an e-reader. On a tablet or in your hands on beautiful bound paper. Read Lying down or sitting up on the bus.

My resolution is to regularly recommend not just books but blogs, podcasts, white papers and articles, YouTube videos. But for now, 7 non fiction and 7 fiction/memoir:

Non Fiction

1)    Networked: The New Social Operating System by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman – `’networked individualism’ in every corner of life explained from the respected US Academics with stacks of useful stats from Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Networked-The-Social-Operating-System/dp/0262017199/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388516095&sr=8-1&keywords=networked

2)    Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. Never has the ballon of pompous corporate speak been pricked so intelligently and with useful alternatives as here. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Strategy-Bad-difference-matters/dp/1846684811/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388515763&sr=8-1&keywords=good+strategy+bad+strategy

3)    Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adram Grant http://www.amazon.co.uk/Give-Take-Helping-Others-Success/dp/1780224729/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388518001&sr=8-1&keywords=Adam+Grant+give+and+take  Probably my favourite read of 2013, this book became *the* read for business zeitgeisters, earning Adam Grant a coveted ‘Influencer’ status on LinkedIn and countless speaking gigs around the globe from the World Economic Forum to Goldman Sachs.

4)    Emmy Andriesse: Hidden Lens by Louise Baring. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Emmy-Andriesse-Hidden-Louise-Baring/dp/9053307907/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388516020&sr=8-1&keywords=emmy+andriesse If you buy one photographic art book make it this one: brings back the forgotten photograph of the 20th century’s most profound women photographers and her chronicle of Amsterdam’s Hunger Winter of 1944-5 in unforgettable clarity and haunting beauty.

6)  Working – Studs Terkel. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Working-People-Talk-About-What/dp/1565843428/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388516130&sr=8-1&keywords=studs+terkel This book may be forty two years old in 2014 but it is the one of the greatest oral histories ever committed to paper by the late great Chicago radio legend, Studs Terkel at the encouragement of his publisher, the late great giant, Andre Schiffrin (R.I.P).

7)   Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World – Noreena Hertz. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eyes-Wide-Open-Decisions-Confusing/dp/0007467109/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388515701&sr=8-1&keywords=noreena+hertz Ahead of the curve as ever, a sophisticated self-help guide to navigate through the age of overload and decide how to proceed in everyday decisions large and small.

 Fiction, Memoir, & Compendium

1)    The Hired Man – Aminatta Forna. Can a woman write a man’s part convincingly? Yes, the character of Duro Kolak reads like inner autobiography.  And you can feel the dry heat of Croatia just thinking about this mesmerising novel.

2)    Anything by Doris Lessing but you could do worse than her reportage as I stumbled across her essay ‘Going Home’ after she died in 2013 and was reminded of her unerring observation and wit: ” Each country has its own type of rogue. Britain, for instance, has the spiv, and one only has to write the word to see him standing there’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/African-Laughter-Four-Visits-Zimbabwe-ebook/dp/B008CBDQIW/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1388517436&sr=8-2

3)    The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Uninvited-Guests-Sadie-Jones/dp/009956369X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388517702&sr=8-1&keywords=sadie+jones+the+uninvited+guests This novel reminded me of the best of about ten Virago Modern Classics put together. Other-wordly but contemporary, funny but terrible. And a guest appearance by a horse has never made a better entrance in fiction.

4)    After the War: Granta. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Granta-125-After-Magazine-Writing/dp/1905881711/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388516055&sr=8-1&keywords=granta As we enter the centenary year of The Great War this collection of new writing and photography is gripping, poignant, diverse. Features A.K.Kennedy. Hari Krunzu, Lindsey Hilsum.

5)    Maggie & Me by Damian Barr http://www.amazon.co.uk/Maggie-Me-Damian-Barr/dp/1408838060/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388518656&sr=8-1&keywords=maggie+and+me I read this book in one sitting, and knew it would be a huge hit even without the coincidence of Margaret Thatcher dying the week before publication. It turns a searing ‘misery memoir’ into something profound, warm, and politically challenging for anyone who belongs to “The Left” and assumed that a gay working class boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980’s could ever admire The Iron Lady.

6)    The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Shadow-Of-Crescent-Moon/dp/0670922986/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388518263&sr=8-1&keywords=fatima+bhutto I was lucky to be given a proof of this book by the author and read it on holiday, instantly transported to the troubling landscape of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas close to the Afghan borders and a contemporary story of many kinds unfolds – politics, love, family, and above all, the pointlessness of civil war and war itself.

7)    Viv Groskop: I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) ruined her life)  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Laughed-Cried-Stand-Up-Almost-Ruined/dp/1409127842/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388518864&sr=8-1&keywords=viv+groskop Two words sum up this book: Chutzpah (go look it up) and Wonderful. As a fellow Multiple Mother I recognise the tremendous pull Viv Groskop feels between being a mum and being her other self (discuss) and in her case, someone who does continuous stand-up comedy, in front of strangers, on the road for nearly a year.   #

 

So. These should keep you busy. Let me know if you get round to any of them and what you think. That’s the most important bit: What you feel and what you think

Networking – along with typing, basic computer coding, speaking Spanish, Mandarin and English are the top skills I would like my children to have – and anyone thinking of getting and keeping jobs in the mobile world of this teenage century. I cannot give natural ability in any of them for Christmas, but all of them can be gifted via teaching. That is, all of these skills can be learned. As I pointed out in an interview for the Sunday Times about skills in business, it’s time to start looking towards what the professional of 2025 needs and that is Social Capital.http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/Appointments/article1346396.ece#next

Do we ever feel we deserve our success or that our accomplishments are in fact real? Women often don’t but I suspect men don’t always either.

This week I am back from a spot of winter sun. Leaving cold England for Abu Dhabi (trust me, it’s hotter than July at midday) is no hardship. But on some level it wasn’t easy. Because I was in the company of some of the biggest and most accomplished brains out in the world of science, policymaking, development, leadership – and somewhat to my surprise, I was supposed to be one of them. The occasion? The annual gathering of the World Economic Forum’s policymaking groups, the Global Agenda Councils, http://www.weforum.org. Let me correct that. I am one of them. I sit on a Council and have done for three years.

But as soon as I arrived I found myself suffering from Imposter Syndrome. http://www.fastcompany.com/3020966/leadership-now/do-you-have-imposter-syndrome-or-are-you-actually-qualified-for-your-job. Perhaps I should be grateful that I am not alone – According to Fast Company Magazine, Harvard Business School students who should feel on top of the world, often feel they will be outed as academic fraudsters.

Luckily, I did not stay in this false and paranoid universe for long. For a start, the World Economic Forum is extremely well run, and places friendliness and networking at a premium. The minute you connect with another human being you forget that they may be one of the top chemists from Cambridge University or Economist from Shanghai, or that they have published more academic papers than you have books on your shelves. Finding common conversational ground is the best antidote to isolation.

But something else corrected the skewed self-image. I feel keenly interested in the topic I was there to contribute to – The Council on Informed Societies – and realised that far from being invited like a random lottery winner, I had as much to contribute as anyone else. Duh! So I became saved by common sense but also by content: It is hard to feel useless if you are craning forward in the discussion.

I hope those of you who occasionally, perhaps more often, gulp inwardly and feel horribly underdressed professionally or intellectually remember this: the operative word is not “imposter” but “syndrome”.

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