Tensegrity, Trust and Togetherness

Towards the end of last year, I was invited to share my thoughts on ‘innovative ways of working’ at an annual meetup for a global steel firm in Northern Italy.

After the inevitable pangs of self-doubt..
Why me?
What do I know about steel??
What do I know about innovation???

I collaborated with Valentina from the company’s communication agency, Multi, to prepare my slides that attempt to embrace knowledge gained both at work and at home to offer insight on ways of working.

Here is an extract:

London-born, although I feel part-Italian due to living in Italy for over 10 years with my parter Diana who is from Abruzzo.

I like asking questions and seem to have made a career out of it – exploring how digital technology can be used to change the way we work, play and everything in between.

I come from the land of Brexit. A strange place, populated by strange people.

Just when you think it can’t get any stranger..

Brexit provides us with an example of what happens when a group implodes. Whether we are talking about a group of countries, a group of politicians or a group of family members, I propose there are some common tenets for enabling groups to thrive.

Innovation is a word all too easy to say and all too difficult to do, akin to having a good relationship.

It is about being open to change. Doing things differently. The power to question the status quo and continue questioning.

Enabling healthy contamination. The bringing together of different elements. Whether it be people, data, materials, methods.

My wife Diana, seen here upside down, is my life partner.
She inspires me and pushes me.
She teaches yoga and is the most creative person that I know.

Thanks to a chance meeting in Milan in 2000, we have spent the last 19 years working and living in Italy and the UK. We currently live in Abruzzo with our 3 adopted children.

I am English, my wife is Italian, our children are Colombian-born. They now have both Italian and English passports, speak English with a North London accent and Italian with an Abruzzese accent.

It is this mix of DNA, that gives our family a sense of common identity.

There are certain ingredients that are fundamental to ensure healthy group dynamics: trust, clear communication, common language.

Richard Buckminster Fuller – American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist -coined the term ‘tensegrity’, combining tension and integrity, describing a structure where the stresses are evenly distributed throughout the entire structure rather than accumulating at certain points, therefore, maintaining the balance of tension members.

The relationship of the nodes is fundamental. The way they work together as a single structure.

Teams share a similar dynamic.


In a research study around employee engagement at work, that was published in the Harvard Business Review last month,  83% of  workers say that they do most of their work in teams.

Employees who work in teams are more engaged than employees who work alone.

When people who work in a team experience a strong sense of trust with the team leader, the engagement levels increase exponentially.

There is something in equal parts humbling and empowering that comes through the sense of solidarity and group identity experienced by members of a team, through the combination of shared purpose and group intimacy. It is a unique feeling that I have had the fortune to experience at different times while, from antirom through to GDS.

Government Digital Service (GDS)

The end of the Great War, as witnessed by my Grandpa

My Grandfather, Thomas Gill, was born in 1898, in Newcastle.

He worked at an engineering firm ‘Parsons’ until February 1918 when he enlisted for the Royal Navy. Here below is a transcription of his handwritten reminiscences from his time in the Royal Navy.


The National Service Act had all males to register at the age of 18. I was ‘called up’ (see the firm’s letter of March 19 1917) but because of the work being done was exempted but as time went on, exemptions became less and less and in Feb. 1918 in company with two or three others, we volunteered for the Royal Navy as Engine Room Artificers.

David 5.jpeg

After a couple of months at Portsmouth for training and tests we left Portsmouth on June 4 for Rosyth and by June 7 I found myself aboard H.M. Destroyer Vendetta. The following months were largely taken up with routine activities at sea based at Queensferry near the Forth Bridge, patrols, escorts, gunning practice with the Grand Fleet, looking for suspected German submarines.

August took us to the Scottish Coast, through the Penteland Skerries and past the Old Man of Hoy and down the inner Hebrides to Fairfields Yard at Govan, Glasgow for an overhaul. I was not a good sailor, suffering much from “mal de Mer” and am afraid did not appreciate the beauties of the Hebrides. However it gave me 10 days leave which meant a real treat to be at home again and see friends. Most of September found us in and around Scapa Flow on battle practices with the battle cruisers, and escort duties.

November 11 brought the news of the Armistice signed that morning and all work stopped for the day. It was a fine day also and in the afternoon I had a walk along part of the southern bank of the Forth in the estate of either the Earl of Dalkeith of the Earl of Dalmeny. In the evening a concert on board attended by the Captain (Commander Gordon Ramsay) and Officers, followed by fireworks. On the 13th I went up to Edinburgh in the afternoon where everyone appeared to be very happy, while the 14th saw us once more engaged in battle practice with the battle cruisers.

On Friday the 15th together with 5 light cruisers and 9 other Destroyers we went out to meet the German Light Cruiser “Koningsberg” bringing the delegates to discuss Armistice terms. We met them about 3.20pm – a very efficient looking ship and escorted her to Inchkeith where we anchored over night.

On the 20th we saw H.M. King George, the Prince of Wales and Admiral Sir David Beatty walk by us on the Penne before they embarked to meet the surrender of the German Fleet. Later that night we left with other ships to meet the Germans. Far out in the Forth next morning which proved grey and misty and around 7.45 we sighted the German ships with everyone at Action Stations. First came the great battle cruiser Sedlistg, next the shadowy bulk of the Moltke, followed by Hindenburg, the Derfflinger and the Von der Tan. All told 10 battleships, 4 Battle Cruisers, 6 Light Cruisers and 50 Destroyers. truly a remarkable sight as they steamed into the lines of the escorting British warships. That night we anchored at Inchkeith around the German destroyers.

It must have proved a day of bitter humiliation for Germany to hand over so formidable a fleet but the allies, after 4 years of conflict had won and the Great War was over.




How good are you at communicating with other people?

What do you consider the fundamentals of good communication?

As simple as these questions seems at first glance, they represents a major stumbling block in how effectively people and companies alike stay receptive to the needs and views of others in order to build relationships of value and substance.

From early experiences of establishing playground friendships to the hierarchical models encountered while growing up, there is no rule book to what and how we share with others.

Designing better engagement models between services and customers hinges on the skill in which we listen to what people need. The ability for a company to embrace a listening culture does not happen by default. It requires an investment in customer-driven collaboration methodologies and for this approach to be embraced from the top-down, in terms of senior management.

In the words of Malcom Gladwell,

“Everyone has a story. When people are talking about something they know well and do well, they’re almost always interesting. And if they’re not, it’s generally your fault because you’re not asking the right questions and you haven’t made them comfortable.  And once I learned that lesson, my journalism became a lot easier.”

Storytelling remains one of the most powerful tools of engaging people.

The video above was constructed by fusing together around twenty or so different interviews with people living in Milan, Italy. The ages of the interviews ranged from eight to eighty years old. The theme of the interviews was memory.

The original presentation of this video was a circular room, that contained nine video projection screens lining its walls. Each talking head played in the round, immersing the visitor in the experience.