Geoff McDonald interviews author Alan Silcock about his new book, Five Gift Flourishing in episode 116 of the Ideas Architect podcast.
Transcript of Interview with Alan Silcock
Geoff McDonald 00:00
Hi, Alan, welcome to the show.
Alan Silcock 02:14
Good to be here, Geoff. As always,
Geoff McDonald 02:16
We’ve known each other for a long time. So, it’s great to actually put something down on – what you can’t say recording anymore, can you? So, Alan, you’ve just written a book. So, start from the beginning. Tell us who you are.
Alan Silcock 02:32
My name is Alan Silcock. And my writer’s name is Alan Forsyth, and the Forsyth refers to my Scottish upbringing and identity, although I’m very much Australian. And having said that, I’ve just spent the last five and a bit years in Scotland living in Edinburgh, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and has produced some of the best writers in the world has, as I’m sure many of you have read.
So, it makes sense that whilst in Edinburgh, I take the challenge that my wife offered to me and I actually write and write a book on my writing a book challenge is now resulted in two books, both of which are going to be published this year, one in just two weeks or so. So, I’ll tell you about those in a moment. Beyond that I’m very much a family man with a new dog who you may meet during this recording, so don’t be surprised. And living in Melbourne, Australia, which is a delightful place to live, and I love it reconnecting with all my friends, all my family, all my networks here and enjoying a great quality of life in Melbourne. It’s good to be back even though we had to spend 14 days in quarantine, to get here. And while some of the tennis players complained, we also complained.
Geoff McDonald 03:54
No one noticed
Alan Silcock 03:56
Geoff has asked me to introduce myself so that’s probably enough, for now. Certainly, I’ve had a huge background as an organizational development consultant and coach over three decades and helped people transform in companies, in charities, in community groups, individuals and small businesses across that period of time. Also donated a hell of a lot of my time to things I think are important, like men’s health. And my last big achievement is setting up a men’s shed in Edinburgh, where there wasn’t one, there wasn’t one and that’s now sustainable, I have left it in good hands. And I’m delighted to have done that. And that’s another chapter, I think.
Today we’re here to talk about my first book, which is ‘Five Gifts Flourishing’ and that is simply aligned to my passion in helping people to discover themselves and create for themselves a life that involves less suffering and more gratitude, more enjoyment, more satisfaction. And I have been doing that for 30 years. But now that’s my focus pretty much.
Geoff McDonald 05:18
That’s kind of the thread that I see. So, we first met at Accelerated Learning in the early 1990s. I was still in architecture school. You’re working for probably Yellow Pages back then. But then our paths really crossed around, probably a love of learning as much as anything.
Alan Silcock 05:35
Yeah, I think you’re accurate, Geoff. I think we’re both very passionate about learning and I never forget teaching you how to juggle. And as a result, Geoff is also known as ‘Geoff the Juggler’. Certainly, to my family, and my kids are all all adults now.
Geoff McDonald 05:55
I still remember that very clearly because we were in your house in Thornbury. One of your sons was just being born, he might have been one or two. I know you’ve got three now. And it was literally you taught me how to juggle on that one night, and I went away, and I practiced, and I can now juggle.
Alan Silcock 06:11
Yeah. And look as a metaphor for learning, I always found juggling to be such a useful activity, because now someone can do something they’ve never done before, or they’ve at least broken down the steps to learning and understood them. Which implies that you can almost learn how to do anything that you want, almost. So, it was pretty auspicious beginning for us, I think, Geoff. Now, we sit here, both of us having generated books, and made a bit of a difference in our own different ways in the world. So it’s pretty satisfying to reflect back on those early days. Yeah.
Geoff McDonald 06:52
So, what was the seed that started ‘Five Gifts Flourishing’?
Alan Silcock 06:56
Well, it was a challenge for my wife, my wife is a senior executive in business, and one of the biggest fund managers in the world had suggested from Australia to the UK. And as a result, we traveled to New York quite regularly. And on one of the trips to New York, we managed to be walking around the city, looking at one of – the dogs just chewing the microphone. We might have to bring the dog out and put her outside. Come on. Here we go.
Geoff McDonald 07:41
So, the plugin cord for the microphone. So, but that’s what you get with a six-week-old puppy.
Alan Silcock 07:48
Yeah, so we were in New York, and we look at this Lego type building, which goes all the way up into the clouds, and I’m mesmerized by this thing. And so, looking at it, I just said to Linda, look, love to have an apartment in that building. And she said, Well Al, write your first book. And we will. And I took that on as a challenge. Not that I desperately needed an apartment in one of the biggest buildings in the world. But I took it on as a challenge. And when I got back to Edinburgh, I started writing, I was writing a novel, not the book that I’ve just talked about ‘Five Gifts Flourishing’, which is a book to help you transform your lives. And that’s where it started. And from there, yeah, the novel has also been written and will be published later this year. And that’s going to be called ‘Milk Tea Can’t’. As in you can take the milk out of the tea.
Geoff McDonald 08:46
Oh, beautiful. So, if you’re going to sell me the book, ‘Five Gifts Flourishing’, what would you say to me?
Alan Silcock 08:51
Well, I’d say that you like everyone have gifts, would you agree?
Geoff McDonald 08:56
Alan Silcock 08:57
And you may be aware of those gifts, I reckon you’re aware of most of your gifts, but maybe there’s a few just lingering around that you haven’t put your finger on yet. And what my premise is, is that the more you’re able to have your gifts, fly in your world, on a daily basis, and I’m not talking generally, day to day, the more likely you are to lead a life of genuine happiness, not superficial to happiness. When the Dalai Lama talks about this, and the Buddhists talk about this difference between happiness and genuine happiness.
So that would be my sell, but I’d recommend it would be… The book makes it easy for you to identify your gifts. It makes it easy for you through stories, from my gifts, for you to think about what my gifts are. So, what I really want to focus on here, and then my 30 years of experience as an agent of change and transformation I’ve introduced, I know as you do in your books, a host of techniques, strategies, so that you can actually bring the idea into action into everyday living. So, they become habits rather than just gifts.
Geoff McDonald 10:16
And five, is that the magic number?
Alan Silcock 10:19
It was for me. And I might find that that changes throughout my life. I’ve used my five and I’ve explained how I’ve calculated and encalculated Yeah.
Geoff McDonald 10:34
Sounds good to me.
Alan Silcock 10:35
I was gonna say encarcarated into my life and make the difference. So, incorporate is probably easier. It’ll be whatever it is, for everyone. Yeah, whatever number they come up with.
Geoff McDonald 10:51
So, what did you find out about yourself while you’re writing this?
Alan Silcock 10:55
Well, one of my gifts is, is learning, right? And so, I realized that when I’m not learning, or when, when there’s an absence there, that I’m not firing all cylinders, there’s a gap in my life, not enjoying myself as much. Yeah. And I know that since I’ve come back to Australia, we’ve been in lockdown very powerfully, because one of the things I was doing in Scotland is I joined the choir called ‘The Rock Choir’, and it was fantastic. And made great friends, I was singing on a weekly basis, we were travelling around the UK and Europe, we got to Paris, we sang in front of the Eiffel Tower. Imagine how good that was. I get back to Australia and everything’s locked down. And I can’t do that activity. And, you know, that was an area of learning, developing my voice developing my skills in music, and it’s just absent for me. And that whole area of playing and performing was really absent for me. I noticed it was gone.
Geoff McDonald 11:56
The gift was there. But it wasn’t flourishing.
Alan Silcock 11:59
No, it wasn’t flourishing at all. And until recently, and I’ve joined the choir here called ‘The Pop Choir’, I’ve only been twice now, and I love it. I know it’s going to be good for me. I’ve already talked to a couple of my friends in joining me tomorrow. It must be good in that I’m engaging others to come along.
Geoff McDonald 12:16
That’s actually an interesting point, because that is about the part of the flourishing is that you’re naturally going to be buoyant about it, you’re going to share it with people and want them to enrol in joining you.
Alan Silcock 12:28
And you learn with others. And in my first gift is it is about connection. So that’s, I draw a mind map most days and I put these gifts out there. And the image for my first gift is just simply the world. Because I now know people around the world. And I do my best to stay in contact with people around the world. And I’ve learned how to become a better conversationalist than I ever was when we first started when we first met each other. And as a result, I’m able to and this does blow a lot of people away stay in contact with most people across the world. It increases in number all the time. I probably should learn that one. I’m not so good. I tend to just let things go like that. Yeah, I’m not active around it. Yeah. I get to the stage where I’m almost like that.
When we were out for lunch before I got a message from Dr. Alan Stewart in Adelaide, a professor. And I had called him the other day and left a message. And he called me back and said, ‘Yep, let’s touch base.’ He does the right thing, he reminds me that I called him. He knows that we’ll get in touch because he’s good with conversations generally. We’ll talk to him tomorrow. So yeah, that’s really important. That’s important when it comes to learning. So you see a lot of these gifts, they merge into each other. Right? Yeah, and they change as I move along. For instance, my third gift is a balance between serving community, charity and generating wealth or maintaining wealth. So that’s the third gift, and that changes considerably. And now, I’ve got more of a focus on the wealth side, because I’m renovating my house next door.
We’ve just arrived back in the country. You know, we’re planning for the future and trying to both at retirement age, my wife and I, and so there’s more focus on that when that than there has been in the past. In Edinburgh, for instance, when I was full time managing a charity. I wa not really concerned much about that. So yeah, so it is pretty dynamic as we move forward, I think. And if I can have people appreciate that in their own gifts, and develop their own flexibility and be able to nuance that cleverly, then I think the gifts can be sustainable. And I think like I can genuinely achieve that happiness that you and others talk about.
Geoff McDonald 15:05
That’s kind of the way I… like when I tell people my story around architecture. I spent seven or eight years studying. I worked in an office for a couple of years, and most people go ‘Oh, that was a waste, wasn’t it?’ It was like, well, actually, it wasn’t. I still see myself as being an architect right now. And that’s literally where the Ideas Architect came from. And the way I say it is that I just express it differently. And at the moment I write books, or I help people with ideas or presentations or whatever.
Alan Silcock 15:30
We’ll just let the dog back in.
Geoff McDonald 15:33
I think that’s an important point.
Alan Silcock 15:42
Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
Geoff McDonald 15:43
That the gifts are something deeper, like, are they strengths? Perhaps? Or, or would you…
Alan Silcock 15:50
I think the way you get to them, and there are a number of activities that are provided. And, you know, these is, certainly the one of the core ones his values. And, you know, Geoff, how powerful values are in terms of a direction, a sense of direction.
Geoff McDonald 16:09
Well, particularly in decision making. Values point to go. That would be consistent. That might not be, I’ll go down that path.
Alan Silcock 16:16
Exactly. And, you know, when you’ve made a decision that is out of kilter with your values. And I’ve just written about that in an article to support the book. And there was an awful decision that, you know, I’d hit a dog on a dirt road. I was there with my first boss in the passenger seat. And he had said, to me, the dog was in the side of the road whimpering. And the kid caught up who was walking the dog. And my boss said, ‘The dogs dead, don’t worry about it’. And I said, ‘No we’ve got to pick up the dog and take him to the vet’. That was my immediate decision. And the kid doesn’t know what to do because it’s his dog and he shouldn’t let it off leash and he shouldn’t run in front of me and all that. And, I said, ‘No, we’re taking the dog to the vet.’ And my boss said, ‘No we’re not, it’s a company car, we’re not taking them in the car’. And just to that point, someone else arrived who was a friend of the kid. And they said that would take care of it. But I didn’t last in that organization. Because that decision, just perturbed me significantly, I had nightmares over that. To think that he was going to leave the dog on the side of the road. And I would be forced to do the same, you know. Yeah. I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t go with it.
Geoff McDonald 17:45
Yeah, it’s kind of… what I’m hearing is, and this might not be totally accurate for all situations, but it’s kind of the absence of a gift. Or when the value gets kind of confronted or challenged in some way that they become more obvious. And otherwise, mostly, they’re almost transparent or invisible. Is that accurate?
Alan Silcock 18:03
Yeah. Look, it’s you know, what’s important to you and we don’t quite get to that sometimes. We get to that through what we’re told is important. And because if you play Facebook full time, it’s like playing pokies from time to time. You’re just getting told to… Sorry.
Geoff McDonald 18:26
Someone always rings.
Alan Silcock 18:28
That’s another good learner, actually. But yeah, if someone’s gonna tell you what to do. What’s more empowering is if you decide what’s important to you in your life, and then you start to enact that, and the nature of gifts, you would have had a shit gift. We all have. So, one where someone’s just got it because they have to. They haven’t thought about who you are, what you are, what you like, right, who is giving you this gift. But that’s not what a gift is. I’m talking about true gifts. It’s about you thinking very carefully about ‘What is your gift to you? And what is your gift to others in that others would say, that was a great gift?’ Yeah, thank you for doing that. Thank you for being that person. You know, and that for me is maybe a bit deeper than values. Values will give you direction, but the actual you know, delineation of what your gift is takes a good deal of thought because it’s not just for you.
Geoff McDonald 19:43
Alan Silcock 19:43
Values is just for you. Yeah. Unless it’s organizational values, which is a different conversation.
Geoff McDonald 19:49
And strengths are the same. There are things that are my preferences that come out of me.
Alan Silcock 19:53
Yeah. And I think gifts will come out of your preferences for sure. Yeah. And we look, we know we’ve all done personality inventories like MBTI. I used to be credited in that. And that will give you a bit of an indication too of who you are. But then you’ve got to take that a step further, and say, ‘Okay, if that’s who I am. But how do I want to show up to others? What’s my gift of others in this world?’
Geoff McDonald 20:18
Some of this is going to be accidental as in you just find your way forward. How do you do this deliberately?
Alan Silcock 20:25
Well, you buy the book. There is about three chapters of activities. Yeah, I won’t go into detail now. Because, but certainly one of them is values. And another one is moods, yep, yep. We just focus on those two, there’s two chunks that we can perhaps look at. Some of the work that Mark Molony who I know, you know, and I did with the Rotary Youth Leadership Award people over a decade’s worth of facilitating that program, or part of the program. We would have the young leaders consider what moods that they inhabited on a regular basis by giving them a series of at least six distinctions around core moods, as determined by a Chilean philosopher, Fernando Flores. And that was a wake up to many of them, just the fact that they started to learn, we can wake up in the morning, and you know, we can, we don’t have to go through the whole day of being anxious, we can change that. Which would mean we might have a better conversation with someone else, which would mean that we might be more open to ideas from someone else
Geoff McDonald 21:39
It actually changes the whole life.
Alan Silcock 21:40
It does. That we could go, we could try and bend that into curiosity, for example. And how’s that going to change things? Like we can look at this wee dog down here, and it just embodies curiosity, to the extent of wanting to chew the cord on the microphone right. It’s not not limited at all, by its exploration of the world right now. And that’s why we called him ‘Scout’. Activities like that, values analysis, just help you get deeper into your core self, and what your core desires are, and how you want others to see you.
Geoff McDonald 22:19
Is this best done in isolation or with someone else? Or a bit of both?
Alan Silcock 22:23
Well, really, again, depending on your gifts, right? And depending on your preferences, like some people probably like to do it in a group, as we did with the young people at the Rotary Youth Leadership. We’d have 30 or so young people, and we’d run them through these exercises, and they would have conversations about it, and then they would go away, and they’d design their own way of fitting it into their lives. The book really is a starting point. And there’ll be more material that’ll come out beyond that. Certainly, like this, you know.
Geoff McDonald 22:54
Book two, three, four.
Alan Silcock 22:55
Yeah, maybe other books. But more, I think more interactive ways to engage people in a way that they will choose to be engaged. Whether that’s spoken books, whether that’s online stuff, whether it’s TED talk type stuff, whatever it is, or coaching one on one. I’d like to meet whatever preferences people have. And, I don’t know, it might challenge my publishers a bit.
Geoff McDonald 23:24
But that’s what you’re here for. So probably sets up Is there some way to do a diagnostic tool around or you’ve mentioned before, that’s kind of a…
Alan Silcock 23:35
There’s a number of them I’ve put in there. People would maybe be sort of familiar with or unfamiliar with. So there’s a good dozen tools in the book.
Geoff McDonald 23:45
But as you said, they’re kind of like, ‘Oh, it says, my gift is so and so. But then it’s really up to you to go and engage with that’.
Alan Silcock 23:53
Exactly. Exactly. And and there’s the there’s a number of activities on that, too.
Geoff McDonald 23:57
Alan Silcock 23:58
Have you once having identified what you’re really passionate about in terms of gifts that works for you works for others, okay, so how do you enhance that? How do you plus that into you, from the moment you get up in the morning right out to the end of the day? Yeah. And how can you monitor it? And how can you check in with others and yourself as to how well you’re doing with that?
Geoff McDonald 24:19
Because I’ve certainly seen and met and heard people talk about, ‘Oh, I did this test that says I am an X. And therefore, I don’t do that anymore. It’s kind of like… Mmm… Okay.
Alan Silcock 24:30
Yeah, so, it’s more an idea that comes with action than a diagnostic tool.
Geoff McDonald 24:39
Alan Silcock 24:40
In a way that we know because we both exercised heavily in the past, we still do. We know that you only get yourself out on five or six K run in the morning, because you get yourself out and you’re five or six K run in the morning. You only identify one of your gifts and make it shine in the world because you do that. It’s down to you. I can make it easy for you to do so in terms of strategies that have worked and are working, you know, and I’ve fortunately studied the best of the best with regards to that over 30 years. And that’s all this stuff does work. But ultimately, it’s down to you making it work for you.
Geoff McDonald 25:19
Yeah, that’s kind of the bit people don’t want to hear.
Alan Silcock 25:22
Yeah, well, you know, yet it’s rewarding to. Well, the tennis club is trying to explain that one yesterday. This is his first major win. He has worked solidly at that, you know, since he was a wee boy. Yeah. Yeah. And now he’s, you know, I think he’s early 20s. Popyrin? Is that his name?
Geoff McDonald 25:45
Alan Silcock 25:46
Yeah, yeah. And, oh, man, I saw the end of that. And I was almost in tears watching him – he’s so good. It does take work. Don’t think it’s you have to work as hard as he did.
Geoff McDonald 25:58
But it’s all different journeys. Someone might have to work twice as hard as him. Someone maybe has to work slightly less. But what I’ve read in the research I’ve seen is that the satisfaction and happiness comes from knowing that you’ve worked at something. Absolutely. It’s not a gift from the point of view that lightning came down and struck you and all of a sudden, you’re Superman, and you got it. There’s not satisfaction in that. There might be moments of glee. It is pleasure, but it’s not deep happiness or satisfaction.
Alan Silcock 26:30
Geoff McDonald 26:42
At one level his life has been hell.
Alan Silcock 26:45
Yeah. Well, as he tells his story, and if you want to reference it, you just go to TED Talk, TEDx, I think you’ll find and put in his name, John Bruna [Free Will is a Skill]. And he says that, you know, after being kicked out by his wife, for alcoholism and addiction. When he had a young child, he said he spent his life wanting to be the father, that would be good enough for his daughter to say, I’ll come back to you. What a huge outcome, right? And he did. He became a Buddhist monk, along the way, he taught along the way. And eventually he got that outcome. I’ll never forget him writing about it in the description of his daughter, in a best dress come to see her dad for the first time since so many years ago.
Geoff McDonald 27:36
As a gift, it’s not like it was given to him on a silver platter.
Alan Silcock 27:41
He’s worked at it, as most of us do, I think. And I know, over the past two, past five years, I’ve really worked it to get these books together. Initially, it was going to be one book and then it merged into two. And its daily work, you know.
Geoff McDonald 28:01
And some days is blood bloody hard work.
Alan Silcock 28:02
Sometimes it’s bloody hard, like in Scotland when it gets dark at three o’clock, and you’re still going, and you’ve allocated another few hours to write. It’s snowing and yeah…
Geoff McDonald 28:14
Some days the words just don’t come out that well. They come out but they don’t make any sense. Or you can’t quite say what you mean.
Alan Silcock 28:22
There is labour there. And I think if you prepared to put in the labour yes, I totally agree with you. And I’m sure John would agree with you that you can achieve that satisfaction. And it’s that satisfaction that leads you to genuine happiness as defined by the by the Buddhists.
Geoff McDonald 28:44
And probably what he would say, based on what I’ve read about John, in his book, that, yes, the outcome of having my daughter meet me on those terms was fantastic, joyous, all those wonderful things. But he’d also be proud that he put in that thing and became the person he wanted to be, which was what it was about.
Alan Silcock 29:04
Totally agree having met him a few times. But you know, I just find it lives can be inspiring. And your life can be inspiring too, you know, and even if you just inspire one person, that doesn’t matter.
Geoff McDonald 29:20
Well, you shared an example with me just before we had lunch around the guy you met in Edinburgh who played the guitar. who was curious about the internet, and whether he could be on the internet? And we concluded that for us, it kind of seemed like a simple idea, but for him it was this magical experience that he was actually on the internet.
Alan Silcock 29:43
Yeah. And I think in terms of my personal gift of connection, I think that’s where this had me out in the park listening to Tony play guitar, freezing cold. He’s got on a short sleeve shirt, 80 years old. And you heard that the video that I shot of him, and his voice is pretty croaky. But his songs are really melodic. And he just gets out there every day. And that’s what he does. And I just I just think it’s amazing that he puts in that labor when he doesn’t have to do that. When he gives his gift, yeah, when he doesn’t have to do that anymore. People say, look, you retired 20 years ago, why are you doing this?
Geoff McDonald 30:31
But then that’s the definition of a gift, isn’t it? If I gave you something and expected, something back, that’s actually a trade or a sale or something, it’s not a gift in the true sense.
Alan Silcock 30:43
I agree totally. Yeah, a gift is something that you don’t expect a return on.
Geoff McDonald 30:48
And you give willingly of.
Alan Silcock 30:50
And you give willingly of. And then whatever measure Yeah, and Tony did this. And he was so surprised that I could get him on this magical thing he thought was the internet. And it’s so delighted to tell his friends that he was on the internet. I’ve given him my card and my web address, and I’ve got his video on there. If you go to FollowingForsyth.com, Forsyth being the Scottish Forsyth name, and search for videos, you’ll see him play a couple of songs just delightfully. And yeah, he was blown away by that. His gift to Edinburgh, in some way, mimicked my gift to him to allow other Edibereans and others to see his gift.
Geoff McDonald 31:40
It was also a really important point from Warren Buffett a few years ago. Oh, time’s up. And so, there was that point from Warren Buffet a few years ago, where he was talking about how he became rich.
Alan Silcock 31:54
Yeah, by charging people more and…
Geoff McDonald 32:00
Thank you very much. So that’s why I’m not rich. I just keep talking. Now I’ve got it. Okay, so he was saying, so my gift is actually I know how to trade and make money on the stock market. And that was fairly obvious. But the interesting thing he said was, ‘I’m actually just fortunate that my gift makes me a lot of money. Your gift may or may not make you a lot of money or any money’.
Alan Silcock 32:23
Yeah, and I guess that’s why I focused on contributions as far as community or charity. And wealth because I need to have a level of wealth, or at least income to be able to support and sustain and support my other gifts, including gifts to others like Tony. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think that’s a good distinction to hold in your life.
Geoff McDonald 32:49
When is the book available and how do we contact you?
Alan Silcock 32:53
It should be available very soon. We’re talking the start of March, I don’t know specifically, when in March, but it’s been released by Olympia Publishers who are based primarily in London, but also in New York and in India. And so, it’s a matter of how, you know, we get it to this side of the world and get it distributed amongst book stores and all that. But I’ll be doing a book launch, if not the end of March, probably into the beginning of April here. So, it might even get close to Easter, just so we can you know, stand on the shoulders of that.
Geoff McDonald 32:55
So how can someone get on the list to be either get the book or be at your book launch or…
Alan Silcock 33:41
All my details are on my website, www dot FollowingForsyth.com. You’ll see my contact details and send me an email. And yeah, I’ve just sent off a letter to the publishers this morning asking those sorts of questions. I’ll know very soon. Yeah, where the book will be available. It’s just an easy click to to get it.
Geoff McDonald 34:10
Fantastic. Well, great to talk to Alan and look forward to having more conversations, interactions and sharing our gifts.
Alan Silcock 34:17
And having wee Scout chew things.
Geoff McDonald 34:20
Not my shoelaces thanks.
Alan Silcock 34:22
Yes, thank you very much, Geoff. It’s a pleasure to be your friend. Oh,
Geoff McDonald 34:26
Oh, back at you, Alan. Thank you. Bye.
Alan Silcock 34:29