Swimming in the English Channel (First Attempt)

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it.

Despite waking every morning for months with the dream of powering through to Cap de Griz Nez in arguably the world’s toughest swim, this dream will have to wait. I feel extremely lucky to have met Ned Denison (Channel Swim 2005)  and Donal Buckley (Channel Swim 2010) whom have kindly pointed out the many mistakes that I made and have been a goldmine of knowledge on open-water swimming, I only wish I had of met them one year ago.  Both swim in Sandycove, Co. Cork and have aided more swimmers to successfully cross the channel than anywhere in the world outside of Dover itself and the Serpentine Swimming Club in London.

I didn’t get off to a good start with the weather delaying the swim, Hurricane Irene turned up on the English coast with even Dover Castle closing due to high winds. I was due to swim in the first week of September 2011, but finally got out on the 26th September 2011. It was the wrong day for a channel swim attempt of which even worse I had picked up a cold and cough. Ned said “Pilots want to sail and swimmers want to swim, despite unfavourable conditions.” My first mistake was not cancelling the swim and waiting for another year as I wasn’t prepared to battle through the tough conditions that awaited me. Even worse, I wasn’t aware. A channel swim on the day would have taken 20+hours.


I boarded the boat ‘Pathfinder’ piloted by Eric Hartley in Dover Harbour at 7am. After loading onto the boat, we sailed out to the starting point of which I swam to the beach, waved to start and the clock began. I started strong with a stroke rate of 62. Time passed extremely quickly as my crew called me over for the first feed. I spent most of my time looking at the boat on each breath allowing me navigate.

Not too long into the swim, I started to feel sick that could have been from not feeling well before the swim, from the waves shaking me like a bronco horse causing sea sickness or possibly from swallowing too much of the lovely channel water on my feeds that didn’t seem to work too well. My stroke rate dipped to 50, (a dangerously low level). I emptied my stomach in the sea and took two Ibruprofen, but was already way off course. After five hours swimming, I had covered 25km making it into the shipping lane, but was dragged too far north towards Holland. The white cliffs of Dover faded behind me and large ferries and tankers appeared in front. An estimate was made at 20+hrs as we were off course and realistically not going to make it to France. I swam for another hour increasing my pace as I did not want to get out, but the pilot repeated his words on the next feed that I stood no chance in reaching France in these conditions. Extremely disappointed, I boarded the boat.

Two other swimmers attempted yesterday, the first giving up two hours before me also dragged north and the other from Zimbabwe ‘Bryan Tate’who despite being dragged north, completed the swim after 19hrs23mins, a colossal swim of more that 60km. I have plenty to do before I make another attempt with alot of open water-experience to gain.


TEDxLondonBusinessSchool – Disruption

I have become obsessed with the term disruption since attending this event as my own projects can be described as extremely disruptive.  See Wikipedia‘s defintion of the term as put forward by Harvard Professor of Business Administration Clayton M. Christensen. Below are my five favourites talks from the event: Andy Stefanovich for the most energy I have ever seen in a presentation, Luke Downey for brand values that actually mean something, Tom Hulme for introducing me to ‘Constant Beta’ and ‘Continuous Innovation’ (Another topic I have taken an interest to.), Brian Forde on Failure in social enterprise and finally Kevin Eyres on career.

Note Brian Forde doesn’t explain why his project failed of which I discussed with him after his talk and posted in OpenIDEO.  Locals did not want to make phone calls to chat with their pals or ask who wanted to go see a film, they wanted to spread the news of death or give money to their family, relatives and friends whom had left the country. The bike for the public square did not address the required privacy, and thus the project failed.

IDEAS on Airport Design

Notes for www.airport2040.com.


I would strongly recommend “The Harvard Guide to Shopping,” specifically the section on Airports. (Amazon) The book details the business model of airports and shows how profit generated from retail space is essential to keep airport taxes down. Having worked on a $6bn airport, I can say that the number one requirement by the client was to make everything far apart and encourage as much retail as possible.

Two models can be identified: Slow + Lots of retail / Fast + No retail


Heathrow – Many shops – 2 hours to get through – Taxes £45 per flight
Stansted – Many Shops – 2 hours to get through – Taxes £30 per flight


City Airport – One shop – 15 minutes to get through – Taxes £85 per flight.

Most airlines have seat numbers and board planes with passengers disordered. If the plane waiting area resembled the interior of the plane, staff could immediately see if the plane is ready ahead of time and identify which passengers have yet to arrive by looking at empty seats. More importantly, the plane could be boarded faster due to better organisation – passengers at the back of the plane would sit at the front of the waiting area; they enter first with all passengers moving in order from lounge to plane as a continuous wave without interruption.

How does a building meet a plane? Airport by OMA below.

Could the airport’s roof be the runway that sends passengers upstairs?


The train station goodbye  used to be running along the platform waving goodbye to a loved one that accelerates into the horizon. For me it is the perfect goodbye, but unfortunately we put a barrier today and have deleted this moment of interaction. I spent a lot of time in airports as a child, my favorite is King Khalid Airport Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The airport splits into two routes early on, those traveling, and those leaving people off. Both travel on non-intersecting routes to the airport gate, I used to wave goodbye to my mother and father directly from the gate as I returned to Boarding School each holiday season. In the photo below, the gates are to the left and in the middle is a sandstone plinth where my parents would wait. I waved goodbye alike the old train station goodbye’s above.


Have you played Airport Inc. ?? Great little simcity like game to get into detail of how airports work. (Amazon)


TEDxOxbridge delivered an excellent lineup of speakers on Saturday 6th June 2011. I enjoyed the talks throughout the day and outline those that resonated with me most, Alex, Richard, Paz, Jean and Marc. I would like to congratulate the TEDx organisers and team on an excellent event, but ask you sort out AV for next year. 🙂 On a positive note, all TEDx events should have the post-event dinners, an excellent idea!

I met many interesting people from the audience including two fascinating doctoral students from Saïd Business School, a handful of MBA’s, a CEO taking X-Rays to the max, an entrepreneur creating games that make people smarter and a really cool musician. The after-party was held in Oxford Town Hall that introduced me to a culture of strangely patterned jackets part of the Oxbridge tradition for Rowing Clubs. On to the talks……

Alex Steffen [about] [web] [twitter]

Alex Steffen introduced futurism to the audience, discussing the ‘history of the future,’ transportation utopias that lead down a glorious highway.  Looking at Edison who sold the future ideals of an invention, not its features. Simon Sinek must love  him as he was a WHY person.

Futurists today are for hire, Alex claiming he too has cashed many cheques renting out this unique skill-set. The conflict is found as we steal the future and market it to the present.  My favourite line of the day goes to Alex “selling the future is an inter-generational Ponzi scheme.”  He finished with a comical slide that left the audience in laughter “Free your mind and your ass will follow,” asking us to become good ancestors seeking and creating new possibilities for humanity and the planet.

 I was looking forward to hearing Alex’s talk the most and it is very much worth watching when it’s goes online. (Will update with link.) Talking to Alex after, two Oxford MBA’s were discussing his talk, surprised that he even had a book published..Go him!! Reminded me of this scene from the Social Network. I wish I had of brought my “World Changing” book to get it signed, I see a new updated edition and look forward to your new book as well.

Richard Seymour [about] [web] [twitter]

Richard instantly conveyed his charisma with his amazing manual slide clicker that became an entertaining form of dance on the stage. He indicated to the side of the stage to forward his slides with hilarious gestures that gave a great transition. In its technological glory, I’m not sure if Powerpoint could ever add a feature that was this cool.

Following on Alex’s talk, Richard highlighted the blue sky in the background of comic book Dan Dare – Pilot of the future. The irony of a this beautiful blue sky was that the sky was not this colour in post-war, but they drew a future full of optimism. He told us that the future could have happened eighty years ago, the technology existed, but new applications and combinations of old technologies are creating the latest innovation, not reinventing tech. This reminded me of Bertoit Brecht’s description of the radio in 1926. “One-sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution.” The technology in the twenties as I see it would have allowed us make radio 2.0 forming a social radio network, the Facebook of 1926, but we didn’t do that, luckily Mark + friends did in 2004.

At an early age, Richard Seymour took an interest in Design for Need making a shelter for UNESCO. Designed it to perfection, it was easily deployed, cheap and effective. But when received by locals, they ripped them apart and built homes with their traditional method. The world is not a ‘one answer for all’ and failure to listen and watch those on the ground results in products that do not work.

At Brian Forde’s talk at TEDxLBS last month he told a similar story (history repeating itself!) Brian designed a bike with phone access in Guatemala powered by pedal power. It met several impressive keywords of social enterprise from mobility to reach gaining media attention throughout the western world. However the project failed enormously. Locals did want to make phone calls to chat with their pals or ask who wanted to go see a film, they wanted to spread the news of death or spread money to family, relatives and friends whom had left the country. The bike for the public square did not address the required privacy. A lesson learnt for me, thank you Richard and Brian for sharing this lesson, one I no doubt will face soon.

I was very happy to hear Eva’s friend David Constantine mentioned whom I am big fan of. His produces amazing wheelchair designs that send design instructions to the developing world allowing everyone access to mobility.

The next slide was very funny asking the audience what they saw showing a typewriter. Everybody of course saw a typewriter, but a child’s answered was shown on screen  “A laptop that prints as you write and you don’t have plug-in.” Another question asked ‘what is the first thing you do when opening a sugar sachet?’ Most responded with a tear with two hands, I gestured a rip from my mouth opening it with my teeth, Richard noticed me and repeated the gesture looking right at me… “wrong as well.” The answer was of course to the shake the sachet and push the sugar to one end before tearing it open. Ask people a question, they may give the wrong answer, myself included, but watch them do it and new insight is found. This point reminded me of Paul Bennett’s talk that presented “the mirror of the bleeding obvious.” Given I know this type of example well, I feel the designer is not exempt from this very useful method of observation.

Richard concluded his talk with an extract from an old Templar oath that is his screen saver ‘Safeguard the Helpless and do no wrong.’ He views this every day and I think I’ll join you with setting it as my desktop background too. He closed “If your job is to meddle in creating the future, step carefully, or do something less dangerous.” Given my ambitious project of changing the 9500 years of a six sided brick to something a little more interesting, this line resonated in my mind throughout the day and hasn’t stopped yet. Fantastic talk!

Paz  [about] [web] [twitter]

Paz was a great speaker and very interesting to listen to his story. He moved to LA with the dream of being of s singer-songwriter ditching the other route of law school, much to the chagrin of his parents. Given the changes in the music industry over the last decade and the rise of music piracy, why not help people steal your music as their going to anyway. More difficult than it sounds for an unknown artist, each day Paz would get fifteen people to steal his album. My favourite part of his talk was his visit to the music label after picking up traction on the web. The music executive described the turmoil of the music industry, people were stealing music! Paz knowing this was not going to work for him asked “what methods do they do use?” The naive exec responded with social media, blogs but bit torrent was the worst! That night Paz uploaded his music to bit.torrent, doubling the amount of people whom he helped steal his music.

I wrote a thankyou message on facebook to Paz. James: AMAZING! I just STOLE your full album! Was at TEDxOxbridge and loved your talk, i might try apply a similar principle to my work (non music) as when I was young I wanted to be a pirate, thanks for speaking…was inspiring! Paz: Steal on, young pirate. Steal on!

Listening to your album as I write this post.

Jean Oelwang [about] [web] [twitter]

“Screw Business as usual.”  I like how you roll.

Who are our celebrities today, Lady Gaga has 87 million hits with poker face, world leaders struggle to make one hundred thousand and yet “Charlie bit my finger” has 337 million hits, a fifteen minute celebrity. It would have been interesting to ask the room “who are there celebrities?” Mine are almost all TEDsters, for my father it is the authors he reads (many whom have spoken at TED. For my friends, it is a mix of the two, so our celebrities are already the desired group this talk wishes for. So the question is how do we get more people interested, TEDx is of course a great start. The global village was mentioned, I♥Bucky, one of my heroes. I loved hearing about the Elders, I will look into their work more…

For those that liked this talk, check out TEDx GoodenoughCollege by Christian Busch that discussed lateral accountability, a balance of social impact and profit as well as reinterpreting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from a triangle to a circle, a must see!

I hope Richard Brandson’s swim training is going well for the crossing of the Irish Sea. I will be swimming the Channel in September as a two person relay, (Your both more than welcome on the boat.) While I will be raising money for another cause, I set up a Cancer Research UK profile for donations so that readers of this post can support Richard Brandson and Ronan Keating in their quest to raise £1,000,000.


Marc J Ventresca [about] [web] [twitter]

Marc Ventresca works on institutions, strategy, and innovation at the University of Oxford and asked us to become ‘system builders’ over ‘entrepreneurs.’ He details the word entrepreneur to contain the wrong imagery, wrong lessons, wrong sense of luck/risk and wrong opportunity. Today as things change and we move to systems not individual objects. ‘System builders’ is proposed to replace ‘entrepreneurs’. The word entrepreneur stems from the french entreprendre – to undertake and -eur used when french verbs become nouns. I do like rejection of ‘entrepreneur’ but think a better name for a ‘systems builder’ might exist. A portmanteau “Sytempreneurs” is my entry, but would love to hear what everybody suggests.

Lastly, my favourite pre-recorded TED talk was Brené Brown from TEDxHouston on Vulnerability.

NYC = TED + The Hudson River + Pier 40 Kayaking + Intrepid + Big Piano

This action packed adventure is shown by the neatly organised objects that describe my trip to New York City. (22nd May – 31st May 2011)

Click image for High Resolution

Top Row: MTA Subway Map, Computer Mouse, Swimming Goggles, NYC Swim Medal, Marc Jacobs Deodorant, Panadol, Passport, American Airways Air Ticket.

Second Row: NYC Swim Hat (no.465), Coins + One Dollar Bill, Met Admission Button, Speedo’s

Third Row: Destroyed Brick Model (Thanks Customs!), Architectural Association Sketch Book, Good luck Chick from Carey, TED Full Spectrum programme Guide, Metro Ticket, Strepsils, TED Full Spectrum Score Card, TED’s Ten Commandments.


In late April, my two favourite blogs Wired and FastCompany published articles announcing TED were to host an open competition for presenters. Each entry consisted of a youtube video submission and required a short essay.

Youtube – TED 2012 Full Spectrum entry – James McBennett

Three weeks ago I attended TEDxLBS (London Business School) that introduced me to Innovative Disruption with fantastic talks by great speakers such as Tom Hulme (IDEO), Dr Shamus Husheer (DueFertility), Andy Stefanovic (Prophet), Brian Forde (Llamadas) and Luke Dowdney (Luta) to name a few. Retuning home after a day of brain-fueled inspiration, I opened an email from Kelly Stoetzel only to be shocked with excitement. I had been selected to present as a finalist with sixteen others at the Full Spectrum 2012 Audition in New York City on My 24th.

Photo. © James Duncan Davidson 

My project from the Architectural Association on reinventing the brick using ceramic 3D printing to allow self-builders to make safer, stronger, taller and more intelligent construction for the city had become an “idea worth spreading”. Introduced to the stage by Chris Anderson, he explained that I might be the first TED speaker to fall asleep on stage (suffering from Narcolepsy) and wrote a Limerick  that assumed I was not a hit with the dames, (not sure where he got his intel, but do check out what my girlfriend Carey had to say about it.)

More about the actual talk and event in later update.

Photo. © James Duncan Davidson 

Training to swim the English Channel (Donate Now – AfH) this summer, I discovered “The Great Hudson River Swim” was to take place four days after TED, thus I entered my first ever open-water swim. Struggling with navigating a straight line in open water, I spent 33 minutes and 46 seconds to complete the 1.6 mile swim. While most wore wet-suits, I decided to man-up and wore only speedo’s accompanied by a pink swim hat. The valuable lesson learnt was: wear sunscreen.

Photo. Juan Martinez

The swim was finished by 9am, I then joined New York Sandboxers spending the afternoon in the water beside Pier 40 kayaking for free and had so much fun! We had a race shown below along with much ‘splashing and pirate-like behavior’ from our community organizer Fabian.

The Race
Photo. Joseph Augstein

I was asked to give a brief tour afterwards of the high life on the High Line. Explaining the architecture that fell either side of the park from how Gehry used digital information to directly control construction to further detail about Diller + Scofido and Field Operations who were the principle designers of this ambitious project for the city. Drinks were then had afterwards at “The Frying Pan,” where we began to discuss what everybody was working on in typical Sandbox style. After discussing Chris Anderson’s introduction to my TED talk above, we began to brainstorm how I could deal with Narcolepsy better, a conversation that lasted hours as we walked home street after street. A big, BIG thank you to Joseph Augstein for initiating this conversation, for your amazing ideas and I do hope we can now turn this into a real project solving Narcolepsy for me and the many that suffer from it. A design solution is proposed in opposition to the $20,000 that my insurance has spent on doctors and drugs that have yet to made any impact. I will update everyone with further details later, it is truly amazing what several exceptional under-30’s can come up with when asked a question so relevant to my life.

Thank you Niamh and Fabian for organising this day, throughly enjoyed.

James Kayaking
Photo. Joseph Augstein

The day after my New York City host and good friend Rob Daurio and I arrived late for admission at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum that I had wanted to visit during Fleet Week.  A tight security operation with machine-gun armed soldiers that guarded the gates, who would have thought the back door was wide open. An opportunity not to be missed, we enjoyed a free hour touring the Lockheed A-12 (Predecessor of the SR-71,) F-14 Tomcat , AWACS, BA Concorde among many others. Full List

Lockheed A-12
Photo. Rob Daurio

Photo. Rob Daurio

Photo. Rob Daurio

Photo. Rob Daurio

Photo. Rob Daurio

For my last adventure in New York, I wanted to visit FAO Swarchtz and play the Big Piano. I tested my piano skills in the video below, I love the background noise of a mother asking if her child can count that many zeros, $250,000.

I must learn “Chopsticks for my next New York City visit.

The giant piano used in the film ‘Big’ starring Tom Hanks.
Photo. Rob Daurio


Finding a lost panda bear

Rob Daurio and I found a lost little Panda bear in the NYC Subway. He was cold, alone and in need.

We decided to treat the Panda to a drink, he chose the local brew.

As compensation, he kindly offered to give a tour of NYC dragging us around all the top attractions.

Here we are beside Central Park, you can see who was doing the work! (This panda is spoilt rotten)

He showed us where he had grown up.

Seeking a cute girl to take care of him for the rest of his days, he is willing to move to London for the next adventure of his life. I think I might just know the perfect person to adopt this adorable little panda.

Thrilled to be a finalist in TED’s Full Spectrum auditions.

Last month TED announced the first-ever TED auditions, to explore the theme of TED2012: Full Spectrum. The challenge to the TED community: Make a one-minute video that describes your idea worth sharing — and how you’d share it with the world.

Thrilled to present with those listed below on May 24 in New York City.

Chris Plough
Virgil Wong
Jess Hobbs
Dr. Jane Rigby and Dr. Amber Straughn
Cesar Kuriyama
James McBennett
Reggie Watts
Kevin Carroll
Joe Sabia
Onyx Ashanti
Eric Singer
LeeAnn Renninger & Tania Luna
Jared Ficklin
Erik Wahl
Lior Zoref
Beth Urech
Joshua Walters

Follow the finalists on Twitter >>

A message to my good friend brick.

Dear Brick,

I received your contact details from the great architect Louis Kahn who famously asked you so many years ago at University of Pennsylvania, “What do you want, brick?” I have a new question for you.

Large numbers migrated to informal cities throughout the 20th century, ushering a new age of the world’s largest urban sprawls, a phenomenal growth with severe environmental consequences. Informal dwellers are unable to build homes more than three floors, thus spreading certain city boundaries more than 20km in every direction. Mexico City is an example of this unmanageable growth that Ricky Burdett (LSE Urban Age) has described as “extends endlessly in all directions like an oil-spill … has no chance of becoming sustainable”.

For 8,000 years you have had six sides. Opportunity exists to upgrade yourself with as many sides as a material can tolerate. Mud is cheap, abundant, recyclable, everlasting and thermally suitable for comfort. 3D printing is a zero-waste addictive process that will allow the production of new forms that are cheaper, stronger, lighter and more intelligent than previous construction. The informal city can rise safe against disaster.

Therefore I ask, what form would you like to to be, brick?

Using the web to spread this “form” throughout the world, the disruption is not intended to change one billion people in cities like London and New York, but to introduce architecture, engineering and urban design to five billion people that have never seen it before.

Look forward to your response,


OpenIDEO by James McBennett: Interactive Shelving


That thin slice of shelf that faces consumers with analogue pricing information can be brought into the 21st century as a read/write communication between man and food. A new potential to display data about food far beyond price.

Following on from Tom Hulme’s idea “Window to the farm”
I have looked into modifying the supermarket shelf.

A low cost version using only LED lights and basic controls could be made, but a full on touchscreen would create a rich media platform for consumers and producers to have a conversation.

Microsoft provide us with an interesting digital future supermarket in this video at 0:55 a man reduces product pricing on a tablet, altering price of all items in the store, updating the shelves digital screens.

Default display might be price, but upon touching the screens one see more information, changing the display of the individual product, or the entire food group on the shelves. For example, a customer might switch the displays from price to ‘distance traveled to market’ changing the entire shelf to temporarily display miles, not price.

Other options include..
1. Customer feedback and comments.
2. Like buttons.
3. Share this product on your facebook/twitter.
4. Price History
5. (@Meena Kadri) Nutritional Comparison between products
6. (@Meena Kadri) Goes Well With… (customer vetted?)
7. (@Meena Kadri) Hyper-local Index (yet to be invented? but to include distance, collaboration between producers, *local* recycle, repurpose, up-cycling, etc)
8.(@Meena Kadri)Search a specific shelf for a particular ingredient. (Useful for those with Allergies.)
9.(@Arjan Tupan) Foorprint: http://openideo.com/open/localfood/concepting/what-s-the-foodprint/
10: Third party recommendations. What does the Guardian Newspaper or Jamie Oliver recommend or the Goodguide.