With Anne-Laure Le Cunff

The Interintellect
Sep 17, 2019 · 8 min read

Anne-Laure is an international legend in London’s “maker” scene — the founder of Ness Labs and Maker Mag, she is also a neuroscience student, a self-taught programmer and a prolific blogger.

As a friend of the I.I., Anne-Laure kindly participated in our new Questionnaire series ❤

Let’s dive in!


Please write your Most Honest Twitter Bio :)

Eternally curious, eternally anxious, enjoying the highs and lows of wandering at the fringes of tech, art, and science.

Which of the words in this “bio” is the most important for describing you? Why?

This is cheating, but to me curiosity and anxiety are two faces of the same coin. Curiosity is what drives me to take risks and try new things. Its sister, anxiety, keeps me up at night sometimes, its little voice questioning these risks.

Imagine your past — present — and future. Name three songs that are the perfect soundtrack for these three stages.

Past: “Tous les cris les SOS” by Daniel Balavoine. It’s a beautiful French song that talks about being surrounded by people but not feeling connected, and worrying about the future — at an individual and global level.

Present: “Le temps est bon” a song from the early 70s by Isabelle Pierre. The title means “Times are good” and it’s about summer, love, and just letting life happen. It’s quite hippie.

Future: “Alright” by Jain. Because I want to believe things will be alright.

What are the 4 pillars of human relationships? Is this general (i.e. works in any relationship from romance to geopolitics) or is there a change across scales?

I don’t know if there are 4 specific pillars, but if I had to pick some I believe are essential for any kind of relationship to work, I would say trust, communication, patience, and respect.

Trust that the other party will do the right thing, whatever definition of “right” has been agreed on; open communication to never assume that the other party knows what you know, what you think, and how you feel; patience, because building strong relationships take time; respect, as in accepting the other party for who they are, versus trying to change them.

Real communities are powerful and can accomplish a lot. Good, bad, important, trivial, safe, innovative. It’s really hard to predict what will come out of a community.

Share one thing about which you changed your mind in the past 5 years. What made you do it? Why didn’t you do it earlier?

I changed my mind about the way I see my career. I used to have this linear view, the usual view of climbing a ladder, with predefined steps to take to arrive at a specific destination. I now have a more circular view of personal growth, and I’m happy to reinvent myself every so often.

Lynne Tye, an entrepreneur I admire, sent me this comic which perfectly captures the shift. The reason why I didn’t do it earlier is because I didn’t even consider this approach to life a possibility.

In retrospect, successful people seem to have had a journey that makes sense, that makes for a good narrative. Of course, these stories are fabricated after the person has reached a level of popularity that makes the story worth telling in the first place. Now, I feel very comfortable having a fluid identity and no punchy one liner to describe my work.

While solitude is good, loneliness can be terrible. It’s easy to have the illusion of connectedness through a few likes or a comment.

What does the word “community” mean to you in 2019? Is it an empty word or does it have a real substance?

I don’t think there are any empty words. Even buzzwords are often a reflection of the insecurities of a certain group of people who need to hide behind jargon. They still carry meaning, even though it’s not the originally intended one. “Community” is one of the most important and dangerous words of 2019. To me, it just means coming together. To do what? That’s where it can be dangerous.

Real communities are powerful and can accomplish a lot. Good, bad, important, trivial, safe, innovative. It’s really hard to predict what will come out of a community.

What role do you think you play in groups of people? What role do groups play in your life?

I see myself as a catalyser. I love finding people’s strengths and potential synergies and help them from behind the scenes connect and accomplish things together. I’ve always been a terrible leader in the traditional sense of the term. I don’t like dictating people what to do. But I love bringing people together and seeing what happens. I often organise small dinners or drinks just because I want people around me to meet and interact together.

Most of the groups in my life are fluid. That’s probably a result of having lived in big cities where people come and go. I think that’s an interesting feature.

What does “individualism” mean to you in 2019? Is it a political slogan or an ambition we all should have?

It’s interesting because Americans and Europeans have a different opinion of what individualism is. It’s celebrated in the U.S. because it means being independent and self-reliant. In Europe, it can have a bad connotation, akin to egocentrism. And in reality it’s two faces of the same coin. In general, I do believe that “charité bien ordonnée commence par soi-même” — that charity begins with one’s self.

I still haven’t really seen a healthy approach to individualism anywhere. Some people start with themselves, nurturing their bodies and their minds, but don’t expand this kindness to other people afterwards, while others spend a lot of time trying to help without addressing their own preconceptions first. Healthy individualism is, I think, an ambition we should all have.

Name one thing humans are better off doing alone.

Thinking. And by being alone, I mean, really alone, whether physically or digitally. No phone, no laptop, no people around you. It’s such a luxury to be totally alone with your own thoughts. I think we should all do it more.

In retrospect, successful people seem to have had a journey that makes sense, that makes for a good narrative. Of course, these stories are fabricated after the person has reached a level of popularity that makes the story worth telling in the first place. Now, I feel very comfortable having a fluid identity and no punchy one liner to describe my work.

What do you think is one thing most people are mistaken about?

How much their own life carries meaning. Most people will never admit it but they see themselves as the hero of a story where everything revolves around their own perceptions. When in reality it’s all pretty absurd. It’s a shame, because realising that life in general and your life in particular doesn’t have any particular meaning is liberating. More people would get closer to their life purpose if they didn’t think it had to make sense.

What is an achievement you’re most proud of?

The fact that I have stopped chasing achievements. The first part of my life was all about collecting these little badges I could wear proudly and look at whenever I felt any doubt creeping in. I’m now focusing on the continuous process of learning, with no clear achievement to show for it, except that I’ve become much better at facing my anxiety.

“My parents got married at Burning Man two years ago…”

What is one skill you’d like to wake up magically having?

This is such a cliche, but I would love to be able to speak every language in the world, past and present. I read in French, English, and Spanish, and it’s just crazy how much is lost in translation when you compare different versions. I would love to be able to read everything in its native version. Of course, this would have the added bonus to be able to converse with anyone when travelling, which would be fantastic too. I know technology will get us there, but by the time it’s the case, it won’t feel like magic anymore.

In an ideal scenario, how does the world look like in 10 years? How about 50?

In 10 years, we have sane people running most of the countries in the world and working together towards addressing climate change. In 50 years, all economies run on clean energy, forests are growing again, and thanks to education reforms and access to great remote learning solutions, everyone has equal access to opportunities.

How likely do you see the ideal scenario actually happening?

I’m honestly a bit pessimistic, but I want to believe this is possible. I’m just worried about the fact that we seem to close our eyes on what our political leaders are doing. We’ve been comfortable for longer than a generation and we seem to forget how precious and fragile what we have really is. As humans, we tend to act once it’s too late.

Realising that life in general and your life in particular doesn’t have any particular meaning is liberating.

What is one small thing we should all be doing every day to make life better

  • for ourselves? Spend time alone. Truly alone. Without your phone or anything. It can be terrifying at first to be alone with your thoughts but it’s important to take the time to think for ourselves.
  • for our immediate community? Reach out to ask how people are doing. While solitude is good, loneliness can be terrible. It’s easy to have the illusion of connectedness through a few likes or a comment. But it’s much better to really ask people how they’re doing.
  • for mankind? Write. Create videos. It can be Instagram stories, it doesn’t matter. Put your ideas out into the world. Turn everything you learn into content you can share. While I think writing is one of the most powerful ways to disseminate ideas, there are so many options today to communicate with other people at scale. The only crime is to keep your ideas to yourself.

Do people want a “good life”? What in your mind is a “good life”?

People do want a good life. Though their definition of what a good life may vary. To me, a good life is to have the freedom to work on what I want, from where I want, with who I want. If I feel fulfilled in my work, everything else tends to follow. I’m calmer, more caring, more connected to the people I love. I also take better care of myself.

Most of the groups in my life are fluid. That’s probably a result of having lived in big cities where people come and go. I think that’s an interesting feature.

What is your definition of happiness?

Happiness is when you stop looking for it.

The Interintellect

Written by

A global community and talent agency for public intellectuals http://interintellect.com

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