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The Difference

A farmer / forester friend speaks eloquently and passionately about the nature of forests. To thrive, they need a mix of trees. Some spread their roots wide and shallow to provide stability in high winds, others drive deep tap roots to anchor them in place. Together they thrive. Difference is strength.

The same is true of our economy. An economy based soley on the worship of money is shallow. We need more.

There is a difference between getting paid to do something and doing something to earn money.

It is, I think, all about the work and our relationship with it. When we do something to earn money, the money is in charge, and what we do to achieve it becomes the variable. It is a dangerous path, and like anything addictive, it evolves to become an end in itself.

Doing something to earn money is slightly different. The “something” is in charge and the money more of the variable.

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We all operate on a line between doing something for the love of it and doing something for the tangible reward it brings us. We travel along that line every day, between a shallow attachment to money, and a deep connection to place, purpose and community. We need both.

I think what matters is understanding that and being aware of it.

Lockdown has given many of us a glimpse. The problem with a regular monthly salary is what it brings along with it. The ability to service debt and to use it to buy “shiny” things that provide short term satisfaction, and only then realise that the debt now owns us. We adopt habits, like commuting, to earn that regular monthly salary. We compromise those promises we made to ourselves about lines we would not cross because of our monthly salary demands.

Taleb is right, and we have built a whole industry – “financial services” – that provides for those who need to mainline debt. I wonder what removing our level of addiction to monthly salary would have on our creativity. If we had the provision for universal basic income that we have seen, dressed up in other terms, during the lockdown, would we see people pay more attention to the type of work they do? Could we see people move a little down the line to doing work they love, and if they did, what the impact would be?

It makes me shudder little when I read this morning that enabling re-skilling is to be part of the Queens Speech for the next Parliamentary term, but that it will be done via loans. Just how I wonder, do we we-skill creatively when we put debt in charge?

What is coming next, in a time of artificial intelligence and rapid adaptation to the Planet’s survival (or, to be accurate – humanity’s. The Planet will do just fine. It has longer to put things right than we do.)

The U.K is known for its creativity, and it seems a shame not to capitalise on it.

We all have a part in this and choose who we follow: shallow debt or our deep potential for creativity.

If we really want to break free and do what we could do, we must stop debt from killing creativity.
It may take several generations, but it’s no reason not to get started.

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A time for owners, not Franchisees

A Brand is a promise – of quality, of delivery, of attention. A Brand is organic – it grows, thrives, declines, gets hollowed out and dies.

In times of rapid and complex change, we know that we can only deal effectively with change at the edge, coming into contact with morphing realities. Despite that, most of our organisations still want to “manage” change from the centre.

It reminds me of a scene in the wonderful 1969 film “Monte Carlo or Bust”, where the car, driven by the hapless Dudley Moore, careers over a cliff and the imperious Peter Cooke, pointing over to the left, instructs him to “land over there.” It’s a perfect metaphor for much of what we see in highly centralised organisations at present.

Perhaps, in the current conditions, Franchises are an excellent example of what happens when the centre decides what happens at the edge. In the coffee shop, the people on the front line, or the fast-food outlet, or the coaching business picking up the pieces when the unstoppable force brand they have signed up to meets the immovable object of an unforecast major challenge.

Waiting for the cavalry to ride over the hill can be a very long wait.

The good franchisors (and there are some) take the hit and support their franchisees. The poor ones go to lunch ’till it’s over. Owners are different. Their situation is no more straightforward, but at least they have agency and can act.

There is a point in the evolution of some brands; when they run out of ideas, it pays to retain power at the centre but push accountability to the edge. Get others to take the real risks, but with limited authority to take action.

It struck me last week during the elections. I’m sure where I live is not unusual, but all the publicity and PR was for parties where decisions are made a long way away on the different planet of Westminster. Trying to find out anything about the person, the local candidate who bought the franchise, was next to impossible. They ask us to buy a brand promise featuring celebrity people who like big stages, and who have little to do with the day to day of local politics.

When it comes to rapid change, I think we want to work with people who know what it’s like where we live and who have the courage and commitment to take action as needed, not wait for permission from somewhere far away.

We need owners, not franchisees.

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Reflections 9 May

On my Mind.

In a week that has seen elections here in the UK, an increasing level of noise about returning to work and holiday travel amidst a still explosive international situation, my mind has been on our relationship with ideas.

A mixture of apparent relationships has struck me. At one end, there are the dogmatists, those who insist they know what’s going on, what to do about it and don’t entertain discussion. On the other end are the dreamers, who believe that we can change our situation by willing it to happen. In the middle are the pragmatists, who work with what’s available. 

The dogmatists are easy to spot. They sit atop hierarchies, far away from the day to day realities of those further down. Whether they are preaching populist notions of sovereignty or advocating that a return to the office world is the only acceptable mode of working, they have high levels of propositional and practical power and will shape our short term future. They are those who are often wrong but never in doubt and whose often repeated mantra when it does go wrong is that “lessons will be learned”. 

The dreamers are also easy to spot. They are attractive people with high ideals, a strong sense of social justice, and a cause. They like to go head to head with the dogmatists, pointing out everything they consider wrong, but with only vague, sweeping answers as to possible alternatives. They construct potent scaffolds for their idea of the future but have not yet created the foundations.

We need to pay attention to the pragmatists. 

Some inhabit the world of the dogmatists, brokering the power and expertise that helps the obsolescent function. It is the world of the major banks, consultancies, political parties, lawyers and financiers whose personal interest is vested in the status quo changing as slowly as possible and even then only on their terms. 

Others are pragmatic dreamers. They understand what the dreamers are excited about simultaneously as they realise that to get to that possible future, we need to get unstuck from where we are first. The pragmatist in them recognises that we first need mobility – social, financial, technical and political. The direction takes second place to movement. Once things are moving, then they can set a direction. 

Pragmatic dreamers are tricksters. They inhabit a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction, and there are many of them out there right now. They harness experiential and artistic power. Harder to define than the stuff of dogmatists, but much easier to feel.

As what we have been taught to believe slowly, or maybe not so slowly, dissolves in the face of multiple, linked, complex issues from climate change to social justice, we need to pay attention to whose dreams we are buying.

What is happening is not something we’re watching; it’s something we’re part of and for which we are individually and collectively responsible.

Any dream will not do.

Books I’ve liked

Re-sounding. Rick Spann and Simon Martin. Published by the innovative TAOS institute, this short, well-referenced book offers an exciting alternative to conventional views on organisational change. It is also free to download. Provocative and, in my opinion, well worth reading.

The Fifth Hammer. Daniel Heller – Roazen. Based on the legend of Pythagoras’s discovery that we need apparent disharmony to induce harmony. I bought this to go alongside Re-sounding and Daniel Byrne’s “How music works” to see if it will help me leverage the insights from Re-Sounding.

The Artist’s Way. Julia Cameron. I hadn’t heard of this bestseller until introduced to it during an unhurried conversation hosted by Johnnie Moore. It’s about how we can best get out of our own way when doing something new and creative, and with a book on the blocks, I need that right now.

Articles I’ve liked

Efficiency is the Enemy. FS Blog. Efficiency is good at anchoring us where we are, not where we need to be—an excellent short article.

How to be excellent. From Psyche Magazine. Lessons from Plato and Aristotle. 

The Tragedy of the “Tragedy of the Commons” The idea of the “tragedy of the commons” entered economic folklore in 1968… Like all dogma, it’s worth challenging every so often.

Want to be a Samurai? 

And a Quote (well two actually – I liked them both)

He only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

“It’s important to think. It’s what separates us from lentils.”

Jack. in The Fisher King

Have a great week. Pick your dreams carefully, but start moving anyway.