Reflections, Sunday 2nd August

Arch Bridge (Rakotzbrucke or Devils Bridge) in Kromlau, Germany

What I’ve noticed

I think the changes we’ve seen over the last few months are more systemic and less episodic than I had thought.

This week, I went into my nearest city mall to have my annual eye test – something that, as yet, I can’t do online. Not having been in since lockdown started, I was startled by the changes. Not just the absence of people, and the number of closed shops, but the way in which the whole place operated.

I’d had to make an appointment, and wasn’t allowed in until ten minutes before – no problem with that, but with all shops employing Virus security measures, casual wandering just isn’t possible. Using up some of the spare time to go into Boots to get some toiletries, I found the range had been significantly reduced, I guess to support stock levels and cash flow, but it just meant that what I wanted wasn’t there. And whilst I fully support wandering round with a mask on it’s just uncomfortable.

As the former volume retail and hospitality reacts to circumstances in this mechanical way, whilst online becomes ever more creative and responsive I suspect we will only see a continuing acceleration of the decline of mediocre offerings.

To accept the ongoing measures we need to accept, it will need much better offerings that make the hassle worth it.

Less mediocrity, more craft. Less template, more unique. Less bland, more beautiful.

What I’ve been reading

It must be beautiful. Graham Farmelo. There is much less of a gap between science and spirituality than we commonly assume. This book bridges this gap in a very engaging way.

Braiding Sweetgrass. Robin Wall Kimmerer. There is also less of a gap between science and indigenous wisdoms than we might think. This beautiful book looks at them side by side in a moving and beautiful way.

Things I’ve liked

Less certainty, more enquiry. Maria Konnokova. More reflections on making decisions in times of uncertainty from a professional gambler. FS Podcast.

What to do when the lyrics won’t come. We are all originators of songs – as well as other creative ventures. Here’s a two minute read for when they’re not coming.

How to be a better listener. New York Times article. Brought to my attention by the Do Lectures.

A quote

All change results from a change in meaning. People. like all forms of life, only change when something so disturbs them that they are forced to let go of their present beliefs. Nothing changes until we interpret things differently. Change occurs only when we let go of our certainty, our current views and develop a new understanding of what’s going on”

Meg Wheatley in “Finding our Way”

What I’ve learned

When it comes to thriving in the conditions we face, only three things matter.

  • Our identity – being who we are really, rather than a mask we wear to fit in.
  • The information we pay attention to. Signal or noise is a choice.
  • The relationships we nurture. We become the average of the five people we most associate with.

What I’m up to.

Finding out how to better catalyse small, meaningful groups around what’s important, then connecting them to each other.

Have a great week.

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Just about everybody is business uses indicators. All use lag indicators – sales, margins, the stuff of yesterday. Fewer use lead indicators – web hits, reputation, engagement, and of these I guess most use their lead indicators to predict their lag indicators.

In times of stability, that’s fair enough – but what about now, when tomorrow is likely to have only a passing resemblance to yesterday? What are we looking for as signal?

If our business was to stop today, how would it be remembered? What are we doing today to ensure if it stopped tomorrow, it would remembered better than if it stopped today?

All businesses stop (but hopefully not today or tomorrow) and the ghosts they leave hang around long into the future.

Lead indicators focused on keeping shareholders happy, or short term returns are very different to those focused on what matters in the longer term. Climate, Biodiversity, Equality, Community.

if we want to be remembered for the right reasons, we focus on what matters.

Gradually, then Suddenly


Change happens gradually, then suddenly. Like an ice cube melting, far more is going on out of site as we watch it gradually start to change, and then all of a sudden its gone.

Universities have that feel about them. Like all large organisation they want to manage change, and do so on their own terms. Trouble is, change isn’t listening.

When I went to University, admittedly and long time ago, around 2% of us did. It was free. You got a good education, and provided you behaved you got a degree which gave you a choice of jobs.

A few decades later, more than half of young people go to University. It costs them an arm and half a leg to get a degree that is not guaranteed to get them a job. Along the way, we have industrialised education, measured it out of experience and joy and created a whole new class of tenured, highly paid CEO equivalents who have liitle to do with the spirit of education.

When I went to Uni, what we learned had a decent half life – at least enough to get started on a career. Now, by the time students get to third year much of what they learned in first year is obsolete. They are running up a down escalator burning money they have to borrow to take part.


Google has announced that it is treating Coursera’s six month professonal career certificates as seriously as a four year degree. Coursera doesn’t require entry qualifications. The course costs $300.

There are much better way to get the sort of education outside of my degree that I got that doesn’t involve expensive underperforming bureaucracies, and much better ways of getting relevant qualifications for a good job than sausage machine courses.

The best Universities still do what Universities always did, but the majority do not and they suddenly find themselves obsolescent, and too big to change in any reasonable timescale.


Our careers for good or ill are determined by the time after University by things that have little to do with what we learned there. Our sense of purpose, determination, ability to work with others, creativity , the people we know and a whole host of other things.

We are all unique human beings, and have everything we need. We do not need others people’s permission to succeed, only our own.

We do not have to tread the paths other people direct us to, we can walk our own.


Universites, and their support teams trot out statistics to show that in a career lifetime graduates earn more than non graduates – but those figures are based on history, the state of things as the ice cube was starting to melt, not what it’s likely to be now its melted.

Today, we can connect to anybody, anywhere. We can access information and the courses we need to make sense of that information on our own terms. We have all the elements that Universites provide – knowledge, contacts, and learning, and a choice of how to access them.

For the price of an average degree we can now do 100 Coursera specialist, immediately relevant courses over the first twenty years of our career, whilst earning, and still have enough left over to get the non academic education Universities used to provide.

We can do it at any age.

Great Universities will always be a good investment, but financially exclusive.

The people who deserve to be there often can’t access them, and the ones who can access them often don’t need them. There are other ways to farm privilege.

Average Universites have suddenly become irrelevant. There are better ways for those who choose.

The ice cube has melted.

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