Echo Chambers

As we head into autumn, with Winter ahead, these are challenging times – but is the challenge real or one of our own construction?

We know that we largely construct our reality from the stories we tell ourselves, and that our stories are often delivered, prepackaged and hermetically sealed, via an assortment of media with very different agendas.

This video was shared with me by Steve Done, a very capable scientist and a trusted friend. I don’t know whether it’s true, and don’t have the epidemiological skills to challenge it, but when we claim to be “following the science” it seems to warrant a place at the table.

If it’s right, or even partially right, we could be painting ourselves into a corner, and I guess we won’t know how right this is until a few months time.

It suggests though that we need to be aware that the “Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring” approach of our politicians as they seek to be in control of something that will not be controlled, and who take the press as their thermometer, may not be the sharpest pencils in the box.

We have a huge appetite for certainty, and will lap up anyhing that purports to offer it. When we combine that with experts who relish a platform, we have a dangerous combination.

We don’t know who’s right yet but as we prepare for the future we need to allow for the fact that it may not be as black as some are painting it.

Reflections; 20th September

Part of the Garden at Great Dixter.

What I’ve noticed.

I’ve been away this week. My wife is a keen and accomplished gardner, and we took the time to visit two famous gardens down in Kent and Sussex. I realised something important.

Sissinghurst and Great Dixter are only a few miles from each other, in the High Wealds. A privileged, verdant part of the world. They are of similar sizes, and backgrounds in that they started life as projects for those with the wealth to acquire them, and were developed into glorious projects. Sissinghurst was eventually taken into the ownership of the National Trust, and Great Dixter placed into a charitable trust set up by Christopher Lloyd, the gardener who made it famous. I found the differences here instructive.

Sissinghurst is undeniably beautiful. At the same time, it has something of a “corporate” feel. From the orderly car parks to visitor reception, it is clearly managed who those are good at it.

Everything is well organised, including the garden, and I suspect that somewhere there is a horticultural equivalent of a business plan. The emphasis is both on the gardens, and the history of the house, home to Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicholson back in the day. Both have equal presence.

It has, like many other visitor attractions, suffered during the last few months, and the gardens had a feel of being in some form of maintenance until things recover. A sense of surviving rather than thriving.

By comparison, Great Dixter was a revelation for me. The garden is a riot of colour, and the absolute star of the show. The small team who run it obviously love it, and are dedicated to the legacy left by Christopher Lloyd. It has huge personality. I loved its self confidence.

I found myself wondering why the difference? The insight came from a question to one of the gardeners. Every part of the garden is crammed full of growth, and when asked how they planned it, the answer was largely that they don’t:

If a plant puts in an appearance, we do everything we can to let it thrive where it has chosen. It knows where it needs to be”

They manage what happens naturally. The garden is a co-operative venture with nature. It contrasted with Sissinghurst which whilst equally impressive felt designed and subject to a plan, as that as a result somehow its soul was not as present. Great Dixter on the other hand was just having a ball, and knew exactly who it is.

The metaphor is not lost on me at the present time. Many of our businesses feel like Sissinghurst. Impressive histories, and waiting for normal to return so that they can plan their future. Until that happens, they are holding their breath, going into “maintenance” and conserving their resources.

Others, with a clear sense of who they are and what they are for are just getting on with things. They are not susbservient to a plan, they have things to do and those who run them are like gardeners at Great Dixter, creating the conditions for what is emerging to thrive.

Both gardens are wonderful, and well worth visiting. The difference between the two though is that Great Dixter seems to be powered by Joy and the creation of tomorrow. The difference is huge.

Perhaps if we thought of our businesses as gardens, we might live better.

We can learn from that.

What is shaping my reflections?

The role of advice. Coaching, it its various forms, has grown rapidly. It is also effectively unregulated. In times on uncertainty, such as we currently face, we need to be very aware of the boundaries between consultancy, coaching and therapy and who we listen to. Each has their place, but limited overlaps. At a time when nobody knows, we need to be wary of those who profess they do, or have an answer, unless they can demonstrate that they have done it for themselves.

Whether we are offering or receiving, we need to be aware of the boundaries.

Craft. What if we could all say this about what we make and do? From the Living Beautifully Newsletter. You can sign up for it here.

Beauty. Great podcast with Amisha Ghadiali interviewing Alan Moore. Real food for thought.

Gratitude. I read the words of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address in “Braiding Sweetgrass” and found it really resonated as I spent time in the gardens we visited. It will take five minutes to read, but much longer to forget.

The New Bauhaus. Amidst the fumbling and bluster of our politics, serious politicians are giving thought to what next. I like this idea of ‘a new Bauhaus”, and just wish it had come from closer to home.

A quote

“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.”

Christopher Lloyd. The well-tempered Garden.

What I’ve learned

Simple, important things:

  • Firstly, I was tired, but didn’t know I was tired still I made myself stop being busy. Making time not to be busy matters.
  • That there’s a rhythm to things, and we’re not in charge of the music. Moving with the rhythm is far more productive and enjoyable.
  • To wonder who’s in charge – the garden, or the gardener. Who is serving whom?
  • That money is a wonderful servant, but beyond “enough” a terrifyingly hungry and sterile master. I dislike what it can do to otherwise wonderful people.

What I’m up to.

The small groups we started that are Originize continue to grow and develop. They are important to those that comprise them. That surprises and delights me, and brings out the gardener in me. Time for some tender care, and some new season’s planting of ideas and ambitions maybe.

Preparing for Catalysing the Future on Sept 30th. Here are some links. Join us.


Twitter: @CatalyzeFuture.

Have a great week.

Making Stuff That Matters

Every morning i’m seeing increasing numbers of posts about conferences on designing the future. They’re interesting and valuable, but without products that matter to flow through the system being designed they’re as useful as plumbing in a desert.

For the last fifty years, advisory businesses from accounting to design have made excellent livings advising people who make things and helping them improve. We’re at the end of that cycle. We’ve made far too much of what really doesn’t matter and created a plastic economy.

Our shortage now is not advisers – we have shedload upon shedload of them. What we need are people who have ideas about what to make, and how to make it in a world that is in upheaval.

Products and services that will improve our lot, reduce inequality, help heal the climate, restore our ecology and make our souls sing rather than our wallets bulge.

You are out there. You are not head of a corporation, and neither are you likely to fulfil what we need working for someone else. You will not be an adviser.

You will be on fire and frustrated. You will be looking for fellow travellers who will put skin into the game, and share risks. People who will sleep under their desks and worktables whilst pushing to do something remarkable.

We don’t need advisers, we need doers. Makers of things that matter. We need to link them together. Creators of beautiful businesses

The only advisers we need are those who have already done it. Iconoclasts. Warriors for better. People who inspire us by example not advice.

They are worth listening to.

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