Balance

Shockabuku. A swift spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.

Urban Dictionary / Grosse Point Blanke

As I was writing yesterday’s blog, I found myself reflecting on our attitude towards the Covid-19 Crisis. I think the clue is in how we term it.

We term the virus a crisis, rather than the position we have created for ourselves in dealing with it. It allows us to blame the virus. It is wrong headed. We have become unbalanced.

Covid-19 is not the crisis – our collective hubris is.

I suggest there are a number of areas that has precipitated the crisis that is our response to the virus – all of which we can do something about if we choose.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Victor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning.
Our attitude to Knowledge

Maybe our material success in commerce in the last two hundred or so years has encouraged us to conflate knowledge and science. To allow ourselves to be convinced that unless we can prove it, it doesn’t count as knowledge.

Paradoxically, our impressive capabilities with science has taken us to an estimate from quantum physics that we actually understand, on a scientific basis, between 0.1% and 4% of the Universe, depending whose estimates you choose.

Ancient knowledge is not to be discounted. What we are part of has been considered by humans since the earliest times. The wisdom of indigenous peoples is deeply impressive and resonates intuitively. They understood, in a way we have forgotten, the interconnectedness of everything. That has not changed.

In between what we can prove, and what we know in other ways lies truths we need to pay attention to.

Our understanding of Connection

We have allowed Connection to become a technical thing. Bandwidth, Speed, Measurement. Things we can measure.

There is another paradox. There seems to be an inverse power relationship between degrees of technical connection and emotional connection. We can garner hundreds of “likes” and thousands of “friends” and not know the people next door, and be deeply lonely. We may be the most technically connected hermits in history.

Older wisdoms regarded connection differently. They regarded our relationships with all around us, from animals, to trees, to planets as sacred. They recognised and honoured our interdependence.

In between our impressive ability to communicate superficially at a technical and intellectual level and our natural, if a bit submerged ability to connect at more meaningful and spiritual levels, lies the answer to what the crisis has brought to our attention.

A need to balance our technical creative genius with respect for what is already here.

Our Notions of Value

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Robert F. Kennedy. March 18th 1968.

Kennedy’s groundbreaking speech at the University of Kansas still sets a benchmark in what real leadership can be – inspiration, passion and actionable values. We have lost a lot of that of late.

His central tenet regarding what we measure versus what we value has an eternal value.

I can’t help feeling that our current version of shareholder capitalism has runs it’s course and become corrupted by a mindless pursuit of growth that benefits few and endangers many. The idea of “trickle down” has long since been proven fallacious.

I think Capitalism is important, and can be beautiful – but not in it’s current form.

Between Capitalism’s power and our Human creativity lies the answer to the harnessing the growth we need in pursuit of sustainablity for all of us on the planet.

Our Patience

We have becomed accustomed and conditioned to a NOW!!! world.

It doesn’t serve us well. We would I think do well to reflect on finite games (those with rules, timescales, winners and losers) as against the idea of the infinite game (played for the joy of it, and ensuring the game continues). Let’s call it humanity.

Many people who make a real difference, from Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) to Jacqueline Novogratz (Acumen Fund) have shown the virtue of “patient capital”. Impatient Capital brought us to now, via the Financial Crisis.

The most meaningful conversations are patient – looking for meaning and the subtleties of opportunity. It’s what we’re experimenting with at Originize.

Between the urge for speed in linear, impatient Kronos time, and the more considered patience based Kairos time is conversation and the pursuit of meaning.

Beauty

One of the least accurately defined, but best undertood terms in any language. We each know what it looks like, feels like and sounds like for us as individuals. We stand in awe when it presents itself in nature or in some of man’s creation.

One of my favourite books in Soetsu Yanagi’s “The Beauty of Everyday Things“. In it he talks of “Mingei” – things that are “wholesomely and honestly made for practical use…calls for the careful selection of materials in keeping with the work to be done and attention to detail”.

If we applied these principles to our businesses, we would end up with enterprises we are proud of. Not spectacular, “high growth”, and divisive, but evidently beautiful in their service to all of us.

We have reached a point where we have to make a choice.

Balance

We are in a still resolvable climate change crisis because we have lost our sense of balance. Covid-19 has brought it to our attention.

“They” will not resolve it.

We will, one person, one group, one business at a time. We can do it by paying attention to what we do. By what we value, what we measure and what we each need. Balance.

We are defined by what we create. Why don’t we choose to create beautiful?

Humpty 2.0?

Humpty Dumpty 1.0

This is an important question, but not popular.

Everything in nature operates in cycles, including us and our businesses.

Times change faster than businesses. The average lifespan of a business, has fallen from around 60 years sixty years ago to 18 years today. You will outlive several of the businesses you work for.

Humpty 1.0

Like us, businesses can hope for a good end, or a bad one. Moreover, for our businesses, we can choose.

When, where and how.

A good end might involve all stakeholders missing it fondly, remembering the good times, appreciating what it did for them and their community whilst recognising it was time for it to go.

A bad end might involve all the pain of administration, the angry creditors, the surprised, distressed employees and a gap in the High Street or Business Park like a missing tooth.

Every business plan has a heading “exit strategy”, and that will normally involve excited imagery of an IPO, or a Trade Sale, with happy investors. In reality, most exits are nothing like that.

Any responsible business could plan for it’s own demise. A sort of terminal contingency plan for a good end. We don’t, largely due to the mixed blessings of limited liability. It is much more profitable for investors to leave the scene of the accident.

Business failures are as destructive as they are because of the collateral damage caused by lack of preparation and awareness. They were costing the economy over £33bn in 2016. I can only imagine what 2020 will look like.

A Brief

for all the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men (and everyone else)

Covid has turned many things upside down.

I recently wrote about how we might start thinking about how we choose our own leaders.

I’m now suggesting that we might want to think about our businesses in a similar way. What might that mean?

  • That the subject of endings becomes a respectable topic. A business can only adapt so much. At some point in time, it ceases to make best use of the talent available to it. It may be much easier to create a business that has a strong digital profile than convert one with analogue culture and skills.
  • That learning and development becomes central. Both business and those in them need to keep their skills and capabilities at the forefront. Training for skills when their absence is noticeable is way, way too late.
  • Learning to have conversations that matter. That a business fails is rarely a surprise except to those inside it. Wilful blindness and a tyranny of tolerance ensure that. Using critical thinking and external perspective to check health is as vital as it is painful.

I suspect that we are now entering an important phase. for the last three months, in many ways we have been holding our breath whilst the Government propped up Humpty 1.0 model of “infinite growth” for the disproportionate benefit of a small minority.

We are now watching as all the King’s horses and all the King’s men try to put Humpty back together again. It’s not looking good. Humpty 1.0 had been wobbling for while, rocked by a series of crises and a decreasing moral legitimacy.

Humpty 2.0

There is much talk of “Build, Build, Build” and “Build Back Better” (This Government does like Alliteration) without any specifics or even vision as to what “Better” might look like.

Those heavily invested, financially, organisationally, and connectedly would clearly like an improved version of 1.0, but with maybe a little more yolk, a little less white and a stronger shell.

The rest of us would perhaps like to see something different. Multiple Yolks perhaps, and something less fragile. A better risk assessment. Sitting on top of a wall? Really?

It’s going to require courageous decisions, and the curiosity to see where the opportunities might be.

We will have a large number of talented people out of work as a result of 1.0’s mishap. That said, the skills they have, the ideas, and the connections are still there.

With Climate Change already very present, the opportunities in the regenerative economy are inconveniently huge (see John Elkington’s “Green Swans”) for Humpty 1.0. It makes chunks of it not just obsolescent, but obstructive.

The challenge now is for us to connect them, and that will require some real changes.

The more I look at it, the more important and complex the idea of Balance is, and the more vital to understand its implications for each of us.

I’ll make Balance the subject of a second part to this post tomorrow.

A Time for Beauty

This is an important time. We are just beginning to really understand how important as fragile jobs that we assumed weren’t, disappear and we realise on what soft ground our economy has been built.

Far too many transient jobs, creating transient value, and nowhere near enough organisations creating and developing sustainable value, that themselves contain the seeds of even better.

We have had the opportunity to create beauty, and squandered it. We can learn from that.

Beauty is not a word we normally associate with business. I think it’s entirely appropriate. When something is beautiful you appreciate it from every angle. It makes you feel better for being in its prescence. It feeds your soul.

I don’t see any reason why the way we make money cannot be the same. Businesses like this exist, but you’ve probably rarely heard of them. They are small, local enterprises doing things they love for people they know. They are about far more than money. You can be inspired by them.

They always face a challenge. Someone, a VC, or an adviser, or someone who doesn’t have their magic whispers the “scale” spell in their ear. In a flash, outside investors appear with a different agenda based on ROI and the rest is inevitable. You can feel the soul of the business shrivel, the founders disappear, and what was beautiful becomes wizened and ugly.

Once that happens, it’s virtually impossible to make an ugly business beautiful. The damage is done.

As we speak, many of these ugly businesses are off the the beauticians, hoping a cost reduction nip here, a marketing tuck there, and some judicious PR botox will disguise them. Failing that, they will get their cheque book out and go and look for a business they can “scale”

Covid-19 has caught many of them out, and showed them up in it’s unforgiving glare. We can see them for who they really are. It’s not pretty.

If we want to change this, it’s down to us. About who we choose to work for, about the businesses we choose to build, the clients we choose to serve. Pursuing what really matters to us.

We can build back beautiful, or we can be complicit in retained ugliness.

Covid-19 has held a mirror up for all of us, reflecting what we do and what we want (as against need)

What do you see in the mirror, and what might you change?

It doesn’t have to be huge. Even a little, added to other’s little, will start to change things.

A Beautiful Snowlball.

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