Fire is a powerful metaphor.

People who know how to light fires in the wild, in the wet, in hostile conditions, have power. It’s an art form requiring a flow of oxygen, tinder, kindling and above all the ability to generate a spark or access to embers of an existing fire.

Welcome to the final quarter of 2020. Conditions seem pretty hostile as we head into winter. Our leaders in government and the world corporate have lost the tinder, can’t find the kindling and have forgotten who last had the matches, so are gathered round the dying embers of the fire that others built, warming themselves whilst they can.

One of our most basic needs, right at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (although, he never made it a hierarchy – that apparently was a consultant with an eye for marketing). Prometheus ended up in eternity having his liver pecked out daily for stealing it from the Gods.

Cleansing. Warming, Inspirational. Magical. The absolute best place around which to tell stories. Communication. The stuff of Beacons on a dark night.

In the North American Indian tradition, the fire carrier was a powerful and respected member of the tribe. When they moved camp, the fire carrier kept the embers of the campfire alive in a buffalo horn until they got to the new camp. It was both practical and symbolic, carrying the memory of where they had come from.

We are in a time of fire carriers. The people with ideas, and ideals around what comes next as we leave behind the myth of perpetual growth and are forced to recognise the unintended (but recognised for at least five decades) consequences of treating the planet and its other inhabitants as a source of infinite resource.

There are fire carriers all around us. They are inventing and trialling new ways of working, of making, of collaborating and making things of beauty that restore our balance with the planet. Generating and giving as well as taking. Expressing gratitude and looking after those around them. People who understand and embody a recognition of “enough”.

They are owners far more often than investors, people with “Skin in the Game” who take risks with open eyes and open hearts because they believe in what they do and would rather fail than not try. They are often small, chasing a different form of success based on the long term, and for whom scale is not compulsory. People who have learned from our mistakes, and are determined not to continue them.

Firecarriers need our support – we are their tinder and kindling. People who believe in better.

We can support them by paying attention to where we spend our money, on what, who it is created by and why they do it. If we pay attention to how we spend our money, we can warm ourselves at the fire they’re building.

Each fire is a beacon.

Reflections 18th October

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What I’ve noticed.

The steady evaporation of centralised authority. It’s becoming very evident as politicians bicker over which regions should lock down to what extent, “following the science” becomes clear as a marketing tagline, local leadership asserts itself in the North, and the only response is to co-opt track and trace data and threaten people with punishment.

If this was a football team, we’d be saying the coach has lost the dressing room, and we’d be looking in the market for a replacement.

Everyday the business press is full of lectures on leadership and the fact that centralised doesn’t work in times of rapid change, but somehow we seem not to think that it applies to politics. People are elected on a condensed centralised quasi promise called a manifesto, but without any clear indication of the qualities needed to operate in a complex leadership environment. A degree in the other PPE (politics, philosophy, economics) combined with an extended internship somewhere is often deemed enough. It’s not. We need more from those who would lead us.

Democratic Capitalism is probably still the best route forward, but right now we seem poverty struck in the exercise of democracy, and out of control in our capitalism.

Leadership capacity at all levels has never been more important. This will be a long winter.

What is shaping my reflections?

People who are exploring options, and challenging the status quo.

Thinking Differently. I’ve always been stimulated by Alex Wahl’s writing, and this interview with Alex Pryor is no different. You may not agree with it, but it’s most definitely food for thought.

How stress encourages old habits. Markham Reid. I think this is very relevant right now as we enter winter having to find our own way. Einstein said that we cannot solve problems at the same level of complexity as when they were created. This article explores why we try and do just that.

The rise and rise of creativity. Steven Shapin. not the usual yadayada on creativity, this 20 min read is a well considered reflection on creativity, and where it sits right now in our needs.

Ethan Hawke on Creativity. Brought to you by the people who I think make the best jeans you can buy. Made in Wales.

How many things have to change before you change? The best way to confront uncertainty is to make it explain itself. Change is not a virus, it’s much more complex. something to think about.

A quote

“Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.”

Khalil Gibran. The Vision. Reflections on the Way of the Soul.

What’s on my mind.

It’s easy to get down right now, and I think that’s looking at things through the wrong end of the telescope. This may be uncomfortable, painful even, but I think it’s a necessary jolt to get us out of a period of mindless, pointless consumption and too many soul sapping jobs with no regard to consequences. We can do so much more.

That no matter how convenient it would be to have some “solution” to the current challenges, there isn’t one. No Knight in shining armour, no single leader, no technology. Nobody is coming to rescue us.

We have to rescue ourselves, and we can do that through small act upon small act. By paying attention to the consequences of our small actions. What we buy, where it comes from, who made it, what will happen to it when we’ve finished with it. It will take time. We need to start.

Every penny we part with is going somewhere, to someone, who will use it to do what? We need to make sure we are happy with where we send our money and what it does when we lose sight of it.

We have an opportunity to reframe how we live, and that’s huge.

Have a great week.

We are equal to this

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From lockdowns to climate change to leadership, we seem to have become obsessed with formulae, templates and solutions. As though somehow, we just need an upgrade to deal with what’s in front of us.

“Being guided by the science” has become dogma, even though all proven science is retrospective, and of only partial use when looking forward to a time when the system we are part of will have wreaked gentle havoc on our assumptions. New science will be along in a moment or two.

Equations are valuable metaphors though. The = sign is powerful – it signifies balance – that the left hand side is the same as the right hand side. Inputs determine outputs.

We are overwhelmed by inputs right now, from social media trivia and fake news, to the incompetely understood but scary projections for climate change and biodiversity loss. We are faced with the very real possibility that we will be written out of the future of the planet.

Our power lies in the idea that we are the equals sign. We have the ability to shape the outputs from the inputs. We are not helpless. Each one of us is a powerful and unique part of the process of balance.

We are not just a passive input. We must not allow ourselves to be shaped by those who would have us be a compliant element of input and leave the power of “equals” to them.

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