The Marshmallow Recovery?

Dorset Echo

Looking at the crumbling wall of resolve as we dismantle lockdown reminds me of Walter Mischel’s famous experiment testing children’s ability to delay eating a marshmallow when promised a second one after a short period as a reward for the delay. By tracking later lives, the conclusion was the restraint was linked closely to later success.

We’ve spent the last fifty years building an economy based on marginal dissatisfaction, and more lately that whatever we want can be delivered now. Right now. Marshmallow on demand. Restraint as a bad thing.

So when we coop people up for three months (with good reason) in order to “flatten the curve”, and then open the door to that coop we can hardly be surprised at the response. We seem to have a binary response – we’ve been good at accepting being cooped up, but then when we’re not, we’re very not.

The “guided by science” line has been quickly replaced to something along the lines of “guided by the economy”, and in particular those with loud voices in sectors like travel.

We do not know what will happen next.

When you declare yourself an unwilling victim of a known risk, you have postured yourself as a poor loser in a game you chose to play.

Ben Zander, Art of Possibility.

We have learned so many valuable lessons during the last three months.

  • That just because we can’t forecast exactly when something is going to happen doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for it seriously.
  • That extended supply chains run on just in time principles are great for efficiency, but not for dealing with the unexpected.
  • That we should pick those we have to rely on rather more carefully.
  • That many things we got into the habit of thinking vital for our day to day lives, from disposable fashion to long commutes, just aren’t.
  • That when it comes to survival, publicly owned businesses will obey their fiduciary duty to protect shareholders.
  • When it comes to shock absorbers, it’s not the balance sheet that takes the hit when the pressure’s on. It’s us.
  • What real disruption feels like.
  • That there are further, bigger issues on the horizon and that going back to a system that was precipitating them is not a good idea.

We also know just how resourceful we are under pressure, and the lengths that people will go to to look after each other that has nothing to do with money and far more to do with a sense of shared humanity. We all have a story of this.

We can build a better recovery, by creating businesses that have learned the lessons. Busineses that are less fragile, more genuinely agile and more committed to the people in them. Businesses that support communities. Beautiful Busineses

It leaves us with a quandary. I’m not sure we can make ugly businesses beautiful. Consultancy Botox and Surgery only ever deals with the surface.

Beauty is a function of soul and a deep seated sense of service, contribution and possibility and that’s a very challenging retrofit.

We can however create them.

That requires some powerful conversations between those who want to do it, as well as a new type of leadership.

If we don’t start now, when will we?

I never liked marshmallows anyway.

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