No Going Back

And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.

Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist

How do we move forward when we have little idea as to where we actually are, and when the idea of a timeline to “normality” by Christmas is patently absurd?

Reality is we just haven’t been here before. Nothing like it. A microscopic, effectively invisible virus whose story has us paralyzed.

Not an “enemy” but rather a byproduct of the way we live. Our supply chains and mobility have given it immediate and global access to our lives, and our ways of connecting amplify the story that Covid-19 is.

Data didn’t predict it in any useful form, and Google doesn’t have the answer. It has exposed our fragilities in the unkindest of ways, from decimating care homes to exposing the myth of a sustainable economy buiilt on servicing consumption.

We have much to be grateful for. By demonstrating our fragility it has brought to our attention just what a dangerous path we are on. Like taking the car keys of a drunk friend at a party. We increasingly understand that, despite what will feel like a painful change in habits is in our best interests, and indeed our survival depends on it.

It seems unlikely that the change will be driven by those in power. It’s not that they don’t want to, but rather that they are so enmeshed in the tangle of interests that powered “what was” it’s difficult for them to escape.

Cultures do not drive behaviours, behaviours create cultures (High Five to Leandro Herrero and Flipping Point. If you don’t get his “Daily Thoughts” I’d suggest you look. A good antidote to yesterday’s business normal). These cultures are on clear display in the way they balance the interests of people, planet and profit.

The major consultancies don’t have the answers. If they did, they’d be doing, not advising. Much riskier of course, but back to cultures.

Whilst it seems probable that change will happen, and that eventually we’ll hopefully have more Jacinda Aherns and fewer Donald Trumps, that will take time. We can’t wait that long.

Which means it’s down to us.

Where do we start?

With business. Just as there’s JH as a constrast to DT, so there are small businesses that demonstrate and embody the values we need in contrast to the hungry corporate behemoths. For every BP there’s a hundred Patagonias.

We can choose:

  • Who we buy from. Provenance is important – the why/how/who/where of the what that we buy. Far more than a manufactured Brand, a lived Culture.
  • How much we buy. Fast Fashion. We buy five times more clothes than a couple of generations ago, and in doing so make fast fashion the second most polluting industry on the planet after Oil. Not looking so good.
  • Who we listen to. Facebook. Twitter. Manufactured media. Really?
  • Who we associate with. We become the average of the five entities we most associate with. That includes our employers, our politics and friends. Choose carefully.

If we can’t imagine explaining our actions to our grandchildren without wriggling in embarrasment and shame, that’s a clue.

Marginal Gains Works

Enough said. Enough little actions work. Down to us.

We are enough

Free education was started in the Western World during the industrial revolution for the simple reason that we needed enough literacy and numeracy to support factories.

We still have the same mentality. Compliance. The more tests you pass, the better your chance of a good job. That’s worked well, but has been steadily eroded by the Grendel of globalisation and technology, and now AI is here. Grendel’s Mother.

The future we want will be enormously assisted by technology, but not driven by it. That’s our job. Our curiosity, imagination, generosity and love.

No we can’t measure them, or write formulas, or turn them to data. That’s why they’re important, and why each of us is important.

We are not our jobs. It’s who we are that matters. The Old English definition of a job was “small lots of little worth moved from place to place – as in “A job lot”

We have agency. What we buy, how much we buy, who we buy from, who we listen to, who we associate with. What we commit to.


Important terms like purpose and vision have been industrialised and commoditised by the consulting industry, ground to a bland powder of their original meaning by mediocre business plans.

I prefer mattering – a term I heard from Alan Moore of Beautiful Business. A question we can ask ourselves as we go about our lives – why does what I am doing matter, and who does it matter to? It has far more life, and much less dogma about it.

No Going Back

In moments of weakness and weariness, going back seems attractive. It’s a myth of course – it’s no longer there.

We have no choice but to go forward. The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we go forward?

I don’t know either, but by paying attention to our agency, by answering “what matters” and working with others asking themselves the same question we stand a much better chance of finding out, and enjoying it.

(If you want to see what one of these small group conversations looks like, join us this Friday. We’re putting one on show. Click here to register)

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