2019 – Restore / Repair / Recycle / Reinvent?

Two years ago today, the headlines were about the posturing and promises over an easy Brexit, Amber Rudd expressing reservations over Universal Credit, and the NHS and losing £200m a year over obesity. A decade before that, it was the financial crisis whilst the SARS epidemic in Asia was a minor concern here. All easily forgotten in the finite game thinking of quarterly earnings.

All signposts to today, when we have at one end economies printing pretend money to support businesses that depend on the thinking we had ten years ago at one end, and at the other end, today sees the average CEO of a FTSE 100 company having earned more so far this year earning more than the average employee would have done in “normal” year.

When something is broken, we have a number of options:

  • We can restore it to it’s original condition. Normally at significant expense to put back in perfect working order something that is no longer practically useful, but is of great nostalgic and anthropological interest to rich collectors and Museums.
  • We can repair it. Use modern techniques and technology to make something functional but retain it’s original appearance. Think Repair Shop. Or in business, the car industry. Ten years ago, who was Tesla? And as for limits on fossil fuels – a fringe interest. In business, repairing is a very profitable activity for insolvency practitioners, even if rarely of long term benefit. As I’m writing this, Paperchase appears to be going down for the second time, and many other businesses we haven’t heard of are slipping quietly out of site, unable to weather the storm of the predicatable, but unforecastable shocks they are experiencing. It’s a shame, but they are better gone. Their day is done. Repairing is a short term palliative.
  • We can recycle it. Or upcycle it. Very satisfying, and good for attractive short term solutions. A bedstead turned into a bookshelf is still a bedstead. It extends a life, but doesn’t create a new one. In business, it’s the mergers and acquisition market. We know that around 80% of them fail, but the process is profitable in the short term for the advisers, if not the shareholders and employees. For a while, an injection of an old business into a new one, or the other way round may work for a while, but in the end old wins. Old behaviours and attitudes rise to the surface and the original lifecycle is restored. Life is rarely extended.
  • We can replace it. We can acknowledge it, thank it and retain what we can still use as part of something new. To learn from our relationship with it to fuel an inspirational new idea. In business, they are the products of inspiration and purpose – some large – the Amazons and Teslas (we may criticise them, but they are not restorations, repairs or recycled anything) and more often the smaller but inspiring product of artisans. Hiut Denim has a great list, as does Alan Moore of Beautiful Business. I admire Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, but I get inspired by the people who do small and beautiful. In my case, it’s my builder, butcher, accountant, and a handful of technology clients. People who make you smile when you talk with them about the work that makes them smile.

When we stop and think, we all have a list. The people who make us feel more human, and who put contribution ahead of sterile efficiency.

We can all learn to do that, whether as individuals or businesses. First, we have to hold what’s important in higher regards than what it easy. We have to begin to understand who we really are, and what the work is that makes us smile. Start to identify that and the artisan steps up, unbidden.

This decade belongs to Artisans, as they replace the industrial with the inspirational.

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