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Reflections 7 February

There is something in the wind. I think we can sense it better than we can describe it, but the wind has changed.

Ask people if they’re ok, and you will get the normal “yes, fine” but ask them how they’re sleeping and you’ll hear something different. Ask people in traditionally “safe” jobs – tenured academia, the civil service and the like what they’re noticing, and they’ll tell you about what’s changing around them, not just in what they are doing, but in how they are having to think and respond. Ask the younger generations about what is going on, and prepare to be lambasted, particularly if, like me, you’re a “boomer”. It’s easy to understand why.

Business cannot lead a country. Leading a country needs an entirely different mindset with a concern for a much wider constituency with measures that assess far more than money, and a completely different vision and sense of sense of timescales. Despite that, over the last thirty years we have lauded business,and given it not just access, but increasing levels of control of the public sphere.

“A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog then agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature.””A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog then agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature.”

The Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

Along the way, we have undermined and underappreciated our public sector. We have tried to motivate teachers and hospital staff with incentives, and tried to measure them on outputs. We have outsourced tasks and projects to the private sector where they have skills but no commitment or real accountability. It costs just under twice as much to employ outsourced people to do the job of an employed one, and the only way to give the numbers make any sort of credibility is to unload employees, and with them knowledge, commitment and institutional memory.

Business does not take major risk. The platform for just about every technology that powers our current economy was started in, or financed by the public sector. The internet, the world wide web, GPS, Voice recognition, face recognition, space travel . RNA Vaccines. Business commercialises it, but it rarely starts it.

This is not to have a pop at business. Business is vital to our progress and prosperity, but it has its limits, and looking after society is beyond that boundary. We are already seeing where it ends up, when we have the ten richest men in the world increasing their wealth by $549 billion in one year during a pandemic – enough to vaccinate the world.

We have reached a point where business is incapable of leading anything other than business. To find our way out of the mess we are in, we need those with a more comprehensive agenda to lead a partnership with business in pursuit of our survival and prosperity.

We need to start now. That’s what’s in the wind.

Books that have interested me this week.

Mission Economy. Mariana Mazzucato. A compelling case for a a different approach to governing our future.

A swim in a pond in the rain. George Saunders. A different take on storytelling at a time when we need to be telling ourselves different stories.

Good morning, Beautiful Business. Judy Wicks. Another look at the thinking of E.F. Schumacher through the eyes of an activist entrepreneur.

Articles that have made me think.

A New Social Contract? Rita McGrath. I like Rita McGrath’s work. This is the first part of a three part article rethinking the social contract we have with each other.

How to be angry. Ryan Martin in Psyche Magazine. Most of us are angry in some way at present. Good article on making it productive.

Matt Hancock rethinking NHS structure. Substantiated rumours of the reversal of recent heathcare changes in order to reduce private sector presence. Not before time…

A quiet moment with David Whyte. A lovely 4 minute piece of poetry and folk music.

When things don’t work out as we expect. Inspirational and humbling.

Advertising is often crass, but then again, sometimes it isn’t. Thanks to Hiut Denim for spotting this.

Have a great week.

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