Celebrity is not Leadership

“Famous people are interesting, but there’s a kind of a distancing phenomenon there. I’m interested in the creativity that we all put into our lives. Picasso’s life story is not empowering to the creativity of ordinary people. What is empowering is looking at someone that they can identify with. And becoming aware of what they’re already doing.” 

Mary Bateson

Most of the people we celebrate as being creative are people we’ve never met, and who have never touched our lives. We are inspired by the story, not the experience and the impact is transient and vicarious – experienced through others, not ourselves.

Which is a shame, because the real creativity happens around us, not in big dramatic lumps but in small important increments. They are the people who stretch the rules to breaking point in search of something better.

Teachers who have found ways to look after their students despite the chaos they find themselves in, when the only thing they are offered by the authorities is money. Parents who found ways to work from home and put in a full shift as teachers, or who sacrificed income to do so. People in the NHS who found ways not to let the system become overwhelmed, despite being overwhelmed themselves. Small businesses who changed business models almost overnight in an attempt to not just survive, but to better serve their customers. Those who took the support on offer as a lifeline, not a lifeboat.

We are about to enter, in my view, the most difficult period of the pandemic so far. We will not go back to any normal we recognise; too much has changed. Infrastructure, attitudes and trust. It will be disorienting for many. like coming home after being away to find everything has changed.

It feels like the tale of Beowulf. The initial monster of the story is Grendel, who terrorises a local community until our hero Beowulf emerges and slays it. Job done, everybody celebrates. The problem is that then, Grendel’s mother appears, bigger, badder and very pissed off.

We may not have killed this coronavirus, although hopefully we have sedated it, and we’re allowed a brief period of celebration, but it’s relatives, from other viruses to global warming and all the other systemic threats we face are in plain sight, and they will not be bought off by a few billion pounds of support. They want action from us.

We have some serious regrouping to do. The lessons we have learned about how to cope, and who we can trust to deliver when the pressure is on are valuable. About who the givers are, and the takers from our society.

Central authorities have done what they can, but for the next fight, they can only provide resources, they can’t deliver the action, and of course, we cannot spend our way out of what’s next. An obsession with what spending is what got us here.

One of the people who I’m learning lots from right now is an Irish Farmer. In a conversation about the productivity of his land, and the health of the soil I asked him the best way to improve it. His answer was clear, and uncompromising. “Leave the f*****g stuff alone. No fertilising, no ploughing. It’s exhausted” . We’re the same. We need to interfere less, and give what supports us time to recover.

Fighting the next monster is about major changes, and creativity. We cannot consume our way out of this. We need to not just make do, but thrive, on doing less.

We can do that. The most miserable people I have ever worked with have been those with stellar salaries and ridiculous bonuses worried about getting more, and working themselves to a standstill to do so. One of the key lessons for many of us (but not those on the front line) has been that we can work differently, we can enjoy cleaner air, less commuting, and less consumption. The happiest people I know have a healthy sense of “enough”

Celebrities, in every area, will not help us. It’s not their job. This is a time for individual small acts of creativity and local leadership.

It’s down to us.

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