Reflections 28 February

Patterns have been on my mind this week. In the seemingly everchanging swirl of things going on, it seems to me there are some patterns coming to the surface. It may be that they just resonate with me, and I don’t know how many other see them, but I think they’re worth a short riff.

In any era, there is the age of the expert. It’s not at the beginning, because at that point there’s no shape, just an emerging pattern. It develops as the pattern becomes clearer, and thrives when it’s in focus. It is when experts are valuable, add value and thrive. It overstays its welcome in the decline, when the arrogance and hubris of the expert lends them confidence that the change is an anomaly, and things will get back to the normal of their lifetime. They become extractive of value, not generative.

Right now, I think we’re in such a period. It shows unconsciously in the language of leadership. We have our Chancellor floating an idea of incentives to make Britain “a magnet for talent” as though somehow, we’ve run out of it. We haven’t of course, although when we run our education system to produce the equivalent of machine minders rather than engineers, it’s not surprising we can’t see them so easily. Our approach to the professions, from accountancy through banking and law to zoology is designed to service an economic model that is failing. Whilst at the same time, those we really need now, the occupations that thrive on creativity and art, have been sidelined as somehow “nice to have” so the people who dominate an failing system have nice artwork for their houses, and somewhere to go to the theatre.

We can see it when the “Economist” takes aim at McKinsey, the archetypal “experts” and criticises their blindness to reality and underlying drifting away from their founding values (see articles). We can see it in sector after sector as the grandees of the sector fail, from High Street Retail to Energy. Those for whom the signs of change have been in plain sight, but ignored as passing anomalies, and for whom meeting dividend commitments outweigh self generated financial resilience.

Here in the UK we have spent approaching £300 billion to support businesses, and with another chunk to come. Some of that has done good work, probably more has gone to supporting failing businesses, and most of it will end up with the Banks in one form or another. It all feels like the story of the little Dutch boy keeping the flood out by putting his finger in the dike.

The emerging reality is that we’re at the end of an era. It has been going on now for a couple of generations, and in all probability will take a couple more, making it invisible to those with a short term focus; those playing what James Carse termed finite games (see articles)

The reality is, we have all the potential talent we need, we just need to support it. Until then, we may well need to borrow it from other sources whilst we move on from the short sighted and self serving policies we have been following.

The pattern is taking form, and we should be ready to harness it. It requires whole new ways of thinking, and that gives me a theme for my next few blogs. More shortly.

Books that Resonate

Three Horizons, The Patterning of Hope. Bill Sharpe’s excellent short book on how we might think about what’s going on around us. It’s been a favourite of mine for a while, and is back on my desk.

Who do we choose to be? Margaret Wheatley’s classic. Thoughtful, powerful and profound. It’s never been off my desk.

The Value of Everything. Mariana Mazzacuto. Incisive and I found inspiring as a way of seeing through the the fog of conventional economics.

An important book release this week. Alan Moore’s ” Do Build”. A thoughtful guide to how to build a business that matters.


The Economist on McKinsey. Schumpter on McKinsey’s particular Hubris.

Finite and Infinite Games. A great summary of an important idea by James Carse. The planet is playing a long game.

The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival. Good summary of John Bagot Glubb’s analysis of empire. It has direct parallels, in my view with business, and is worth a read.

Rita McGrath on the changing social contract. The second part of her though provoking commentary on the changing patterns of contract between the leaders and the led.

A Closing Quote

The single most fundamental error of the last three decades is to try and design an idealised future state rather than working the evolutionary potential of the here and now, the adjacent possibles – it is impossible to gain consensus in the former, easier in the latter

Dave Snowden. Cognitive Edge

Have a great week. This is an important time.

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