Maintain, Refurbish, Repair, Replace?

The exclusion of wisdom from economics, science and technology was something which we could perhaps get away with for a little while, as long as we were relatively unsuccessful; but now that we have become very successful, the problem of spiritual and moral truth moves into the central position. 

E.F. Schumacher

What’s the best way to keep something vibrant, whether that is an idea, a business, a location, or a movement?

Generally speaking, we do a poor job at maintenance. It’s easy, once we’ve built something to assume “job done” and reap the benefits. Consumerism has long given us a throwaway attitude to everything from fast fashion to businesses, and the High Streets they are located on. Much more exciting to open up a new shiny out of town temple to consumption.

We often refurbish not as strategy, but as a last minute attempt to stave off problems. We don’t entertain or probe for the core problem, but rather deal with the surface issues. A rebrand, a new expensive, temporary CEO.

Then we get into the serious stuff. Repair is a real skill. At it’s core are people who really understand how something was designed and built, and who have taken the time to develop the skills that would if needed recreate it. They have a craft relationship with it. If it’s worth saving, emotionally or practically, they can do it. It’s not a cheap fix, it’s a restoration of something important.

Then we get to replace. To let something go, and introduce something more needed now. To move things forward and celebrate our inventiveness and creativity.

Ownership is a responsibility. If it’s ours, it is down to us to maintain, refurbish, repair or replace. There’s something of a cycle to it, like aging. Despite this, we have structures that take us quickly from creation to replacement, bypassing maintenance, refurbishment and repair.

Our legal structures encourage creation, whilst at the same time enable an owner to walk away from it with little penalty. Much of our High St has gone that way, with owners in Monaco shrugging off enterprises that were not maintained, refurbished, repaired or replaced. And, of course the people they supposedly led, left to their own devices and whose skills were not maintained, refurbished or repaired to suit changing times.

I find it distasteful, even despicable, and recognise that there is also an element of having allowed this to happen to us. If it is crystal clear that those large organisations we work for for have only a synthetic and easily disposable relationship with us. It is down to us to do our own maintenance, restoration and repair and be prepared to replace our employer with a newer model where we can use the capabilities we have looked after.

It is of course a huge ask, and contrary to the shiny messages we are showered with. At the same time, we may have to recognise that the economic model and our business leadership has been poorly maintained, cheaply refurbished and seems beyond repair. Replacement seems like the best option.

Schumacher’s best known work is “Small is Beautiful; A study of economics as if people mattered” Written in 1993, it remains important, and when Mark Carney joins in, we know it’s serious.

We are at the risk of being overwhelmed by “a utopia of wealth and a dystopia of personal relations”

From “Values”; Mark Carney. 2020

Whatever is next begins with our own individual attitudes to how, for whom, and why we work.

We are all, if we choose, Artisans. People who create things that matter for the people around them that contributes to the place where they live.

It seems a place we can all start, in our own small way.

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