Weekly Reflections 16th May

On my mind

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of identity this last week.

As businesses, groups and individuals. About how what is happening now is changing them and what that might mean. Identity gives us boundaries and defines what we see as “in-group” and “out-group” – the potentially dangerous “other.” Well constructed identities tend to rub along well; each knows its purpose and role, who’s a friend and who is foe, and a healthy system emerges.

So what happens, I wonder when we blow that system up?

For the last two hundred and fifty years here in the U.K, and much of the West, work has been an essential part of our identity. For many of us, it replaced the farm and the village as the centre of our community. Our identity became a function of who we work for, what we do there and how successful we are together. Work became the container in which we lived our lives, and whilst that model has been crumbling at an ever-increasing rate for the last couple of decades, it has taken the pandemic to administer a coup de grâce. I think it’s over, just like that.

So if work as an anchor for our identity is no more, what is?

There’s a persuasive argument that our relationships scale to a multiplier of around three-five close friends, fifteen good friends, fifty distant friends with a maximum number of genuine relationships of diminishing intensity up to one hundred and fifty people. That’s how it worked in tribes, in villages, and at work. We had a sense of place which anchored our relationships. The nomadic, global, digital nature of business has now hauled up that anchor, and many find themselves adrift. The anchor of the office, shop or factory we dutifully commuted to is now a myth of the past.

There is a flip side. A year ago, a number of us started weekly conversations to make sense of what was happening. None of us works together, have very different backgrounds, and whilst everybody knew somebody else in the group pre-pandemic, none of us knew the majority. Over the year, the initial small group has become ten groups of between five and ten, and each group has become an anchor for the people in it. We identify with others through shared values, ethics, trust and exploring what might be. We didn’t set out to do that; it just happened.

I suspect it’s happening in many places. We all need a place to belong, and businesses defined only by performance and profit, which have no soul, are not a community, just a temporary source of income.

Creativity, commitment and invention are a function of friendship, which is, in turn, a function of connection, laughter, play, celebration, storytelling and ritual. Places that provide them, physically and virtually, are anchors.

As we leave the pandemic behind, businesses have a hard decision to make. Be genuinely about more than money, become an anchor for a community, or become anonymous and homeless. (and a personal plea – expunge the cold, clinical, soulless word “engagement” forever from your vocabulary.)

This week’s books

Who do we choose to be? Margaret Wheatley. I love all of Meg’s work; they are all on my “go to” bookshelf, and good friends when I need a provocation. This one is I think perhaps her finest as she separates where we are and who we are. Powerful, provocative and inspring.

The Art of Peace. Ueshiba Morihei. Another re-read. The man who founded Aikido, and why, and along the way mapped a way to not so much change our identity as to bring our real identity into the open

How the World Thinks. Julian Baggini. A thoughtful walk around the history of philosophy, how it started, where it started and where it is. For something as ambitious as this, a very compelling read, and a good lens on how we see ourselves and our identity. Baggini has a real talent for this, for which I’m grateful.


What Children can teach us about philosophy. From Aeon. When it comes to thinking, children beat us hands down. Thet don’t have our baggage and cut to the chase. A great article.

Shaping tomorrow. Not an article, but a website I follow. Of all the “futurist” players I like this one for it’s combination of science and speculation. A good lens through which to consider what’s ahead. It will be mostly wrong of course, but that’s not the point – it’s what we see through the lens that they give us that is the real value.

Dunbar’s Number. The Conversation. A great summary by Robin Dunbar on his defence of “The Dubar Number”. I’ve referenced his book “Friends” a number of times, and am a big fan. This article summarises it well (but is a summary = the book has much more)

A Quote

The best way to find out things, if you come to think of it, is not to ask questions at all. If you fire off a question, it is like firing off a gun; bang it goes, and everything takes flight and runs for shelter. But if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone; and if you are very patient, you will see and understand a great deal more than a man with a gun.” 

Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood

Have a great week.


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