Reflections 6 June

On my mind this week.

I’ve been thinking about growth this week, or more precisely, the nature of it. Everything in nature has a natural growth rate, and whilst we can alter it, faster growth means a shorter life. I think the same applies to our organisations. 

Trees in slow-growth forests live far longer, are much more robust and much more connected to the land they grow on and their surrounding environment, whilst trees grown as cash crops grow and get harvested without gaining or contributing much to what’s around them. There is a significant fallacy about replanting forests as though it’s an “oops, sorry” reaction to chopping down ancient woodland. It’s about more far than the trees.

To extend the metaphor, we have become so obsessed with growth that we treat our businesses and children as cash crops. We focus on measuring growth whilst paying little attention to what is being grown. We celebrate Unicorn businesses and cut short our children’s opportunities to play and explore their world so that they can be taught someone else’s answers and get tested on them.

Growth has become dogma, worshipped for its own sake, and the G-word spreads like bindweed, entangling everything it touches and choking off meaning. The word “systemic” has become so overused as to become bland, and “Systemic” is becoming the new “greenwash”, as though just acknowledging it confers a benefit.

I wrote during the week about “slow looking” and what we can learn from early years educators. I think we need to take a long, slow look at growth and have unhurried conversations around what we mean by it and the price we pay for it. I think continual growth is possible, but not the sort of “growth on steroids for its own sake” we are encouraging and rewarding. We allow ourselves and our businesses to become cash crops when we prioritise growing short term profits above our health and the nurturing of our souls. We should stop and pay attention to what we are growing more than how fast we are growing it.

Nature has been around longer than we have and will be here after we leave – whether sooner or later, so we might want to pay attention to those parts of it that have survived and how they have done it, because we will harvest what we pay attention to.

Books I’ve valued this week

Slow Looking. Shari Tishman. I’m reading this having read the article I’ve referenced above. In our quest for speed, we have forgotten how to pay real attention to what we are doing, and it’s doing us no favours.

The Righteous Mind. David Haidt. One of the easiest ways to speed up what we do is to believe we are right. It allows us to replace conversation with evangelism and take the moral high ground. Thanks to Dan K for recommending it.

Civilised to Death. Christopher Ryan. I’m reading this as part of a reflection on our relationship with growth. The nature of a civilisation based on a very partial definition of progress seems worth some time. I enjoyed it the first time, and I feel a need to re-read it.

Articles I’ve enjoyed.

Lessons from Shakespeare. FS Blog. The team at Farnam St. Are very good at representing what we already know in ways that make me think. This is a good example – lessons from Shakespeare. Well worth five minutes of your time, I hope you’ll find.

Journaling. I’ve found journaling to be a valuable practice, and the more uncertainty I’m surrounded by, the more helpful I find it, and this is a good review of practice from the Daily Stoic blog if you feel like considering it.

Relish being an Amateur. Psyche Magazine. In our performance-obsessed Western society, it is easy to forget the joys of being an amateur and doing something for the love of it. A timely reminder.

Bullshit Jobs – a rebuttal. I’ve long had instinctive sympathy for the late David Graeber’s hypothesis. This article by Bartleby in the Economist refutes much of it. Worth pondering.

Pause for thought.

“The forest ecosystem is held in a delicate balance. Everything has its niche and its function, which contributes to the well being of all. Nature is often described like that, or something along those lines; however that is, unfortunately, false. For out there under the trees, the law of the jungle rules. Every species wants to survive, and each takes from the others what it needs. All are basically ruthless, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse is because there are safeguards against those who demand more than their due. And one final limitation is an organism’s own genetics; an organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out.

From the Hidden Life of Trees. Peter Wohlleben. p113.

Have a great week.

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