The last two hundred years have seen us with a view of business and the economy as machines. Analyse, design, construct, wind it up and collect the money. It worked very well until recently when what was happening out of sight has made itself very present. Now we know, without doubt, that the mechanical view was myopic and that we are a small part of a much bigger, complex system that is reacting to what we have done.
No matter how much we bodge, tinker, and weld, it is clear that not even the most gifted craftspeople in the most expensive repair shop in Davos can fix this. We need new ways of thinking and acting.
We’re very good at talking about beginnings. There are many beautiful metaphors and imagery that “leaders” who have no real vision other than hanging on like to trot out to appease us. We are not good at talking about endings much the same way as we don’t like to talk about death, despite knowing that good endings are a vital prerequisite of beautiful beginnings.
It shows in the frantic, often undignified way in which whole sectors of the industrial economy appeal for support even as they know it is time for them to leave. From Agriculture to Airlines, we know that current practices need to end; from chemical farming to carbon-rich travel is not only not sustainable, but it is also immediately damaging.
It’s hard because many jobs and many more comfortable assumptions about how we live are affected. Consumption as a basis for living doesn’t work anymore. We have depleted our societies much the same way we have exhausted our soil, searching for more and cheaper until it is killing us socially, morally and physically.
There are alternatives. They will be painful in the short term, but we need endings to generate beginnings. It may help that we cannot negotiate our way out of this and that we have no choice other than to embrace it for what it will offer the other side of the pain.
Another element is that what we are doing makes us neither happy nor fulfilled, not even those with a different Patek Philippe for each day of the year (I have met such a person). We know that making and creating things in societies that serve each other does that.
If we cannot repair what has got us here, we can at least start conversations with each other about what next and how we do it together. If those in charge of government and business will not do it, we can start with those around us about what we want and what we are prepared to give up to get it.
The good news is that we will not miss most of what we mindlessly consume after a few pangs of regret, and what we can build in its place can serve our children and us far better. We need to end some things before we can begin others. For me, it’s cutting my travel by 75%, only eating things I know the provenance of, spending more time understanding where I live, and only working with those I can build something useful with. I’m fortunate to be able to make those choices; too many are not, but if those of us who can (and there are many), don’t, what does that say?
I think it’s time to choose, not wait to be told by those who would rather we didn’t. Personal choice, quietly executed, one micro rebellion at a time, is powerful.