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Reflections 11 July

What’s been on my mind

One of the great benefits of not being focused is that it allows observations and ideas that would otherwise not make past the “focus filter” to make themselves present. That was the case for me this week on a trip to Surrey, which I wrote about here. The observation has proved to be quite “sticky” and has stayed with me. I cannot unsee what I saw.

We have gated communities of one sort and another all around us, not just in leafy Surrey. They exist in Board Rooms, Clubs of all types, and pretty much anywhere there is something indefensible to defend. The fences and gates are professional networks and language, schools and colleges. They have always been with us, but globalisation has made them much more powerful. Whereas the majority used to be local or national, now they are international.

The big challenge with gated communities is that they are defensive. When we need them to change, they are built to resist. that’s their job, and it’s a problem.

It is interesting to reflect on how these gated communities are connected. It is not hard to imagine a surreal supply chain, as people move from their gated communities to their gated offices, stopping only to drop their children off at a gated school. Or imagine the proceeds of what goes on in the office finding its way to a gated tax efficient location, probably somewhere sunny.

We recognised long ago that the notion of “trickle-down” economics was a fallacy, and this takes it one step further. The enormous wealth locked up in these supply chains is pretty much leakproof – there is no trickle as wealth finds its way efficiently past local communities and further downstream, beyond nation states.

It goes further, beyond the corporations.

Just ten investors own a full fifth of the FTSE 350, and over half of shares in UK companies are held outside the UK. This concentration makes corporate boards much less effective, and a mockery of the spirit of corporate governance rules,

We, however, cannot complain. It has happened on our watch. It reminds me of the Fable of the scorpion and the frog.

“A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog then agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature.” Lev Nitoburg

The question becomes, where do we go from here? We can be confident that those who got us here will not provide the solution. They are too heavily interwoven in the system and inside the gates. 

That does not mean we are helpless. On the contrary, we can take responsibility by ensuring we know what we are part of and accountable for it. Protesting is satisfying but pretty useless. Being accountable means taking consistent small actions in areas where we have choices. 

What we buy, who we buy it from, who we work for, how we travel. Regeneration means taking what we have and using it differently to rebuild and repair – in this case, our society. We can, if we choose, stop feeding the beast without starving, just living differently. Covid has given us a small insight. What we do with that insight is down to us.

It starts with different conversations. Fewer of the soulless, barren ones around performance, and more of what we see and what we want as humans, which matters for the longer term.

It’s not that difficult. Turn to the person next to you, and consider what we do about the scorpions in our lives..

Books that have been important for me this week.

Scale. Geoffrey West. I’ve mentioned this before, but it warrants a second mention. As a “good thing”, we take scale for granted, but like everything, it has its shadow side. This dispassionate account by a theoretical physicist on the attributes of scale, including in business and economics, is a valuable read for anyone trying to make sense of what is going on right now.

The Long Win. Cath Bishop. A perspective on our understanding of winning, from an Olympian who knows. I find it sits well with me alongside Three Horizons and Civilised to Death. The thinking we have to do is uncomfortable but needs to be done whilst we still can.

Radical Uncertainty. Mervyn King. The former Governor of the Bank of England has one central question running through this book – “what’s going on here”. Read alongside Mark Carney’s Values. When one former Governor questions the system, it’s interesting. When two do, it’s time to take notice.

Articles

The age of asset manager captalism. The source of the figures I quoted on corporate control earlier makes an interesting read. Yes, it’s from a left-wing think tank but that does not detract from the questions it asks.

Life Lessons from Marina Abramović. FS Blog. Those ideas you put in the waste basket? Take them out. It’s time for something different.

What would it take to this to our economy? Twitter. From Hiut denim.

Quote

“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have a great week.

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About the Author

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Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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