Weekly Reflections 15 August

On my mind this week.

It has been a week of serious reflection as I wondered how we will address the challenges we face. From residual, persistent covid to the IPCC report on climate change, headlines scream at us momentarily only to be replaced by another attention-grabbing “issue of the day” with barely pause for breath.. This week, it was IPCC Monday, Grade Inflation Tuesday, Royal misdemeanours Wednesday, and Afghanistan Thursday. Our media seems to suffer from some form of ADHD as it leaps from one topic to another in search of eyeballs, and it is unsurprising we feel a sense of overwhelm.

The IPCC publication is probably the most momentous of my seven decades on the planet and makes issues like wars and terrorism child’s play by comparison. However, it is equally alarming that it only really confirms the inferences of the previous reports. Sometimes, waiting for evidence is not the smartest move.

As we face self-generated dysfunction, we have no common enemy, no opposing ideology, nothing we can demonise as our lives become more and more disrupted. As Walt Kelly noted in his POGO cartoon, we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Our leaders at present, whether in business or government, seem keen to operate on transmit, with little space for dialogue which, given the gravity of what we face, is an indication of their lack of clarity.

To get clarity, I believe we need to talk to each other about what we will start doing, stop doing, and prepare for the changes that will bring.

How, I wonder, might we go about that?

Around one hundred years ago, Edward Bernays helped set in motion the engine of compulsive consumption that has got us to where we are today. Sigmund Freud’s nephew learned well the lessons of the unconscious from his uncle and, combined with a low opinion of the masses, set about shaping public opinion using those insights. One of his famous campaigns involved models dressed as suffragettes to promote smoking by calling cigarettes “torches of freedom”. Not for nothing was his biography entitled “The Father of Spin”. His legacy is very much with us today, and it is down to us to dismantle it. 

The power of his work was one-way repetitive communication through mass media. It is still powerful, much practised by our populist politicians, and has been part of replacing communities with self-centred consumption. Our task is to reverse that. We may be masses, but now we are connected masses, so Bernay’s legacy is not only reversible but today’s technology also gives us an antidote.

We live our lives in three different communities; the place we live, the place we work, and the digital world in which we communicate with people we have never met. Thanks to Covid, those communities are changing shape, and the changes will be given further momentum by the need to respond rapidly to climate change.

Over the last few decades, many of us have lost touch with our local communities. Between moving house more often and spending more time at work, leaving early and arriving late from the commute, we have become relative strangers to each other. Covid started to change that as we were forced to look out more for each other, from shopping to child care to forced lockdown. Adapting to climate change will continue this trend as we cope with everything from fires to floods to transport disruption. As a result, we will have to look after where we live and who we live with, in new ways.

We have an opportunity. Both common sense and science make it clear that there is an optimum size for influential groups. Social science suggests around one hundred and fifty, and network science supports it by noting that we need a minimum size to generate enough data to be meaningful, but not so much that the signal gets drowned out by the noise. 

Maybe we need to focus on what matters – decide which communities matter to us and nurture them. Whether that is local, work or virtual is a choice, but we need to choose. To have conversations that matter to us and make decisions about what we do.

I choose a combination of local and virtual. Local, because it is where I choose to live. Virtual, because that gives me a small but global and diverse group that is vibrant and creative in considering what we might do. 

I have developed a simple, personal manifesto of sorts:

  • Work at making where I live more beautiful more than choosing to visit other beautiful places.
  • Only to do things that contribute to my communities, working with people I want to, doing things that bring me fulfilment. 
  • Flying no more than five thousand miles a year, driving no more than three thousand miles a year and using trains if necessary.
  • Buying less but better, and making sure I know the provenance of what I buy – who made it, where and why, from food to footwear. Having a clear sense of “enough.”
  • Making better use of technology to fill the gaps. The last eighteen months has transformed my understanding of what can be achieved online.

We know the power of compound interest in finance. So maybe it’s time to harness the power of compound intent regarding how we live. Doing what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got. 

It beats waiting for others to go first.

Feeding my thinking this week.

What is reputation? In times of uncertainty, in age of disinformation, our reputation is everything. This is a thoughtful appraisal from Edge magazine, always an excellent source of good thinking.

How to curate just about anything. Psyche Magazine, When we have to work from home, organising ourselves and our workspaces is a crucial skill. Some sound advice in this article.

How to think. FS blog. In that time, long ago, before the pandemic, many people would tell us what to think; experts in all shapes and sizes. It is now no longer the case – we have to do the heavy lifting ourselves. This transcript of a speech by William Deresiewicz is worth reading several times.

How to be ordinary. Economist. we are constantly pressured to be perfect. It makes us unhappy. What is so wrong with ordinary?

Patricia Shaw on Leadership. I shared this short talk earlier in the week, but it’s so good I make no apology for sharing it again.

A quote

Oscar Wilde once famously defined a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. By incorporating nature’s gifts to humanity into the global financial system, our society is enthroning cynicism as the primary value by which to judge all else.

From “Web of Meaning” Jeffrey Lent.

Have a great week everybody. These are exciting times.

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