When Agile becomes Fragile

Something darkly tragic is that we’re facing a problem in our industrialized UK food chain, a significant contributor to climate change because we’re short of CO2.

There is an inevitability that when we build increasingly complex supply chains and rely on a notion of “agility” to deal with problems that at some point, agile becomes fragile. Looked at systemically and without the distorting lens of short term profit and system gaming, the challenges presented by the complexity of what we have created is clear. It doesn’t even have to be with hindsight. Donella Meadows, James Lovelock, Ernst Schumacher and many others were flagging this half a century ago. Yet here we are, a decade after the last “Too Big To Fail” banking crisis, with a TBTF 2.0 Energy crisis.

We will, of course, finagle our way through this for a while with the application of liberal public funds and, no doubt, the generation of some huge opportunist profits. Still, it’s difficult to see how we go further without asking ourselves some critical and soul searching questions. How do we move forward when the complicated processes of the industrial era have gone past the complexity of the technological age and into the chaos we are witnessing today?

Big is Broken.

Kintsugi Bowl.

If we work on the principle that big is broken and unthinking scale is seriously flawed, we have questions to ask ourselves. How can we, using some form of Kintsugi inspiration, put the pieces back together in a way that creates something sustainably beautiful from the shattered pieces of what we have broken?

 Globally, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent over 90 per cent of the business population, 60-70% of employment and 55% of GDP in developed economies. The golden alloy that glues those pieces together is an alloy of craft, purpose, integrity and community, and that alloy will not be created by those who gave us big. It will be made by small groups working together, competing and collaborating, with their eyes not on a prize of infinite personal wealth but thriving communities on a recovering planet.

There can be no plan because while we know what we are currently doing is breaking, we do not know precisely how that will happen. 

We can, however, start by looking around us to identify who we want to work with and why and create small groups to have conversations about it and will it into existence, one small piece at a time.

Those conversations are happening all around us. I see a few of them hosted by people I respect and trust, and I know they represent only a tiny proportion of the total. The new Artisans who can help bring the art of how we might live into existence. 

Whilst this might seem fanciful, so does every new movement viewed from the standpoint of what preceded it. Kierkegaard observed that life is lived forward but can only be understood backwards.

I’m for forwards.

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