Reflections 3rd October

Autumn sunrise over the Langdale valley,

On my mind this week.

In a word, Autumn. A changing of the seasons as nature moves from bright days of growth into senescence as she prepares for the coming winter. Perhaps my favourite season represents preparation and forward-thinking, and a time for pruning, planting and clearing away.

It is on my mind because I travelled to London this week, for the first time since the beginning of 2020. I went to see a client I have been working with for a while but had not met, and it seemed time. It felt very unfamiliar. 

Firstly, the little things; my travel card had expired a year ago, and as I renewed it, I wondered how often I would be using it now. Rail Fares have increased quietly but significantly, although the trains seemed not to have benefitted. The train was quiet, as was the person serving tea and coffee, and it all felt a little like a fading seaside town on rails. Ninety minutes of part-time wifi and passing the time into St Pancras.

London felt like an old relationship. People quietly wary of each other, some masked, some not, with few talking and all keeping a greater distance from each other. Seats readily available on the Tube, with the same unconscious and informal social distancing and a sense of polite wariness.

My meeting was in Covent Garden, an area in London I am fond of, but with the same feel of senescence. Rather than the vibrancy I remember, people wandering around like leaves falling from trees.

My meeting, in a café outside to avoid the unvoiced concerns about confined spaces, was wonderful. The opportunity to turn pixels into personality was a pleasure. It moved us and the project forward in leaps and bounds as proximity and humour filled in gaps not so easily done online.

On the journey home, I reflected on the day to make sense of the experience. I had just spent a couple of hundred pounds (and some carbon) and spent five hours travelling to make a two-hour meeting. Was it worth it? In the end, yes – it was an essential phase in the project. We do not need to do that often, though – maybe one meeting a month or one conversation in five or six. We know how to work online now, not as a substitute but as a prime practice. We can build and sustain creative conversations online, with face to face meetings, have face to face as accelerants, save ourselves vast amounts of time and treat the planet just a little more gently. 

Where, I wonder, does it put London when those who work in sectors that provide its prime fuel, money, don’t have to be there? When pandemics and populism hobble tourism, and we have shut the door on our neighbours to “take back control” (which we never really lost) to provide solace for politicians who seem to prize individual ego over the greater good? London, like most great cities, was built on commerce but grounded in culture and art. Along the way, we seem to have sacrificed the latter to the former. It does not bode well unless London, and our other cities, rediscover their soul.

It is part of a bigger picture. Extended, just in time supply chains demonstrate their fragility and the extended length of time it takes for them to recover. We have to appraise things we have taken for granted and assume we can have “more” of, from air travel to energy to fast fashion that conflict with climate change. We have enough of these things, but not enough of non-monetisable essentials like mental health, education, international cooperation and an effective democracy.

Senescence seems to be in the air, not just for nature but for our economic model. We are at the end of an era, and will go through our economic winter before spring arrives.  

It is pointless to allocate blame. There are many candidates, collectively of leadership and individually of practice, but it achieves little. Instead, we have to recognise where we are, and that this is our time.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

Frodo, in “Lord of the Rings”. J.R.R. Tolkien

Things that have inspired me this week.

Margaret Heffernan talking about wilful blindness. An excellent piece, well worth ten of your minutes over a coffee, in my view.

Every time we make a map, we create a distortion. And we allow that distortion to become a truth, and that “truth” to drive our beliefs and actions. The same is true every time we use a model mindlessly. As George Box said “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. We need to choose our models carefully, and understand their limitations.

Global warming is not a science problem. It’s a human problem. A podcast with Paul Hawken, challenging our models. Thanks to Alan Moore for this.

Rebel Wisdom. I’m a fan of Rebel Wisdom. I find their work challenging and uncomfortable, but it makes me think. This is a thirty minute summary from a two day workshop last weekend. They are offering a course. I think it’s worth considering.

Being alone with our thoughts. From Psyche Magazine. A reflection on the benefits of being alone with our thoughts. Put the phone down for a while.

A thought – Ghandi’s “seven deadly sins”

Written two weeks before his assassination. A timeless reality.

Wealth Without Work

Pleasure Without Conscience

Knowledge Without Character

Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)

Science Without Humanity

Religion Without Sacrifice

Politics Without Principle


Rereading this, it’s a serious blog this week. It does feel that way, but that does not mean we cannot enjoy taking up the challenge. Play and Humour will be critical. That is another subject I will come back to. First though, we have to accept the challenge.

Have a great week.

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