Reflections 10th October

On my mind this week.

A thread running through what I’ve been noticing has been amplified this week—our attitudes to relationships and responsibilities. 

As we hit issue after issue, nobody wants to take responsibility, from a shortage of HGV drivers, through one in five nursing roles being vacant, to energy prices. There are desperate attempts to outsource blame and responsibility, and the answer is, of course, we can’t. Whether it is corporate executives, government ministers, or us individuals, the reality is the same. Regardless of how it might have come about and who might have triggered it, it’s happening on our watch. So it’s down to us to do the best we can, where we are, with what we’ve got.

Despite that, it seems to have become an industry. From insurance, PR consultants to business conditions, we seem to believe that things that go wrong are an anomaly and somebody’s fault. Today, it is those lobbying government support for natural hazards in business from the same people who rely on short term dividends and ‘tax mitigation”.

I’ve been thinking about what has brought that about and find the fingerprints of “efficiency” all over it. Efficiency is a short term perspective in a long term world. It freezes what we currently know in some sort of organisational aspic, reduces it to its component parts and reassembles it so that there is no waste. But, of course, it also means that it reduces our opportunities to learn as process and protocol turn to dogma and strangles the room for the healthy mistakes from which we gain learning and experience. We end up with people perfectly trained in ways of working they do not understand, devoid of craft, and waiting for automation to bring even more efficiency to an inherently obsolescent business model. In a week that sees Facebook, its siblings and acquired step-siblings under immense pressure, and Mark Zuckerberg looking unlikely to survive in a company he founded but of which he has lost control, we should take note. The same is true of energy companies and other businesses that have developed a sense of entitlement to profits and run to governments when the naturally complex conditions of business turn against them.

It strikes me that, ever since Ronald Coase developed his “theory of the firm” nearly a century ago and pointed to scale as salvation and scientific management led the charge, the pursuit of efficiency has resulted in forced scale. This, in turn, has destroyed the relationships on which a healthy business ecosystem depend and we end up with people in power but without responsibility. We have created a “play the game, collect the prizes and move on” culture.

The natural world, of which we are part, does it differently. Organisms grow at a rate they can sustain, are exquisitely linked to and aware of their environment and evolve constantly. Nature does not do “efficient”; it plays a longer game – or at least, it does unless we stop it. Nature acknowledges its heritage, species by species and rather than plan, feels for the future. It defines fitness not in terms of performance but terms of adaptability and enabling evolution.

I believe that a healthy future lies in our ability to develop healthy relationships with each other and everything else. That, in turn, means moving away from the scale that requires the process that eliminates our craft relationship with work and towards highly networked small groups and organisations. As forced growth results in the failure of large organisations with withered relationships, it is happening naturally.

We should welcome it.

What I’ve enjoyed this week.

Complexity. This 30 min interview with Dave Snowden on complexity is a gem. He has a fluency with the subject I find inspirational.

An antidote to scale. In his book, “Do build” Alan Moore asks thirteen questions of us about the businesses we are in, or are building. I think being able to answer them for ourselves is important. If we can’t, we’re probably in the wrong place.

  • Does it matter?
  • How is it transformative?
  • How is it regenerative?
  • How is it useful?
  • How will we create a joyful experience? (designing for the senses).
  • How is what we create elegant?
  • How are we making a thing of quality?
  • How will the language we use define us?
  • How will it feel truthful?
  • How does it feel inevitable?
  • Are these products and services we want to sell to our families and friends? 
  • How will we enjoy the process?
  • How will we create legacy? 

Beautiful Business. Alan Moore talking with Sir Tim Smit (he of the Eden Project) about what matters. It puts the thirteen questions above into context, and inspires.

The real meaning of freedom at work. From WSJ via Adam grant’s blog. What we’re in is not a blip, it’s evolution.

Hope is not a strategy. Hope needs a hand. we can use these tines as motivation to embrace what is an change it. Hannah Arendt on this, from Aeon magazine.

An end thought.

“In the bigger scheme of things, the universe is not asking us to do something, the universe is asking us to be something. And that’s a whole different thing.”

Lucille Clifton.

These are the times we have been given. We are being asked to work with them. We cannot outsource it.

Have a great week.

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