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Reflections 23rd October.

On my mind this week.

I am sensing a feeling in the air of the end of something similar to a “phoney war.” Like most real conflicts, the pandemic had been on the cards for some time but sidelined because it was so inconvenient. It was challenging to talk about when what was wanted was short periods of political popularity following an embarrassing self-inflicted injury in the form of Brexit and our political weapons of mass deception. Of course, on cue, it then erupted when we were least prepared. 

We reacted by using the playbook we have used, in one form or another, over a century of genuine, rather than manufactured conflict. Instead of people, or ideologies we cast a non-sentient organism as a dastardly villain full of evil intent. It ignored the lessons of the previous two decades of the crassness of declaring war on an abstract noun, terror, and the demonising of the flawed but positive construct that is the EU. Of course, it has its faults, duplicitous politicians and grasping bureaucrats, but that was less the problem than the inability of our politicians to do the hard work of effective collaboration during a period of our changing status on the world stage. 

Cue driving around in big loud machinery, uttering short three-word phrases straight out of propaganda theory and channelling previous leaders who took real personal risks in causes worth fighting for to look after animate friends rather than inanimate money. (If you detect more than a note of anger here, I do not apologise. We all make mistakes and are occasionally stupid, but it is an epic fail to turn it into party dogma. Our children will live with this failure.) 

Even now, as Boris Johnson tells us that we will transition to net zero “without a hair shirt in sight,” the man leading our approach, Chris Stark, who I suspect understands it gives up red meat and the family car by way of setting an example and encourages us to consider similar small but meaningful actions.

I know I’m not the only one noticing tension in the air. We know there is a very high likelihood that “plan B” will be implemented in the next month as cases increase. Hospitals come under pressure, whilst the relentless hyperbole to go back to a normal that no longer exists continues. We know that for many working from home not only works but works better. We know that masks help. We know we need to reduce travelling, from commuting to holidays and that our extended, fragile supply chains are an issue. We can see that throwing money at systems and organisations with an infinite appetite for it doesn’t work. We need people who do things for reasons other than money, and we need people to lead them who have the credibility to do so.

Perhaps it is time for our business and government leaders to take off the virtual reality goggles they are wearing and notice what the rest of us are. We need them to lead quietly, behave differently, stop outsourcing difficult decisions to science, and blaming events we have precipitated.

We need calm conversations about consuming less, exploring how we manage a society from which old notions of work are disappearing, and putting money in its proper place, in service of society not controlling it. 

These are huge, complex, debates that will take decades and uncover many issues we haven’t even thought of yet, but hoping it will somehow all blow over is not a strategy.

We are not doomed, and neither can we keep calm and carry on. We are in a new game, and it is time to take off the virtual reality goggles.

Inspiring and grounding me.

For me, a huge upside of the last two years has been the people I have met, and the conversations I have with them. Intelligent, funny, thoughtful people with whom I share ideas, dreams, hopes and fears and whose support puts them all into place and makes me optimistic for what we can do together.

Finding Space. When the energy is high, we all need quiet moments of respite. A valued friend sent me this music earlier this week. It works really well for me. I hope you enjoy it too.

A Big Small Farm. a great example of what can be done to change things in a small space. I have my own experience of what happens when inner city primary schools grow their own food. Magic happens. such a lot from something small.

Dangers of “Longtermism” From Aeon Magazine. There is a school of thought that in the long term, all will be well for a few, unsurprisingly, rich people. An thought provoking appraisal that provides food for thought for the rest of us.

What your mission statement says about you. Thoughtful article by Bartleby in the Economist. “We are a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness.” WeWork. Really?

Are you too good at what you do? A wonderful short video by Psychologist Dan Ariely on the perils of craftmanship. A great provocation that many of the people I know will recognise…..

The Passing of an Icon. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi died this week. His work is a touchstone for those of involved in coaching and creativity. The link here is to a tribute by his son. I am grateful he spent time with us.

A quote

Boyd raised his hand and pointed.

“And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. 

He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” 

Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction.

“Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your organisation and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” 

Robert Coram observing John Boyd from “The fighter pilot who changed the art of war” . Adapted.

We are past the time when people educated to operate bureaucracies can solve the challenges and opportunities we face. The change is too complex, the bureaucracies too complicated and they are incompatible. The changes we need to make are far more local, more personal, more urgent and require us to have our own unique, small courage to do the things that matter, one small thing at a time, day after day.

Have a great week.

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