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Reflections 14th November

On my mind this week.

I’ve continued to notice the amount of discordant energy in the news; ideas, headlines, observations and other items that seem to make us restless. It has been challenging to put a name to, until listening to the news this morning, there was a tribute to Wilbur Smith, who died aged 85. In an interview from many years ago, he talked about his early success. He wrote his first book to be a commercial success with the idea that he would make a living as a writer. It failed miserably. Giving up the idea of being a writer, he wrote “When the Lion Feeds” for himself, for enjoyment, and the rest is a history defined by 140 million books sold. He succeeded when he lived his narrative, not a story.

Then it struck me – the difference between story and narrative and the dissonance that can exist between the two. Stories are neat packages, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. They have characters, often a moral, and they are about other people. Stories are an industry beloved by marketers, who can create them for us to position ourselves. Buy this car, be seen as a success. Limit climate change to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and live happily ever after in a world of constant growth. Narratives are different. They are an unfinished story, embracing our felt reality, and they are about us. We are sold stories but experience narratives.

I believe we compound the dissonance when we create cultures based on stories rather than narratives. We buy the idea that qualifications and possessions will make us happy and that we can accelerate the process for our children by force-feeding them predefined knowledge at set rates. Rather than enabling them to learn what interests them at a rate that allows them to absorb and contribute their unique creativity, we quickly produce replaceable human “parts” for an economic machine. The challenge is that whilst we sell the story of that magical machine, we know and feel the narrative – that it is overheating, breaking and that the consequences have produced, and continue to cause, irreversible damage. So we finish COP26 with a story that is a long way from the reality of the narrative. To get the conference over the line, a few “leaders” gathered in a corner well away from those experiencing the reality of climate change and constructed a story we are supposed to believe, but which nobody does.

And what does that tell us, I wonder, about those “leaders”? What are they pursuing, and what does it mean for those being sold the story but experiencing the narrative? Followers not by choice or conviction but by political or organisational design.

It isn’t easy to see how what is happening will disperse the discordant energy. I think harnessing that energy and converting it to something productive requires something altogether different. So perhaps we can learn from Wilbur Smith and move from positioning ourselves in somebody else’s story to writing our own. To do that, we must harness our own narrative. For most of us, that is local, small, and personal. It is more likely to be found in communities than corporates and grounded in felt experience more than performance management. 

It seems to me that right now, ”Global Leaders” are horribly out of their depth – not because they are somehow bad people, but instead because the situation they face is just far too complex. As a result, they are not the leaders we need. The ones we do are local, connected and understand our own, different narratives. They are the leaders the global leaders will have to depend on to tackle what is ahead of us. Those leaders are amongst us; we need them to step forward and the “Global Leaders” to enable them. There are many versions of truth, and each reality may be true for each teller. It’s essential to understand the perspective of each and harness it. If COP26 is to teach us anything, maybe it’s that.

Inspiring me this week

Our attitudes to climate change, reported here in “The Conversation,” and increasingly being noted elsewhere, are concerning. We are all worried about climate change, but want other people to change in order to tackle it. Those are local issues, and why we need local leaders.

Identity. I enjoyed this blog in “Emergent Chaos” which takes a sideways look at identity – it is not a “thing” but a complex of relationships. Obvious, but easy to forget, I liked this as a reminder.

Slowing Down. Rushing, and our quest for efficiency distracts us and makes us blind. This article in Medium, reintroduces Seneca’s wisdom.

Rationality and Myth are two sides of the same coin. We need both. This article from Aeon Magazine frames it well.

A Track for the week

Last week I listed a version of Brubeck’s “Take Five”. Here’s the original. A favourite.

A Thought for the week

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

Khalil Gibran. The Prophet.

And a quote.

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

Epictetus

These are important times, and we all need to step up. The leaders we are looking for are us.

Have a great week.

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About the Author

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Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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