Reflections on 2021

Perhaps it’s inflation, but years don’t seem to last as long as they used to. This one has flown by, I’m deeply grateful to it, and want to acknowledge it. On the other side of the shadows it has cast, and continues to cast for many, is a year full of energy that has asked important questions of us.

Ones we need to answer in the year ahead of us.

I don’t plan what I write, I write about what I see, and it has been an interesting exercise to review my year of writing here to see if there are any underlying themes. There are.

Craft.

I started off 2020 by writing about the year of the artisan, and that theme has stayed with me. The businesses I see fall broadly into three categories – established businesses, trying to stay relevant as the world around them changes; entrepreneurial businesses who identify and feed off those changes, often with an aspiration to scale and cash out to established businesses looking to stay relevant, and artisans. Artisans are those for whom the beauty of the work is the work. From accountants through games design to dog food, there are those businesses who obsess about the tiny details and measure themselves not on revenue growth or profit margins, but on crafting what they sell to make it ever more effective and beautiful. I know those who spend hours on the best layout for a balance sheet, on the beauty of a games setting and on tailoring dog food to very narrow specifications for animal owners they know by name.

Those who many of us who have had cause to be grateful to who have laboured through the hazards and iniquities of the pandemic, from those in health and social care to delivering our groceries in lockdown have are artisans from many different areas. Customer service that comes from the heart, not a CRM automated message,

Just as software is eating the world, so AI and automation is eating any job that can be reduced to a job description, role specification and process.

Artisans have a secret weapon – love of what they do for it’s own sake. It’s a good time to be an artisan. Intelligence is a very small part of what it takes to be human, and materials alone a very small part of products that matter. It’s all the other qualities that define artisans.

Connection.

It seems we have a paradox – we are able to connect with more people than at any time in history and yet, most of those connections are shallow. We seem to have drowned communities in a sea of social media. We have become isolated in company.

Everything we value, from meaning, through creativity, to security rests on our relationships with a small number of people – certainly not more than a couple of hundred, more likely less than fifty. People we know, care for and turn up for and who, care for and turn up for us.

One of the things I have learned this last year, with others, is the art of conversation for the sake of it. Deep Dialogue, a thousand miles away from the trivia of most meetings and water cooler chat. The joy of exploring what matters with great people.

A deep nod this year to Steve Done, Sunil Malhotra, Dan Lawrence, Geoff Dooley, Johnnie Moore, John Morley, John Kuzava, Sue Heatherington, Hellen Hettinga, Gizem Cetgin, Arthur Parry, Alison Maitland, Ian Berry, Vijay Vijaykumar and Joanna Maberly for their tireless work in lighting up LinkedIn with considered, provocative and generative thought, and to the many others, particularly Ciaran Duggan, Karen Brosnan, Alan Moore David Mclean, and Martin Knox who have a helped turn a very strange year into something altogether wonderful.

Relationships.

Relationships have been a constant thread running through the year. As we have careered around issues of hybrid working, back to the office, the “great resignation,” and, of course, the backwash of Brexit, relationships seem to separate success and failure, optimism and pessimism.

We have learned that virtual relationships work far better than we would ever have imagined. They have seeded ideas, innovations and new businesses and made a nonsense of conventional notions of leadership. Leaders have been emerging where they are needed, more than where they are appointed.

Beyond the narrow confines of the workplace, we have understood the systemic nature of our relationships with each other, and every other organism on the planet for millennia – it was the foundation of indigenous wisdom, but only in the last fifty years has hard, reductionist, science caught up. Whichever way we look at it, we understand the impact of what we have been doing on those other creations around us.

Responsibilities

Our responsibilities have been brought into sharp relief as the pandemic and the disruption it causes has asked questions of all of us. To travel, or not to travel? Vaccine or not? Looking out for neighbours. And those who carry responsibility far more real than a line on a job description become evident – teachers feeding children, finding ways to remote school. Breaking out of the fear that gives us gated communities that cut communities in half. The responsibility of businesses towards the communities that host them, well beyond a thin veneer of CSR. Relationships and responsibilities go hand in hand, and we’re not getting it right at the human levels that matter.

At a much broader level, our responsibility to the planet of which we are part. It is no longer questionable; we are destroying our habitat. Perhaps there may be a magic technology solution out there, but until that becomes clear, recognising the risk we create seems more than sensible. We have become Wetiko, the mythical beast whose ravenous hunger grows is direct proportion to what it consumes, and so is never satisfied. Only we can kill it, through understanding what we are doing and working together to change our behaviours. Between us, we have way, way more than enough.

The way we live.

For me, the thing that has become clear is that relying on business cultures as a way of creating healthy communities simply does not work. Business, by its nature is competitive and is designed, legally and politically as a winner take all system.

As our polity, for centuries in the West, and decades in the East, has fallen under the thrall of business wealth distribution has become increasingly dysfunctional and asymmetric. We can feel the energy of the dissatisfaction it creates in everyday life as societies fragment into polarities, and the centre where dialogue can happen disappears.

We need to recover that centre, not as policy, but as a place to talk, whilst we can.

And so, into 2022

As I reviewed the year, I realised that it is the source of neither optimism nor pessimism; it just is. This is where we find ourselves, and nobody is coming to rescue us. As we go into 2022 it is a time if individual and small collective responsibility. As FDR said, to do what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got.

2020 and 2021 has seen Originize, and many other small groups, enabling the small group dialogue that gives us an idea of our way forward. I am going to take those lessons, and create more small groups, and make them aware of each other. Others are doing the same. Enough small groups, anchored in common purpose and aware of each other offer us the raw material for the change we need. After all, As Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Seems like somewhere to start.

Books

So many books, so little time. I’ve enjoyed around a hundred of them this year. Here are those lodged at the front of my mind:

Braiding Sweetgrass. Robin Wall Kimmerer. A wonderful synthesis of science and indigenous wisdom that reads like poetry. If I could have read only one book this year, I would have wanted it to be this one.

On Dialogue. David Bohm. A quantum physicists take on how we think and communicate. Stunning insight.

Who do we choose to be? Margaret Wheatley. A wonderful and provocative journey into the power of the himan spirit in these times.

Cascades. Greg Satell. A great piece of work on how movements grow, written on the ground from the midst of one.

And one quote

This is the one quotation that keeps cropping up in my mind. Not sure exactly why, but it does.

The best way to find out things, if you come to think of it, is not to ask questions at all. If you fire off a question, it is like firing off a gun; bang it goes, and everything takes flight and runs for shelter. But if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone; and if you are very patient, you will see and understand a great deal more than a man with a gun.” 

Elspeth Huxley. Flame Trees of Thika. A story of an African Childhood.

So, thank you 2021, and to all of you who take the time to read what I write and keep me challenged. I look forward to seeing you all in 2022.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: