Reflections 5th June

On my Mind.

A Time for Heretics

I find it interesting to observe how the business world is behaving at the conjunction between the end of the (current) pandemic, and the approaching challenges represented by everything from climate change to volatile geopolitics.

That approach, from herding “people as livestock” back to the office, regardless of whether it is either needed or beneficial, to the approval of new fossil fuel projects based on short term profitability, seems to be “do more of the same, only faster, close your eyes and hope”

It is not, of course, an issue peculiar to business. At the time this blog is posted, all the indications are that travellers to and from the U.K. will be in some sort of self induced version of Danté’s Purgatory brought on by a desperate desire to be somewhere else, travel businesses accepting bookings at a level they know they cannot honour, and an infrastructure that assumed people they unloaded during the pandemic would, like that obedient livestock, come when called.

All of this within a governance system that likes to refer to a nation, and the communities within it, as “U.K. plc”. As though anything which does not offer a measurable return is surplus to requirements. Run by a “board of directors” with only a very distant relationship to the rigours and accountabilities of actually running a business, and who pay little attention to the professional managers in the Civil Service who do.

So how have we found ourselves in a position where Danté appears to meet Kafka?

In his recent book “How religion evolved – and why it endures” Robin Dunbar (he of the number) looks at early animist religions, (where small groups were intimately connected to their environment and regarded all forms of matter as having spirit) and large scale religions, where more doctrinal approaches were necessary to underpin structure and control.

At the conjunction of the two are the wide range of mystic traditions from Yogic to Sufi.

In most of these traditions, access to the divine is via trance, with the trance induced via a number of paths, most involving overcoming various degress of privation and discomfort. Trance gives temporary access to insight and inspiration, and a residual sense of wellbeing and connection.

What we are doing at the moment feels a lot like that, without the residual wellbeing and connection.

The religion concerned is consumerism, the pursuit of endless growth in search of salvation. We appear to have moved, quickly and comprehensively, from the days of vibrant “animist” businesses closely connected to their communities to the doctrine of corporations, business schools and shareholder primacy who value money more than meaning.

Even as we sense the insanity of expecting infinite growth on a finite planet, and recognise we are the end of a two hundred and fifty year spasm of capital as the defining measure of importance, we still seem to fear change more than questioning the idea of consumerism itself.

I think we are a time where we need heretics. Those who will nail their equivalent of Martin Luther’s ninety five theses to the doors of the organisations they work in.

Those I see doing it:

Ged Futter in retail, questioning the way the system works.

Jon Alexander with Citizens, looking to move society from consumers to citizens.

Sam Connif Allende as he encourages us to “be more pirate”.

‘There’s only one thing more stupid than stupid rules, and that’s the people who follow them.’ 

Sam Conniff Allende

The late David Graeber with “Bullshit Jobs”, looking at the meaningless jobs we have created in the last fifty years.

Margaret Wheatley profoundly questioning why we work the way we do. Her classic “Who do we choose to be?” is a favourite of mine.

Those exploring the idea of what it means to be a New Artisan, connecting beautiful work, to meaning, to community, to identity.

There are many, many more. If you’re reading this, and are one, I’d like to know you. Mail me.

“If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space.”

Stephen Hunt.

The biggest risk, apparently, to those in trance is that they get lost in the spirit world, and can’t find their way back. That rings uncomfortably true of much of the consultancy world at the moment.

We don’t have to stop being consumers, but we do need to put consumption in context. We have a choice and I think a responsibility. It may be stretching a metaphor, but if those supplying the market can’t find their way home, it has to be down to us as citizens to help them.

We can choose not to fuel fast fashion, and it’s 10% contribution to CO2 emissions (on track to increase by a further 50% by 2030)

We can choose the food we buy, where it comes from, and not to waste the 30% we do at the moment.

And we can choose how, where, why and how often we travel.

These are all individual choices, not targets or movements, but until we see off the Wendigo, (the mystical beast whose appetite increases in proportion to what it consumes), economy we are not helping each other.

If we are to escape the trance we are in, we need more Heretics.

Food for Thought

Productivity as Religion

We have made productivity and efficiency a religion, without considering the consequences. A thoughtful take of this from Oliver Burkeman (whose book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, has become a best seller) on Rebel Wisdom.

An Organisational Heretic

Conversations Matter.

Conversations are the just about the best way to bring ourselves back from the consumer trance we are in. The challenge is that we have forgotten how to have conversations for their own sake, rather than in pursuit of some goal or other. These conversation starters from Matters Journal are a good way to practice.

The Other Others

Tyson Junkaporta, Daniel Schmachtenberger, and a wonderful fable about starfish thirty minutes in. Indigenous meets inspiration.

The top five planning errors.

I’ve always been a fan of Rita McGrath’s work, and this account of the major planning errors we make is testament to the trance…..

** Skeptics. **

This blog post from Seth Godin came in after I pushed the “publish” button, but it’s so relevant, I thought it worth adding.

The Nature of the Elephant in the Room

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

We live in the age of the missing elephant. Psychologist and futurist Don Michael was first to point out the implications of a world of boundless complexity, rapid change and radical interconnectedness for the familiar tale of the blind men who if they could only see the whole would have recognised the elephant. No longer. In today’s world there is little chance that even the most advanced among us will ever know more than one small piece of the elephant. Furthermore there are now so many different pieces, they change so rapidly and they are all so intimately related one to another, that even if we had the technology to put them all together we would still not be able to make sense of the whole.

These are powerful times, in which the world we have created has outstripped our capacity to understand it. We are experiencing a step change where complex human systems now operate within other complex systems, often with modes of thinking and practice developed in simpler days. This is a new world, raising fundamental questions about our competence in key areas of governance, economy, sustainability and consciousness. We are struggling as professionals and in our private lives to meet the demands it is placing on traditional models of organisation, understanding and action. The anchors of identity, morality, cultural coherence and social stability are unravelling and we are losing our bearings. This is a conceptual emergency.  

International Futures Forum

Have a wonderful week.

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