I love Autumn – the sights, the smells, the mist, and the gentle changes into winter. The evenings draw in. Time to light the fire. A time of senescence as what has given us such pleasure over the summer gradually folds back into itself and prepares the soil for new growth next year.
It always seems such a shame that we can’t recognise the same qualities in ourselves and others. Age isn’t failure, its what we leave behind that will fuel whats next that is a real indication of success.
Right now, senescence is a term we could usefully apply to many of our businesses. They have done well, but they were never for ever. We should be really grateful for what they have brought us, let them go before they mutate, and focus on new growth.
Generative businesses that nurture the people who work for them, delight the people who buy from them, and which don’t exact an untenable price on the planet and those we share it with.
Businesses that have beauty in mind – whatever they create. Beauty is a mindset.
It can appear in all sorts of unexpected places. When my internet line went down, Utilities Warehouse were amazing. Phone answered, by a person, in three rings. An engineer, three hours later who put in a fix (the fault was further down the line) and rang us after he’d left us to say he’d found the problem (an altercation between a junction box and a car. He didn’t need to do that, he just did.). The full fix was in place before evening.
I expected the problem to be fixed, but not the courtesy, the interest, or the man in a van on a mission. People treating an “ordinary” job as a craft. There was beauty in it. The generation of gratitude.
David Hieatt, in his book “Do Purpose” suggests one of the prime signs of purpose is people building a business they never want to sell. Da Vinci carried the Mona Lisa with him till he died – always trying to improve it.
I think the point for me however, is that beauty cannot be bought and sold, only lived and appreciated.
We have all seen remarkable businesses, ideas, and people reduced by having a value assigned to what they do. Growing, vibrant businesses bought by corporates who had mislaid their soul, and reduced to mediocrity within a very short time by bean counters.
I think all of this is natural, if sometimes unfortunate, and there’s a real lesson for us.
All businesses have a natural life cycle. When they start to fade, don’t try to rejuvenate them. (Botox is as evident in a business as a person). Appreciate them for what they have brought, wish them well, and let them go.
Over the last thirty years we’ve seen a revolution in efficiency as a combination of technology and process has transformed our economy. Between them, lean thinking and technology enabled globalisaton has totally reconfigured supply chains and sourcing strategies.
Here in the UK, as in most Western economies, what could be transferred to lower cost areas of the world has been, hollowing out our high value activities in manufacturing and engineering and replacing them with low value service sector jobs. David Graeber wrote about it eloquently, if uncomfortably in “Bullshit Jobs“.
The Froth Economy.
The challenge of course is that bullshit jobs, from coffee shop Baristas to swathes of finance, law , retail and consulting are essentially parasitic – they depend on others to generate value which they can then extract and recycle. These are skilled people, with good qualifications and when things are good, they are very very good, but right now it’s like having too many midwives and far too few creative preganancies. I suspect the waste level of capability versus application is embarrasingly high. A look at many of the online conferences happening during lockdown has shown big echo chambers of advisers talking to other advisers in the hope that somehere business might be done.
Meanwhile, those on whom we depend for the source of value – manufacturers, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers – are underutilised in an economy where short terms returns are required by those who have the resources we need.
It will of course change. Even insolvency practitioners will eventually run out of clients to put into administration.
So here we have the challenge. Mountains of talent who have become dependent on the economic equivalent of passing trade, rather than applying their skills and talents to the generation of original value.
Creating original value means bringing something into being. Originality, creativity, risk, skin in the game. It’s a mindset and an attitude.
The Caffeine Economy.
The answer is not to onshore what we’ve offshored. What’s gone is gone and well down its own redundancy curve. It’s to bring the new, the necessary and the beautiful into being. To create new ecosystems of collaboration and in many ways, evoke the spirit of the London coffee shops of the 17th and 18th centuries which created wealth not from formulaic skinny lattes, but from the businesses that were created during the discussions as people drank them.
The games industry – forecast to triple in size this decade, and where we are a leader is one example. Clean energy another. Farming and food distribution, where we incur abominable levels of waste (we currently grow enough food for ten billion people right now, and waste over a third of it) are all grist to a creative mill.
The New Baristas
The impetus is unlikely to come from those who benefit from the current skewed system. They are dependent on an expectation from shareholders of the continuation in growth of historic profits, which in current conditions makes their value as substantial as that Capuccino froth. They will make noises, and acquire, and lobby but the gravitational force of the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet will have its way.
The new Baristas are already here. People wih a passion for what they do and a commitment to craft borne of effort, experience and persistence rather than a training course. Soul, as well as skin in the game.
As we change the way we work, away from the latter day mills of large offices to the the new cottage industries enabled by technology, we will grow a whole new ecosystem, an undergound mycelium of connection, out of sight of the corner office.
Repurposing talent from compliance to creativity.
We already have the talent, we just need different conversations.
Conversations not about efficiency, but about originality. Not about resilience, but about exploration and adventure. The creation of projects and businesses we can take pride in. That make money not by extraction from existing systems and resources, but the creation of new sources.
Less of better. The taming of pointless scale and the creation of communities of practice.
Start a conversation about what you imagine might be, with people you trust, about something to be proud of.