comment 0

Reflections 17th October

Evening view over the Pontsticill Reservoir and the Valve tower near Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan, Wales, UK

On my mind this week.

A notion of the power of “de-monetisation” as a philosophy for these times. The arc of monetisation was well underway when I was born in the middle of the last century. Powered by the industrial revolution and amplified by two world wars, America and Europe had been transformed by governments and organisations turning natural resources into money. By the end of the century in which I was born, that trend was global, and the entire planet was being monetised.

In the two decades of this century, enabled by technology, we have monetised society. In a global workplace, the competition for jobs dissolved any idea of local economies. Anything that could be reduced to a process and a specification could be made anywhere where costs benefits existed – from cheap labour to automation to tax environments.  The result has been threefold – a “race to the bottom” on costs, a concentration of wealth, and money as the absolute definition of wealth. 

The last element – a notion of money as the sole arbiter of wealth has had a profound effect. It has shaped our education systems, put everybody into the workplace and expanded our appetite for debt to buy the badges of apparent prosperity. Debt, like gambling, is pernicious – easy to get into, difficult to get out of. As we have privatised everything from healthcare to funerals via early years education, care for the elderly, security and much else, we have dissolved the glue that holds a functioning society together. It has happened quickly but almost invisibly, a continual stream of small events catalysed by major rounds of deregulation until we find ourselves now with nothing left to privatise. Nowhere to go for growth except perhaps to find another planet……

We now find money is the default answer to any question. Not enough face to face doctor’s appointments? – money. Victims of failures of government? – money. Just about anything – money. Notions of relationships, responsibility, and reciprocity – all reduced to money.

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realise we cannot eat money.” 

Cree Indian Prophecy

So where, I’m wondering, do we go from here? It is difficult to see answers in mass protest – it harms the already harmed far more than the harmers. Conventional politics has become so enmeshed with business that it has lost its identity, homogenised by the the rotating door between the two. As national boundaries melt as rapidly as the permafrost, how do we rebuild community that means something?

Perhaps we can learn from chaos theory, or more precisely, those complexity scientists who have made it digestible for the rest of us.  Dave Snowden created my favourite framework over twenty years ago, the Cynefin Framework, There is a great video here – about thirty minutes well spent – and the metaphor of the children’s party captures the current situation wonderfully. I’ve mentioned it before and make no apologies for doing so again.

When those we traditionally rely on to look after our interests prioritise their own, we have to rebuild our society from its smallest units, and at a time when traditional families, particularly in the West, have been dissolved and fragmented by monetisation, we need to create new building blocks. 

That, in my view, means those around you right now – physically and increasingly virtually. Engaging in conversations that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with how we live, how we want to live, and how we will help each other do it when we know money is not the answer.  Conversations involving questions, ideas, love, joy, sadness and letting go. Valuing people for who they are and their intent, not the car they drive or the holidays they take. Focusing on re-learning what our grandparents knew and paving the way for our grandchildren not to have to pick up the tab we, however unwittingly untiil recently, are leaving them.

I used this quotation a couple of weeks ago, and it still feels important.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

Frodo, in “Lord of the rings” J.R.R. Tolkien

Order arises out of chaos when particles form around strange attractors to create new structures. In my view, the particles are conversations, and even though we don’t know what the strange attractors are yet, we can be confident they are there and will emerge. All we have to do is be ready when they do. We can do that by weaving an ecology of conversations about things that matter way beyond money.

It’s a big ask, but if not us, who and if not now, when?

Things that are shaping my thinking right now.

Back to the office. Radiohead style. Thanks to Hiut Denim for spotting it.

A thought on taking action. From Orion Magazine.

“To avoid awakening only after what we love is pronounced dead, we need to sit up. To sit upright and shake our pain awake—until it hurts us into action.”

The power of second order thinking. From the FS blog.

When we think about the consequences of consequences, we can start to make decisions as leaders, not followers.

The power of Sufi love poetry. from Psyche Magazine

Sufi poetry – in particular Rumi – is in vogue, but few grasp its radical meaning. Thought provoking.

And a final quotation.

Unless you are into pediatrics or developmental medicine, *aging* should not be seen as a deterministic distance from birth, rather the expectation of a stochastic distance from death.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Have a great week……..

comment 0

Refracting Ideas

In physics, refraction is the change in direction of a wave passing from one medium to another or from a gradual change in the medium. Today, in times of rapid and unpredictable change, we are all a form of medium. We take in ideas in one form, and turn them into something slightly different that we direct at those we associate with. This has an interesting implication – the quality of the light we absorb determines the quality of what we emit.

While sitting in my study reading, a thought occurred as a shaft of autumn sunlight played off some glass on my desk to create a rainbow on the wall. Like all of us who do what I do, reading is vital to our “stock in trade”. It is fuel for insight and a part of our responsibility to clients, do the reading they don’t have time to, and generate a continual series of challenges to our thinking and understanding. When things change this quickly anything less makes us stale faster than an artisan sourdough loaf.

It brings with it a challenge – how to filter what we take in. If we filter too tightly, we end up in a silo and lose our “peripheral vision” – that field where the adjacent possible lives which can often take a client conversation in a different direction. On the other hand, filter too loosely, and we end up in the shallows – a broad expanse of mediocrity provided by those who recycle already well-used ideas as though they are novel.

It gets complicated by the sheer volume of content on offer – books, videos, podcasts, newsletters, webinars, discussion groups – the list gets ever longer. And there is a form of FOMO – fear of missing out – that I will miss something important I should have seen.

The answer does not lie in the digests of various forms – ‘growth” conferences and webinars, or business school and magazines, or probably, in my view, worst of all, “accreditation” to some consulting or coaching body. They were perhaps useful when things moved less fast, and “proven solutions” had a longer half-life, but in the days of sourdough bread lifespans, they are a liability. Ideas that the internet made available the moment they were spoken. We’re not doing our job if we have to wait for them to be served up to us like some all-you-can-eat buffet.

The answer, I believe, is as straightforward as it is challenging. To spend time sharing our thoughts and ideas with others who do the same as we do. A latter-day version perhaps of mediaeval Guilds, where masters of their craft gathered to set standards, share knowledge, and find company.

I’ve been doing that now for several years – finding the most interesting people I can, giving away and accepting ideas and contacts, and developing approaches in the knowledge that there is more than enough business for all of us.

We all gain if we are focused enough on what we do and set our filters appropriately. I benefit from sharing ideas with people in India, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the USA. I get insights, understanding, provocation, supervision from the most interesting people I have ever worked with, most of whom I am unlikely to meet and have formed lasting friendships. Necessity was ever necessity was the mother of invention. In this case, this is an excellent example of what a pandemic initiated. It bodes well for the creativity that will be borne of the pressures of climate change, AI and other significant challenges.

Breaking sweat doing more of what we know and what used to work does not serve us. because problems are not solved at the same level of complexity that created them. What we need now, individually and collectively, is connection with shared values. From that will come ideas that will generate action and which, in turn, will clarify our purpose.

When we are mindful about our input, the output we need will emerge.

comment 0

When the vending machine runs out.

We’re all familiar with the sight of an angry person hitting a vending machine into which they have put money, and what they want doesn’t come out—that look of puzzlement and incomprehension.

It crossed my mind as I listened to the news that Westminster has allocated £280m to try and ensure GPs do more face to face consultations. It is the latest in a long line of initiatives defined in terms of money intended to address issues money has little to do with and far more to do with relationships, understanding, empathy, and a clear sense of purpose.

It feels like some bizarre “Skinner Box” behavioural psychology experiment. Get the pigeon to push the button to get a reward. We have now been doing that for so long, encouraged by business schools and consultants, that we seem to have entered a place of unthinking responses, a place of “willful blindness.”

We see the same befuddlement as commentators talk in breathless terms about the prospect of a lack of plushy toys for Christmas and talk of “sustainable” aircraft fuel that still pumps out carbon dioxide but is derived from a different form of exploitation of natural resources.

We have entered a new reality, and the vending machine is empty. Business has a pivotal but not central part in the economy emerging in a post-pandemic, trans climate change world. Our priorities have changed, and our business frameworks and politics will have to change with it.

Consuming less via shorter supply chains, more beauty, less blind bluster. More critical thinking, less knee jerk profit taking. Less efficiency, more effectiveness. More humanity,

That’s a long road and will be fraught with challenges, but we have to begin. Money is a valuable servant but a dreadful master.