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What is your Stance?

One of the challenges we face in these uncertain times is that we have nowhere to hide. It used to be the case that we could hide behind the marketing literature, the company brand, or, at a push, pricing. 

Now it’s different. Topics are being brought into play that requires us to have an opinion that belongs to us, not one we’ve borrowed from the company. Whether it is diversity, climate change or something more local, our stance differentiates us from automation.

The dictionary defines stance as “the way in which someone stands, especially when deliberately adopted (as in cricket, golf, and other sports); a person’s posture”. 

The metaphor is appropriate. We may have been given an expensive company bat and even had lots of time in the training nets, but nobody else will deal with the ball coming our way. 

Developing a stance requires work and commitment. It is an attitude, not a strategy. It defines our boundaries and those areas we are not prepared to compromise on for the sake of an easy win. It’s more specific than vision, and the boundaries of the “how” of purpose. I find stance a filter through which to look at what I’m doing and ask “does it pass”?

Here’s where I’ve got to regarding on my own lens.

  1. The way we run business does not reflect reality; it is just where we have got to so far. We can ensure that business is a force for good for more than just a few.
  2. The conflict we see about the nature of business is not to be feared. The better way is to be found in the heat being generated.
  3. There are better ways to be found; we can’t see them yet.
  4. We can bring these better ways into being if we dare to question and challenge from a position of humility, generosity and compassion.
  5. Complexity is to be welcomed. The answers are not in plain sight, so going both broad and deep and following intuition as much as data is needed. The pursuit of efficiency at all costs is a trap for the unwary and an easy excuse for not doing the hard work.
  6. It will take time. It is more important that progress is made together than I am seen to make it. 

You will have your own, even if you can’t write them down yet. I suggest it is essential to find them, because we all have a thread we follow, and our stance is what keeps it in our hand. 

It used to be the case that people asked us what we did for a living. Today, with what we are facing, the question is how the way we make our living represents what we stand for.

Stance matters.

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What if businesses behaved more like farmers?

I’m a habitual listener to “farming today” first thing every day. I have enormous respect for farmers, who have to deal with more external interference than any other sector I can think of.

Apart from the natural perils of weather and disease, they have geopolitical regulation issues and national government legislation from health and safety to the environment. The majority have the challenge of the uncertainty being tenant farmers. They make some of the lowest incomes in the country. Despite all that, they wouldn’t do anything else. Their sense of stewardship, their concern for the next generation, and the way they care for their land and animals puts the average business to shame.

Perhaps it has to do with the weather that comes their way that, despite the traditional grumbling, they have no choice other than to deal with challenges as something to be dealt with as it is. After all, you can’t lobby the weather.

This morning’s discussion was around the challenges of free-range and organic farming. To make it work commercially requires wholesale, genuine, externally monitored changes. They do not use artificial fertilisers (Bonuses?), pesticides (HR?) and adopt “no dig” soil preservation (no consultants?) whilst addressing government requirements to manage land for the benefit of the community (no “greenwash”).

Process and market innovation seem to come from the medium-sized and smaller farmers, whilst the larger farms seem to benefit more from tax and subsidy management. I appreciate that this is a subjective view; however, I have been listening to the programme daily for a couple of decades. I talk regularly with those involved in the sector and think there is some substance to this. The comparison of behaviours with the corporates and SME is not a difficult leap.

Perhaps the aspect I respect most is their groundedness. Farmers cannot move the land they work or move production somewhere lower cost. The land they work and the animals they manage are their income, and care for them comes ahead of cash flow and balance sheet fluctuations. They are a model of stoicism – dealing with today in the context of tomorrow.

There is a danger that this begins to sound like some romantic notion. It’s not – there are plenty of examples of bad farmers (although they tend to be exposed earlier than bad businesses). The main point is that they have to deal with what is happening, where they are and with what they’ve got, and live with their efforts. That has my respect.

If businesses thought and behaved like farmers rather than hunters, we might find ourselves having an altogether different conversation.

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Ideas as Currency

This is a heavier blog than my normal ones, but a question has surfaced from recent conversations that I want to share.  

We create our own reality, so I find it productive to subject things that we take for granted and expose them to some slow looking to see what they are really made of, and how the reality they represent stand up to scrutiny.  

Everything we take for granted started as an idea, and take a roundabout route to accepted truth. 

Ideas start as a mixture of half-complete notions, images, and associations that coalesce through an insight into being. As soon as they move from the conceptual to the concrete, they become part of the furniture and eventually fade into obscurity as we take them for granted.

Money is one such example. All our currencies, from the Dollar to Bltcoin, are fiat currency. Based on trust, they exist only because we believe they exist and represent our trust in the future worth of the issuing authority. It’s an interesting thought in times of uncertainty.

“Mind thinks in images but, to communicate with another, must transform image into thought and then thought into language. That march, from image to thought to language, is treacherous. Casualties occur: the rich, fleecy texture of image, its extraordinary plasticity and flexibility, its private nostalgic emotional hues – all are lost when image is crammed into language.”

Irving D. Yalom

To the question I want to air.

Work is another such idea. It is taken in common usage to be virtuous, and jobs as the cure-all to economic woes, yet the etymology of all the words for “work” in European languages suggests work as coercion

Work is taken as the destiny of those without wealth, and as Thomas Picketty points out, return on wealth outstrips return on labour, so it presents a serious long term issue. The industrial era has given us a whole new category of the “temporarily wealthy” – those in the middle, with good incomes, and enough “net present value” to secure the debt that gives the illusion of wealth, but at a price of constant servitude to those who provide it.  

If we are fortunate enough to live to an average age, we spend around 25% of that preparing for the world of work. Most of us spend that time learning within a framework and paradigm based on supporting that nature of work. 

We then spend the next 60% or so of our lives at work, during which time at least half of our attention focused on it. The figures are clearly approximate but suggest that more than half our waking lives are spent preparing for and doing “work”. That makes it a pretty serious undertaking – is that really what we are for? 

There are those very few who not need to work, and more than that whose work enhances the quality of life for them and those around them; the people I think of as modern artisans. Then there are more than that again who work at whatever they need to in order to survive, then an even more significant number of those who do not have access to work of any sort and struggle to survive. As we come to the end of an era dominated by a particular notion of work, I think it does raise a broader question. 

As we reach the end of the industrial era, with all that it has brought us and cost us, what do we want our future relationship with work to be?

We Homo Sapiens Sapiens have been around for between 90 and 160 thousand years, a mere 0.00004% of the planet’s life. We are the most creative beings here, with enormous potential to use that creativity to build or destroy, and the direction we are currently heading in is not encouraging.

The question is about far more than debating whether or not we work from home or an office, at a time when technology is capable of replacing many jobs that take place in those offices, and when the nature of the work we do is contributing to changes to our environment that could put our brief presence here to an end.

We do not need to end work, but it is so ingrained in what we do that the debate needs to be about the nature of that work, and it needs to be a calm, considered, everyday topic of conversation, involving all of us, and we need to start now.

The industrial revolution started in conversations in small groups in the coffee shops of London. This conversation has the opportunity to start online. It is something we can turn from idea to currency, one small conversation at a time.

My farmer friends tell me the best time to plant a tree was twenty-five years ago. The next best time is now, and if planting a small tree is all I can do, then I will.