You can’t outsource Respect.

One of the great pleasures of this time of year for me is the range of shows and events focused on gardens. Row after row of beautiful gardens, flowers, trees and people whose lives revolve around growing things.

There is also the pleasure of the theme that runs like a thread through these events; that of nature, growth, and craft. I find it quite humbling to visit a stand dedicated to Bonsai, and witness the dedication that has gone into creating things of outstanding beauty.

Then there are those who want to tag along in the hope of being linked to the feelings generated by those dedicated to their craft. The big banks, the corporates, the big brands.

For whatever reason, it was this area that left a real impression on me when I visited the Chatsworth Flower Show this week. Set in spectacular surroundings, in one of the most beautiful counties in the UK, it is always a pleasure.

The big brands were out in force, making their presence felt through advertising, sponsorship, and other quite “shouty” techniques. I was very aware of their presence, but felt little connection. On the other hand, there were the small businesses, unable to afford that sort of commercial noise, who relied instead on what they produce, and how they talk about it.

The craft belt business who spent ten minutes sharing the pleasure he gets from making a beautiful product locally that he sells for a fraction of the price of a product sold by a major fashion brand further down the line of stalls that is made far away by someone I’ll never meet.

The team who put on the “power of trees” exhibit that displayed a love of what they do that was tangible.

The craft cheese maker whose product has never been near a factory, and whose variations elicit joy and curiosity, not the wrath of quality control.

The maker of jeans who only makes jeans, and strives above all things to do one thing well, and has a clear goal not to become too big and lose the pleasure they get from what they make.

I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that branding was like being a woman in politics. If you have to point out to people you are one, you’re not.

Branding is about being constant about who you are, what you do, and a dedication to who you do it for. It’s about the pleasure people get from knowing you, knowing that you know them.

Not the size of your budget, or the price you paid for the design of your logo.

The Brands that make you smile have little ego.

Brands that matter make themselves felt even if their marketing spend is invisible.

People who try to brand by tagging along are plain to see.

You can’t outsource respect.

Growth

Generally speaking, it seems that most of the posts we see on business or personal growth fall into two categories; therapeutic, or instructional.

The therapeutic works on the basis that we’re somehow not good enough, that we’re flawed, failing and need help.

The instructional works on the basis that we’re insufficiently trained; that we need to be taught, by those who are better than us.

Both have their place, up to a point, but only if we believe the purpose of our life is to fulfil others requirements of us.

If, on the other hand the purpose of our lives is to use the unique gifts we have been given, the unique perspectives we hold, the intent we have for our lives to use them to leave the world a better place than we find it, then they don’t.

Our lives have an expiration date. Between now and then, we have a choice to make.

Awareness

It’s been twenty years since the U.S. Army coined the term VUCA to describe the challenging environment we found ourselves in the post Cold War period.

And if we thought it was VUCA then, what do we think it is now?

Yet, most of the people I talk to seem to regard it with detachment, rather as they might drive by an accident that’s happened to somebody else, or environmental change. As though somehow, it affects other people, not them.

Other people’s jobs will be automated, not theirs. The conditions enabling populism are caused by other people. Shame about the bees.

They hang on grimly to the edge of the cliff, even as the cliff edge crumbles.

The shame of this is we’re not doomed, and if we understand what’s happening around us we can do something about it. Buy an electric car, eat less, get involved.

The opportunity to make a difference is huge, even if seemingly scary.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a whole lot less.

U.S Army Gen. Eric Shineseki

If you haven’t noticed, temporary has gone from being a phase to a permanent condition. The length of time our functional skills stay relevant, the mean time from a business becoming average to failing, your job description.

Underpinning all this is another uncomfortable probability. We cannot train as fast as the conditions around us are changing.

The things we have worked for – qualifications, promotion, networks – no longer serve the way they did when we sought them.

To thrive in the conditions we find ourselves in now require something altogether less quantifiable. We need to travel inwards, to understand what really matters to us, what we are prepared to commit to, and what we are willing to forgo.

To bring to the surface and work with what we sense as much as that we can prove. To not go with the crowd. To develop our own unique voice and use it.

To choose our friends like we choose our causes – with a willingness to commit to them.

It’s about the alignment of our stories. For a while, our story and those we spend time with – employers, politicians, partners – share common purpose, although over time, they change and we change. First gradually, and then suddenly we find ourselves far apart.

Whenever we enter a relationship with another we create three entities – them, us, and the relationship. Each has its own life and direction, and each needs to be nurtured. Ask anyone who’s been successfully married for a long time; the marriage has to be respected every bit as much as the spouse.

It applies to our jobs every bit as much as our partnerships.

USAF Colonel John Boyd – “the fighter pilot who changed the art of war” was a rebel, an original thinker, and in my view one of the clearest thinkers on coping with the sort of conditions we face today.

He regarded situational awareness (he used the German “fingerspitzengefuehl” – literally fingertip feeling) as one of the prime attributes for successful survival. Not just what’s going on “out there” but also internally – our own health, beliefs, purpose and anything else that contributes to our sense of “being”. He used to counsel his students that

“You have a choice. You can be someone, follow the rules, fit in, or you can do something you believe in. The first will get you promotions, good jobs and an easy life. The second will be difficult, but will give you a life worth living

Tomorrow will be different to today. Things will happen that set in train things that will happen further down the track.

The least we can do is to take the time to be aware of them.