Spirit of Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter was the Austrian Economist who made the term “creative destruction” famous. He was a thinker ahead of his time around business and entrepreneurship.

I wonder what he would make of today? Would he see the changes on the High St, and the increasing weakness of the big companies of the last century as they turn into zombies as a bad thing, or a good thing.

I suspect the latter. The moment we organise any business, we build stickiness and resistance to change into it. The only question is how long before it falls far enough behind the rate of change in its markets to become irrelevant.

We shouldn’t (though often do) have a problem with that. However, Nicholas Taleb suggests that the three biggest addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a regular monthly salary. The first two are a choice, but the latter for most a necessity.

That doesn’t mean we can’t control it.

By developing a mindset of doing the best we can for an employer, but not being dependent. As Robert de Niro says in the film “Heat”; “don’t get involved in anything you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds”

If we’re employees, I think that’s a healthy mindset- it keeps us, and our employers, on our toes.

The trick of course is to be able to walk away. To develop the skills, contacts, values and awareness that makes our relationship with an employer one of equals. That means training, reading, discussing and above all thinking.

For destruction to be creative, it has to create way for something.

That something is an individual and team responsibility, because the destruction will arrive anyway.

And it’s a good thing.

Scary maybe, but good.

Grow your Own

Very few gardens are the same.

They may be a similar size, maybe on a modern development where most of the houses look similar.

But the gardens are unique.

They reflect the personalities of those who tend them.

The pots, the types of flower, the layout.

Those who tend them like to spend time there, enjoying what they have planted and nurtured. It helps them feel whole.

At what point did we decide that “work” had to be different?

We benchmark, we measure, we compare, we run scared of variation from what we’ve planned. We fear being judged.

Gardeners revel in difference, and unexpected arrivals. When the dahlia they grew turns out to be a different colour from that they had anticipated, they don’t fire it, they just plant it somewhere else in the garden where it fits.

Weather happens. Forecasts are usually approximately right, but precisely wrong and every now and again we get a real storm and have to repair the damage it caused, but we don’t blame anyone.

And when the sun shines, and all is in bloom, we sit down and enjoy it, until the autumn, and time to enjoy preparing it for the winter we know is coming.

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”

Tim Gallwey, from The Inner Game of Tennis

When we run our businesses, our careers and our lives in expectation of what it might be one day (often measured through very narrow criteria) rather than enjoy what it is today, and take pleasure in what it might one day be, we pay a heavy price. Our lives have an expiration date. Each day matters, and mortgaging it to the future generates burden rather than joy.

We can run our businesses and careers in the same way as we garden. For the love ot it.

Wonder, appreciation and joy are not restricted to snatched moments or holidays, unless we choose to live that way.

Orientation

If we’re navigating into unfamiliar terrritory, we need three things.

  • The best map we can find,
  • The best compass we can lay our hands on,
  • And to know where we’re starting from.

Each of these three things carries it’s own challenges.

The map of course is a reduction, done by somebody at a different point in time. It will tell you where things are in relation to each other, show geographical features, and help you understand differences. It will not show you what the weather’s going to be like, or the animals you might come across, or who else might be there. The map is not the territory.

The compass has it’s own idiosyncracies. Compasses point to magnetic north, not true north, and magnetic north moves around – known as variation. They are also subject to deviation, which is determined by the surroundings of the compass – the materials in a boat for instance. To find true north, you have to correct for both variation and deviation.

Neither compass nor map however are a great deal of use unless we know where we’re starting from, and what we’re looking for or where we want to go.

The same of course is true for our lives, careers and organisations.

Today, the conditions we find ourselves in are deeply uncertain. Others are offering us maps, but don’t talk much about the territory we might find ourselves in (because they don’t know). We need to make our own assessment of the conditions we might walk into.

Our own internal compassess are subject to their own forms of variation (the assumptions we make, the heuristics we use and the unconcious biases we have) as well as deviation (the communities and organisations we are part of, the hierarchies in them, the culture and how all these affect what we “see”)

As for where we’re starting from, that’s always contentious. Where we think we are, and where others see us is often very different. A great appraisal might convince you you’re in a great place and can see your surroundings clearly, but the organisation may itself be lost.

In conditions of uncertainty, we need to make sure we’re grounded in reality.

We need to orient, and to do that we need to make sure we have our own map, compass and understanding of where we are, and where we’re trying to get to.

Using other people’s equipment is a high risk venture