Escape Velocity

The 50th anniversary of landing on the moon took me to thoughts about escape velocity. For earth, a little over 11km/s, or Mach 33, or several times the velocity of a high powered rifle bullet. The energy needed to escape the pull of the familiar.

We are currently trapped in a numbers driven economic system, largely detached from considering it’s externalities – the unintended consequences of the headlong push for growth. Our escape velocity will be determined by what we value.

We have allowed ourselves to become limited by the gravity of an orthodoxy that may well kill us unless we escape its pull.

There are however signs, and not just from the likes of Extinction Rebellion. People closer to the centre of the current orthodoxy. Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, is making a stand. So too is the head of Moore Stephens speaking at The European Court of Auditors – not a body I have previously associated with radical action.

Good though this is, it seems unlikely that this is where the leadership we need will come from. They have little to risk.

The real impetus, the energy needed for escape velocity will come from those who do have something to risk. Those who will do differently, from the outset. Who will view value as more than numbers.

Smaller businesses, individuals without the security of an established career.

Those for whom the risk of standing out is real.

Which is most of us.

The fourth addiction

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog Nicholas Taleb’s observation that the three greatest addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a regular monthly salary.

On reflection, I think there’s a fourth.


Most of the people I talk to in most organisations are busy. Too busy seeking efficiency at what they do to notice what’s going around them.

When an issue arises, they want a fast, reliable solution, preferably proven elsewhere.

I term it the “flu plus” syndrome. Something to take that masks a deeper underlying challenge so we can carry on regardless- at least until the underlying issue manifests in a more serious way.

We are all subject to it. Just because I write about it doesn’t mean I’m immune to it( just a little more embarrassed at my stupidity these days.

Most of the issues we have to address can be sourced back to a few common but complex causes. For us, stress, purpose, ego etc, and for the businesses we are in culture, leadership, purpose.

There are no “solutions” to any of these. They are systemic and often “wicked” morphing in response to whatever solution we try to apply.

Wicked problems require hand to hand combat. Curiosity, vulnerability, determination and an anchoring in purpose. It’s hard work, and there better be a good reason for facing the pain.

On the other hand, it’s energising. We discover things about ourself and the problem. We grow.

Other people’s solutions leave us stunted.

Solutions are easy, but come at a price.

The ten percent

We talk about change pretty much every day. It’s entered the lexicon of how we talk about what we see around us. So much so we just accept it as routine.

I wonder how much we really think about it though.

Mostly, the context I hear about it tends to be in relation to problems, managing, uncertainty. I rarely hear about it being talked about warmly. It’s spoken about in the same tones as ageing, disease and death. Something we have to cope with.

I don’t think it’s that at all.

Change is like a challenging friend. We know it has no intent to harm us – anything but – it just requires us to make choices around things that matter to us.

All of us alive today have been born into an age of organisation and definitions.

Get educated as best you can and do well against criteria set by other people whose interest is largely in the economic benefit you will generate, more than the journey of your life.

Use that education to get a good job and a good career, working in structures designed by other people for their own purposes (which we may or may not share)

Do that until your utility falls below an arbitrary line, conventionally defined by age, and retire. If you’ve done well, all well and good. if not, more of a problem.

This an an obsolete paradigm, but like any habit, takes a while to change. In the last couple of decades organisations have been losing power to ideas and movements.

Influence has gone assymetric.

Whilst how much capital you have is a powerful lag indicator of influence, the lead indicators are our ideas, our communities, and our purpose. The ripples of Mark Rylance resigning from the RSC because of its sponsorship by BT, or Greta Thunberg transforming the nature of the climate change debate, are only just beginning to be felt.

Most of us (around 90%) find ourselves in organisations that like certainty, regard change as an inconvenience to be managed, and that being more efficient and profitable in what we do is what we must focus on.

The problem is, that very resistance to change means we don’t keep pace with it. (Change doesn’t care). We’re on a timeline to obsolescence. Until recently, you could have a career that coped with that.

Fifty years in a gently declining industry or profession, but with a final salary pension? – no problem. No more.

A small number of us – maybe less than 2.5% – are the crazy ones. The ones who are driven to pursue an idea or cause because thet cannot do otherwise.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. Steve Jobs

Then there’s the 10%. The ones who question the status quo and conventional wisdom. The ones who think the crazy ones are maybe not so crazy, and will entertain their ideas. The ones who recognise that short term comfort is achieved at long term disappointment in a dream not fulfilled.

These are the alchemists, and the fire carriers. The ones who will transform ideas into impact, and embers into infernos.

They often face a challenge. the 90% think they’re dangerous, and the 2.5%think they lack the unwavering commitment to the idea.

But the 10% will get past that. Travelling between the complacency of the the 90%, and the fundamentalism of the 2.5%, they make a difference that improves our lives, from how we are able to live them, to the planet we live them on. They are an emerging community.

Where do you belong?