The Long Haul

Our world is shaped by the three generations before us, and we are shaping the world for the three generations that follow us.

American First Nation Saying

It seems that the more we are able to analyse data, the more we become myopic in its use. We focus on this year, this quarter and at best look a few years forward. We look at the world through the lens of our own lifetimes.

Ray Dalio, he of Bridgewater Capital is an analyst par excellance, and is currently publishing his perspectives based on a much longer perspective – around six hundred years. It’s a good piece of work, and benefits hugely from a move away from an attempt at forecasting, to a more nuanced look at trends. It puts our own timescales into perspective, and makes us realise we are all passengers on cycles we have little influence over.

As part of his first release, he has derived a list of seventeen qualities that he suggests determines where we are in a long term cycle – whether we are moving upwards as countries / kingdoms / empires, whether we are peaking or declining. The list is in his suggestion of a waterfall order, with each level determing the one below it:

What struck me as I read it was how fractal it is. As for countiries, so for institutions, businesses, teams, and individuals.

As an exercise, I went down his list and thought about what alternative terms might apply as we moved further in to smaller entities, and I’ve marked them on his table.

You may have a different view than the ones I have used, and if you have id be grateful for your views. I find it a useful exercise, and the order he has created works for me when considering client businesses, and even individuals.

It all starts with leadership – of ourselves and others. When I was involved with Leadership Trust, the mantra was “grip self, grip team, grip task”. I think that still holds. Whether as individual or business, if we don’t have a sense of purpose allied to something meaningful, and an ability to win the hearts and minds of others in pursuit of that, then our chances of leading are minimal.

Our education levels are critical – if we can’t exercise our own minds, nobody else is going to do it. Over time, we have become addicted to easy to access solutions. One look at your inbox will confirm that. Many have merit, but not as solutions, merely perspectives based on something that may have worked for someone else, somewhere else, in the past. your career, your business and your role belong to you. They are yours alone. it imes of uncertainty, we need to be able to think, even the unthinkable.

And so on, down the list. For countries, Ray suggests an exercise to score countires out of 10 relative to each other. I think we might try that with our businesses, or roles, or even ourselves.

It will not of course be the truth, “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. I think this one is. It will give you pause, and make you think.

We’re all in this for the long haul.

Is it wrong to be energised by this?

As I sit here on a glorious spring morning in Derbyshire, looking out from the room where I write, I feel an odd mixture of gratitude, apprehension and excitement.

Gratitude for what is. Personal good health, a healthy family, a happy home, a beautiful location and doing work that I love. Not a lot of money, but enough. When we are where we are at the moment, it’s a lot to be grateful for.

Apprehension around the point that we’re at this morning. Two weeks into lockdown the novelty is wearing off, and the near term reality beginning to bite. I don’t think coronavirus is an incident, or a bump in the road, its a fork in the road and it’s asking questions of us.

  • Do we want to carry on the way we have been, or do we want to change direction?
  • Are we happy with the way we are treating our fellow humans?
  • Are we happy with how we are stewarding our home, the planet and its other guests.?
  • Just how much is enough?
  • Will we step up, or hide, from this crisis?

Excitement that this might, just might, be a big enough shock for us to change course. To question the path we are on, and where it’s taking us.

That our routines are being disrupted in a big enough way, for long enough, for us to change, not just recover to how we were before.

Coronavirus is not an enemy. It has no intent other than doing its thing by surviving, using us as hosts. For our leaders it would be easier if it were – it would give them someone to blame.

As it is, it is just exposing our own priorities and lack of foresight. Pandemics have been recognised as a global risk for decades, but because preparing for them is expensive, and we don’t know when they will happen, they have been a politically and economically inconvenient truth.

And yet. We are seeing a myriad of responses, from the brutally selfish to the incomprehensibly generous and self sacrificing. From “us first” national appropriation of critical supplies, to the unquestioning turning up of poorly paid front line health workers, store workers, volunteers in their hundreds of thousands.

They are not doing it without question – they are asking uncomfortable questions, but then they are doing it anyway. I feel humbled by that.

Coronavirus doesn’t choose, it just exploits our weaknesses, and the weaknesses in the system are down to us. The faults are generally not malign, just the thoughtless favouring of short term expediency for a few over long term prosperity for the majority.

It seems to me we are being offered a choice. It doesn’t require leadership, it requires individual decisions and commitment. For each one of us to stand up, without being asked.

On this beautiful Sunday morning. Right now.


When I lived in Switzerland, there was a joke. 

The logs at the top of the pile needs the ones at the bottom to be really, really, stable.


As we get past the initial disorientation of what’s going on, past the stockpiling (interesting that the British do toilet rolls, whilst the Americans seem to do guns) and the bravado, past the hysteria of the tabloid press and into something of a pattern, the unexpected consequences begin to become clear.

  • Who is important to the functioning of our society. The Key workers.  The natural Givers.
  • “Our people are our most important asset” gets seriously tested.
  • The amount of froth in our economic coffee. The staggering amount of largely pointless activity that consumes attention but leaves no lasting trace, from coffee shops to celebrities.
  • The fragility of international supply chains, and the comfort of buying from people who we know.
  • The immediate effect on our CO2 emissions. We’ve talked about in worthily for ages, then this comes along and we get real action. James Lovelock’s Gaia theories stock just went up a notch.
  • The boundaries of AI becomes clear. The data on which most practical applications rely is historic. It didn’t see this coming, and I suspect if we asked it what to do, we wouldn’t like the answer much.
  • The exposure of the takers in the economy. The sheer amount of wealth they have gathered will shield them, but their credibility is severely dented, and their future authority in question. Logs on the ground look much like each other.

It’s easy to say that in retrospect that this was coming was obvious. Like all Black Swans, it may be true, but we didn’t act as though we did, and that’s what matters.

Equally, it’s instructive to notice the number of pundits who say they saw it coming. It may be true, but if they couldn’t make their voice heard, it’s of no moment today.

We will continue to work at understanding what is going on whilst the Givers do their utmost to mitigate the effects on us and the takers pick from the debris, but we have no idea of what next year will look like. 

So, what do we do?

I’m writing my thoughts on this at in the full knowledge that none of us know what to do until we get to a point where things begin to settle (if they do) and right now, I think it comes down to one main action:

Generous self reliance. 

Our institutions, public and private, are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. It doesn’t make them bad, just arthritic. 

Those making a difference are individuals, from the doctors following their calling despite self evident risk, to the companies moving  production to ventilators for no profit, to the local groups organising supplies to the vulnerable, to those continuing to empty bins and stack shelves for around the living wage. 

Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, for the next little while, we are reliant on them and their goodwill. We should be truly grateful. 

I suspect that in the vast majority of cases, the people leading these efforts have made their own decision. They are clear minded about what is important to them, and acted in line with that. 

They are reliant on themselves first, and use that to give. 


It is those I want to associate with as we go forward.