The former head of MI6 was talking on Radio 4 this morning about the benefits of strategic distance. The patterns he could see now that he was no longer responsible for the day to day business of spying. I thought it was an important passing observation.
The way we are bombarded with news, designed to grab attention more than to inform makes it hard for us to get strategic distance. If we could achieve it, we would see that what appears to be fraying at the edges is part of a pattern.
The man from MI6 was talking big patterns – China, Russia, Regional Conflict, Defence Policy. For the rest of us closer to home it is jobs, the High St, not being able to see family and other things that to those looking at big pictures must seem unimportant and prosaic. But the patterns are there.
Things fray at the edge. Whether that is post Brexit relationships with Europe, or locally, Thorntons continuing down a road decades ago when their strategic vision moved from its home in Derbyshire through financial crisis, to being acquired, to now closing its stores on its seeming inexorable decline. These are are patterns, not random fraying.
The challenge is that we cannot predict it. Things fray at the edge, and there’s no data on the far side of the edge. We will find out as we go.
If we cannot predict, what are we to do?
I think the answer is to slow down and look at the patterns. Even as things move into apparent chaos, “strange attractors ” appear, those things around which new patterns and structures form. One of Thornton’s franchisees on the interview spoke of feeling abandoned after the decision, but also clearly about what next – to not depend on the franchise, and to develop his own, locally based brand. Thornton’s may be fraying, but chocolate is not. In the same way, Westminster is fraying, but increasingly autonomous regional authorities are forming, from Wales and Scotland to Mayor led English Authorities. Westminster is not England.
Hierarchies are dissolving. Decisions, and power are moving inexorably towards the edge.
So what are the strange attractors we will gather round?
We don’t know yet, but somewhere the other side of tawdry identity politics, cheap populism and temporary grab all selfishness, there are things that matter which will emerge around meaning, purpose, relationships, trust and contribution.
It will take a while, but if we know there’s a pattern we can look for it and act accordingly. Create something more aligned to what matters to us for the long term
Things are not fraying, they are repatterning.