The shadow side of scale

As we adapt to the changes to our day to day lives consequent on coronavirus, things that were previously invisible emerge from the shadows.

In my Derbyshire village are three small shops; a local family butcher, a small co-op and a franchised chemist.

Their reactions to the challenges have been instructive:

– the butcher is just doing whatever it takes. Delivering, working late, communicating. We know he’s more expensive, and we really don’t mind. His goods and service are worth it.

– the co-op is more constrained by policy, but work round it. They know their customers, and enjoy what they do.

– the chemist, which used to be private but is now part of a large chain, is by some way the least adaptive. Although at this time maybe the most important of the three, it suffers from imposed scale and the consequent lack of flexibility. It’s prescriptions are compiled at an external central unit, meaning it takes four days from ordering to be available. All the other hallmarks of a lack of agency show. The staff are good, but comparatively impotent.

Scale is great when things are running smoothly and predictably, less so when not.

The difference in the way they operate has become something of a topic. When we get past the current problems, the butcher and the coop will have an enhanced reputation, the chemist will not.

Consideration, service and effort are remembered for a long time, whether we are shops, employers or employees.

We’re all heroes now

Whether we like it or not.

Campbell’s iconic structure covers a compelling sequence, starting in the “ordinary world”, a call to adventure and departure on a difficult Journey. Along the way our hero meets a mentor, who changes our her understanding of the world which leads her in to a road of trials, in unfamiliar and frightening surroundings and inevitably to “a long dark night of the soul” where all seems lost. However, in meeting the challenge, she discovers what she needs, and overcomes the odds. She then has a decision to make- to stay where she is, enjoying the fruits of here courage, or to take the secret back to the ordinary world.

Most of us will recognise that our ordinary world, where we understood the rules, our position and could plan is well behind us.

We need mentors. They are not our normal leaders, they are those who care for you and your potential for genius. They are out there.

We find ourselves on a road of trials, and for many, where we are right now seems like a long dark night of the soul.

We can’t go back to the ordinary world. It doesn’t want us and we have nothing to give it, until we find our way forward through the current difficulties.

That’s our job right now. Individually and collectively. To embrace the frightening, the uncertain; to tame it and use it.

In our own worlds, right now, we have no choice other than to be a hero. Those around you, who share what matters to you, need nothing less

Heft

I find it an attractive word. With its origin in Anglo Saxon, it is normally used in terms of weight, or effort but there is another very specific use in terms of animals and people, hefted, which is used to describe the relationship between them and the land they live on. Hefted flocks are those that are so inextricably linked with the land they live on that they cannot be relocated.

In the past, up until the industrial revolution, most of us were hefted to where we were born. A function of generations past living on the same land, and the interdependent relationships that developed, we were woven into where we lived. The movement of people from economic necessity as the economy moved from agrarian to industrial broke that bond for most of us.

I came across the term in “The Shepherd’s Life” by James Rebanks. A beautifully written account of life in the Lake District through the eyes of one remarkable man, it opens with definitions of hefted, and goes on to recount how it defines his life and the society of which he is part.

What struck me most was perhaps what we have lost. When our families lost that hefted relationship with the land they lived on, what did they cling to? Rebanks doesn’t mention purpose or values right until the end of the book, and then only in terms of discovering the power of what was already present. The society of which he is part didn’t have to go looking for them, they were part of who they are, and released through their everyday work. I suspect the idea that you might have to define purpose or make a values statement would be ridiculous to them

So, in our modern day search for purpose and values, perhaps we are starting at the wrong end. Maybe we discover our purpose and values by what we don’t do as we work our way through life (and sometimes from what we do and later regret). Maybe we are born with purpose and have our values inculcated whilst very young, only to risk losing sight of them as we allow ourselves to be shaped by the expectations of others.

And equally, perhaps the same is true of the businesses we start. They are rarely started for money, but rather in an attempt to bring something into being. The primacy of money comes later, in the involvement of others and normally at a point when we have enough money from a degree of success to meet or reasonable needs. I’m not talking millions.

I suspect one definition of hell is the realisation of the impact on others of decisions we may have made in the pursuit of money we don’t really need.

When it comes to how we live and work, I suspect those who are happiest are hefted to something important, even if they cannot articulate precisely what it is. It shows up in how they live their lives and deal with others.