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.