Many years ago, I was living and working in the mountains of Cyprus, and in my old office was an old safe to keep secure what needed to be kept secure. It was a thing of beauty and would, I’m sure, have made a good film prop. Over its many years of service, it had developed “character” – you had to treat it gently, fiddle with it through the five directional turns needed to align the tumblers and feel for the “click’ as much as rely on the combination. It was art as much as process.
As we deal with Omicron, dysfunctional politics, the realities of CoP26, identifying ways forward feels similar. Getting to the “click” of insight is a matter of sensing our way towards it.
Often I find, the answers we’re looking for are not where we thought we left them. Case studies, “tried and tested solutions,” and expensively acquired knowledge and seniority often lend more confusion than clarity. The infrastructure that goes with scale means we move more slowly than the changes going on require and I’m drawn back to the importance of what we have always known; operational decisions are best made closest to where the action is.
In indigenous communities, elders provided context, but the young people took the action and made the decisions as they needed to. Telling people the combination is fine, but you can only feel the “click” when you have your hands on the dial.
As we hold more and more exploratory conversations at Originize, with ever more diverse small groups, around a widening range of topics, it is instructive to see something similar happen. Perhaps because none of the members work together, and because these are not “paid for” events, or maybe that the people who turn up want to be there, are curious, generous and open of mind and heart, there is no sense of rank, hierarchy or status. Not much gets in the way of what we are looking at, and the balance between the perspective of experience and the dynamism of youth feels much better balanced. It’s too early yet to see what actually happens as a result of these conversations, but I’m confident it’s not nothing. It may take a while for the right ripples to wash up on the right shore, but somewhere there will be a connection that otherwise might not have been felt.
I’ve recently been reading the work of Adam Kahane, and this extract from “Power and Love” sums up, I think, where we are at present.
This is a time for doing the work that looks for insight more than available solutions, and we need to have our hands on the dial, not shouting the combination at the people doing the work.
I’m finding weeks are fuller than they used to be. In addition to the things that typically occupy my attention, from family, friends, writing and client work, I find much of what I took for granted outside the boundaries of my day to day intruding for reasons far from welcome.
I’ve been thinking about relationships. When our lives are a web of relationships – with other people, the world we live in, with ideas, questions and many other things, these different relationships are the glue that keeps our society together. I found myself thinking about what relationships are made from. Clearly, we are all different, but I believe there are several common ingredients.
Trust seems relatively apparent, as do commitment, intimacy, respect, understanding, equality, appreciation and gratitude. They all share qualities in that we cannot measure them – only sense them. They get signalled in the tiniest of ways – tone of voice, a look, a smile, a question, small acts of kindness. They are impervious to rank – only the self-serving develop relationships in the assumption of reward.
It has therefore been an instructive week. We have seen the most depressing betrayals of relationships from the entirely cynical treatment of individuals in politics and business to the almost inevitable cavalier treatment of international obligations made in our name.
Whatever the rights, wrongs and facts of each case, the relationship people thought they had proved as permanent as a sweet wrapper. Owen Pattison thought he was being backed and only found out through the news that he wasn’t. Regardless of what he may, or may not have done, that is disgraceful. Yorkshire Cricket Club is being pulled apart at the seams as people who knew what they were part of, from Board members to financial backers, scramble over each other as they head for the door to distance themselves from a now problematic relationship. in the next week, it seems increasingly likely that article sixteen of the Brexit agreement will be triggered because a promise we made is deemed “too difficult” by those who made it.
Relationships carry responsibility and cannot be entered into lightly. When a relationship is formed – whether a bank with a customer, a fan with a sports team, or a politician with a community something new is created that was not there before. Relationships are living things with their own unique energy, and when they die, that energy disappears and leaves us diminished. To see relationships treated as commodities is depressing, and when a former Prime Minister is moved to an excoriating criticism of his own party’s leadership, it is more than worrying.
When concern about about our relationships, or those of people we rely on, creeps quietly into our consciousness it isn’t easy to focus on what needs to be done, and we all suffer.
It strikes me that we are actively eroding relationships at the very time we need them most. We are turning many over to algorithms simultaneously as the ones we have with humans become ever more distant and fragile. I cannot think of a relationship that I have with any large organisation that is anything other than tenuous, at best or cynical at worst.
It matters. Promises, explicit and implicit, are the currency of relationships. When we make or receive a promise, we get more emotional reward when that promise is made than when it is delivered, and failure to deliver is positively corrosive. When leaders make promises with the substance of cappuccino foam, we are trading a temporary short term emotional sugar rush for longer-lasting opprobrium. When we do it with treaties, alliances, or health care, we pull our communities apart, knowingly and cynically, for profit. Personally, I value my relationships with people I know in countries we are playing fast and loose with far more than I do corporations or politicians. That’s a damning indictment.
Such is the place we find ourselves, and we have to deal with it as best we can. For my own part, I am doing a constant background “relationship audit.” I will not expose myself to any organisation whose goal is shareholder maximisation and ask myself “what is the impact on the planet, and my communities, if they succeed in growing their business in line with their goals?”
Climate Change is not the problem, nor is the lack of equality, or poverty. They are all symptoms of toxic, one-sided relationships. With each other and with the natural world of which we are part. They are not technical challenges; they are relationship issues.
If we focus on our relationships, the rest will follow. Communities matter, whether local or virtual. Places where promises made are kept, and people support each other when things go awry, as they very often do.
That, I suggest is where we start. Choosing our communities, becoming an active part of them, and developing the qualities that create the glue. We don’t need training, or incentives, or data. We just need to start.
Things that have inspired me.
What is Goodness made from? At a time when goodness seems increasingly absent from our institutions, a thought provoking article from Psyche magazine on what makes goodness.
Being on the hook. As we fully get into the September back to work routines and Westminster reconvenes, I’ve found myself thinking about the broader nature of social distancing.
I think we’ve been getting increasingly socially distanced for a while, well before face masks and 2 metre icons. Whilst it seems paradoxical given the many technologies we have for connection, the quality of contact has been eroding and the bandwidth of relationships narrowing. A quick look at responses from email to Snapchat and everything in between demonstrates similar features – short, curt, transactional and frequently combative exchanges. Fights for supremacy. We have become more distant from each other when it comes to what matters.
Which is perhaps not surprising, as conflict sells. Social media algorithms are designed first and foremost to draw attention to advertising. One of the best ways is to create echo chambers and feed them with content that will provoke not debate or dialogue but energetic dispute.
With the data held on us, crafting stories that trigger us, and casting them to narrow audiences where they will resonate, is increasingly accessible and inexpensive—tying irresistible digital flies and casting them exactly where we know the fish to be. So we end up on the hook and served up to whoever is paying. The skills were developed over the last decade and brought to levels of excellence in recent elections, and of course, the Brexit referendum. It’s not, I think, a conspiracy, more an updating of the ethic of the rotten boroughs of two hundred years ago, which had a tiny electorate and could be used by a patron to gain unrepresentative influence. We have the capability; it’s currently legal and therefore should not surprise us,
I think that means that there is an increasing distance between us and the source of the inputs we trust to make sense of our world. We are fed stories designed to suit others agendas, and it is down to us to examine them to see if they are fit for consumption. It becomes yet another pressure in a rapidly changing world.
The decisions we make are a compromise between risk and trust. The less trust we have in the inputs we receive, the greater the risk we have to take to get anything useful done, and accepting what we are told at face value is the highest risk strategy we can adopt.
It brings me back to social distancing. The best way I know of making sense of the stories we are fed, and filtering out the deception, is to spend time with those we trust in conversation about it, subjecting it to a form of “smell test.” Then, like the wily trout, we do not have to swallow what is presented to us without question.
There remain many good media out there, including online, created by thoughtful, rigorous, curious people. Admittedly, it takes more time to read and requires more effort to digest, but it seems a worthwhile alternative to finding ourselves served up on a plate to someone we don’t know.
Some things that have fed my thinking this week.
The key to nature conservation. According to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and partners in France, Indigenous Peoples and local communities provide the best long-term outcomes for conservation. Local knowledge matters.
The importance of setbacks. According to Robert Lefkowitz, “Science is 99 per cent failure, and that’s an optimistic view”. I suggest it is not just science and not just early career. I found this article interesting because it is a scientific appraisal, by scientists, on scientists. What they find should encourage us all as we face the challenges we do.
The Omertá of Consultancy. “I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that now I can’t believe you.” Frederick Nietzsche. An uncomfortable read on sustainability consulting from Ed Gillespie. Thought-provoking.
Lessons from a small country. I was lucky enough to be on a call this week with Jane Davidson, the politician behind the “wellbeing of future generations” Act passed into Welsh legislation. It is the most advanced legislation anywhere in the world, and her story of how it came to be is a valuable lesson for what we face now.