Forest fires are a necessary natural phenomenon. Whilst they are short term destructive and frightening, they clear the way for new growth.
Right now, in the midst of the inferno, we may want to remember that. It has important messages for us if we choose to recognise them.
We have not been adapting to what we are experiencing in technology, in demographics, in climate change anything like fast enough. We have been trying to make it fit us, rather then recognise the scale of the forces at work, and fit us to them.
We have been clinging to the raft of failing business and economic models that suit a very few, are tolerated by far more than should, and disadvantage many.
In the middle of accelerating change, we have been losing essential human connection and have reached an inflection point.
Coronavirus has been a catalyst.
In the UK, millions of us are affected. Around the world, billions. The obvious flaws in our systems, from infrastructure, to the funding of essential services, to the assymetry of the way we recognise and reward people have been laid brutally bare.
We have been subject to multiple forms of wilful blindness, and groupthink. That somehow, the headlong pursuit of efficiency to fund “shareholder value” was sustainable.
The immediate reaction amongst those who observe, rather than do – much of the press, the consulting firms, and politicians has been to allocate blame on the back of some form of retrospective wisdom.
Whilst all this is going on, those who we really depend on, the doers, those in the healthcare sector, those who keep essential infrastructure functioning from delivery drivers, to supermarket shelf stackers, to those who volunteer have just been getting on with things. Adapting, improvising, relentless.
We are recognising the deadwood – the things we can’t currently have, and are realising we don’t miss – celebrity culture, pointless products, expensive coffee, fast fashion, meetings, commuting………
Maybe the seeds that will grow once the deadwood has been cleared (along with far too much live wood) by the fire of Coronavirus wil be new perspectives based upon clarity.
- A different understanding of value, based on human contribution more than shareholder value or an obsession with economic growth beyond that neccessary for a healthy economy.
- An unscratchable discomfort with the rewards to those placing bets on the result of this fire, at no risk to themselves and which generate rewards that are huge multiples of the average of those who are taking the risk of stepping forward to deal with the fire.
- A recognition that some of the things we have been forced to do – the working from home, the reduction in travel, the huge funding of infrastructure and social cohesion are necessary components of supporting a planet supporting a population three times the size at the time I was born.
- That excessive growth and scale are not unquestionable virtues. The weakness exposed by extended supply chains, an over reliance of automation, and the failure to fund the things that protect us all at the expense of that which rewards a few.
- That the industrial revolution is over, and the extractive business models that it gave birth to are obsolete.
A Different Sort of Growth
As we get past the peak of this, and “return to work” I rather think we will find important changes underway. We have seen the best and worst of how companies have reacted. From the likes of Aviva, who gave blanket permission to qualified healthcare professionals in their teams to go help the NHS, no questions asked, on full pay, to those who with billions in their reserves cut their costs (people) and went to the Government to ask for help.
I’ve been particularly impressed by the commitment of small businesses, those without big reserves, to improvise in order to look after their people.
And the people who just turned up. The taxi drivers doing free delivery, the postmen dressing up to add an element of cheer, the people who care. In the first world war, people talked about lions led by donkeys. Perhaps our modern equivalent is givers led by takers.
As the millions of the displaced start back, perhaps there will be enough who say “not like that again” to make a change. To start a movement.
Talent, Compassion, Craft and Commitment deserve better. Better recognition, better reward, better leadership. To be recognised for what they contribute, not hired for the least that can be offered.
Chaos theory offers the idea of “special attractors” – particles that other particles are attracted to as chaos moves to structure. In our case, they are the new leaders, recognised by their actions far more than their qualifications. They are the people who do. They are not a part of a hierarchy, they are part of a community committed to something worthwhile.
People who see growth in a multi faceted way. The growth of people, of capability, of resilience and yes, economies, but economies in the service of people rather than the other way round.
We have choices to make as the fire subsides.
- To choose ourselves, those we work with, and who we follow rather than waiting in line to be chosen by others.
- To forget work / life balance, and choose life.
- To not go back to where we were, but learn the lessons from who really led us out of the fire.
- To choose balanced, not assymetric growth.
I think that if there is one message to be taken from this crisis, it’s that it’s people who count.
We are part of the world, not separate to it and have a responsibility to manage what we create, including technology. We’d forgotten that, this was a reminder.
We need to make personal choices.
Because there will be more fires.