Over the edge into 2021

As we teeter to the end of 2020 and into an uncertain 2021 I realised I’d seen it somewhere before. Around fifty years ago, with the film “The Italian Job”, which ends with the bus, full of gold, balanced precariously over the edge of a cliff following a crash, and Michael “Boris” Cain looking for an idea. Seems scarily prescient.

However, here we are. In the next few days (maybe) we’ll have some clarity on what sort of 2021 we’re in for. The Brexiter’s manic idea for us all, or something rather more pragmatic. Either way, we are in for a ride.

The challenge for me is that both Brexit and Coronavirus are distractions. Serious ones admittedly, but distractions. The real issues are not the (predictable but not accurately forecastable) surprise of the virus, or the knee jerk response of politicians in search of relevancy, but rather the serious systemic issues of how we live and work in a world being transformed by technology, climate and population growth.

We are at the end of an era as industry gives way to ecosystems, and short term gratification gives way to considerations of the conditions we are creating for those who follow us.

There is a rhythm to human eras. Around 250 years according to Sir John Glubb, a noted author, soldier and historian who researched this area. Each era starts with conquest over preceding eras, and ends with frivolity, decadence, a love of money instead of duty, an excessive reverence for celebrities, and reliance on cleverness rather than action. Margaret Wheatley refers to him compellingly in her excellent “Who do we choose to be?”

Whilst we might argue about the details, we are clearly in transition. The question we have to ask ourselves is “are we prepared to be passengers on a bus driven by others?”

The bus in question is the industrial model that defines the education of our children to be employed more than fulfilled, pursues the ideal of perpetual growth and lionises the shareholder model of wealth creation that distributes it increasingly assymetrically. Meanwhile the planet heats, technology claims the jobs we have been trained for, and we expose ourselves to the consequences of planetary stress from wild weather to viruses.

It’s difficult to look at the long term when our lives are so short – roughly ten generations to an era, and it’s what we have to do. We are the most creative species on the planet, although maybe not the most adaptable. Much humbler creatures, who were here before Sapiens and will be after can show us the way home on that.

We can, with a will mitigate climate change, though probably not the impact of technology. To adapt, we will have to be prepared to vacate many of the spaces we have trained for to AI and machine learning who will do it better, and focus on what we do, that they cannot, and that we need.

Connection. Meaning. Creation. Possibility.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso

As we enter whatever this new era turns out to be, the skills we learned in the last one become increasingly redundant and we have to be prepared to leave them behind.

The industrial era was complicated. Lots and lots of moving parts. If we could understand them, and how they worked we could tame them. We could keep them in cages, analyse them, and optimise them through best practice. Consulting thrived. Lean Six Sigma became a secular religion. It worked really well, right up until the the connection enables by technology turned our world complex. The problems escaped their cages and started to cross breed. The result? Lots of unintended consequences.

Complex needs us to work differently. To explore and probe what is going on to understand it, rather than “pigeonhole” it according to existing models. That means real collaboration, experiments, and frequent failure as we try to discover how this emerging era works.

It needs us to play the infinite game of staying in the game for those to follow, rather than try and win the finite game of our individual lives. If Glubb had a point, we’ve a lot of generations in front of us who need us to get a grip.

That means creating something we share that’s worth working, and taking risks for. Individually and Collectively. Something worthy of us.

It starts with us as individuals. We all have genius in us. We are all artists still. Becoming grown up may submerge it in an industrial system, but it doesn’t extinguish it. The next era needs us, the whole of us, to turn up if we are to work it out.

Turning up starts with conversations about possibility.

We are developing conversations about possibility here.

Published by Richard H Merrick

Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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