Can’t go round it…….

We are always on the edge of something.

There’s the safe edge, and then there’s the scary edge. Like a black hole, threatening to suck us into that which we don’t understand and don’t control.

I’ve found that much of the time, I’ve been aware of the difference and can choose whether to go, or back off. I’ve got better at going as I’ve done more of it, and realised that the fear is largely illusory. That still doesn’t make it anything other than buttock clenching.

The thing is though, I think that sometimes we don’t get a choice. We find ourselves at some form of Singularity , and we have to come to terms with it. Psychologists call it Liminality. Mythologists term it The Call. It involves crossing a threshold, going over the edge. Once crossed, there is no going back.

We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

We’re going on a Bear Hunt. Michael Rosen.

Whatever we term it, it takes us on a journey into the unknown. We will face unknowns, fears and unexpected joys, and moments when we really, really wish we hadn’t started until eventually we find ourselves on the other side of it and know ourselves differently.

Covid -19 is an Edge.

We haven’t had a choice. We couldn’t choose whether or not to be part of it.

Here we are.

Now we’re in it, and we understand we can never go back to “old normal”, whatever those who wish we could say.

We have choices.

We can try to go back, turn around in the white water and try to paddle back upstream,

We can close our eyes, complain, blame others and hope somebody else will sort it out.

Or we can take responsibility, despite the fear and uncertainty, and shape the experience we are in.

My Grandma used to say “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. She was of course right. That’s a Grandma’s job.

This is a matter of individual and collective will.

Over the Edge – The Rollercoaster Ride

So here we are, whether we like it or not. We’ve spent the last three months listening to the “clunkety clunk” noise as we are pulled inexorably to the top of the first dive, and we can feel that knot of apprehension as we come to the point where up turns to chaotic down and beyond.

We have a choice. We can either shut our eyes,scream and wait for it to be over, or we can keep our eyes open, look around and understand what’s going on.

There’s a way of mastering the roller coaster.

Eyes Open

Look at what is going on around you with fresh eyes. All of us suffer to some degree to “wilful blindness” – we sideline the difficult things and ignore the things we don’t like. It’s where the “elephants in the room” live.

It’s where we should start conversations, but don’t. We start them where they’re comfortable, and don’t threaten our status, our relationships, our territory, or our autonomy. We cling on to a sense of certainty and fairness, like those temporary periods of calm on the level parts of the rollercoaster.

Covid has introduced us to the first scary, but relatively gentle dive. What comes next – we’re not sure quite when or how – will be the equivalent of the double loop corkscrew thing. Probably, but not certainly, Climate Change. There might be one before that – a second wave, a destructive recession, or something else. We know the Climate Change ride is out there though, just not quite how we’re going to arrive at it.

That’s why we need to look around, to get a sense of what might arrive, look ahead to see if we can work it out, or for clues that it might be arriving.

To observe it, we need people who will keep their eyes open and face reality, as well as those from outside our own experience to help us. Physics and common sense tells us we can’t understand the the system we’re part of from inside it. We need a view from the outside. The “flat earther” in us needs a view from the space station.

Balance

If we have a better understanding of what’s coming up, we can better prepare. We can spot the parts that might be fun, as well as the parts where we check we know where the brown bag is.

We also probably want to know who’s in the same car as us. Who’s going to scream? Who’s going to help you notice? Who are you going to have fun with and who’s going to hold your hand when it all gets a bit much?

As we begin to get the hang of it, things change. We can anticipate, predict, prepare and no longer fear what’s coming. We can lead.

We can ride the roller coaster on our own terms.

Choose

Is this the rollercoaster you want to be on? Are you with the people you need to be with? Is this roller coaster a bit tame? Is there another that might challenge you more, with better views and new experiences? Where do you want to be?

Do.

Help those who don’t understand it like you yet. Reassure them, even while you’re still a bit scared. Tell them what you’re noticing. Go again, choose a bigger ride. Learn. Teach. Lead.

The Ride is not an Option

We are where we are, and we’ve a way to go yet. We can’t get off.

Once we understand what is going on, we can see the opportunities. The things we’ve been sidelining are real – the opportunities in a regenerative economy, simpler living, better living, the end of “more” as a virtue, a planet shared. Respect – for ourselves and others in a sustainable economy, because we can do it if we keep our eyes open.

We’re on the ride and there’s still time to choose which car we want to be in, and with whom, in order to enjoy the ride.

If we do, this will be hard work we’ll look back on with satisfaction.

If not, get in a stock of those brown bags.

A Different Sort of Growth?

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.

Choices

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.

Time to misbehave?

Behaviourism has a lot to answer for – not least because it works.

When B.F. Skinner inspired the movement, I wonder if he appreciated what he would set in motion. It has always interested me the huge assumption we made that what worked on rats would work on humans, but it did.

I was particularly taken with the experiment that involved putting a rat in a space boundaried by wires carrying a small current. The rat gets a shock if it tries to cross the boundary, and after a remarkably short while, stops trying.

Even when the current is switched off.

We are not rats

Even if we sometimes behave like them.

From the way our education system is designed, to the tactics of “nudge” units, we spend huge amounts of talent and money getting people to do what we want them to. We ignore that most of the time, it is a tiny fragment of their capacity.

The danger with goals of course, is that we achieve them, and stop. Goals and capabilities are different. The reason that the blitzkrieg worked so well for the Germans in the second world war is that conventional military training taught officers to take a position and then consolidate to defend it. The Germans however didn’t do that. They took a position and just kept on going, leaving the troops behind to consolidate and confusing the living daylights out of the British and French.

Somebody (arguably, General von Moltke) worked out how to turn the current off and make sure the rats knew. They termed it “Behendigkeit”.

Today, we call it Agility.

Yet, despite preaching the agility mantra, we seem to treat it as a “thing” in business, not our personal lives and careers. It’s like we know we can cross the boundary, but we choose not to. It’s just easier and more convenient to stay where we are.

Agile at work, docile outside of it.

Somebody’s just turned the current off

The problem with Covid-19 is not the virus. True, the virus is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as our reaction to it.

We are in danger of behaving like the rats in Skinner’s experiments, or the troops in the face of Blitzkrieg. We want to go back to the rules we understand, to go back to normal.

I even noticed an article in a well known consultancy journal telling us how to prepare for the new normal. Sort of normal 2.0.

The combination of technology, climate change, and the wildcard of Covid-19 has made normal redundant.

It seems almost unimaginable that there will any period of time in which things will be stable enough to give us a “operating model”. There are too many disruptive candidates waiting in the wings.

Everybody has a plan, till I smack them in the mouth.

Mike Tyson (or maybe Coronavirus?)

It’s a good time to be Human

Machines and systems are really good at puzzles.

Puzzles are something that can be solved, if only we can find the missing pieces, or get the fiendishly difficult pieces assembled in the right order. Tame problems.

We’re dealing with mysteries. Wicked problems. challenges that respond in real time to anything we do to address them. We can never solve them, just try to understand what’s going on.

If we understand better than the person next to us, we win.

Humans, the full 100% undiluted fully caffeinated flawed human is wonderful at mysteries. The story of the Holy Grail is as powerful today as over a thousand years ago. Like other myths, it engages us at all levels – intellectually, emotionally, intuitively, somatically.

Approaches to mysteries involve imagination, courage, commitment to a cause, love.

A willingness to fail, perish even, in pursuit of an answer. A commitment to the beauty of the infinite game, not just the much less challenging finite game.

We have just been invited to play an infinite game.

There will be very few of us I imagine that in the last week have not been made aware of our own mortality, or of the different approaches we can adopt to it.

Between those looking to exploit it for gain, and those putting themselves on the line to help others because it’s what they do, or rather they cannot not do.

They are playing very different games.

Some have crossed the boundary regardless of whether the current is switched off, others are busy consoldating their gains within the boundaries they assume are there, and that people will not cross.

Newsflash: They just might.

We can all play the infinite game, we just have to choose.

Time to misbehave?

Rebels learn the rules better than the rule-makers do. Rebels learn where the holes are, where the rules can best be breached. Become an expert at the rules. Then break them with creativity and style.

Kristyn Kathryn Rusch

The “rules” have got us to where we are. If we can accuse ourselves of anything, it is of not discriminating between the goods ones and the bad ones. The ones that help us to become what we might be, and those that make us what other people want to us to be.

For the next few weeks, the traditional boundaries have had their current switched off. The office. The commute. The time filling inanities over the £3 coffee. Our circumstances, like the air around us, is clearer.

For all of us, or whatever age of circumstance, have an opportunity during this time to choose.

Choose yourself.