Clarity

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If we had an “emotionometer” right now, today here in the UK it would be off the charts. We have thousands of students being graded on a basis cobbled together by people in difficult circumstances who appear to be slaves to a system.

There will be joy, heartbreak and anger. Why?

Of course it’s difficult. Covid isn’t personal, it’s an event and an indicator of how fragile the systems we design so carefully are. We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond.

How we respond speaks volumes as to our clarity of purpose, and thought.

Putting the system to one side for a moment, what we have is simple.

  • We have students who have put years of work and effort into passing exams they haven’t been able to take. Not being able to take them does not remove their effort, understanding or capability.
  • We have Universities and employers in need of the talent that is in the wings. Exam results help them select, but do not determine their selection. The real proof of a University or employer is what happens to someone whilst they are part of it. Good universities catalyse learning in students, and good employers harness talent.
  • If, for sake of argument, Universities have to accept students without the comfort blanket of exam results, it will change little except that for a year their performance tables might see a blip, but if they maintain standards, the output will be consistent, although their “conversion rate” might (and only might) fall. We might, just might, have fewer graduates at the levels forecast for one year. The system will be miffed.
  • It’s not as though we have no reference points. We have historic, if variable data, and real time assessments of professional teachers. We’re not guessing. It’s just like the harvest – sometimes the weather affects it. It doesn’t mean we refuse the reduced crop.

So what is going on here? What, in ten years time, will be the net effect of one year of disruption? For whose benefit does the system exist? Is it really this arthritic?

It feels like we have built a system to serve us which we are now serving. The servant has become the master. We have politicians floundering, and the high priests of education in a tizzy as they try to ensure the system is happy.

The education industry we have created is short of raw material this year, for a number of reasons, mostly culpable. We have capacity. We have reference points. We have need. It’s one year.

The worst that might happen is that some students get lucky, and get to go to somewhere they might not otherwise have got into. Getting through the course is then down to them. Getting in does not guarantee graduation, and as long as the Universities uphold standards (and don’t compromise to keep the system and their performance targets happy) little harm will be done.

Imagination. Vision. Clarity. Leadership.

Would’t that be good?

I, They, We.

I’m staggered and hugely uplifted by both the resourcefulness and the generosity of some, often small businesses at this time and equally distressed by the attitude is some whose sense of entitlement sets them apart.

The “I” crowd

Those who think “they” should be sorting this out.

Those who criticise the inevitable gaps appearing in a 10x event. Ten times demand for Zoom. Ten times orders for garden centres servicing people safe in their gardens. Ten times the requirement for PPE.

Those who think “they” should have provided for this, but who also want the low costs that have been one of the primary catalysts of many of the challenges.

“Just in Time” supply chains. Economically efficient, but fragile when things don’t go to plan.

Outsourcing to low cost areas. Great for cost and margin spreads, but not so good when infrastructure is damaged, or when local needs override contractual niceties.

“Shareholder Value” that combines demand for returns with transient loyalty. A sort of Investment “hit and run”

“They”

The other side of the coin.

Those who see their customers as data points with credit scores. Whose every statement reveals a system geared to the needs of the “I” crowd.

To be fair, it’s what we train people for. To be an efficient part of an economic engine.

We

The uplifting part of this current crisis. Those who don’t calculate, just do on a deep understanding that there is no “I” and “they” in a community, only a “we”.

“We” are filling the gaps, staunching the wounds, and improvising. The scrubhub crowd. The butchers, bakers and probably candlestick makers who have gone overnight to local delivery to people they know. The NHS volunteers.

Not one of them driven by a calculation, a proposal and an approval process.

And?

I wonder where this will take us.

The community spirit and idea of a “gentler America” evaporated within six months of 9/11 according to researchers. Will this be the same?

Maybe not.

For one thing, this will last for months, even years, not be an instant, shocking, episode. This will last long enough for people to recognise why it has happened. The pain and loss will be steady and chronic. There is no enemy, other than the one we have created through our choices.

For another, there are upsides. I have several people I work with whose teams are already asking what they can retain from how they are having to work. They don’t want to go back to the old normal.

Additionally, we are discovering who and what is really important. Who does what for who and why. What matters.

What we recognise more than ever right now is that each of us, our businesses and communities are centre stage in what’s going on, and our performance will be remembered, hopefully for a while.

Originizing is about becoming who you really are. To uncover the original behind the copy we are often encouraged to be.

It’s a good time to do that.

Who’s got your rope?

Most of us find ourselves in something of a hole right now. The depth may vary, but whatever that may be, we want to get out.

At times like this, we need somebody to throw us a rope, but because there’s a temptation to accept any rope that comes our way, we need to take a moment to consider who is throwing the rope and why. Unless we’re in imminent danger, it is time well spent.

1. A sponsor. Someone who believes in you and what you’re doing, who wants to help, and is willing to take a personal risk to do so. They may expect some sort of return, but that is not their prime motive.

2. A peer group. Those who see the world in a similar way, with similar values and want to help each other. Shared ideas, maybe shared risk in pursuit of something deemed important.

3. The rent seekers. Those who see an opportunity to profit from the situation. Those who will throw you a rope, and charge you by the inch (and often will increase the charge the further up you get.

Finding the first is part serendipity, partly the investment you have made along the way in building real relationships.

The second is something you can create if you’re willing to invest time and effort. It’s mutuality in action. A source of help and inspiration, and a chance to give as well as receive.

The third is often the easiest to access if you have assets, as it’s those that comfort them.

I listened to a lender speaking on Radio 4 this morning. I’m in the business of staying calm, but he tested me to the limit. Full of how the Government should help and effectively guarantee him both safety and margin in the current situation. Not somebody I would ever want on the support end of my rope.

I do believe that the current situation will lead to new opportunities to leave behind the money above all else, “me first” paradigms that characterised where we were when this crisis kicked off.

We have seen, and are seeing ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The people who would throw you a rope and be happy when they get you out of the hole.

We are also seeing the others.

We can come out if this crisis in better shape than we went in, providing we choose carefully whose rope we grab onto.

When the office melts

For most of us, the “office” has been the centre of power. It’s been where  the politics and power plays mingle with the tasks at had and business models to create the complexity in which we work. We’ve become accustomed to it to the point where it just is. Present, but largely invisible.

I’m wondering what will happen as unexpected circumstances cause the “office” to melt. 

The news is full of large companies asking, even requiring, those who can to work from home. More anecdotally, many smaller companies are doing the same.

Although my sample is limited, it seems to me when I look at those who are able to work from home, a large proportion of them are either customer facing, or working on discrete, often innovative and interesting projects. They are working at the edge, and the edge is where what’s next happens.

Those who have to be in the office are generally part of the “business as usual” structures – the centre, not the edge. The centre is where we’d really prefer things not to change too much. It’s also where the resources are allocated to those at the edge.

Those at the edge are those who are creating the opportunities, and those at the centre are those who can enable them. Whilst there is often a conflict in the office, maybe when we are forced to deconstruct the office, things change. The complexity dissolves, and issues become plain. 

Those with resources need people who will do something with them to generate a satisfactory return. Resources on their own settle into entropy.

Those at the edge can see the opportunities, If the resources to realise them are not provided by the office, they will find them elsewhere. There are, in the end, far more organisations with resources than people at the edge who can see the opportunities.

It feels a little like a T Shirt I used to wear at University many years ago. The logo read “what if they threw a war, and nobody came”. Perhaps that’s what might happen if the separation of the centre from the edge continues., when we free people from the “office”. 

A gradual (or maybe not so gradual) realignment, and a change in the power dynamics.

Moreover, the surprise that is Covid-19 which is driving the current separation is likely to be followed by others. 

The impact of Machine Learning and AI in the office as they erode the routines of office life through encroaching into those areas where they are well suited, hollowing out those needed at the centre even further.

Reducing travel as we come to terms with the practicalities of climate change – trips into the office, conferences, unnecessary face to face meetings.

The winners will be those who have a sense of will – who can see where the needs are and connect to them using what ML and AI cannot – imagination, creativity, empathy and humour. The losers will be those who service the office.

The potential lesson for us all is clear. Whatever we do, it needs to matter to us. We need to understand it, be willing and able to shape it to create real value for others who will pay for it. Something that harnesses that in us which makes us smile as we deliver what others cannot.

Originality

Something we can use to grow.

When the office melts, just turning up is not a good strategy.