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.

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.


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.


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?


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.