Standing on the Sun

Seti

Just a moment ago, in the sixteenth century, Copernicus caused a bit of a stir.

He postulated that the Sun was the centre of the Solar System, rather than the Earth. Cue much huffing and puffing by Ptolemy and the Establishment. It was a Paradigm Shift. It was a revolution in the making.

Paradigm shift is a phrase coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book “The Copernican Revolution” and later developed in his ground breaking “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in 1962.

Everyday Revolution

I really like Kuhn’s idea – we’ll come to it in a moment – but what I notice is that what he so elegantly describes is mirrored in many other accounts of how things change, from Alchemy to Military Strategy and has real implications for us as individuals, right here right now.

A simplified version of Kuhn’s model goes through the following stages, from a start point he called “pre science” – when things are”unstructured” – we don’t have a model for them:

“Normal Science”

This is when we think we understand it. We have models, they replicate and they enable us after a fashion to predict. It allows experts to appear. It’s where consultants come from. Careers and enterprises are built, and there is a sense of “truth”. Stability.

“Model Drift”

This is when “anomalies” start to appear. We discount them as obvious mistakes, as “outliers”. We find ways of either isolating them or ignoring them. We conspire, unconsciously to become “wilfully blind

“Model Crisis”

The arrival of the Black Swans. Those events that are in retrospect obvious but which we allow to take us completely by surprise. We can no longer isolate or ignore them. We are forced to see. Our view of experts change. A time of huge uncertainty.

Model Revolution

Out with the old, in with the new. A new way of doing things, a new way of seeing things. We have a paradigm shift and now have, for a while at least a new “Normal Science”

Rinse and repeat.

Standing on the Sun

“In order to see the solar system as it is, Copernicus had to be standing on the sun.”

Richard Morley. MIT Physicist

Such is the nature of a paradigm shift.

Whether as individuals or businesses, I find it hard to see other than we are leaving model drift – the stuff of the 2008 financial crisis, the current Covid crisis and the hunger for “normal” – and heading rapidly into model crisis. Climate Change, Inequality and the idea of Singularity make that inevitable and necessary.

I think it means that each of us, in our own way need to “stand on the sun” and take a different perspective on what is happening. To lose that comfortable ability to blame someone else, and take responsibility for ourselves and those around us.

How might we “stand on the Sun”?

The fact is that the model we have been using is broken (there’s good argument that the sort of meta model that is our current form of capitalism, like civilisations, last around ten generations. That puts us in line for a change)

Our overriding abilities as humans is our ability to think, to imagine and to turn that imagination into reality. Of late, that imagination has been impoverished. If the best our imagination can do is to invent Collaterallised Debt Obligations, then we’re losing the plot.

So, how do we stand on the Sun? Quite simply, by changing the conversation. The more we do as we are bidden to “focus” “concentrate” and go for efficiency the less we see.

“Zero based” conversations that acknowledge that in many areas, we do not know, whether as a business, a team, or as ourselves.

With people you trust, who share your values, and who will explore possibility with you. Not about what is, but what might be. Ambition for what matters.

If you want to see what a conversation like this feels like, come and look at a tiny, but important experiment we are running at Originize.

4:30 – 6:30pm UK time tomorrow afternoon. You can register here.

The negative scale effect..

Scale is so alluring.

All that coverage, all that income. Scaling is an industry. Growth Coaches, Scale up Experts. 1.3 billion items listed on Google.

Craft Coaching. Much less popular. 64 million listed on Google. Yet craft is where it all starts. Somewhere, right at the beginning of the product or service was someone dedicated to their craft. A scientist, a writer, an artisan chef. Somebody who created something original (for a brief moment)

The problem with growth is that is is as fragile as it is addictive, as we’re seeing right now.

Scale requires infrastructure and overhead. Factories. People who don’t create, but are part of a making machine. Operatives, not artists. Very humanly painful and financially expensive to unwind.

The moment we scale, we largely immobilize the product or service. When it has acquired structure, overhead, and marketing it becomes sluggish and can no longer adapt in the way the crafter who created it could help it do. We launch the product into the world and the world absorbs it and moves on to require something new. A sort of accelerated assured obsolescence.

iPhone from stunning innovation to commodity in a little over ten years, even with the genius of Apple marketing behind it.

I suspect there is an inverse law between craft and scale. Craft is a function of love and dedication; scale is a function of efficiency and measurement.

There is a point at which the negative scale effect sets in. Research suggests there is a finite number of connections that we can manage effectively – with emotional resonance – and that is around 150. As an organisation, once we get above that the internal resonance reduces, and that will impact on clients. It’s hardly a precise measure, but more an indication of probability. Above a certain point, our connection to craft and our stakeholders starts to erode.

And there is no going back. Never again will an iPhone be a craft item in the way it was when Steve Jobs and the team synthesised it (invented is I think an overstatement). It has spawned copies in the time it has been around, some of which are, on an incremental basis arguably better, but the magic has now evaporated, and cannot be recovered.

Craft has magic. Faberge Egg #69 was no less magic than #1, and the collection is more valuable than the sum of the parts.

That’s because the magic of craft is a function of what goes into it. Dedication. love, obsession, detail, and the never ending pursuit of better for its own sake. A reflection of the soul of the artist who creates it.

We could, I’m sure scale Faberge Eggs, and indeed many counterfeiters have had a go.

If we succeeded the magic would be gone.

We are all Craftsmen and Women at Heart

I know accountants and lawyers who have a sense of craft – sometimes to be found in their profession, more often outside it. Our industrial business model does not make it easy. The ruthless pursuit of a six sigma error rate is not forgiving of foibles or artistic touches.

Outliers as bad, not interesting or inspiration.

That’s fine for commodities – I’d really like light bulbs that work every time and last for as long as they say they will (gentle sigh)

When it comes to the Lamp that carries the bulb however it’s different. We watched one being made for us in a workshop in Italy, one of three. The potter showed us the flaws that didn’t matter to anyone else other than him. That lamp is wonderfully unscaleable.

The people who run the recycling centre in Derby Raynesway have something of the artist.

Given what they do, the place is incredibly clean because they don’t stop cleaning it. They come and help empty your car, unbidden, with a smile. They are led more than managed (people like this need very little managing) by someone who understands and respects recycling, and the team that do it.

Covid-19 has reminded us of the vulnerability of thoughtless scale. It is going to cost us financially and socially as well as environmentally. It’s a lesson we might want to learn.

Craft to scale is easy. Scale to craft is virtually impossible. We lose much in transition.

Craft is eternal. Scale is temporary.

I guess its a matter of values, and what we want to do with our lives.

We can choose.

Scale is a conscious decision.

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.

Possibility

Leonardo Da Vinci from 1492 .

Are we seeing a return to craft?

Where do we go when we understand volume and scale are losing their lustre, and when the mantra of constant growth becomes recognised for the absurdity it has always been?

When we can make or replicate almost anything, anywhere, and replace even the most complicated routine professional skills from legal drafting to medical scan analysis using technology?

To the spaces between. From woodworking, to food, to clothes.

Not so much the high end of luxury brands, but the beautifully made everyday. The locally bonded whiskey. The denim made by masters in a Welsh village. Coffee sourced with purpose. Accountancy software made for people. Things for which there is often a waiting list, and people happy to wait.

What if the jobs we did were like that? One client at a time, done with care, attention and pride that makes us feel good, feeds our soul and contributes to the success of businesses of people we know.

That generates new knowledge, new ideas and beautiful concepts. Services that work and products that last rather then feed the need for ever more recycling?

If there’s an upside to Covid-19, perhaps its that it has demonstrated to us just how much we don’t need, and given us the time to value what we do.

Of course, not everything can be like this – but more can.

If we start in the right place. With conversations about possibility.

Challenging, joyous conversations about what we could do together to create wonderful services and products that matter to people we know, rather than grey ones about why we’re missing budget selling things we’re not proud of to people we don’t.

Whilst the gaps are being exposed in the old economy, it is opening up opportunities in the new one and we all have a possibility to go there.

It is risky, with nothing guaranteed but worth going for.

On the other hand, relying on the old model hasn’t worked out so well.

We all have a choice. A future we accept, or one we create.

A Time for Artists

The time was, only a few months ago that the economy was still considered stable enough to pay us in anticipation of us doing the work .

An employment contract, a supplier contract, it was all based on our record of delivery. Defined jobs, with clear specifications, in a marketplace that was familiar.

Of course, the first harbingers were there, for those who chose to look. The easy outsourcing, the gig economy, reliance on low margins and the satisfaction of regular dividends. Nice. Better not to look.

The Lure of Continuity.

Getting the message across was difficult, and it always has been. When the Impressionists first started out, they could not get their work displayed in the Paris Salon, because it was not considered “Proper Art” by the establishment, who did of course, know. Later, the Beatles could not get record deals “four boys with guitars, really?” the list, we know in retrospect, goes on.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible

Reaction to Fred Smith’s proposal for what became Federal Express.

Over time, we built an economy predicated on staying the same.

Of course there would be product innovations, and occasionally disruptions, but the market would accomodate them, and those who understood the way the market worked would always win. Bankers, Consultants. Lawyers and others.

Oops

In 2013 David Graeber wrote an article on “Bullshit Jobs”, followed in 2016 by a book of the same name. In it he argued that a large proportion of jobs were “bullshit”-adding no real value to the economy, and even less to the lives of those who did them.

He included Bankers, Consultants, Lawyers and others.

He was easy to dismiss. A renegade and an anarchist even if he was a recognised if controversial academic. Even if he was at the heart of the Occupy movement, and coined the term “The 1%”

As we look at “Essential workers” and the dreadful toll on jobs caused by Covid-19, it appears he had a point.

The huge amount of noise and demands for subsidy are in those areas that he identified as bullshit. By no means all, but enoough to make the point. Jobs that are, in effect hosted by those parts of the economy that create value, rather than just move it around. The part that the Physiocrats, the precursor to modern neoliberal economists, called “sterile”.

No Time for Templates

Art is about seeing things differently, and finding ways to explain that. About reframing, and paradigm breaking.

In the world of puzzlers and mystics, it’s time for the mystics. Logic will not see us past this crisis, or tackle the ones emerging, it is the mystics – the language of artists.

This is no time for templates, from powerpoints to consultants business models. they were built for a different time, by smart people and used parrot fashion by those didn’t. Leadership Books written by those who defined their style in retrospect rather than in advance on values and beliefs.

A Time for Artists

This is a time for originality, conviction and the pursuit of what really matters. A time for the long game of beautiful businesses our children and grandchildren will admire for what they did at this time, not the short term obsession with ugly, unsustainable returns.

We were born original, and only became standardised through education, training and habituation in more stable times.

What we need now is the artist in you.

To be paid for what you create that only you can do. To make a difference to what next. To not watch passively and hope others will sort it.

Nobody is going to resue you

Ta’mara Leigh

If you want somewhere to explore that possibility, join the discussion at the Originize Project

Beautiful Conversations

Conversations, at their best are beautiful things.

They are a dance of possibility as we pass ideas backwards and forwards, help each other shape them, notice things in the space between ideas and create the start of something.

In the search for efficiency however, we appear to have weaponised them. We treat them like processes, looking at value extracted versus time spent. Dialectic. Not a dance, so much as a tennis match, hitting with ever greater force as we look for weakness in our opponent.

There is a place for this. In stable conditions, with known rules, like the Law Courts, or a manufacturing process this type of dialectic is powerful – testing ideas and improving them.

However, in conditions of uncertainty when the reality is that none of us know what’s coming next, it’s dangerous. We create false certainty to bolster our case and make assertions based at best on assumptions, and at worst on manipulation.

Doubt is uncomfortable, but Certainty is absurd

Voltaire

It seems right now, we’re having far too many of these ugly conversations. Trading off the balance between saving the hospitality industry against the likelihood of a second wave; trying to restore an economy that was dysfuntional rather than using this shock to shape something new.

We have huge opportunity the other side of the pain that is now inevitable. It could be a great story, but it has to be crafted, not bodged.

To craft it we need to bring to it what makes things beautiful. Grace, Gratitude, Intent, Generosity and Courage.

We do not have time for the destructive power of ugly conversations