Monday, 26 June 2017

IN PRAISE OF OCCASIONAL AIMLESSNESS

MBA courses and politicians hectoring businessmen for their poor productivity, all demand that we focus. As with the poor schoolchild a failure to pay attention is a detention-able offence. (Incidentally, demonstrating my own lack of focus and tendency to take detours, did you see the news item about a school advertising a role for Head of Detentions and Isolation? That’ll teach them - not).


My current aimlessness started with my going to watch a cricket match which, to those unfamiliar with this “art form,” lasts four days.  It’s the paradigm for sunlit wandering.  Yet Lord’s is a beautiful place to watch athletes in a temperature of 35 degrees C (95F) and to have roving conversations not focused presentations -  about all sorts of things including the joys of lunch.  It was there, whilst actually lunching, that I reflected on the benefits of a good aimless, talk-filled lunch and that in my life that there should have been some 15,000 creative opportunities for these already.

 

It continued on Friday as I wandered through “The Country Brocante” in Cowdray Park  which included  a surprising collection of Sussex craftsmen. The bric-a-brac stalls matched my bric-a-brac mind. There I saw a baby kestrel nesting in a ruined mediaeval tower peering down with bleating mews of mystification and hunger. I’ve never seen one that close before - praise be to aimlessness.  On I went, talking about wine-making and the peril of air frosts; about perfume creation and the way different scents open  gateways to different moods (in my case dilettante flaneurie); about using soya in candle production to achieve a long-lasting clean, fragrant flame and about how to conjure a broad bean hummus of exceptionally hedonistic sweetness.


Amidst all this riff-raff of thoughts, tastes and smells with my mind like a lazily fluttering butterfly doing little to solve the ills of the world, there is a serious point I want to make.

In our lives, at work and especially in education we are losing the ability to let our minds wander.  If you believe (as I do) that our future will be more fruitfully developed through creativity than just through productivity then, occasionally, going for a bit of a ramble physically and mentally is essential. Artists, it’s been said, perform best when up against a deadline in a freezing garret. They should also foster a suicidal depression and drink heavily. A la Boh√®me? What utter tosh!


Creativity instead is enhanced by having the time, space and frame of mind to notice what is going on around you and to let connections happen. As in sport let the ball come to you or (better) as the ice hockey genius Wayne Gretzky said:  “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

You won’t do that by being stressfully focused on the present but by letting your thoughts go on a stroll uncertain quite where they’re aiming but enjoying the journey.
 

Monday, 19 June 2017

SOMETHING'S COMING (I'M NOT SURE WHAT)

I admit to being an incurable optimist. Whilst I constantly hear mutterings about this “broken society” or “the entitlement class” I reflect on a high electoral turnout, the end of youthful apathy and the prospect of cross-party collaboration in Brexit discussions. Democracy flexing its collaborative muscles as opposed to the self-interested hegemony that political parties adore.


Yet some see it differently and more pessimistically  - here was one response I saw recently:
“Mayhem rules. Democracy teeters. Mobocracy right upper cuts. Millennials stir.”

I suspect this is from a disgruntled Tory because there seems a general sense that the allure of strong and stable leadership has been betrayed in favour of a rather feeble nil-all draw.


The “teetering, stirring and mayhem” of the malcontent above reflect the lines of WB Yeats’ “Second Coming” I’ve been reciting in my mind this week:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

Yet are things really falling apart? If you’re a right wing Tory they may seem to be but for most the liberal centre created by people like Blair, Cameron and Clegg seems to be in reasonable shape. What was missing until now has been a Plan B, a bit of angry debate about inequality, about incompetence and opposition to antiquated thinking. But picking up from last week there is a rustling in the undergrowth, a sense of change and a feeling that there has to be a better and a fairer way.


If like me you feel ashamed and dismayed every time you see someone who’s homeless in the street, you want it changed. If like me your horror about the Grenfell Tower tragedy is despair about this having been an accident waiting to happen, you want a radical review of all suspect supported housing and the way we help all disadvantaged people.

Ken Clarke, usually the most sensible of spokesmen, said on Any Questions that party politics was being made out of Grenfell. Yet the victims, homeless, hopeless, in grief and sitting together in misery are generating understandable and increasing rage about the iniquity, inequality and hopelessness of their plight.  You’d better believe this is a political problem not just a tragedy.

Mine is not a complacent optimism. Rather it’s a wrathful optimism, wrathful that this wealthy country with improving health, intelligence and nice socially-minded people manages so readily to screw things up.


I’m optimistic because human beings are a resourceful and tolerant bunch capable of unravelling the threads that need unravelling. The problem is the politicians who are currently in hiding or plotting or in fear of their political lives and don’t know what to do, are not going to easily be part of the solution.

We need to put together the best we have from all parties and beyond those parties and create a platform for action - not left, nor right just right-minded and optimistic.

It also seems like a good time to start listening.

Monday, 12 June 2017

SUDDENLY IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO READ

Do you remember when it was all so predictable? Until Harold Wilson, in 1964, said if the country was to prosper, a "new Britain" would need to be forged in the "white heat" of this "scientific revolution."  I remember thinking how exciting it all sounded. Labour had giants like Crossman, Crosland, Jenkins and Castle.  It was a tonic after what was described as “13 years of Tory Misrule” (what a soundbite that was).


Since the war (72 years ago) we’ve had 17 governments, 7 Labour (three of those under Tony Blair so “labour” rather than LABOUR), 9 Conservative and just 1 coalition in a rather dull game of political ping-pong.

But on Thursday that changed.

From an ostensibly unassailable lead in the polls Mrs May seized defeat from the jaws of victory and having claimed to be her team’s best player and only hope, dropped a dolly catch and said - mortally - after her u-turn on her manifesto social care plans in apparent exasperation  that we didn’t seem to understand her: “But nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.”

The Prime Minister cannot deal with the chaos of life, untidiness and contradiction. As such she isn’t an ideal leader or (heaven forbid) a negotiator in our modern world. Because of course things had changed, and always do change. More than anything else this rigidity lost her votes.


The restless electorate used the ballot box as an instrument of punishment for this inflexibility in a new way. Above all youth gave the Tories payback for Brexit. I’d never before heard diehard voters say “I don’t know who to vote for.” Imagine Arsenal fans supporting Spurs? Impossible in football perhaps but it’s now it was happening in politics.

I live in Brighton - two out of three seats marginal.  Caroline Lucas, the Green, doubled her majority.


But it was in Kemptown and Hove that we saw the real action.  Kemptown went from Conservative to Labour on an increased Labour vote of 19%. In Hove Peter Kyle increased his vote by 22% on an amazing 78% turnout turning a 1000 majority marginal into a 20,000 majority safe seat.  Localism, young voters and talent have played a major part in the election overall.

Jeremy Corbyn’s right in saying the face of British politics has changed and that Theresa May is the old, inflexible face. New and relevant faces are people like Emmanuel Macron, Ruth Davidson and Justin Trudeau. The new faces are not compromised by party machines. They are young, angry and authentic. Most of all they listen to other people.

The old “irrelevants” simply stay stuck on message with old ideas, bad scripts and fifth rate soundbites.
If you are out there and want to play this new, sensible politics then draw up a chair and please join in.
We need talent because everything has changed, yes, everything has changed. It’s a terrible time to be a diehard but a great time to be open minded and articulate.

Monday, 5 June 2017

"STRONG AND STABLE" - IS THIS REALISTIC IN TODAY'S WORLD?

Apart from an irrepressible desire to giggle when I see or hear this I wonder how and why the Tories ever saddled themselves with such a curious steam-engine of a phrase. Presumably they hadn’t counted it on it being gainsaid so emphatically.

But was it even appropriate?

I imagine focus groups said they yearned for strong leadership. Oh for the days of Attila, Genghis Khan or Frederick the Great the respondents said. We want someone to stand up and fight for us. We want a strong leader to take a firm grip.


The researchers concluded that people want a more predictable and ordered life.

They want hot summers and cold winters. This has become a prosecco and pesto world and people really yearn for bitter, pie and gravy. They yearn for an era of 11 plus, ‘O’ levels, 45rpm, mini-skirts, shipbuilding and capital punishment; an era of upper class, middle class and lower class, of pen and ink, of slide rules, of the TV Test Card and of BBC interviewers who call the Prime Minster “Sir or Ma’am” when they interview them. They want the past because then they know what happens next. The future is just so unstable.

Thus said the researchers…..


But this brave new world isn’t brave at all. It’s a nervy place where what we want isn’t “strong” (if by strong you mean, Trump, Putin or Erdogan.) What we really want and need is “smart”. And “stable” is not what you get on the ice rink of modern life.  Maybe calm and controlled would be better. What we want is to be as good as we deserve to be. And what we need is a top team who’ll help us get there, avoid us making a mess of things and be advised by sensible experts who have no ideological axe to grind.

On Friday I spent a few hours with a very bright 26 year old who’s extremely relaxed in part because he’s resigned from his stressful, busy-busy job where he was offered a seat on the board. Instead of building a glittering, “stable” career he’s earning enough freelancing whilst he reflects on his future.


Chances are he’s got 60-70 years of this adventure left.

He’ll have time to write some great books, have ideas for some successful and entertaining TV series, invent some life-changing products and even eventually become part of a smart, creative and adaptable leadership team.

Whatever else he’ll undergo lots of rich and exciting experiences and never just be what we once called a “wage slave”.


Maybe the world will gradually lose its urge for growth; our Brexit decision may create a platform for economic retreat. Most of all “strong” will be replaced by receptive and “stable” by adaptable.  What we are heading towards is a more natural way of living and possibly a happier and more productive one.

It’s the end of the old normal but strong and stable it’s not.