Learning to live with uncertainty is necessary but can Britain and British business take more uncertainty right now?
I don’t often write anything about politics. I find the political arena dispiriting and damaged. I wasn’t expecting to want to write anything about Brexit mainly because once I dig into some of the issues, I just don’t feel I know enough to have an opinion on what will happen with immigration, border control, taxation, the City, jobs. I know a bit about trade, but that’s all.
But here’s what I do know. The world has changed since 2008 rather more fundamentally than we think. The financial turmoil of that year did a lot more damage than wreck a few banks, put economies into recession, cause massive unemployment and the crash of the mortgage system in the US. As if that wasn’t bad enough. It also left a legacy of uncertainty. Which despite best efforts is only slightly under the carpet; it hasn’t really gone away.
The financial collapse brushed up against some other enormous shifts in human existence. Artificial intelligence, exponential computing, the whole technology sector from networks & sensors through to genetic modification, bio science breakthroughs have been so humongous in the last 8 years that we are now facing into a completely different future when it comes to work and employment. And that’s at a time when we are also looking at the population growing from 7 billion to 9 billion in the not too distant future.
You only need to turn on the news or step outside to know that, despite the agreements reached in Paris (which were significant), climate change is accelerating along with everything else on the planet. I’ve seen my home underwater in the last 5 years, we’ve seen Somerset submerged, Paris, Germany, increasingly powerful hurricanes around the world, growing desertification, drought, de-forestation and continuing biodiversity loss.
Everywhere you drive in Britain you see evidence of new house building. Yes, our countryside is under threat. Yes the SouthEast will soon be a sea of houses from one end to the other. Yes, many things are changing that perhaps we don’t like or want. But will coming out of the EU stop them? Will coming out of the EU stop the Tory government from signing off fracking? Will it stop them giving the green light to farmers to build more mega dairies where cows never see the light of day? Will it stop the ever growing polarity between the have and the have-nothings? Will it stop the growing need for food banks? The honest answer is none of us know. But we believe something; we feel something — deep down we have an inkling if we listen to it.
We all probably know and feel that the ‘system’ we live under — economically, politically, financially, socially — is a bit up the spout. It probably feels too big for all of us to do anything about (not true but this is not going to be that post) but we feel it in our guts just the same. Somehow.
When I facilitate imagineering sessions for clients, helping them to examine the things they care about in the world, the things that break their heart for the world, a deep sense of unease comes through which is often followed by unfolding hope and vision on which they can take action. But first you have to feel the fear and then learn to lean into it with positivity.
Uncertainty is the new norm
We all have to learn to live and thrive better with uncertainty. It’s easier for younger people because they are being born into exciting times of uncertainty and its the norm for them, but they are not immune to the effects of uncertain times. For anyone between 30–65, it’s not the norm. Even though we’ve seen great change, there was still a large degree of predictability about how we would all live — born, school, uni, career, marry, children, retire, grandchildren, travel the world — that is less certain today. Companies were built and grew in fairly predictable ways. No more. These are exciting but uncertain times. I own to being scared as often as I’m elated at the challenge of it all.
The question about Brexit is whether or not it’s the right thing to do to introduce yet more uncertainty into the lives of British people and British business right now.
The Anthropocene Era is about Collaboration and Cooperation
We are still learning to transition through into the Anthropocene era which is deeply concerned with collaboration, co-creation, learning to allow to emerge what the world needs as a whole. We’ve only been in this new era for a few decades. We’re still finding our way through the realisation of a finitely resourced earth, where the future challenges are about feeding and finding work for 9 billion people; saving the precious soil we have left, cleaning up the water we rely on; keeping the biodiversity balance we need to survive; working out how to manage the massive shifts in population into cities and the imbalances between the south of the Earth to the north.
Can we really be involved in all of those issues on our own, as the little island that we are? Do we as people, as businesses, as communities, as a society really want to undergo two years of deep uncertainty whilst we transition out of Europe to an even more uncertain future than if we stay in and stick out tough times by trying to communicate, collaborate and converse with the rest of Europe?
If we leave the EU, the rest of the EU group will have no choice but to punish us for leaving. We will not get favourable terms for future trade deals. Life will not be made easy for us. For the simple reason that if we sail off into the sunset successfully, so will ever other country in the group that wants out and the EU will be no more. So it simply isn’t in the best interests of the EU to facilitate our exit. That may not be right or fair, but it’s the most likely outcome.
Life is changing and will continue to change. The notion of Britain returning to some mythical status as a global innovator and leader of social and political change, bringing the world into a new vision of the future, feels like a wistful dream of old men in clubs of a bygone era. We don’t even successfully celebrate the areas in which we DO lead the world, like technology innovation. We just export our brains to Silicon Valley, NATO, NASA, CERN and anywhere else in the world they can go.
King Canute didn’t keep back the tide of change, is Boris Johnson any more likely to do that? Boris Johnson??? I will own up to having laughed myself hoarse at Boris hanging from a zipwire, to laughing and cringing in equal measure at his quips about wif-waf in Beijing, and even to agreeing that he presided over a renaissance for London as a financial capital of importance — helped by the Olympics and the financial system — although its debatable how much it’s done for people outside the financial system. His buffoonery was a clever, entertaining distraction. Or not. But deep down I don’t believe Boris has the best interests of the British people at heart. I think he just wants to be PM, and fill his boots along with the rest of his mates. A noble aspiration. A vote for Brexit is a vote for Boris as PM.
I wish for someone to lead this country who has a bit more vision for the emerging future than Boris. And that’s our greatest tragedy. Where’s our Obama or Merkel or Mandela? When did we last produce a politician that we all felt inspired by? Or at least half of us inspired by? I would rather have any one of Elon Musk, Janine Benyus, Peter Diamandis, Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge, Frederic Laloux, Richard Barrett, Paul Polman, Jos de Blok, Kofi Annan, Richard Branson and a long list of others (few of whom are British — too bad) to trust in than what we have.
Whatever the future uncertainties, whatever the issues — we are now in an era where collaborative consultation feels like the only way forward — in business and as a country. And now I want you to think for just a second about Donald Trump as President and Boris Johnson as PM, balance up their image with the word collaboration in your mind. See how it feels. And then, hopefully, Vote Remain.