In my driving work I occasionally visit the massive warehouses that are springing up around the country known as RDCs (Regional Distribution Centres). These are incredibly impressive, huge, cathedrals to consumerism. Built on a scale that is hard to comprehend, especially up close, they can be overwhelming the first time you visit.
When you get inside they are full, floor to ceiling, of whatever products the centre is distributing. The products are stacked on massive shelves which are accessed by various combinations gantry mounted pulleys and manned fork lifts. Even these are increasingly automated with the result that an eerily small number of staff can be responsible for the whole thing.
In fact even as a driver you just open the truck’s rear doors, reverse up to one of the loading bays, a red light comes on on the wall of the RDC, the shutter door on the warehouse opens, you feel fork lifts moving in and out of the back of your truck, then the light turns green, you pull forward to close the doors, and off you go. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was interested and went inside to have a look I needn’t have had any contact with anyone during the whole process.
Some of my other driving jobs involve providing the materials for the glass and steel office structures that we are still allowing to reshape our city centres. I was struck the other day by the increasing similarities between the cathedrals of consumerism and these cathedrals of bureaucracy. In both we are seeing the onward march of automated processes that take what used to be human labour and trim them down to the maximum repeatable efficiency. Skeleton staff who oversee the process, and radically reduced interchange with the outside world.
The capabilities of AI and automation are currently being oversold and are underdelivering, like every other technology that has preceded them. But it is clear that as more of our day to day work takes place in entirely digital environments the prospects for systems learning from our patterns and replicating them increases by the day. Add to this the fact that once the essential patterns are understood the inessential stuff can be trimmed away, and much of the current bureaucratic business that currently employs the bulk of the middle class disappears.
We need to start thinking about what we all do when that happens…
Yesterday I went for a walk in The Black Mountains with my good friend Dave Snowden. All walks provide an opportunity for thinking but when the weather is as bad as it was yesterday, with high gusting wind and driving rain that meant we could barely hear each other, you batten down the hatches, pull the drawstring on your hood tight, and basically stare at your feet as you plod your way up the hill.
Apart from an occasional glance to see where you are, and if you are lucky the clouds lift for a moment and allow you to experience a bit of a view, you are left with nothing to do but observe your own thoughts for a couple of hours.
Those thoughts can vary wildly from: “This is awful. My legs hurt. It’s cold. It’s wet. Why am I doing this? I’m getting too old. We should have stayed at home.” To the next moment thinking: “This is a fantastic adventure. I feel stronger than I expected. It’s great to be in nature experiencing the harshness of the environment. I should do this more often.” These two very different sets of thoughts alternate most of the way up, and for most of the walk.
In fact they do this all of the way through our lives. Moment to moment we flip from seeing the world one way, and then the next moment seeing it totally differently. One moment: “Everything is all right, I’m successful and happy. I’m in the right place at the right time” and then moments later: “I’m a failure, I can’t do this. Why did I bother? The people around me are idiots. I wish there was somewhere else.”
But for all my thinking, the mountain was still there, my body was still there, the weather was still there, movement was still happening.
Everything else was in my head. It was all made up. It wasn’t real.
This is also true of life. Most of it is made up. Most of it isn’t real!
Thinking faster with mind maps.
I have used MindMaps on and off since first reading Tony Buzan’s books way back. I mostly use them to get ideas out of my head and into a state where I can rearrange them and do this for longer articles and keynotes. This post by Brett Terpstra lays out his process which some of you might find useful.
Laziness Does Not Exist.
Maybe it was wishful thinking that drew my eye to this article but in fact it is a really thoughtful piece about our attitudes to laziness – particularly other people’s!
When working with large organisations it can sometimes feel as if I am trying to resuscitate dinosaurs and that it might be kinder to shoot them and let evolution take its course more rapidly. With all of their legacy systems, and legacy attitudes, it can feel like trying to turn around the Titanic and people inevitably end up shuffling deckchairs.
(Does having two metaphors in such rapid succession count as mixing them?)
But most of the office based working population works in those sorts of organisations, and they are increasingly aware that massive change is heading their way, if not already upon them. A combination of faster networked communications, increasing potential for automation of repetitive bureaucratic processes, and often a customer base whose expectations are far outstripping the organisation’s ability to respond, and it is clear that something has to be done.
The trouble is that often what is done is more of the same. More initiatives, more communications plans, more technology spend. But underneath nothing changes and everyone knows it. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” frequently comes to mind.
What if the future is about less, or smaller? Incremental changes rather than large corporate initiatives. Individual behaviour change rather than sweeping “culture change”. Smaller, more autonomous teams rather than vast open plan offices full of people feeding the system.
What would it take for you to adapt to that world? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing? How would the next conversation you have at work be different?
How could you grasp that first toehold on the future?
Rather than sharing links this time I thought I’d share a list of books that I am currently reading. I alway have more than one book on the go. Usually one “real” book, a couple of books on my Kindle app on iOS devices, and one audio book from Audible.
My current Audible listening is a wonderful, really wonderful, book on writing called First You Write A Sentence by Joe Moran, perfectly read by Roy McMillan. It’s not often you get a laugh out loud book on writing but this is insightful, useful and beautifully written. Ironically this is not always the case with books on writing!
My two Kindle books are both by Robert Salzman, Depending On No Thing and The Ten Thousand Things (which I am reading for a second time). I have been following a long and winding path from a reaction against conventional religion, through reading loads about Buddhism, to finding non-duality appealing intellectually, and now finally to writers like J. Krishnamurti, U.G. Krishnamurti, Douglas Harding, Joan Tollifson, Robert Wolfe, Toni Packer et al who avoid easy labels but do a great job of cutting through various levels of what Salzman calls “magical thinking” to get at the bottom of our experience of the world.
We are brought up to see success as having impacted other people’s lives in some way. Helped them improve, given them something they need, provided them a service. None of this is a bad thing!
We then compare ourselves to others and feel that we haven’t made enough impact. We know this partly because we haven’t been as rewarded financially. We know this because we haven’t managed to buy enough stuff.
So we aspire, we become driven, we set aside unimportant things like spending time with families or in nature in order to focus on making more impact, making more money, buying more stuff.
We then do this collectively as society. It is seen as an essential aspect of modern civilisation to be achieving progress, seeing things as wanting and needing improved, and then setting about making an impact on the world. We are encouraged to do this in our millions.
And there’s the problem. Our planet is suffering as a result of all our efforts, our industriousness, our busyness. We aspire to make an impact – but more often than not we end up leaving a stain.
Maybe it’s my age but I am less and less concerned with making an impact.