CategoriesThought of The Day

The Mother of All Recoveries?

Will the economy tank, as I have been predicting in my blogs? Or will it bounce-back? This issue is dominating my thoughts and conversations.

Last week brought us confirmation – as if it was needed – that the economy took a 20% fall in April. The only surprise was that it was only 20%. Of course, some businesses are booming, but the majority have been hit, just as my firm has been. Some sectors have been cryogenically frozen. With our economy heavily dependent on the pursuit of pleasure, with most service jobs furloughed, our economy ought to be permanently poleaxed. A depression – not just a recession – ought to a sure thing.

But then again, as the unfairly named “Project Fear” predicted in the run-up to the EU Referendum, if Brexit was voted through, a recession was bound to occur, so went the argument. I thought as much myself. And although post-Referendum the pound took a pummelling, there was no recession.

Which leads me to the failure of economists: the failure of those who tutored me at university. There are Marxist Economists and we have the Chicago School, with everything in between. Science and medicine do not have such polars. Economists agree on little. Economics simply isn’t a science. What happened historically isn’t often an accurate predictor of what will happen in the future. Economists are educated guesses, at best.

In predicting what should happen, what economists frequently misunderstand is behavioural analysis of the key economic actors: us consumers. People rarely behave as anticipated. The Brexit shock, so the theory went, should have led us to a recession, but that was more of Millennium Bug Moment: the world didn’t end, so let’s get on with our lives. Confidence – the currency of capitalism – was not dented.

Now I’m beginning to wonder whether the opening of non-essential shops yesterday (15 June 2020) – and there were the below queues outside Sports Direct today! – will trigger the most positive multiplier that we have ever seen, spinning us into prosperity.

sports direct harrogate

Perhaps people will think like this:

“We haven’t died! Let’s live for the moment. Let’s spend, spend, spend! We’ve taken one for the team. We’ve played our part. We’ve suffered. Thanks our to collective sacrifices deaths have finally reduced. We’ve won! Let’s party! We’ve got the measure of this beast and we are still here.”

And in so doing, we restart the economy, contrary to all predictions, including my own. Like pulling back a giant elastic band for three months, either the band will snap, or perhaps the recovery will soar. The collapse in GDP wasn’t caused by typical capitalist economic cycle, rather it was a choice we had to make. Perhaps the economic fundamentals are sound.

Of course, economic predictions are notoriously difficult due to the multiple and interconnected factors, but I’ll have another go: the UK economy will bounce back – no-deal Brexit or not – though we may not recover as to where we were in January 2020.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Your true colours

During these frightening times, my recent experience of business, politics, family and friendships instructs me that people’s true colours shine more clearly now than they have ever done. 

 

In business, regardless of sector, caring and talented leaders are making caring and skilful decisions. Dedicated employees are now more dedicated. Lazier staff are now doubly lazy. 

 

Of late, I’ve seen some truly outstanding businessmanship and equally some pretty sharp practices too. Business saints pre-Covid haven’t become sinners, rather just more saintly. 

 

In politics, those with spine, with something to say, say it now unimpeded. And they’re cutting through to the public. Incompetence is now – particularly in government – amplified a thousandfold. Small mistakes are having catastrophic consequences.

 

Have you ever wanted to know about your character? If so, appraise yourself now. Are you happy with what you see?

 

CategoriesThought of The Day

Marxists and Capitalists

Marxists and Capitalists make the same mistake: both describe our current system as capitalist. Sure, it is capitalist, but missing is the sub-category.

As Yanis Varoufakis skilfully explains here, when Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations in 1776, he was of course writing about that time. At that point in history, a butcher, baker and brewer in a village would produce the best products they could, sold at the cheapest prices. They did so not for the benefit of society, but for their own benefit. And in so doing, society benefits.

Today, Yanis argues, we are living in monopolistic capitalism, a substrata of capitalism. By way of simple example, even if my business (circa 20 people) grew by 10,000 times, we couldn’t take on some of the monopolies: Google, Amazon and Facebook are untouchable and unstoppable. Only if there is an international restructure of these monopolies, Yanis argues, will capitalism return to helping the totality of society, as Smith had observed capitalism can do. There is something in this analysis.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Good Days, Bad Days

After a bad day – as today has been – as a sufferer of a chronic pain-type illness, I now sympathise with those who have had the good day-bad day, seesaw. Such health erraticism is mostly unfathomable to non-sufferers.

Equal with the bad days – and the bad days can be grim – is knowing the sheer boredom it elicits in the listener when they ask you: “How are you.” When you reply on the phone, you can usually hear the listener reach for their device, for anything – and they’re right to be bored: it’s is boring. Acute symptoms garner all the sympathy. Those of us with chronic conditions are often regarded as malingerers, misleaders, wimps. We are not.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Don’t Look Back in Anger

Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis captured the spirit of the mid-90s. At 15, I remember that time as one of optimism; we knew that something better was en route. Find me someone who doesn’t appreciate the magnificence of this song and I’ll show you someone who is anti my city: Manchester.

Just over three years ago, on 22 May 2017, terrorists hit my city. The bomb at Manchester Arena – a venue I had visited many times – targeted children and parents at a pop concert. 23 people were slaughtered, half of whom were kids. Hundreds more were injured. The horror is unimaginable. Targeting kids.

Yet this recent barbarism is rarely spoken about. But why?

Awaking to this news on 23 May 2017, as a Mancunian living here in Harrogate, I felt compelled to act. I just had to do something, but what. Assisted by social media, I organised a vigil at The Cenotaph. Around 30 people showed up. I handed out the words to Don’t Look Back in Anger. Led by the tour de force that is Michelle Beckett, we sang. It was beautiful, moving, cathartic. Kindly, staff from Bettys provided us with free teas and biscuits.

harrogate photo

When I consider acts of terrorism in my lifetime, I think of 9/11, 7/7, the first Manchester bomb in 1996, Dunblane of the same year and the Warrington bomb of 1993 which killed two boys. One of those poor boy’s names is burned into my memory: Tim Parry. But I’m afraid to say that I cannot tell you the names of anyone who died in the Manchester Arena, just three years ago. I should know some of their names.

Pondering this puzzle this evening, my conclusion is that the people of Manchester didn’t let this event define them. Internecine conflagrations did not commence. Months later, the Arena was used again for a concert. Manchester did not look back in anger.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Lockdown Weather and Pascal’s Wager

At the high risk of being ridiculed, I’ll write it regardless. The best weather in my lifetime, coincided with the only lockdown in my lifetime. During this weird period, like many people, I have never spent more time outside. And I love it.

Quoting the devout atheist Christopher Hitchens: “Coincidence is no accident.”

I don’t believe that God (if such a thing exists) has punished humanity with floods because, say, of gay marriage, but I don’t know why it feels (how unlawyerly, how unscientific) that this Great Pause has something otherworldly about it. The coincidence that we are compelled to spend more time outside whilst the weather is spectacular blows my little mind.

For me, never has nature seemed so bouncy, so effervescent, confident. I feel as if nature is saying: Look at us! Yes, us. Take care of this planet. We all rely upon each other. This is a warning. Humankind, make changes, now.

A few weeks ago, I walked around The Stray in Harrogate, taking routes that I wouldn’t normally use. I found myself down an empty road – a road which is usually a de facto carpark, hence in normal times it wouldn’t be a route to take. I may sound like an oddball, but at one point I had to stop and admire the majesty of the trees. They stood, well, proudly, perkily, commandingly. The photograph below will not win awards, nor does it capture the energy – the fizz – of the moment. It is my recording of that instant, for me.

photo of harrogate

Some of you will be familiar with Pascal’s Wager – that humans should believe in God because if they are wrong, then they lose very little, but if they are right, then they stand to gain a great deal. Deploying similar logic, regarding our environment I would say: if you take the view that humans aren’t causing climate change, or take the position that our activities have only a negligible impact on global heating, on the basis that you may be wrong, given that we are stuck here for the foreseeable future, wouldn’t it be optimal if we proceeded as if we are destroying earth? If you are right and I am wrong, we have lost little. If I am right and you are wrong, we have all gained immeasurably.

We must make changes as to how we coexist with nature. The planet cannot withstand our pursuit of perpetual growth in GDP. We know this.

CategoriesThought of The Day

We can move mountains

Until yesterday, my dealings with business banking has been the low point in my business life. The average length of a call to my high street business bank was around 45 minutes. Despite our size, we have no business banker. Nobody to email. Credit has been virtually impossible to obtain.

And then Covid strikes and – hey presto – I obtained a chunky business loan, paid within 36 hours, just by filling in an online form. Bingo.

Thanks to Covid, the homeless are now (mostly) housed. The railways have been nationalised. Hospitals have been built in a week. The Government is paying the wages of 8m people. Even business banking has been transformed.

When this time passes, we must remember that we can do almost anything; we always could. We just need the will.

CategoriesThought of The Day

In defence of Reckless Boris (RB)

After the PM’s apparent bungled performance on Sunday evening, which was supposedly exacerbated by his “clarifications” on Monday, I thought that I would – candidly – spring to his defence.

Like many people, over the last two days I have been frequently interrupted by the pinging of my phone. Each time, a hilarious Whatsapp meme or Twitter video, sent from a variety of surprising sources, arrived, all mocking Reckless Boris’ for his do work, don’t work; do go out, don’t go out; do see family, don’t see family messages. If anything has become clear during lockdown is that we Brits love a joke.

Unquestionably, RB botched the pre-lockdown period, leading to the unnecessary slaughter of the innocents. Never was he a fit and proper person to hold such high office. But it doesn’t follow that his post-lockdown phase is flawed.

Levelled at Boris by many is the accusation that his recent messaging was confusing when he should have been clear. The messaging was unclear, just as they planned it to be. More effort would have gone into preparing for RB’s piece to camera on Sunday than in any of the previous announcements.

Evidently, somehow, the Government must make the country flow again, just as most European countries are unlocking. Nobody envies those who must make such decisions. The Government must, therefore, edge us, step by step, to the new-normal. But how to do this?

Imagine if the Government attempted to give coherent advice which was to be applicable to each person, to each organisation, would that have worked any better? I doubt it. Such clear advice would have had to be age group-specific; specific to town, city or country; specific to each job, and each sector; specific to people with or without young children; relevant to carers; the list goes on. In that scenario, the instructions would conflict. Our lives are unique: no set of rules could apply to all people. Bespoke rules per family would take eons to prepare, when time is not a commodity we have.

By perfecting obfuscation (a skill RB is endowed with), those who feel most able and most willing will move to the new normal, taking preventative measures. Those who return know what to do. The dog’s breakfast of advice, mostly, self-selects. There is something for everyone to cling to.

There will, of course, be employers who encourage the return of their employees when it is not “Covid secure”, but employees who are able to resist the foolish return to work can, for now, accept furlough. There will be casualties, but there would be casualties whichever way the Government now moves.

Other than voting in a buffoon, we had no personal responsibility for the pre-lockdown failures, but we do have some personal responsibility for how we tentatively get going again. The anger directed at RB now is because of our unforgivably high death toll. Trust in RB is evaporating, even if his approach to the great unlocking is appropriate.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Six months without alcohol

Yes, it was six months ago since I last tasted the amber nectar. I haven’t missed it, no. Given that alcohol doesn’t work well with my medication – which I need to take for the rest of my life – it’s been an easy decision. I wish I had stopped sooner. For years, I flirted with the notion, but it just seemed- well- too difficult.

During this half-year, I turned 40, had Christmas and New Year, holidayed abroad and then contended with lockdown. I have had every reason to succumb, but only once have I craved a glass of wine, but then the desire evaporated.

Churchill famously said: “I’ve gotten more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” But the same is untrue for me. How is it for you? Sure, over the years I enjoyed many a good night out fuelled by booze, but I can, sadly, also remember (just about) some shameful alcohol-induced experiences which still make me blush. Like many people of my generation, I’m glad that we didn’t have Facebook in my younger days.

On alcohol, the only advice I would venture to offer is this: if you think, as I do, that alcohol just doesn’t agree with you, consider quitting. Listen to your body, particularly the next day following a night out!

Today, it’s easier to be teetotal than ever before, thanks to the often-sneered-at “snowflake” generation, one-third of whom are now teetotal. It takes some guts – guts that I didn’t have – to be teetotal.

In due course, future generations will look back askance at my generation’s booziness, just as we recoil when we watch films made before the smoking ban. To be ahead of the curve, it might pay us all dividends to perform an audit of all our activities, then to ask ourselves, “Of the activities I perform today, what would my future self say about that?” I have for two decades known that alcohol consumption, on balance, had a net-negative effect on my life. When I perform my audit, I really ought to ditch a bad habit much faster than the 20 years that this one has taken.

CategoriesThought of The Day

A Pandemic of Poor Decision-Making

During this life-defining time – when what we do during these weeks may define our lives – I have noticed, in a variety of arenas, people making the most absurd of decisions. Decisions which in ordinary times they wouldn’t make.

This begs two questions, the second of which is more important than the first.

First, in these threatening times, why has the ability to make simple decisions based on evidence fallen away? The answer is likely to be decision fatigue. When we have to make countless additional decisions each day, then the quality of our decisions inevitably deteriorates. Studies of Israeli parole boards evidence that decisions later in the day are markedly poorer than those made in the morning. As a result of these findings, tech entrepreneurs have taken to wearing black t-shirts everyday so as to remove one decision from their mornings.

Second, regardless of the current state of affairs, how can we improve our judgment – a skill arguably more important than intellect? High intellect does not of course guarantee outstanding judgment.

Can a young person display better judgment than an older person? Certainly, though with advancing years, with accumulated experience, judgment often improves. But if this was a never-ending trajectory, then the oldest amongst us would usually have optimum judgment, but this isn’t so.

Therefore, this indicates that life experience – what people have done and learned – may answer how judgment is developed. Given that it is difficult to improve one’s intellectual levels, and we can’t accelerate age, if you want to improve your judgment, how best should we go about it?

Perhaps the answer is to work in many roles and sectors. At home, we should widen our interests, learning what we can from exemplars – in person, books, videos and podcasts. But more importantly, we should introduce a process to consolidate what we have learned and to reflect on it. A diary might help. This blog is my attempt, as my diary is more of a list of what has happened.

These thoughts take me to the book which I have been struggling through – Range by David Epstein. The premise is a simple one: although those who specialise in a field straight after university, building on their degree, usually earn more in the short time after university (if they do go to uni), they often get stuck, and get overtaken by generalists who use their breadth of experience to make some radical, positive leaps forward. If in a field of specialism there is an insolvable problem, so the Range theory goes, get someone from another field to use their orthoganol approach. Problem solved.

One way to improve judgment is to use a peer review system, such as The Alternative Board, which I have attended for 18 months. On our board, it’s simply mind-boggling how each member approaches a given problem in such a different and unexpected way. The skill, then, is to choose the best advice, using your judgment.

In addition to being a generalist, using a peer review system and learning as much as you can, I recommend a dose of Stoic philosophy as the schema to run all decisions through. I will write about Stoicism shortly!

If you’re in the decision-making business, where your judgment is key, it’s incumbent upon you to make the best possible decisions, and therefore to discover how best you can do it. There are plenty of life and business coaches: what we are missing are judgment coaches.