Looking At Shadows From A Cave

Looking At Shadows From A Cave

Plato, in discussing the impact of education (or a lack of it) on a society used the idea of prisoners in a cave Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to illustrate his point that, without education, we can only ever be looking at “shadows on the wall”, rather than what’s really going on.

I was reminded of this when I recently heard the idea that, to know the future, we should “look at what the rich have.”  The speaker elaborated this point: “The rich used to have personal chauffeurs, and now everyone does – it’s called Uber. The rich used to have private holiday homes, and now everyone does – it’s called Airbnb.”

But – and it’s a big “but” – Uber and Airbnb aren’t “what the rich used to have, and now everyone’s got.”  The Uber driver is not employed by you. You pay what they charge you, not what you decide is a suitable salary.  You may not have Uber in your area – and you don’t have the power to bring it there.  Airbnb is just a digitalised version of what has always been available to those who aren’t “the rich” – lodging houses.

What we have is not “what the rich had before us” – what we have is shadows on the wall, poor impressions of what the rich had, which serve the purpose of keeping the majority of the non-rich quiet for the majority of the time.

Uber, Airbnb, Waitrose, Topshop… they’re all just placebo drops to make us believe we’re not doing too badly, that life really isn’t that tough.  Netflix and Starbucks make up for the fact that many people find themselves in insecure employment, being paid barely enough to make even very basic ends meet.  A cheap TV, the ability to get something that’s almost the dress or suit some catwalk model was wearing, soothes us away from thoughts about what kind of exploitation may have been involved in the making of such things, and gently closes our eyes to the declining living standards and abuses of power that are going on all around us.

It’s not really feasible, in most cases, to  renounce cheap fashion and electronics, or to boycott every company with unethical work practices – the very poorest in Western society would be left unable to shop anywhere, as their income limits them, in general, to unethical companies, because those companies’ products are the cheapest.

Personally, while I don’t have a TV, I do need a laptop in order to work. It’s best I have clothes (although I mostly buy these from charity shops), and, as I don’t have a garden, or much space on windowsills my dogs can’t reach, I need to buy my food, rather than growing/raising it myself. (If anyone wants to give away a remote cottage with a nice bit of land, somewhere in the UK, let me know…chickens, a couple of goats, veggies and fruits…that’s the kind of life I’d like, with or without other people around!)  Most months, I’ve only just made enough to cover the cheapest form of basic essentials (the joys of early stage, non-funded businesses started after several years of unsuccessfully applying for “traditional” jobs…) I’m looking into making my own, natural cleaners (lemon, white vinegar, and salt), and my food is fairly simple fare – pasta with something, couscous, chickpeas, hot or cold salads.

So, we need to take a creatively negative approach: we need to accept that we don’t have – and probably never will have – “what the rich have”, and look at the benefits of that situation:

. We don’t become reliant on any “labour saving” or “lifestyle” options. I recently got a second hand tumble dryer (useful, as it rains a lot in my part of the world, and I currently can’t afford to fix the central heating, so I can now guarantee getting clothes dry), but we still wash clothes by hand, in the bathtub. I’ve never had a car.  In most cases, when things come to you as a result of having saved up, or got a better-paid job, rather than as something that is simply a “fact of life”, you’re better able to cope when those things break down, or you can’t afford to have them. It’s frustrating to go back to a more labour-and-time-intensive way of existing, but it’s possible.   Life is a little more dull when you can’t get away on holiday, but you can cope without that specific, defined break away.

. We can more easily empathise with those who are less fortunate than we are – the current issue in the UK and America is that our politicians and journalists are people who have grown up with a certain level of “luxury” – holidays, cars, washing machines, tumble dryers, childcare – as a “fact of life.” It’s always been there, or they’ve forgotten the childhood in which it wasn’t there, and so they can’t imagine how other human beings can not have those things, unless those others are particularly stupid or lazy… These people have the loudest voices. They are everywhere, positioning themselves as the only voices you need to listen to.  When you encounter people at some remove from the voices of media and politics, you see more awareness and compassion, in general, for people who are struggling – because most (though, sadly, not all) people know that their “everyday luxuries” didn’t just fall from the sky.  My father was a very kind, considerate, and compassionate man, who would help anyone if he could, whether with words, deeds, or tangible things: he had grown up in a house without central heating of any kind, with a copper bathtub that was filled from the kitchen sink, and placed in front of the fire once a week, without a fridge or freezer – without even a kettle or toaster: toast was made under the grill of the oven, and hot drinks in a saucepan on the stove.  Washing machines and tumble dryers were very late additions to his life (he was in his mid-thirties before he had either in his house), and he spent the first 45yrs of his life without a car, getting about on foot or by bicycle.  He didn’t suffer fools, and was quick to (correctly) identify people who “wouldn’t take the effort to improve their life if you dropped it into their lap” – but he was never abusive, never hostile, never demeaning.  Because he knew the struggle that was involved in “bettering yourself”, or getting things that made life a little easier.

.We will be the ones who will survive when the inevitable mass failure of technology happens.  My father taught me the basics of trapping and fishing, as well as how to prepare what was caught, he taught me how to tell if a particular plant was good to eat, and what things could be eaten raw.  He taught me the value of manual labour, and the importance of being able to absorb, understand, and simplify complex information.  He taught me that in every managed forest, there will be logging roads that always lead to a main road, and that, if you follow a river downhill, you’ll reach some kind of port town eventually, which will usually have the means of getting at least close to where you want to be.

I didn’t grow up living in the mountains, or on some hippy commune – I grew up in a nice house in a nice village, in a reasonably wealthy county in England.  A reasonably wealthy county with a LOT of “hidden deprivation.”  Many of my primary school classmates left school unable to manage more than basic literacy and numeracy. Many were still in farming families, and were absent during harvest and lambing seasons. My father wasn’t a farmer – he was an electrician working maintenance at the local slaughterhouse.  One thing everyone in that village had in common, even the older people who, in a couple of cases that I knew of, couldn’t read or write at all, was common sense, common courtesy, and an intuitive understanding of the world and patterns around them.  They’re the “Gary In The Pub” that the middle classes love to mock, the “armchair economists/politicians” who are usually proved right in the end. They’ll never be recognised as such, but they are the real experts – and they are experts not because of any “natural wisdom” or the “wisdom of crowds” (which isn’t as wise as it claims), but because they pay attention to what is going on around them, and remember what has happened before.  The current generation, with shortened attention  spans and a preference for soundbites over substance, either forgets history, or doesn’t bother to study it in the first place. Patterns are “boring” and “pointless”, because they take time, effort, and attention to comprehend.

Back to the main point of this post, though: What is it, as a unified, whole concept, rather than the individual aspects of the concept, the rich have?

The answer to that question is simple:

Leisure.

The rich don’t have to go out to work – they have streams of passive income. They own companies in which other people work. They own property portfolios, and collect rents.  They never have to ask where they can “afford” to holiday that year – they pick somewhere, and go – for a month or two, not a week or two.

The rich don’t have to run their households – they employ other people to do that.

When the rich come across a new thing that interests them, they get involved in it – fully and completely.

The chauffeurs and holiday homes and yachts – even the money – are all just aspects of the core concept of leisure, which is the one, single, defining difference between the rich and the rest of us.

And the easiest thing to genuinely acquire.

. Instead of getting a job that you go to every weekday, come up with a strong franchise concept. Okay, you can’t charge the £10-20,000 (or more) that established business models charge for their franchise – but you could charge a couple of thousand, and commission on each site’s profits on top of that.  If two people a month – one person a fortnight – takes on a £2,000 franchise from you, that’s £48,000 in a year. And then you get commission on each site’s profits on top of that. Yes, this is turnover, not profit – you’ll be investing in marketing and promotion, in training, in recruitment, in maintaining the sites – but even if you only end up with £20,000 a year profit, you’re earning it in a way that allows you more leisure time than your 9-5 office job.

. Rather than paying a hotel for your next holiday, why not see if you can do a houseswap? Save up your leave entitlement, if you’re able to do that, and take off for a month.

.Give a neighbourhood teenager, or someone who’s struggling financially, a helping hand, and yourself a bit of free time – pay them to mow your lawn, or do the one-day-a-week main clean. Pay them to serve at, and wash up after, any parties you have.

These are small things – but they make a difference.  And remember: “leisure” doesn’t equal “idleness” – someone with “leisure” may very well still be working – but they don’t see it as “work” in the same way many people often do – as something to be endured, and escaped from.

 

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Making Difficult Decisions

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Today, the UK votes on whether to remain as a member of the European Union, or not.

Now, the important thing is, this is only a referendum – in UK law, the government doesn’t have to act on what the people decide.  And, in politics and business, that’s how it should be.

“The masses”, to use a sometimes insulting colloquialism, be they grass-roots employees or the average Joe on the street at a time of political upheaval, are like the proverbial blind man feeling an elephant – they will only ever have partial information, through no fault of their own, usually.

However, the “powers that be”, to use another sometimes insulting colloquialism, can, and often do, suffer from “Ivory Tower Syndrome” – they get so caught up in their experiences, they forget those experiences are not universal. They take their knowledge of a situation for granted, forgetting that not everyone else will be privy to it. They fail to realise that other people, in other circumstances, may not share their priorities.

On any issue, you will always end up with various groups, all of whom are only partially informed.

The people who will be responsible for leading the organisation/country through the results and attendant changes of any decision will be the people at the top, while the grassroots folks will be the ones directly affected. (Power, and the wealth that frequently comes with it, protect people from consequences to an extent that is rarely fully appreciated.)  Therefore, it is VITAL that these two groups enter into a respectful, helpful, logical dialogue. Emotion can, and should, have a place in that dialogue, but it shouldn’t dominate.

However, once the dialogue is done, the decision still has to be made – and it is right and proper that those who have the experience to lead people through the impact of that decision are the ones, ultimately, to make it.

The British public may vote to leave the EU – but they may not comprehend the complexity of Britain’s agreements with the EU, the legalities surrounding a withdrawal, or the political consequences in respect to other, binding, international agreements, or the societal impact to Britain’s position and reputation in the world’s eyes.

They may vote to Remain in the EU – but not be privy to information regarding current tensions, the current balance of power, or the direction the EU may be heading in.

Those who, it would be hoped, have better knowledge and experience than “the man on the street”, or “the woman at the bus stop”, who are aware of the full gamut of existing and potential threats, opportunities, and impacts of leaving, or remaining within, the EU, should be the ones who – with input from those whose lives will be directly affected – make the final decision.

Democratic? Not really.

Best for everyone? Almost certainly.  If people were more able to put their emotions, personal concerns, and prejudices aside, if they were granted access to the full facts of a matter, if genuine, intelligent debate prior to the making of an important decision were encouraged and engaged with, then, perhaps, the people could be left to decide.

Until then, while it is right and proper that everyone be given the opportunity to have their opinion heard, I would prefer that lasting, irreversible decisions are made by people with full access to facts, not those subject to fear, prejudice, and assumption.

This isn’t just about Britain as a country – this is about business, groups of individuals, the world.

This isn’t just about the EU referendum – this is about every important decision, whether it is one faced by a country, a company, or a family.

Everyone has the right to an opinion, and the right to have that opinion taken into account – but only those in full possession of the facts of the matter, from all sides of it, should have the right – and the responsibility – to make the decision.

It is nothing short of abuse to delegate important, strategic decisions to those who have not been trained or equipped to appreciate their seriousness, or the impact of each and every possible decision.

Depression, or “Deep Rest Option”?

Depression isn’t glamorous.

Losing your temper with everyone and everything around you because you can barely think straight, realising you’re crying without knowing why, feeling the bubbles – hot and acrid, or ice-cold – of rage over who knows what overwhelming you, drowning you, isn’t glamorous.

Hating yourself, planning your death, isn’t glamorous.

Not showering for days at a time isn’t glamorous.

Barely remembering how to eat, because your hunger isn’t for food, isn’t glamorous.

Depression isn’t glamorous. But, sometimes, it’s what you need.

You need to be shut off from everything that had previously distracted you, made to focus on your pain, so that your brain is forced to focus on a solution to that pain.

Most of us go through life never knowing what it actually is that hurts – and yet it’s what hurts that, once we harness it and address it directly – is most likely to lead us to the life we want.

Few people ever got rich without solving a problem: depression forces you to focus solely on the problem, to live the problem – you just have to stay with it long enough for the immediate agony to pass, and the problem to become apparent.

If you have any other way of identifying the pain that will become your potential – take that way. Depression is a rough, half-forgotten path in country where you find yourself rapidly running out of oxygen, cut, bruised, and frequently lost. If you can find a paved road, clearly signposted – for the love of all, sacred and profane, take that road.

But, if it has to be depression, remember – sometimes, you’ve just been shunted on to the “deep rest option” of life, and, if you can survive it, something lasting will come of it.

It takes time – I’ve suffered from serious, debilitating depression for about half as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m only just beginning to glimpse the potential in the pain. Fifteen years on. A decade and a half, and a half dozen times I’ve nearly walked away.

It may take me another five years to fully grasp and begin to address the potential in the pain. It may take me another fifteen to realise my version of “success.”

I just have to hold on, and do all I can to make sure I have that time – I have to allow depression to be a “negative charge”, instead of just a negative.

 

Less Is More?

When you’re broke, you focus on every possible way to make even a bit of money – because, when you’re broke, every little really does help.

When you don’t know anyone in an area, you make an effort to go to pubs, cafes, and bars – not necessarily to get to know people, but in the hopes of overhearing conversations that give you a clue as to what’s going on, where you should be, what you should avoid, etc.

When you don’t have much, the things with which you surround yourself hold meaning, value, and stories.

And, when you don’t have a lot of time, you focus your energy and attention on getting what needs to be done, done. It’s why so many people report working better in the 48hrs or less before a deadline falls due, than in the entire six weeks (or six months) they’ve had to complete the project.

At Curveball Media, they’re throwing a literal “curveball” into the “accepted” Anglo-American way of working – the long hours, always-on, 24-7 availability demands that cause family breakdowns, mental health issues, and the petty resentments that lead to high staff turnover and low motivation.

They’re shortening the working day to six hours, introducing “core-hours-flexitime”, and generally recognising the fact that people have lives outside of the office. (I know – inconvenient or what?!)

And…

It’s working. They’re getting more out of their staff, avoiding the “3pm slump”, seeing fewer “time wasting” activities (those aimless walks around the office, 20mins spent making a couple of cups of coffee, etc) because people know that they’re there to get things done, and that, if things get done, they get rewarded. Unlike in the typical working hours arrangement, where, if things get done, you get… more things to do.

Creative negativity and minimalism go quite nicely together – like rum and coke, apple and elderflower, and ice cream and the beach.

Anger As Grounding

It genuinely is only when you allow yourself to be angry that you are able to be kind – when you deny anger, it builds and finds expression through a series of petty resentments, petty jealousies, petty ways you hurt relatively innocent people.

Be angry.

Be angry, so that you are able, when you need to, to stop being angry.

Great piece from Gnoostic:

 

Every right to be…. angry. sure. fine. screwed over. but what do I do instead? lay low and wait, ANGER(the great grounding mechanism) true what do you think buddha did in some of his alone time? what do you think Christ did in the desert? They got grounded(yes, sometimes(I would say often) they let anger […]

via ANGER: the great grounding force — Gnoostic

Is Negativity REALLY Business?

The short answer is – “Yes.”

Over at LinkedIn, one of the most popular accounts is Liz Ryan’s. Liz is a career and lifestyle coach, and her single, core piece of advice for getting the job you want is to write a “pain letter” (or, more likely these days, email.)  This isn’t about your pain – how hard it is being unemployed, how little you get on welfare, all the things your friends are enjoying that you can’t afford – it’s about the company’s pain, and how you, with your skills, knowledge, and experience, can take that pain away.

You know the company is in pain because they’ve spent hundreds of pounds (sorry, I’m British – it’s pounds in my world!) placing the advert that attracted your attention.

You know they’re in pain because management are taking time out of their very busy schedules to deal with interviews, which nobody really likes. (I’ve spoken to enough people who’ve been honest about how they feel around leading an interview, and have interviewed people myself, on two occasions so far – believe me, paperwork, awkward phone calls – they’re all much more desirable than trying to ask the right questions of someone who could end up being a very expensive mistake.

You know they’re in pain because they’re hiring. Hiring is a risk, and most established companies are risk-averse.

So, you look in, round and through the job ad, the person specification, the job description. You “backwards engineer” creative negativity to discover the “negative” that caused them to advertise the position.

And then you get creative, and tell them all about their pain, and how you can make that pain go away.

It may not always work – life is like that, sometimes – but it’ll get you noticed over the 101 other applications that are thinly veiled cries for help.

It’s Here!

Negative: Charge! The book (Amazon UK)

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Negative: Charge! The book (Amazon US)

Looks like CreateSpace are working at triple-speed at the moment! Already up on Amazon (follow whichever of the  links relates to your country.)

This is a short, succinct book that aims to provide a basic introduction to the concept of creative negativity – it’s ideal for time-pushed executives, or those who like their literature to get straight to the point.

It’s also FREE for EVERY participant on speaking engagements, training, and consultancy services.  Email negativeisalsoacharge@gmail.com to discuss your needs, or to book. Currently availability from 6th June, any day except Fridays, including weekends and evenings.

Hopefully there’ll soon be a Skype service, so that non-UK clients can be taken on, and also so that smaller companies, charities, etc, can benefit from reduced rates.