Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Is there worse to come?

The above is an article from today’s Eastern Daily Press, from one of Norwich’s leading insolvency firms, and warns that 2017 is likely to see a rise in insolvencies across the East of England.

I used to work in insolvency – albeit as a lowly admin – and I’ve heard, first hand, on the end of a phone I sincerely wished I hadn’t had to pick up, the pain and rage of people who take the impact of the punch to the gut that is a business going under.  Newsflash: those people are rarely the business owners. In most cases, they seem to dust themselves off and move on fairly quickly. Donald Trump isn’t an exception. He got his eventual success, in the form of becoming President of the USA. Most business owners who declare insolvency will go on to achieve success with another venture. Not all of them, of course, but enough to make you sigh and roll your eyes, wondering whether they’ve actually learned their lessons at all. Wondering if they are aware there were lessons to be learned.

The people who suffer most are those who had the least to do with the business failing. The shop floor staff. The admin crew. The cleaners. The people who had to hear me tell them they’d get £800 redundancy, after years – decades, in one case – of turning up day in, day out.

Those people, their pain, their rage, were the reason I wasn’t sorry to leave insolvency. The managers at the company I worked for (not McTear Williams Wood) made it clear that “those people” didn’t matter. We were there to help the directors and company owners get back on their feet.

But, of course, there will be business owners who are devastated by entering insolvency. People who’d poured their heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, and no small amount of time and money, into a goal, only to see it snatched away from them.

I’ve never gone into insolvency, but I’ve had to close a business, and cancel an event, because I literally didn’t have the money to continue. Both times, the loss triggered a bout of clinical depression. Both times, in the run up and the immediate aftermath, I felt suicidal.  I can well believe there are others, who do end up declaring insolvency, who feel likewise.

This is for all of them, all of you.

I now work in the sphere of creative negativity, which seems oxymoronic in the context of business insolvency. What possible roses could there be behind those thorns? And how can you be creative about insolvency, unless it takes the form of “creative accounting“, which is somewhat frowned upon?

Let’s break the word “insolvency” up, to start with.

“In” – belonging to, within, inside, bordered by, etc. A five year old child knows what “in” means.  So: we are in a position of being bordered by, for the sake of argument.

“Solvency” – the ability to pay one’s just and lawful debts. (The “just and lawful” is important. Remember it.)

So, when we face insolvency, which sounds like a failure, the first creative thinking we can apply is to break up the word, so that, instead of being “unable to meet just and lawful debts”, we are, in fact “bordered by the ability to pay (our) just and lawful debts.”

That puts a new spin on it. We are able to pay our just and lawful debts firstly by identifying which, in fact, are just and lawful – and which are the result of people taking advantage of us.

When I was preparing insolvency cases, the number of times overcharging on the part of suppliers or landlords, or inappropriately charged fees by banks, would only come to light at the point of insolvency was depressing. Businesses seem to love taking advantage of one another, viewing it as some sort of harmless game. (Of course, when the person you’ve been overcharging for goods you supply to them goes bust, odds are your business won’t be far behind… The game doesn’t seem quite so harmless now, does it?) Those were the debts that the insolvency firm refused to honour – they may have been lawful, but they were not deemed just.

There are many ways of “paying for” things, beyond the obvious, financial method. I’m sure we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “you’ll pay for that” – it usually involved some sort of physical violence.

But we also “pay attention” – and that’s the ability to pay our just and lawful debts that insolvency gives us.

When you declare insolvency, you begin the final stages of running a business. You may be able to keep things ticking over, usually with the help of the insolvency firm who’re representing you, but you can’t do much else. Your main focus, perhaps for the first time, is your debts. You have been given the unique ability to genuinely pay attention to the ways in which you spend money.

We live, as a nation and society, in an era where credit is seen as an automatic and inalienable right. It is considered odd if someone doesn’t have a credit card, or at the very least an overdraft. Almost everyone has used “payday lenders”, some on a regular basis. We have store cards, catalogue payment plans. We see nothing wrong in asking our friends to lend us a tenner every now and then, and even less wrong in asking our families to lend us money to pursue our dreams.  Even the Jobcentre will offer “crisis loans“, to people who will never have money of their own to repay them. Businesses run in constant debt to their employees – when you work for someone else, you are paid in arrears, for time you have already given. This becomes manifestly true when you are paid hourly, which often results in people working through illness, because they can’t afford the loss of pay that would result in taking a day off.

Because credit – and therefore debt – is seen as part of the normal functioning of a stable society, we never really think about the debts we’re accruing. We don’t pay attention to the ways in which we spend money. Not until a crisis hits, and forces us to pay attention.

This – the point of paying attention to our debts – is where creative negativity comes in.

Look at your debts.

Pick up two felt tips – one green, one red.

Look at your debts again.

With the red felt tip, mark every debt you had been paying without really thinking about it. Maybe it had been paid by direct debit, or you simply tossed it onto some admin’s desk with a brief “Give them a call and pay that off, would you?” Maybe you even paid them yourself, cheerily greeting whoever answered the phone, not a moment’s pause as you rattled off payment details.  In terms of personal debt – because personal insolvency is a fact – perhaps you even smiled while you were paying that debt, remembering the pleasure the goods the debt had bought you gave you.

With the green felt tip, mark the debts you were actively aware of paying. The ones, perhaps, that weren’t always easy to pay.  The debts you invariably paid late – or had your admin team make excuses for your not paying. The debts you paid with debt – paying them off on a credit card, for instance.

Now look at the debts you’ve marked in red. What do they represent? What did that credit buy you? Write it all down, every last detail of it.

Do the same with the debts marked in green.

Do you see any patterns?

In my personal life, before my self-employment began to stabilise, it was fairly common for me to pay my water rates late. Not by much – a week at most, ten days, once.  The bills I paid without thinking were mobile phone top ups, the monthly direct debits for the internet, and for my pension.

The pattern? I didn’t think about things I’d chosen to have, and that fulfilled intellectual and emotional “necessities” – communication, and security. Those things were so important to me that of course I would pay for them promptly.

Having clean water readily accessible, however… (I justify this to myself by pointing out that, at the time, and still, my toilet is blocked and my boiler broken: things aren’t financially stable enough, without credit cards or loans, which are outside my ability to procure, to attend to these things. I have water, but it’s not hot water.)

When you don’t have a lot of money, you end up thinking about every debt. But there are some you resent paying, and others you don’t. Everyone moans about the price of bread: no one complains at the cost of champagne.

What patterns have you identified? The debts you pay without too much thought or pain, that you pay on time, are the things that are important to you.

Knowing what those things are will tell you what you need to focus on in your next business venture, your next job.

For me, the important things, the areas of my focus, are communication, and security.

I communicate by writing, in ideas and words.  As to security? When I look at the things I’m regularly paid for, I realise I’m being paid for providing others with the security of reliable, high-quality results. I’m offering the security of a new way of looking at personal and business problems, and, with that, the security of knowing you can get through them.

When you’re facing insolvency, you’re bordered by the ability to pay attention to your just and lawful debts. To take a look at them through the lens of creative negativity, and see the patterns that are creating the tapestry of your life. The threads of endings, and of beginnings.

What’s your focus? And what are you doing, what are you going to do, to follow it?

Isolating Stereotypes

The image that springs to mind when you talk about “social isolation” is someone living in a rural village, without transport, unable to get to the bright lights and social whirl of the big city.  Perhaps they are also elderly, and not skilled in the use of the internet for social media purposes. Perhaps their broadband is “too slow” for such things, or they have sporadic network coverage.

But social isolation exists just as much – perhaps more so – in cities as it does in rural areas. Those without a lot of spare cash often find themselves isolated, because city prices for food, entertainment, etc, are often quite high – and people in cities tend to be more insistent on “going out somewhere” than on “just being.”  Those with chronic health issues, especially mental health issues, but any health condition that means that individual isn’t always well enough to manage lots of people, lots of noise, and being out and about for long periods, can also become isolated.

And, where social isolation exists in rural communities, it is often less a facet of rurality, and more to do with the attitudes of people.

I have lived in rural villages, and I live now in an urban coastal town. I have spent time in a city – when I was working, I worked in the city.   I was least isolated when I lived in villages, even though, being unable to drive, I was often unable to see people, or get to events, etc.

Here are a few of the complaints about rural areas from those who exercise themselves around the idea that “better links to cities will solve everything!”

.People in rural areas are so judgemental and stuck in their ways – No. They’re concerned that things that have been generations-long livelihoods, and which involve vital skills – the skills you’ll actually NEED if all technology one day fails – are being lost. They’re sick of seeing their villages become ghost towns, either dormitories for city workers, or second-home holiday havens.  They’re fed up of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, of having their accents and mannerisms and way of life mocked, as though they’re merely caricature cut-outs, rather than people with feelings.

.They don’t care about social justice! – They do. In a quiet way. A way that says “if everyone does, and gives, what they’re able, and people who have a bit more help those with less, everyone’ll be taken care of eventually.”

.It’s all about “how we’ve always done it” – Usually because individuals in rural areas know how best to do something. They know there’s no point building houses if you don’t first bring employers in – and they know that technology companies are far more vulnerable than the “boring, old-fashioned” industries, because what people expect technology to be, and what they expect it to do, moves on so quickly.  They look at the chaotic-seeming lives of young people, and see people without a sense of place, rootless people trying to grow into something enduring and eternal. And they know that’s not possible.

.But casual racism and “little England” mentality! – I’ve found that to be the case in urban areas far more than rural, to be fair.  Because, in rural areas, people from the next village are considered “strange”, someone with a different ethnicity really isn’t that shocking, in the grand scheme of things.

The issue isn’t “OMG, rural areas!” it’s the fact that the intelligent, fashionably socially aware individuals will run, headlong, from rural areas as soon as they can, arriving, breathless, in the city, falling (whether they can genuinely afford it or not) into its whirlpool of activity – ensuring that, yes, on the whole, the people left in the villages are those who are considered a bit “old fashioned” and “not quite nice.”  But, when you step back and watch, you see that a lot of the “compassion and concern” in city circles is only on the surface – it’s a tiny ripple in  an ocean of thoughtlessness, rudeness, and self-obsession: things which have no place in rural areas.

People in villages are often considered “rude”simply because they’re used to not wasting words – to city dwellers, words are tossed around like confetti at a wedding, usually to cover a lack of action. Discuss “issues” to death, and you won’t actually have to get off your backside and do anything about them – because you’re aware! You’re talking about these things! You’re having the conversations! Meanwhile, the villagers you mock and disdain are quietly, and without show, getting on and addressing the problems they see, and can do something about.  They don’t set up soup kitchens and run crowdfunding campaigns – they take vegetables from their garden to the house of the family they know are struggling. They don’t set up MeetUps for unemployed Millennials (or any other age group) – if they hear of a job going, they tell the people they know who’re unemployed. If they know a person well, they’ll “put a word in.”  They don’t feel the need to constantly host events – they chat to you when they see you in the pub.

No, people in rural areas don’t like people who seem superior, who “put on airs”, and who act like they know everything – rural villages have a genetic memory that goes back centuries, because, historically, they’ve always been very settled populations.  They’ve seen all the fads come and go, seen all the fine speakers come undone. They’ve seen the eternal return of the same, the coming round, in a cycle, of the old ways.

In focusing on “how to make cities more accessible”, you miss the fact that not everyone wants to be in a city. If someone has mental health issues which mean they find crowds and noise stressful, why should they “have to” go to support services, events, and “social initiatives” in places that deplete them of energy?  Why should people have to travel over an hour, in many cases, to get to a place of employment?

The focus shouldn’t be on “making cities more accessible” – it should be on remembering that cities aren’t the only part of a country. It should be on addressing the historical shoddy treatment of rural dwellers as a somewhat stupid breed, more like cattle than human beings, that can just be ordered, en masse, to wherever the factories or offices or tech hubs are, because “it’s a better life for them than their poxy villages.”

In the 1700s,. this attitude,and forced migration from villages to industrial centres caused a mass episode of alcoholism – the “Gin Craze.”  What form will its impact take in modern times?