You never know what people are carrying, go easy and be kind.
I remember one occasion I was giving a workshop to young entrepreneurs and there was one guy who kept butting in and speaking out. It was really frustrating, and was starting to grate — I just felt like this guy was a total pain and know-it-all, and I didn’t have the skills at the time to manage disrupters like that.
Then, as part of my talk I started talking about mental health and some of the things I’ve had to manage and overcome, and he started to quieten down.
It wasn’t until afterwards when we were getting some food together as a group that he took his meds out of his pocket and gave them a shake to indicate to me that he was managing his own mental health.
Now, whenever there’s someone speaking out at one of my workshops I’m a lot slower to lose my patience. There’s always one person at workshops who other speakers might flag as a disrupter, but actually probably have more going on than we could ever know.
It might not be obvious business advice, but there’s significant value in being kind.
Insecurity is loud, and when some folks feel threatened they can create the wrong impression.
Seemingly increasingly, people are carrying a load. It’s estimated in the UK that ¼ of adults will experience a mental health problem every year, and they disproportionately affect younger and working-age people. Whether this is a symptom of the environment in which we’ve been raised in the last couple of decades is debatable, but we’ve lived in a time of great uncertainty.
There’s a thing called VUCA which describes the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in business and life.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks, months, and years, but I think the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II really put the icing on the cake.
After all that has been thrown at us all in the last couple of years, everything was geared up for a big September and then the carpet was pulled from under us.
On top of that, there are a lot of people who saw the Queen as a source of constancy, security, and comfort — not to mention leadership. And there were lots who thought this was all a fuss over nothing and that the royal family are an unneeded institution.
That contributes to an aggressive and noisy social media space, which is the thing least desired when everything else feels all over the place.
The world feels like such a volatile place right now, especially living in the UK.
For me personally, from dropping out of uni in 2008, the same week that the Lehman Brothers crashed — feeling I had no place in a non-existent economy, to launching ICE in 2011 and then exiting ICE to start TownSq a year after the EU referendum, I don’t think I’ve known anything but volatility and uncertainty.
Since the Great Recession, we’ve had a global pandemic which has been reported on with increasing alarm, we have had the aforementioned death of a monarch, repeated and persistent political instability and entrenchment in the two main media markets for English speaking audiences, economic insecurity despite false indicators of employment rates and GDP growth, war in Europe and brutal atrocities the world over.
And how can we ignore climate change, the annual record breaking temperatures, floods and storms, the mass migration event that it is triggering, wildlife population decimation, and inequality at a scale that really, really is no longer acceptable.
All of this set against a new media landscape where we get our news, opinions and viewpoints thrown aggressively at each other while amplified by social media algorithms that have been manipulated by foreign actors looking to seed (and successfully achieving) discontent.
It’s hard to explain the complexity of a political, economic or social situation in 140 or 280 characters.
All of us are impacted by these things, they chip away at our resolve and optimism.
We might talk about VUCA and use terms like this to process what we are experiencing, but this is really about humans, not humans as a resource.
It is exhausting, it can be demoralising, and it can feel like everything is futile.
But possibly more importantly it can be an opportunity to really develop resilience. If you can keep pushing when everyone else has given up then you can develop a really powerful edge.
This will be important in the coming years, because it is clear that things will not become less volatile, certainly not in the short term (as I edit this article the third Chancellor of the year has been sacked and replaced after less than six weeks in post).
I wrote a bit about post-traumatic growth way back in issue #2, but it isn’t all that simple.
Increasingly bad news
A couple of years ago when we launched our newspaper, the CDF, we had a talk from Ken Skates the Economy Minister, who was a journalist prior to being a Member of the Senedd.
He mentioned a statistic about how bad news now outweighs good news by as much as seventeen negative news reports for every one good news report, which has leapt massively in the last couple of decades.
We might think we prefer to hear good news, but this certainly isn’t how we behave when browsing news online. Our negativity bias takes over and we indulge.
As this happens more and more, newsrooms are adopting “analytics-driven journalism” and our rubberneck tendency gives us more of this bad news as editorial teams think that’s obviously what we’re enjoying and they need to drive clickthrough ratings to increase ad revenue.
The downside is that, despite what the analytics are telling newsrooms, people are losing an interest in mainstream media sources as we collectively feel burned out by all the doom and gloom.
This burn out leads to trends that then get dramatically over reported — like quiet quitting and the Great Resignation which in turn leads to leadership paranoia that people aren’t pulling their weight or fully showing up, which leads to reduced take up of flexible working policies that should be absolutely thriving in this moment.
There’s another aspect to this in that is worth factoring in — the value of psychological safety, but that is a longer piece which would need a lot more space.
But the news doesn’t cover stories about all of the good that is happening in the world right now. We horizon scan for threats, and there appear to be a lot of them, so good news seems a bit insensitive, inappropriate, or wasteful of the platform.
Being kind, and alert to how others are perceiving the world around them, is the least we can do to factor in that people are carrying a lot right now.
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