What Next?

blog | 05 Jul 2017

In a changing world, we must find a common vision that unites us.

Across multiple disciplines and fields, as organisations and as individuals, we seem to be asking ourselves the same simple question — what next? From politics to place-making, economics to education, we have a common sense of change that’s driving us to look beyond the confines of our own disciplines and seek common cause.

How can we give greater definition to what’s emerging and make sense of it as a shared vision for a better future?

Attending Learning to Thrive I had the pleasure of listening to Charlie Leadbeater stitch a tentative thread between emergent professional theories and the collective sense of questioning in the room. Here’s what I learnt:

In the conversations we have, in the work we do, there is a consensus growing that people should live a life of significance. That, in order to tackle the complex and seemingly intractable challenges of our age, we should focus our efforts on encouraging and empowering both ourselves, and those around us, to live a meaningful existence.

This idea is deeply democratic and egalitarian, and one that is reshaping our understanding of leadership, authorship and trust. Our job, as people who make it their business to care about this stuff, is to equalise the conditions for people to lead lives of significance, to amplify and diversify those lives.

Our job is to help make places where people can create a shared sense of significance in a society that is too often fragmented.

It is also vital that we match our effort to shape a better society with an equal drive against injustice and inequality. This means identifying and opposing the forces of insignificance. Sometimes these forces present themselves with such clarity and immediacy they are plain for all to see. At other times they are so multifaceted and so embedded, that they become invisible.

“If you live in a market economy which is very unequal and you’ve got no money — you’re insignificant. If you are trying to live and create a home in a housing market designed for people who are rich — you’re insignificant. If you’re up against benefit systems which constantly demean you — you’re insignificant. If the political class ignore you, then you are insignificant. All of those forces of insignificance converge in Grenfell Tower.”

Charlie Leadbeater

These words are not only pertinent and timely, they hint at a far more underlying truth. It is not enough to provide people with a life of significance, it must be searched for, made sense of and assembled. The focus has to be on the doing, not the object. The verb, not the noun.

So for me the common idea that crops up time and time again is that of agency — of giving people the dignity and tools to solve their problems & shape their own future, without being ignorant to all the forces and systems that reduce, belittle, demean and humiliate people.