The North Star, or Polaris, is famous for holding nearly still while the entire northern sky moves around it. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There’s been a lot more debate and discussion recently about what how we might move forward both living with Covid and how we can ‘build back better’.
We have seen the formation of WEAll Cymru, part of the global Wellbeing Economy Alliance, inviting people and organisations to call for change, to move economics away from the accumulation of wealth to the five principles of dignity, nature, connection, fairness, and participation.
The IWA have been hosting a series of events, Rethinking Wales, in which they’re exploring the challenges we face because of Covid-19, and working out the opportunities for change.
The Federation of Small Businesses Cymru has recently published a report, Open for Business: repurposing public spaces for economic recovery. In it they talk about “how our towns will need to play a different role to that which they have played in the past. Previously, increasing footfall was a sign of a healthy high street, now towns will need to be smarter and more cohesive to support their broader community”
And Reset Cymru have written a thought piece to stimulate debate on the future of Wales. They argue that a “much more radical approach is needed if the people and communities of Wales are to thrive into the future. [They] want this debate to focus on people, on need, on more imaginative and radical solutions.”
These are to name but a few. It’s so encouraging that all of this happening. That the pandemic has enabled us to pause and look for alternative ways forward. Much of this has either been driven from a sectoral perspective and/or from ideas that have been rehearsed and that are now finding a different platform to be voiced and heard. Of course, this is great. As Milton Friedman said in the preface to his book, Capitalism and Freedom:
Only in a crisis – actual or perceived – produced real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depends on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.Milton Friedman
I love this. I get this. But what is Wales’ North Star?
At the end of May, I listened to an amazing How to Academy talk with Ilana Bet-El and General Rupert Smithin which they talked about how to manage a global crisis. As a pacifist, I am not ordinarily drawn to references from war, but I was interested in the applicability of General Smith’s leadership experiences. Both he and Ilana Bet-El said that you need to know what outcome you want. What the new future looks like. What you want to see. If you have these, then even with uncertainty, you can charter the right direction.
In Wales, have we outlined our vision?
We’re seeing lots of goals, strategies, tactics, and policy ideas being presented and discussed. These are critical, of course. But as Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac argue, we also need a vision to inspire the kind of commitment and energy we will need to get through the difficult years ahead. If we don’t have a vision, our goals, alone may not afford us the flexibility necessary to achieve the vision[i].
A compelling vision is a hook in the future. It connects us to the pockets of possibility that are emerging and helps us pull them into the present.
That vision needs to act as our North Star – our guide, our destination.
When JFK gave his famous speech in 1962 about landing a man on the moon within that decade, he spoke of it without knowing whether it could be done, and without a detailed budget or timeline. The speech both terrified and excited NASA. Within a few months NASA had realigned to this new goal. Everyone was part of a shared endeavour. “JFK was reclaiming the narrative and placing Americans inside a story that was hopeful and in which they could prevail.”
I want Wales to have a North Star.
One that we own. One that we believe in. One that will give us energy, drive and persistence. That allows us to align our smaller goals to. That will keep us on track to a vision of Wales and the world we know is possible.
A North Star with a strong narrative that is our guide and our destination for a better future.
[i] The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, p.107