Volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. These words formed an acronym – VUCA – a few years ago summarising how modern life feels for many organisations.
Uncertainty shaped the narrative for much of 2022. Then September’s awful fiscal event brought other elements of the VUCA matrix more clearly into view.
It’s an interesting time to set up a new business, with inflation and cost-of-living concerns nudging the economy towards recession. Amidst the haze, predicting what to expect from 2023 seems like a mug’s game.
We can see this year will be challenging, for sure. We shouldn’t limit our ambition, but nor should we be too hard on ourselves if things don’t go to plan. Getting through it in decent shape, with a happy team that’s proud of its work would be a good outcome for 2023. And there will be opportunities and memorable moments too.
It’s interesting to see all the ‘what a year!!’ celebratory posts across my social feeds at the end of a challenging 2022.
As I enter my 48th year, I too reflect on a year to be proud of, but without being too gushing about how ‘great’ it was. That’s because, in many ways, it wasn’t. It’s ulimately been a good year, but parts of it came at some personal cost. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I suggested otherwise.
I’ve returned to conversations I had this time last year, feeling ground down by perma-crises that affected all of us. Whilst the initial panic of COVID subsided, we had no sense of what was coming in 2022. Having set up Distinctive in June, two Prime Ministers and six fiscal events later, it’s a wonder I’ve found time to write any blogs.
While I haven’t completed as many as I wanted to, those I published performed better than in 2021. They also helped me process events happening around me.
If anyone who stopped to read or share them found them useful too, that’s a bonus.
Here are the three posts that had the most views in 2022.
Liz Truss’ press conference performance last Friday had the air of a disgruntled employee working out their notice in a job that was never for them.
Terse and evasive, her blank stare resembled a zoned out manager who had reached the end of their tenure. Taking just four questions from a room full of journalists – and answering none properly – failed to match the seriousness of the moment.
And don’t forget, this was the moment when her economic policy fell apart, less than a month after its unveling. She announced it without contrition, suggesting that the markets weren’t ready for her Growth Plan.
This highlights a long-running issue with spin that I’ve banged on about for years. But they’re not even spinning a line any more. They’ve stopped answering questions and left us staring at an empty podium wondering what the hell just happened.
Here are a few moments which hopefully illustrate my point.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any stranger…
Friday’s heavily trailed fiscal event contained few surprises for anyone following the news. But it was no less mind-bending for that.
Here was a ‘small-state’ government setting out its most statist programme for borrowing and spending yet. Their supporters would ridicule Labour opponents for suggesting an intervention this big.
At the same time, they unveiled the largest tax cutting programme in 50 years – bigger than Nigel Lawson’s 1988 budget that many still speak about.
The £60bn measures to fix energy prices for homes and businesses had to happen, it’s true.
Other details in the government’s Growth Plan – tax cuts making up £45bn of a £234bn debt financing requirement – sharpen one’s focus on the cost. That’s if you can stop your eyes watering at the size of the numbers.
Meanwhile, markets watched askance as the pound fell to $1.08 against the dollar.
Many commentators pointed to the regressive nature of the tax cuts, which unquestionably favour wealthy people. Others have made this point already, and I’ll touch on it later in this post.
Having followed many statements on growth and helped to promote them when working for a government body, I’m struck by the ‘throw everything at it’ spirit of this one. The pace of change it sets is extraordinary.
The Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell explained how unusual this approach is yesterday.
As always, there is much to debate, and people will pour over the detail. Having read the plan, here are five points I thought would interest those striving for better businesses and places.
Events of the past week provided an opportunity for collective reflection, whatever your views on the monarchy.
I felt unexpectedly emotional and uncertain about the Queen’s passing. There is some personal context. I turned 47 on Sunday and have come through a tough couple of years. The last thing we needed was more uncertainty. But despite the madness happening around us, I start the week feeling optimistic about the future.
I’ve been saddened and moved, without approaching anything near full on ‘mourning’. It was strange stepping away from blanket media coverage and online discourse about a ‘nation in grief’ to see people having coffees, travelling to meetings and getting on with their lives.
Good comms, bad comms
I’ve supported clients’ communications whilst looking on in bemusement as some brands showed ‘respect’ in weird ways that caused a stink. On Twitter, @GrieveWatch provided some light relief by sharing the dafter examples of ‘respect’.
Many comms people (once again) provided sound advice during the mourning period. They helped organisations strike the right balance between respecting those affected by the Queen’s death whilst recognising that many will not be. They advised against anything too promotional and put events and campaigns on hold. And, yes, if they had been in the room at the time, they would have said that kicking paying customers off site for a day isn’t ‘respectful’.
As the Queen’s funeral approached, the gap between what I’m seeing and the media narrative has narrowed. After years of backbiting and division, here we are feeling and speaking as one, right? Or, at least, we’re giving people space to express their views without trashing them for it.
I take heart from how so many people joined this conversation. They used words like ‘dignified’, ‘duty’ and ‘constant’ repeatedly. Many saying this did not know the Queen. This highlights the strength of a narrative supported by an enduring truth.
It also points to something we seem to have lost. And it all stands in stark contrast to how we see today’s political and business leaders.