In this economy...

The Gathering Storm

I'm starting to get fed up with the use of 'In this economy...' which I seem to hear whenever a pundit or analyst attempts to make a point about trading conditions or changes to financial markets. A Google search has just turned up 227,000,000 hits...  

I wonder what the insidious effect of this kind of language could be? I know that current economic conditions are difficult for many and are rapidly becoming socially divisive but I don't think this kind of easy labelling is helpful, especially if it becomes unthinking and habitual.

Last week I worked with a group who were deeply affected by cuts in their budget and were working hard to understand the impact it would have on their delivery of critical services. Suddenly the metaphor of 'The Gathering Storm' appeared in our conversation.

'The Gathering Storm' clearly resonated and provided a helpful point of shared meaning for the group. Yet in usefully describing some aspects of the environment the group will face it felt to me that include be a whole stack of less useful inferences too. I began to picture what an organisational 'battening down of the hatches' might look like and how this would constrain the imagination and positive action necessary to develop strategies for working effectively and creatively within tight financial constraints.

It seems that as a metaphor for a particular shift in financial conditions, 'The Gathering Storm' might help us address the collective anxiety that the group faces. Yet as a construct of our language and imagination it could also limit our ability to effect useful change.  Perhaps a more positive framing metaphor might be Joseph Schumpeter's 'Gales of Creative Destruction' - no less dramatic but with more upside.

Perhaps this is the mindset we need to grasp; change is often uncomfortable and widespread financial upheaval even more so. Yet opportunities emerge from the chaos and it's the job of all of us to spot them, name them in a way that inspires positive action rather than fear, and to do something about them!