Individuality and community: the value of shared wisdom

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To make sure the City of London operates at its best in the coming wisdom age, serving the nation and doing genuine good across the country and beyond, we need to listen to all parts of the society we serve for inspiration and greatest levels of interdependence so that we're not just self-serving or existing in an echo chamber. Inspired in part by Stephen Covey’s, The 8th Habit, I think there’s enormous opportunity for the City going forwards.

"Interdependence is a higher value than independence" is the declaration of the author Stephen R. Covey, reinforced in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. It's the sequel to his famous text, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, hypothesising that interdependence is a natural phenomenon while independence is an egoistic approach.  

Covey’s point is that while independence is important, interdependence is more conscious, considerate and ultimately more collectively beneficial, particularly when it comes to economics and society. Put another way, his point is about the value of community and shared, collective wisdom. It's a position I reflect on relative to the City of London Corporation. As the world’s oldest and longest continuous municipal democracy there must be a story of interdependence that we need to remind ourselves of as we seek to nurture its role in serving the nation and making it a force for good in the UK and beyond.  

The City of London and societal development 

Across the centuries, many economic and political philosophers have stressed that beliefs are part of the inherited social capital which provides the social framework for the free market. 

If we look at an illustration of the stages of societal development, we can chart our progression from hunter gatherer, through the agricultural age and the industrial age, into the IT phase that we’re currently in. For the West, it is said the next developmental stage in that timeline is the wisdom age - knowing what is good and what is good to do.  

There's contradiction to the suggestion that we’re currently in the IT age because while we use technology and it is transforming our lives our practices are rooted in the industrial age – many business processes are still like a factory production line and many of us still come into an office and clock in and out in the same way as you might in a factory. Despite digitisation and our IT tools, we’re not actually giving individuals the freedom to bring the fullness of their gifts and talents to their work or to take responsibility. That can leave people uninspired and organisations only benefitting from perhaps 25% of an individual's capacity and potential because it's constrained by a factory floor operating mentality. When moving into the wisdom phase, we need to recognise and release individual strengths completely and in the round. 

Empowering the individual whilst serving society 

This backdrop ties in with Covey's eighth habit, which is "find your voice and inspire others to find theirs". The principle is that the leaders we need now and in the future are those who empower and inspire individuals to find their own purpose. Within the context of the modern world, inspiring others correlates with listening to the people around us and doing good. In the context of work, improving individual and teamwork we need to enable people to find success and fulfilment in the workplace. On a micro level, as businesses continue to navigate hybrid working and how that works for them, their companies and their staff, this all presents food for thought. 

There’s balance to be had here however, French polymath, René Girard, once wrote: 

"The mystery is that societies that usually react to a certain danger by attempting to evade it should suddenly reverse their tactics, particularly when the danger seems acute, and take up the opposite strategy, the one that ought to terrify them the most. Whatever the answer, it is really impossible to imagine that the cradle of human cultures was once watched over, as by the legendary good fairy, by a distinguished group of ethnopsychiatrists, who, in their infinite wisdom, endowed these cultures with ritual practices and institutions." 

In short, societies that don't draw on historic received wisdom as a reference point for what good looks like today are on a problematic trajectory. Received historic wisdom is the product of millennia of refinement and if we can't look at that and build again in our own strengths, then we're in trouble. 

We live in a world of highly prized individualism, and that's important, but we live in community and to move forwards we have to do so collectively. So, the saying goes - "If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together." 

Beyond the echo chamber 

The City of London has, and is, a force for good in the UK, and while it might often be seen as a place for the privileged few to exist in their glass towers, it is largely acknowledged at least as the UK's financial centre and a major contributor to the overarching economy. Indeed, the concentration of interrelated financial and professional services businesses and people is testimony to the strength of the interdependence model. My experience of The City and the people in it, however, is that there is so much more good being done that is less communicated beyond the Square Mile. In addition, there is more still that can be done for the greater collective good going forward.  

If we are to expand upon the good that the community here can do, particularly now with the aid of digitisation, I think there is (as is so often the case) the need for self-reflection. We have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to humble ourselves and take a 360-degree review, in the business vernacular, so that we're not just self-serving or existing in an echo chamber. We do not have a monopoly on wisdom - just as in a Board room you need a number of different voices, points of view and experience contexts to receive the benefit of different points of view, those nuances are essential to the growing wisdom and next phase of success for society and the economy. Much as healthcare is rarely as straightforward as taking a tablet to fix a problem or improve wellbeing, we are growing wise enough as a nation to know that a more holistic approach is necessary to get to where we want to go – also understanding that it’s a constant work in progress. 

In the City, we need to make sure that we're going out and listening to what the nation, international business leaders, the third sector/faith communities, the world of the arts and the population at large needs and wants us to do, so that we can best serve the people up and down the country.  We need to identify their position and values as well as our own, so that we can create a far healthier, more positive and dare I say wise, legacy in nations, markets and society moving forwards. By drawing on this wider network of ideas and input, we can achieve greater interdependence and even greater benefits for humanity as we move into the next age.