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  • Writer's pictureNick Keppel-Palmer

After the virus - one big change

"If there is a battle between the planet and mankind, the planet will win"

"what's the exit strategy?" is a big question without any kind of answer right now.

In a few short weeks the majority of the world's population have been forced into a different way of living. Will things ever "get back to normal"? Should they? I very much hope not.

Right now all the rhetoric is about fighting the virus, conquering this thing, defeating it. Humans have for way too long seen themselves as the masters of nature and the gut reaction to the virus is to hide away, summon the troops, and beat the crap out of it.

But what if we can't? What if we have to learn to live with this kind of threat? In Edge of Darkness (the best ever TV series in the world ever btw - NB not the atrocious Gibson film) the ghost of Emma Craven has a word with her dad about Gaia - the idea that the planet will look after itself if mankind (or anyone else) becomes too much of a threat.

"That is the power of Gaia. The planet will protect itself. If man is the enemy, it will destroy him."

Something better change

It is hard for any of us but the Trumpiest to avoid the idea - at least a bit, and maybe a lot - that our way of life, our unfettered consumerism gorging on limitless products churned out by business systems and cultures that unquestioningly fetishise planet busting growth, might, just might, have something to do with this crisis and that this little virus might well be the harbinger of the black flowers.

Which is why I am more than a little uneasy about the magic money trees that have been unleashed with the aim of preserving the status quo, keeping us all afloat so that we can "get back to normal" once this is all over.

This mobilisation of the state is breathtaking. A heady reminder that when it comes to the big stuff - climate change, war, preservation of the human race - the state can get stuff done at a speed and scale that business cannot.

So if we end up with a consumerism that is more localised, and states acting more globally to tackle the big stuff, that might be a great outcome. But it's not going to happen on its own.

This is the time for new models to take root - otherwise there's a danger that we will learn nothing from this and pour all our energy into recreating the system that caused the problem in the first place.

The one thing we don't need after all this is a return to 'business as usual' - time for a reset.

Shared interest matters much, much, more than we ever knew

The one big thing we want to see is that every business system, every supply chain, from now on is built on partnership and shared interest, and not on a purely transactional model.

What does that mean?

As so often in our quest to find the truly regenerative business system, the world of wine is very instructive. There is a very strong connection between the business of wine and the finite resources of the planet. It's a sector whose rhythm is shaped by the seasons, and where natural events have a direct impact on the product. People who work in wine are close to nature in a way that people who work in finance are not.

Secondly wine is a case study in source of origin chains - the value (in the fullest sense of the word) of wine is intrinsically connected to who made it, where and how. Sure there's a high volume low price industrialised bit, but even there origin counts.

So the partners in the chain matter - for a small artisanal producer the distribution and retail partners they work with can make or break them. And not only that but the word of wine journalists and critics also makes a massive difference. They are all part of a system that links the source (grapes - harvest - winemaker) to the ultimate consumer (you and me).

What connects that system up really matters - if all the links in that chain (processing, distribution, import, retail, reviews, recommendations etc) are built solely on a disconnected, dispassionate, transactional basis then the connection between source of origin and consumer will be weak if not totally severed. But if every link, every part, was bound together through shared interests and shared values than that connection will be much, much stronger.

A while back I came across this really intriguing debate amongst wine writers and critics - should morals come into what products get recommended? Or should wine be 'judged' purely on the basis of the product? It was a really intriguing question - and one that I think is central to our post-Covid future.

The answer to Jamie Goode's question is yes. Of course yes.

Of course morals matter. Not in the sense that wine critics become all powerful arbiters of what 'good' is - that would exacerbate a power imbalance which does nobody any favours. But absolutely yes in the sense that partners in a chain share the same values.

Of course critics and sellers and producers should exercise a judgement on who they are happy to work with, to endorse, based on morals.

Only people who share the same values should be happy to be part of the chain to sell that product. And vice versa - producers should never team up with sellers who espouse different values.

Divorcing the product from the people that made it - and everything they stand for - is at the root of the problem of globalised consumerism. It severs the link between consumer and producer. It is core to the problem we now face. We've lost touch with nature and where things come from.

In these Covid times, in this corner of Somerset, local people are reconnecting with local producers. Local deliveries of milk, meat, veg have been set up. We are - joyfully - rediscovering the wonderful people and producers who have been on our doorstep all along. The longer this goes on the stronger these binds will become. Hallelujah.

Real value is much more than price, and connection is at the heart of real value.

So time to make it clear. In business, in supply chains, in what and how we buy stuff - shared value matters much, much more than driving out cost.

If there's one thing we learn from this let it be that - and let us use this moment to start building systems and chains that explicitly are designed around shared value first, creating more value through the chain second, and driving down cost only after all that.

Let's go to work.


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