Humanity needs a new compass

13 December 2021

Compass For Life

Compass in an outstretched hand

The world feels like a tough place to navigate right now. 

As politicians battle it out for our adoration, tech giants fight for our attention. 

Simultaneously, we’re healing from a pandemic, but as we do, we open new wounds brought on by division and misinformation. And all this in front of a backdrop of a climate crisis that threatens to make the situations above either trivial or acutely important.

It’s understandable, therefore, that we feel disorientated. That our goal or ‘Super North Star’ seems opaque and out of reach and that it’s harder than ever to get a sense of clarity as to the direction we are going, what we stand for as a species and what we need to achieve in order to reach a better future. 

But we need not be in this state of flux. What we require is a reset of humanity’s compass.

Re-setting our Super North Star.

I spend a great deal of time speaking with people who are astonished and, sometimes, skeptical when I say to them that I’ve worked with four year olds that have a clear and ambitious view as to what they want to achieve in the future. 

No, it’s not all fire fighters, astronauts and doctors. I’ve worked with children between four and eight that see themselves as archaeologists, physicists, psychologists and journalists in the future. They have a clear grasp of what it feels like to have reached that goal, the steps they need to get there and the skills they require to help them on the journey.

These children aren’t plucked out of a Mensa list, they are in ordinary schools in some of the more forgotten parts of the UK. However, they are captivated by what might be. With a nudge, they are able to articulate a future that could be theirs and enthusiastically plot a path towards the goal.

It’s essential that those walking the corridors of power are able to draw inspiration from future generations and agree on our own North Star.

It feels out of reach right now, given the level of noise and attention showcasing division rather than unification. But, I am convinced that if the volume on division was turned down and instead the areas of shared vision and ambition were spotlighted, we’d quickly find the narrative changed from one of difference to one of a shared future.

Resetting our North Star as a species requires hard work to be done on what makes us stronger together rather than what divides us.

Crystallizing our ethos.

It becomes far easier to identify the tools, individuals and organisations needed to help us along our journey if we know what we will and will not tolerate.

We’re just starting to discover that in pursuit of innovation, ease and comfort, we may have given up a critical element of our ethos – our right to privacy.

It’s why we’re finally seeing the likes of Facebook come under the microscope. It’s clear the world of big-tech has started to encroach on our collective ethos, chipping away at what we identify as being essential to maintaining a positive and healthy balance in our lives.

This has been carried forward into the political spectrum as well. The rise of populism has certainly given some comfort and, dare I say, hope.

However, over the last few weeks and months it’s become clear that the continued pursuit for superficial praise cannot come at any price.

As the leadership roles our children may one day aspire to adopt become tainted with falsehoods, cronyism and corruption, the public has collectively said enough is enough. The ethos of a nation that has always valued truth and honesty was at threat and the community responded. 

Identifying our collective ethos is crucial. It sends a clear signal to those in charge to not cross precious boundaries.

A strategy not a moonshot.

We’ve spent too long on big performative statements and not enough on the steps we need to take to get there.

While of course it’s important to have a goal, it’s crucial to build the path towards it. Right now, our strategy is full of gaps. Irrespective of whether you are looking at improved healthcare, a sustainable future or a better education system, we find ourselves in a continuous loop of sweeping statements and knee jerk tacticals.

We need to zoom out for a moment. As my military training taught me, we have to examine the terrain, understand the obstacles ahead, identify how we can call in support and model different tactical scenarios so as to be agile and adaptive in the face of unexpected challenges. 

Society has a sense of disorientation and confusion because we have a vague goal and an unclear path towards it. 

Illuminating the path will give us the confidence to take our first steps.

Let the hard work begin.

The missing piece is accepting that we have hard work ahead. Part of the work I do with Compass for Life is getting people comfortable with the concept that there will be periods of intense execution. 

Again, we have felt comfortable, for too long, with the notion that someone else will make something happen for us. We want Amazon to fix our problems, Netflix to keep us smiling and Facebook to tell us what to think. 

This reliance on something else needs to end. 

If we’ve been clear on our Super North Star, brave enough to establish what fits within our ethos and dismiss what doesn’t, done the hard work to shine a light on the path that will take us towards our goal we owe it to ourselves to put in the time effort, sweat and tears to bring make our preferred future a reality.

It’s time we reset society’s compass.