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Dear Diary - Notes by a Mother in VUCA

Updated: May 27, 2023

Diary Entry From Lockup Monday 16th November 2021

Amsterdam February 2020. It's the first time ever I have been anywhere without my Dad fretting about the heightened risk of me traveling. He was not worried about me flying, despite severe weather warnings, because he was having one of his Alzheimers blips where his short-term memory was not good. He had literally forgotten, otherwise, he'd be begging me not to travel. The storm battering the UK and Netherlands was called Denis (his name). What were the chances? I was concerned it was a bad omen.

On Saturday morning we flew out and what happened in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam, but of course, it goes without saying that I did get extremely up close and personal with everyone who was sardined into the Van Gough and Moco Museum.

It is not my first time in the Van Gough museum. What struck me as very pertinent this time was the story of the man himself. All those portraits were pictures where he was obsessing about the colours and finding the perfect blend. He took his work very very seriously and that was evident in the letters and his relationships. My dear friend traveling with me at the time was wholly untouched by his work. As we exited there was an electronic board where he whacked the unhappy digital face to record his dissatisfaction with Van Gogh as an artist. We talked about what the heck the analyst might interpret from this crackpot smiley face recording system as we went about our immersive experience of the city.

Over the course of the weekend, the world news percolated our activities without us going looking for it. Caroline Flack had committed suicide. And in Wuhan people were disinfecting the streets. Guys, have you spiked my drink? Suddenly I want to know everything about Caroline Flack as I cry over her sad departure. We pour over her Instagram feed which tells the tale of a woman who very much valued her work.

I navigate the airport with minimal contact wondering what is this virus is going to mean for my business plan. Amsterdam marked the end of a year of planning, testing, and fine-tuning my awesome training offer for ivity. I had exciting plans to bring it to the market.

The fear of this virus dissipated, the world was still revolving. I had three business meetups in the dairy and whilst the news pointed to the extreme threat of contagion the meetups had not been canceled. I go to my first meeting where we elbow bump, I actually like this. My elbow bumping style is much easier on the co-recipient than my handshakes. The second is Disrupt HR, that was the last time I caught the train and I was with a load of People people so they were all hugging and embracing like normal. Manchester was eerie that night. My last meetup was a WLIB meeting and I drove into town. I got lost and parked in Chinatown. This it seemed, was going to be the day I assimilated with mass mask-wearing.

I narrowly missed Andy Burnham as there was a protest there about university job cuts but I did not stick around. I wanted to get out of the city, I'd been following the news on the infectivity R rate of this dreaded virus and I appreciate my activities are going to reduce the risks of spreading it. Ordinarily I would not have left without visiting the library and seeing what was trending in Retail Week, the Grocer, and all the other publications I cannot afford.

Despite the fact my mum and dad were shielding, I'd not even comprehended that the schools could close until I went to pick up the kids on the last day. Parents were crying, "see you! see you soon, I hope?". Keep in touch. Before the night was over there were zooms arranged to keep the kids in contact and we have unconsciously gatecrashed a Houseparty App. After years of taking my online privacy and data seriously, I have just let a rogue app connect with me every person I have ever heard of but not met.

On Saturday morning, there was no water coming through our mains. Holy Crap! Am I awake? Is this real? Is this how Van Gogh felt when he was in the asylum, questioning his own sanity? I tell myself to calm down and I head back to bed. There is no football this week. There are no parks open. Social life as we know it has been canceled.

Oh no hang on, we can still go to the shops. Well for me this is good news, I am going to be just fine. I can have a field day observing consumer behaviour and how the shops react. Let's see how predictable people really are. I immediately commence a controlled supply chain experiment. I am going to collect loo rolls so that I can feedback to the global replenishment systems on what is average use for a family of four.

Three weeks into lockdown Amy (my lifelong friend and one of my besties since we worked together aged 15-17) called me to see how I am doing with the news that Sister Aida has passed away. I did not know this news. My Dad does not know. Normal communication channels are being tested and they are failing. One of my Dad's best friends has passed away and news has not reached us. Sister Aida was a beautiful woman whose funeral would have had attracted hundreds of people. She touched the lives of so many. It was in her class that a group of 30 kids mulled over the meaning of compassion, conscience, and forgiveness as we prepared for our First Holy Communion. My parents were agnostic at best, but that year coincided with my Grandad's passing, and the comfort my Dad had from Sister Aida's friendship went beyond grief counseling. They had a lot in common. My dad's experience of the Second World War was flooding Anderson shelters, having an American soldier called Sam live with them, hassling soldiers for chewing gum, and watching dog fights in the air. Sister Aida was in Malta, the most bombed place during WW2 and bombs narrowly missed the rooms she played in. She lost neighbours and loved ones. My Dad had found another friend with whom to discuss wars, politics, and religion.

Last week I saw Amy and she asked me how Sister Aida is and we realised immediately that we have not processed the fact she is no longer with us. We have not celebrated her life in normal ways. Our brains are mashed.

The funny memes at the beginning of Lockdown that lifted my spirits have waned. The last meme that made chortle was during the retrain reboot week where someone suggested that Boris should retain as Pinata and that lovely Zip Wire photo was repurposed once again. But that's why he got the job isn't it, he's always been good at a party. Where are the detail-focused people, the people who'll plan the food for everyone, ensure there are enough party bags and make sure the invite goes to EVERYONE?

If there is one word that had made me uneasy during Lockdown it's not the word unprecedented, it is the word data.

Even before the track and trace fiascos started, I was tired of the government's use of the word data. Leadership is about inspirational activity and communication. Have I really just watched 45 minutes where the overarching message is to use our common sense. There is nothing common about a global pandemic and with only two weeks of isolation at that stage, everyone's senses were already are completely shot.

I'm a big believer in self-governance but acutely aware of the impact stress has on our ability to think straight. What our forefathers and suffragettes did for us, giving us the freedom to exercise our brains and brawn seems at threat right now. Trauma can transcend generations and I have now increased concern that Covid is going to get the blame for issues that were already evident in our false economy.

We will address this imbalance of work and re-evaluate the value of work for our wellbeing.

Good luck everyone and remember if you have work but you hate it because it is working on a spreadsheet, please hit me up and I'll help you find the joy that can be had in a spreadsheet.

Diary Entry of a Troubled Consumer Friday 17th April 2020

My purchasing habits have changed. I no longer get retail therapy, I often get retail fury. I am too often overwhelmed by the volume of choice of often lackluster, unimaginative stuff ramming every available inch of space in stores.

Consumers have lost track of how products are sourced and put together and the skill needed in supply. There are not enough people on the ground giving planners qualitative feedback of what the customer really desires and the planners don’t know how to build quality experiences into the cost of products that are bench-marked against the cheapest price online. The cumulative effect is we still have a long way to go to plan waste reduction.

But don't despair, I wanted to share my four reasons to be cheerful.

#1 Consumers wanted change before Covid-19

If open, not-for-profit meetings, on cold January evenings are indications of public feeling, it's worth sharing news of two events that I have attended. The first one was in January 2019, where on a snowy miserable Tuesday evening, I joined a pub full of people (approx 50 people) in Wilmslow, who had turned out to register their interest in a community store. People overwhelmingly registered an interest in being part of a co-operative store that sold products that had been grown locally. In January 2020 I attended a local climate emergency meeting. There were three key observations from that meeting. First, people came along to meet their community; residents who’d lived in Handforth for 40 years expressed shock that when looking around the room they did not recognise the faces of their neighbours. Secondly, there was general agreement that the planning department was still not designing our local spaces in the best interest of promoting sustainable travel. We shared evidence of recent traffic light installation that facilitated cars at the expense of pedestrians. Thirdly, people are prepared to have less choice in exchange for feeling better about their impact on the world.

#2 High Street offer is more than just a product.

There are brilliant signs of hope from independent businesses being super special. Two businesses that ivity has had the pleasure of discovering and getting to know this year are Therapy Organics and The Bead Shop. Both businesses have a physical shop space that they invest in, a team of dedicated people who make the experience not just personal but add a level of expertise, they have an exemplary supply chains and detailed knowledge of the products is part of the service.

Therapy Organics are at the forefront of nutritional knowledge and not only invest in the best health offers to support better lifestyles and nutrition they offer workshops for the community to meet up and connect as well as therapy rooms for consultations on a range of services.

The Bead Shop do tutorials in jewelry and all other kinds of creative making. This year they have celebrated 20 years thriving on the high street in Nottingham. They are marketeers, buyers, suppliers, technical staff, and pillars of the community as well as enthusiastic creators.

#3 Local businesses are our real-life celebrities.

My family can attribute a real sense of connection to our community thanks to our committed local business who bit the bullet and went online during lockdown. Big shout out to two of our favourites:

WFA for supporting our footballing needs and keeping us busy with football off the field. What we love about small businesses is that they bring their full self to work and are the fabric of our daily lives.

Winners fitness is a workout class like no other, ordinarily delivered in person with a selection of weights to choose from. Chloe, as well as switching her business model in a week to delivering classes on-line also went on an emergency shopping mission and delivered weights to her regular clients ahead of lockdown. AMAZING!

#4 Climate conscious networks are growing and connecting people on the ground

When you have a Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn, and Instagram account you can feel like a ship with no fixed abode but there are a growing number of communities springing up on these closed networks that we love to hear from so here is a round up of some of the inspirational tips that we have picked up in meeting others both on and off-line.

Helping you wage a war on Plastic

  • Some packaging swaps are easy, don't buy pre-made Yorkshire puds or meringues in plastic trays - start from scratch, they taste better.

    • Ask your school to get serious about reinforcing the plastic messaging. Every lesson in being green is washed away when our children are rewarded with plastic tat for behaviour and achievement.

    • Bespoke your knitwear and stand out from the crowd. If you want genuine unique patterns made without plastic in a fully recyclable material start a trend and order your knit, we love Sara Rathbone for all of her passionate approach to helping people be original with knits.

  • Find alternatives. Our kids love magazines and we want to encourage them to read. There are no magazines in supermarkets that don’t have plastic toys strapped to them so we went on a mission to find an alternative and can recommend Brilliant Brainz and Anorak as an alternative that our kids love.

  • Demand a standard. Our takeaways and restaurants have a hygiene standard, but what about a green standard in the future. You may already be looking out for certifications like Fair Trade, Organic or Rainforest Alliance when shopping but what can we look out for when we order a meal? We can start by asking. Are you using recyclable takeaway containers? Do you use local produce? Is the business a Living Wage employer? Questions may be uncomfortable but you never know, you might find your server or business owner to be just as passionate as you are and pleased their customers are as conscious as they are.

  • Save up your loo rolls (we know you have a few) and use them as propagator starter trays for your seedlings instead of buying new plastic tubs.

  • Ladies there is a huge spectrum on the carbon impact of our periods. Whilst the menstrual cup is transformational on another level, the wide availability of plastic applicator tampons is too convenient.

Helping you reduce the waste and get community spirited

  • Make your leftovers go further by setting up a community store. This could be anything from paint leftovers from home improvements to nail stores.

  • Join a community project group and share ideas. There are local societies that are just not good at being online due to their demographics and they need your skills. Here are some tips we picked up from the gardening society :

  1. Broken egg shells are great slug repellents, toxin free and environmentally friendly. They will not end up in the guts of hedgehogs and birds and poison their way up the food chain.

  2. Rhubarb leaves are naturally poisonous and if you mash them in water and leave them to diffuse, they form a natural pesticide.

  • Cut flowers have a huge carbon footprint. Growing is not easy but it is good for the environment and for the soul, learn to love gardening by finding your gardener guru - these people are largely offline as they are often found in the garden, not always their own, often public gardens, helping spruce up the environment. But we do follow some amazing online inspiration and recommend these guys for a follow thehandsomegardener & therosegardener.

I have honed my data skills in helping businesses scale up and remain profitable by helping retailers use data to understand and get closer to their customers. Online platforms open the risk to over-supply and waste. I am pleased to discover B-corp Certification which ivity will pursue to ensure we are part of the change in world we want to see. Let's put people back into the equation.


Diary Entry of a Disruptive Wife Tuesday 24th March 2020

Since I have been working and living at home for a year now I have had to introduce some new systems. The first thing I realised was that the kitchen cupboard organisation no longer worked since I was doing more food prep and relying less on take-outs and restaurants. I have rationalised the utensils and changed the cupboards storage routine. I thought a brief "I've reorganised the five cupboards" was preferable over a seminar but the team did struggle with the change initially. Naturally, it fell back on me for not communicating properly but I did want to encourage a bit of initiative from the team to open their frigging eyes.

The laundry system too, no longer worked for me. Or rather I decided I no longer worked for it! I was just too heavily involved in it. I needed more team members, so I've delegated folding items to the kids and putting it away to hubby. Ian now agrees we don't have sufficient storage capacity and has bought into the floordrobe concept just to avoid further expenditure whilst income is threatened.

We no longer have sorted and unsorted sock baskets, it's just one big dive-in and match as you go box. It's good for mental agility, like spot the difference, no?

I'm feeling chipper today as I have not got dressed so not added to the workload.

Mother in VUCA.

Diary Entry of a Former Remote Parent, Sunday 22nd March 2020

March 2020 marks my one year anniversary of starting a business working from home. Before then I had been juggling a 40-hour office contract and family by outsourcing large chunks of my parental and home responsibility. I paid trusted supporters, mostly my own aging parents, but also breakfast clubs, after school clubs and Scouts to help me keep my boys well rounded and grounded. The cleaner had more influence in the organisation of my home than either me or my chubby. The tree surgeon was enjoying more of my disposable income than I was as the garden grew wildly out of control.

Last year I did not think I was a remote parent. I asked all the right questions, showered my family with love and was delighted with all the reports on my boy’s wonderful performance. I was there for either bedtime or breakfast so my guilt levels were in check, I was there at the weekends and supported my kids' social lives ahead of mine. I now appreciate how close we were to slipping on our tightrope. I trusted my instinct to call time on the precarious balancing act that was straining my wider family. I had growing concerns that my parents then aged 74 and 81 were not taking the online life of my emerging cyborgs seriously and also they needed more care themselves.

So what have I learned about present parenting and remote working this year? When you are remote you miss you subtle and significant changes in mood and behaviour. You miss the opportunity to have conversations and listen when it is most opportune. Your instinct is muted with distance.

The setting up phase of my business has afforded me time to really chat and explore the concerns of so many dual working parents still teetering on this tightrope. I want to capture the top three sentiments of my friends as food for thought - especially relevant now as we lockdown to spend insane proximity to our nearest and dearest, who may well have been remote for a long while.

Our kids are growing up in a world with a different operating system to the one we grew up in. Communication has changed and they are not practicing compromise and forgiveness as we did. Staying ahead of the technology is impossible, I still know adults who have not heard of Tik Tok. This is the app that has every person under the age of 13 involuntarily twerking and flossing their way through school. And if the responsibility is on the parents to stay ahead we are screwed. We don't want to spend our limited R&R time understanding the nuances of the new apps and changing passwords so that baby monitors are not live streaming images on the dark web. These apps can be dangerous. I am grateful for our school helping educate us parents on how to keep our kids safe online. We probably need an hour a week in class and another 3 to implement learnings.

We have not been letting our kids be bored like we were, the stream of clubs and activities they are doing is unreal. Stressed parents are rushing between clubs and activities that they are paying hand over fist for in the desperate attempt that when these kids hit 13, they won’t want to hang around and vape CBD oil with their mates. Our children don't have to wait for their favourite programme or endure TV that is not of interest to them. My boys go to youtube channels before they flick channels. Unplugging them takes a lot of parental energy. They don't believe me when I tell them we had 4.5 channels and actually enjoyed the social experience of leaving the house to go to a video library to choose a film.

Our kids are afforded less innocence than we were. Hopefully, they are going to live longer, but they look set to spend less time in further education and so this is a real shame. They have less freedom and access to nature as we track their every move. They only know this increasingly homogeneous world where they think the best customer service is the next day from Amazon and Deliveroo is normal. Civic partnerships are at an all-time low. My advice - make them watch old films and please share all the recommendations. Also start to think about what work experience will make them recognise that key workers make the world go round without their own online channel and branded 'merch'.

Good luck everyone and thank you - without my parental friends I'd be a nervous bloody wreck. May we use this time to shape a better future.

Mother in VUCA.


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