Cracks in everything

Cracks in everything


Cracks in everything

The search for perfection is fatally flawed. People, politics and the future can’t be controlled and predicted, as we might wish. It’s not a perfect world, look for the light from the cracks.

More years ago than I care to remember, I had one of those bizarre, fantastical thoughts that defy reason. I thought that if all items in the world could be given a number, then we’d know where everything was, and we would be in control. This was not an unambitious dream! It required not just a number for a building, but for every brick in the building; not just for a patch of lawn but for every blade of grass in the lawn.

It was a desperate youthful conviction that everything could be predicted and controlled if only we had the time and the technology. We could have a perfect world if we could control it.

Over more years than I can feel pride in, I came to realise that the beauty is in the unpredictability; that being in control of everything is neither possible nor desirable.

There’s great joy in the way we can’t measure everything! You can’t make an exact map or run a rule on fractals on the coastline (I recall Slartibartfast designing the coast of Norway in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). They’re too intricate and the sea keeps changing them anyway. And who can measure the sea? Do you measure the waves at their height or as they crash into the shore. You can’t put your foot in the same river twice!. And talking of waves, how about those brilliant bits of quantum mechanics that you can’t weigh or predict in location; they exist as waves when they can be seen to exist at all. Over time I’ve found it more fun to have my mind blown than to make vain attempts to control what it sees.

Another great mind blower is just staring up at night and imagining those billions of stars and the unimaginable distances in space. One star in Orion (Betelguese) is as large as the distance from the sun to the orbit of Jupiter!

In the unmeasurable and the unimaginable, humans find their role in thinking, having choices and adapting. Still some advantage over robots!  AI can measure and predict but the challenge is to make it manage choices, emotions, and adapting to change.


Leonard Cohen saw the flaw in the search for perfection :

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in


Control freakery carried with me to business life. Awed by the resources and power of a big multinational company, I imagined we could devise a scenario workshop where we would identify all the possible developments for our markets in the next ten years; we could explode them into scenarios, and then devise a solution to each one. Job done. Then when the market changed, we could see it was Scenario 356, and call up the appropriate action…..Oh, except we missed Covid, the Ukraine war, climate change, famine and floods and fire and countless other factors unpredictable and beyond our control

The group of scientists who regularly review the world clock to see how close we are to Armageddon and nuclear wipeout; it’s measured by how close we are to midnight. They input a lot of data to make their calculations.  They might input resources like oil and gas, the amount of water available, the likelihood of crops and harvests.  One time they saw gas and oil running out and tried to predict when we would no longer be able to keep ourselves warm and mobile.  Their clock passed midnight.  What they didn’t factor in was the resourcefulness of mankind to be able to find alternatives to gas, to be able to desalinate the oceans to provide more water.  Our resilience and creativity continually push the clock of doom backwards.

It took me some time to realise the secret was not in control but in awareness and adaptability.  Being aware of the signs, being aware of the changes, adapting and adjusting to the challenges.

Life and careers tend to start around tasks.  Things that get done and can be ticked off on the list.  Achievements that can feel like solid ground.  I did that, it worked, and I have succeeded.  As life and careers move on we get more involved in intangible things like people and politics.  These are not solid ground, more like walking on blancmange.  The priorities, what we do and the metrics all change when we’re involved with people’s unpredictable needs and the vagaries of politics

When old time Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked what was the greatest challenge, he replied: ‘Events, dear boy, events’. The same is true for most leaders and organisations.

The trick is knowing how to respond to events. Success depends on how we react, how creative we can be, how resourceful we are

People, politics and the future can’t be controlled and predicted - that’s the joy of them.

It’s not a perfect world, look for the light from the cracks…and enjoy!

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