Following the recession, the UK appears to now be going through a transitional period. It seems the initial financial restructuring was not enough to get the world economy back on track, something which I think may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This is because I believe in the Darwinian attitude to economics – that less adapted things should die to make space for the new, more adapted things to flourish. In this case, those things are actually people, businesses, education, and ideas. It’s the way in which they work together, that will decide the next phase of our economy.
The first problem I can recognise is that people are relying far too much on infrastructure, government intervention, conventional education and hard cash as a means to instigate change and growth. There is no emphasis currently on the power of individual thought and decision, with the media in particular focusing on what is coming down from the top as opposed to what is coming up from the bottom. This is in part due to a negative public’s appetite for people or institutions to blame for socio economic problems, but I do question whether or not this is really what the public wants or whether it is what they have become accustomed to, and comfortable with. If we take the latter view then, the first thing on the agenda needs to be a method of steering focus, attention and most importantly time, away from things we cannot individually, directly change and onto things which we can do something about. Rather than expecting politicians to come up with answers (which we don’t necessarily have ourselves), we should be considering the ways that we can make our contribution to changing some of the aspects that each of us dislike about our society. After all, we will all have different priorities with regards to what these changes should be and which of them should come first. I often wonder what would happen if all of us who watch the news daily, were to take the time we would’ve spent watching and shouting at the television and allocate it to doing something constructive. With millions of people with collectively millions of hours a day being spent doing constructive things instead of solitary moaning, there would surely be a considerable difference in the way society started to operate, even if it might be difficult to measure it tangibly. Perhaps that’s part of the problem too, that often we want tangible statistics, or figures to measure the effect of something – a ‘general feeling’ is never good enough.
The second problem, exacerbated in part by the first is the general perception of what is possible and what is achievable. Most people consider themselves very far removed from the business world, and in-fact any position of what they regard as power. Because of this they do not see running a successful company or even becoming ‘successful’ (whatever that is) as something they will ever have the ‘chance‘ or ability to do. This belief is contributing to an “us and them” society, which is very unhelpful for social cohesion, but more importantly this ethos spreads through communities and families very quickly, and sticks. As a result there are many talented, skilled people who do have the ability to at least attempt to do something, but never will. This is also where British society differs so much from American society. The American school education system is not particularly highly regarded worldwide, and the average student sits academically behind many other western countries in subjects such as English and Maths, but there is one attribute in which their students lead the world: confidence. American students score highest in this criterion, interesting? I would argue that in the UK, so much emphasis is placed on academic achievement from such a young age, that students who are not at the top, do not have much confidence in their future prospects. There has also been a push in schools and colleges over the last 10 years convincing students that university is not only advisable, but indeed essential to their success. This resulted in a huge rise in young people going to university, arguably though for the wrong reasons and partly due to the accessibility – just because you could go relatively cheaply, people did. Now, with the rise in tuition fees, there are people being made to feel like their dreams and chances of success are over just because they can no longer justify the cost (not necessarily because they can’t afford it, it’s just no longer cheap). Here lies the problem: people believe that their chance of success in life has been taken away. What does that say about their tenacity and true confidence in themselves? I remember an ad that the government put out about university a couple of years ago, saying that on average people that went earn an average of an extra £1500 per year compared with someone who didn’t. By those numbers, it will still take 10-15 years of using that extra income to pay back the initial investment. Is that really supposed to sell the prospect? Interestingly, being left-handed means statistically you will earn on average 25% more than right-handed people. In that case, my chances are already up on 10s of thousands of right-handed students – how crazy is that? It is true though. Despite my tangent, this is all part of a much bigger point that I made earlier – people believe that politics, education and hard cash ultimately affect their destiny. This is something that logic surely denies, arguing that it is individual decision and pursuit, which is responsible for where a person ends up – or at least guides them where they want to go.
If we truly want to move forward and progress as a society, we simply must attempt to rectify these problems. Britain needs to rediscover the spirit that made it Great, and instill that spirit into the next generation so that they can live their lives through positive and constructive thought and reasoning. Apart from that, it’s really not that bad here is it?
Henry Mitchell is a social Entrepreneur and founder of The 1 Month Project, a collaboration community created for inciting discussion on social, entrepreneurial and economic issues as well as instigating a series of “1 Month” projects, each designed to impact and change the world, if even in a small way. Henry’s mission is to connect people together in ways that haven’t been done before, focusing on social interaction as the key factor in making things happen. He is currently working on some exciting businesses that aim to address the disconnection in English society. You can contact him through www.the1monthproject.wordpress.com. He is always open to meeting new people, especially if it involves good conversation, so please do get in touch.