Monday, August 29, 2011

Cemetery of dreams.

It is not an easy thing to slow down.

Judging from responses to my recent article on the cost of impatience, the concept of a much slower pace to our lives hits a chord with many. This is also reflected in growing support for the slow movement worldwide and concepts such as slow towns and slow-cities, and slow food. It all started some 2 decades ago and has gained momentum with towns and hospitality establishments adopting a “slow brand”. It’s also a favourite ingredient of many life skills and inspirational texts.

clip_image002Our better known example of a slow town is the holiday village of Sedgefield along the Southern Cape coast. The official town emblem is a tortoise. I’ve been there on a number of occasions and I must say that during peak holiday periods it does not deviate much from your typical resort area that gets invaded by up country holiday makers who have left their inner tortoises at home. The N2 between Cape Town and Durban runs through it which does little to reinforce the slow town image. Of course, the dilemma for any town that wants to make “slow” a selling point is that it could be self-defeating. Crowds bring their own individual and collective stresses and crowding by its very nature seems to foster competitiveness and pace.

Slowing down has many components of which the most significant is to change locations from the fast pace overcrowded metropoles to smaller picture post card rural areas. It’s one I have become quite familiar with, having moved to one myself and witnessed the contentment or agitation of quite a number of people seeking their acre of paradise. We must distinguish them though, from retirees or semi-retirees. That’s a very different circumstance and one that I hope to deal with in future on the strength of my own and others’ experience. Suffice it to say that changing locations is just one of very important options to consider when retiring. This is a choice that more than any other can affect your life satisfaction in retirement and certainly outranks financial security although the two are clearly linked. It is a tragic omission in the thirty something R.A. salesman’s promises of serenity in the twilight years.

But perhaps even more tragic are the forty-something’s who reach a point of desperation in their life circumstance and try to escape the noise, the bustle, the traffic jams, crime and the pace of their overcrowded urban locations. I have tweaked some names to avoid some potential discomfort among my real life examples.

Mark and Annette came to Swellendam from Cape Town where he had been a mechanic who became a high flying car salesman. They had accumulated as many possessions as the average upper income couple could at their stage of life. Mark opened a car dealership and Annette became his assistant. The first time I met Mark, it struck me that his needs had not changed much. He and, I suspect Annette were as obsessed with their material wellbeing as they had been before. They had locked the door firmly on serenity by trying to sustain their previous levels of acquisition.

It did not take long before the disillusioned and much poorer pair returned to more familiar predator territory. Earlier, I had suggested to Mark that he return to his mechanic trade, which is a much sought after skill in any farming environment. But it clearly would not have met his desired income and perceived status.

Then there is Keith, a Gauteng accountant who decided to use a retrenchment package and pursue a slower life in the Overberg. He loves nature and gardening, and bought a modest, just ticking over landscaping and gardening service from a local owner. It’s one of those make or break services, like “general handyman”. But Keith put his all into it and today has a flourishing business.

And so I could go on. There have been a number with the same mixed results. The most overtraded businesses in this area are B&B’s and restaurants. They appear to be the obvious choice for fast pace refugees, and they regularly change hands. Places like Swellendam, and others I’m familiar with like Barrydale, Montagu, Robertson, Bonnievale, McGregor, and Greyton have become well-known chill zones and havens for “de-clutching.” But they can be either the nurseries of contentment or the cemeteries of dreams.

One simple consideration is not to apply market logic too rigidly. There is strong customer loyalty to local folk that tends to work against “inkommers”. But, as Keith has shown, patience, dedication and service eventually prove winners in any environment.

Children can also be a complication. We too readily project our dreams on our offspring and they often simply don’t share them as they enter their teens. In today’s electronically obsessed world it is less easy to seduce the average teen with the wonders of nature. Adolescents in the small rural towns are as likely as their peers in the big cities to be exposed to bad influences, drugs and alcohol.

But there is a much deeper consideration in relocating. It came to me while sitting on a quad bike in a lush green oats-field on one of those special, crispy, late winter days that break a spell of intensely cold and wet weather. I was watching a small herd of cows grazing a short distance away – the classic picture of contentment. Ciska the boerboel came charging at them from the other side of the fence and they broke into a mini stampede heading straight for me. I thought at least two would crash into the 350kg ATV, but both veered off at the last second. It was the perfect illustration of how, when you are running away from something you are likely to run into obstacles ahead.

It is never a good idea to simply run away from things. It is far better to run towards something with a clear and well considered idea of where you want to be. You have to become a tortoise first before joining a community of tortoises. To think you will become a successful hare among the tortoises is the kind of big-fish-small-tank geographic arrogance that can be your undoing.

There are many steps you can take to slow down in your present circumstance. The renowned “slow down” advocate, Carl Honore gives a number of tips on how to do this. I interpret these as simply slowing down expectations, avoiding instant gratification, fighting the Want-It-Now or WIN addiction. Become the change.

This can be done anywhere and at any time. Any town will get to appreciate people who bring with them aspirations of making a difference, and have left their expectations behind.

Above all, relocating should be a journey in the pursuit of meaning rather than of means.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Half-baked Cakes.

There’s just too much noise and clutter in the kitchen. A good chef will always insist on an organised kitchen at the least before starting to bake a cake. And then you need a good recipe, an oven that works, and knowing the temperature and duration for the bake.

We need a similar approach in dealing with critical socio-economic issues. Far too many decisions are half baked, are based on poor ingredients, are being placed in broken ovens, and are then overseen by chefs who barely know how to boil water.

Take the latest violent South African municipal workers’ strike as an example. Now there’s a mushy cake if ever there was one. The negotiation started in the earlier part of this year, was taken out of the oven just before the local elections, put back for further baking and ends up with a breakdown on a wide pay hike gap of 6% offered and 18% demanded. The oven called collective bargaining is clearly broken, despite all its fancy knobs, dials and controls.

But then, the ingredients themselves are highly questionable. They include an appalling lack of knowledge and awareness amongst workers; a failure or absence of appropriate developmental communications; a lack of sound servant leadership principles; pay disparities; the absence of a common service focus; blinding ideological fluff and rhetoric; and questionable benchmarking on what demand or offer is reasonable and appropriate. The list goes on. This is indeed a recipe for disaster. The tragedy is that as individual ingredients they can all be fixed or changed.

The whole labour kitchen is far too cluttered with conflicting information, emotions and vested interests. There is an unwillingness to tidy up largely because of an inability to shift from old ideological paradigms on both sides. In turn, the neutering of the government as an effective referee has not helped. It’s a milieu that is nurtured in ignorance based either on a lack of information or an obstructive drawing bias. This past month alone, one popular TV economist scoffed at the notion that South Africa has a very bad strike record according to international norms. Shortly thereafter, another presented evidence that we are the worst in the world in terms of man-hours lost because of strikes.

The recipe itself, our liberal labour laws has to be reviewed. The vast volume of research and information, not all of which is half baked, has to be gathered, reviewed and placed before a statutory commission of inquiry representing the various interest groups and whose findings will be credible, perhaps even binding. Are Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s recent comments on the issue a precursor to something in this vein? It’s a forlorn hope given Cosatu’s outright rejection of the idea.

Another half-baked creation is the National health Scheme. Here we can have some sympathy with the government. The NHI green paper is a recipe for a magnificent multi-layered black forest cake. The ingredients and instructions are quite overwhelming. And this is the problem. Everyone is throwing utensils around long before the recipe is finalised. It is a green paper, after all, and still has a long way to go with wider inputs before it becomes law.

What makes this cake half-baked is that some of the essential ingredients, or perhaps even layers should have been in place already. Not the least is the rebuilding and getting into order the current public health facilities. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has conceded that without a sound infra-structure, well run hospitals and solving issues of hospital governance the overall scheme will collapse. Perhaps it would have been wiser to present this layer as a separate apple tart before adding black forest cake ingredients into the mix.

The toll road debacle went into the oven, came out unpalatable, went back in and came out just as revolting. Even the Automobile Association wants to take to the streets. They can count me out. Bearing an anti-toll placard in the “dorp” here will cast doubt on my sanity. The town does not even have traffic lights, only endless four way stops monitored by a predatory cop with fangs as large as the tusks of a walrus bull.

Then there’s the inedible pie called nationalisation. As with the labour laws this has generated much heat in the kitchen and there’s not much point in my adding a few degrees to the ambient temperature. The only bit of flavouring I would add as a chef way past his prime is that perhaps ownership is not the issue, but governance is.

One strange little scone that has come out of the Cosatu oven is that it is not intended to have government officials as bosses on nationalised mines, but workers! The nationalisation recipe is clearly no-where near final assessment. Perhaps it would be prudent simply to reduce the heat and wait for a well-researched and considered recipe printed on green paper before arguing about its effect on the palate. In the meantime, even our foreign friends are perplexed about what we want to dish up.

Which raises the issue of our motor mouth nation: it is not an undesirable thing for a society in transformation to explore new recipes and bakes. It is even exciting and coupled with a high level of transparency, the debate could be valuable and constructive. But when it is laced with so much racist vitriol and unshakeable ideological dogma then shooting off the mouth shoots us in the collective foot. It certainly smothers innovative solution seeking. What some may describe as “robust” debate and essential “engagement” have become nothing more than a platform for emotional sloganising, venting anger and spreading slander. They have become downright impolite and demeaning. This is encouraged by a new worrying media recipe called “provocative” journalism, which cares more for technique than content, sensation above information. Perhaps we should be more judicious in our recognition of who the chefs are and who the potato peelers are.

But even top chefs can occasionally produce half-baked little biscuits, of which Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s “rich white tax” must certainly be one. Huge disparities in incomes are distasteful to even a smoker’s blunted palate and Warren Buffett has just added his flavouring to that mix. But that does not appear to be what his Grace has in mind. It seems to be more of a throwback to the dark ages when cash rather than prayer was penance.

It may have had some validity when it was mooted as an immediate outcome of the TRC, but what makes this biscuit somewhat unpalatable to many today is reflected in the supreme irony of suggesting an “absolution tax” in the same breath as chiding government officials for having ostentatious tax funded cars. No-one in his right mind would insert a coin in a vending machine that is clearly out of order, no matter how tempting the cup-cake is.

The archbishop has one quality though, that is sadly lacking in most of the other chefs, cooks and potato-peelers around. It is courtesy.

Courtesy is an attribute of patience, of wisdom and of authority. Like a whisper it catches attention and demands to be heard. It disarms the slanderous, the bombastic and the dogmatic.

It is such a fine human quality.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A long, long winter.

clip_image002Peach trees here are well into full bloom as if to challenge the snow-capped Langeberg mountains in the distance to shrug off their embrace of winter. The first buds appeared in early May already, a month earlier than last year. I thought it strange then, that the peach trees would start exposing their tender pink blossoms to the vagaries of the icy wetness, frost and snow. But for all of that, the harvest was good giving some assurance to the local farmers that the mysteries of climate change may not be as frightening as they first believed.

While the early blossoms on fruit trees may confuse the local oldies and lull others into a false sense that the winter’s worst is over, it at the very least reminds us of the inexorable march of nature’s cycles. The cold and wet that invades even our marrows will end and soon glorious spring and then cheerful summer.

Economists such as Nikolai Kondratiev and Joseph Schumpeter were strong exponents of the idea that economics too has natural cycles: as inescapable as those of nature. Others, of course, would have us believe that we have developed the knowledge, technology, efficient markets and policy responses to control the seasons; to suppress the waves so that they become little more than gentle lapping at the shore.

Have we? If Kondratiev is correct, are we not seeing the beginning of a half century slow down? Has the constant anti-cyclical meddling, and the reliance on split second market responses to create stability, balance and efficiencies not created the opposite? And are the latest global events not simply confirming that for too long we have harboured delusions of grandeur? The mere fact that a dubious rating from a financial agency can trigger a major slump that most saw as pretty inevitable and that a U.S. policy statement on interest rates could trigger a sharp reversal only to be reserved again shows how unstable and unreliable speculative judgement and market responses have become. Knee jerk policy responses to the market events may encourage some early peach blossoms. But in the distance, the mountains remain firmly in the grip of snow and ice, which is the real gist of Bernanke’s statement.

It may take months and many roller coaster rides to assess the full outcome of the latest volatility. There are far more qualified observers who no doubt will add their postulates to the mix in the weeks and months ahead. The key problem comes back to old world logic: you cannot spend or borrow yourself out of debt. You also cannot continue endlessly to borrow on your twenty or thirty year bond to pay off your credit card.

It has taken a generation to create the mess. It will take a lot more than a few years to correct it. Discounting talk of a “double dip”, Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff sees latest events as part of an on-going “contraction” the end of which is still a long way off.

By accident of birth I, and many baby boomers, have been placed in the middle of two generations who are as alien to each other as Klingons are to humans. We bridged a generation between deprivation and abundance. The deprivation was more equally shared and the abundance disturbingly less so.

Those are physical and material. They can arguably be corrected by policies and regulation. The greater and far more disturbing aspect of that generation gap is behaviour. Without recognising the absolute need for a change in behaviour, all actions will be futile. They may encourage early blossoms, but they won’t change the seasons.

What are these differences?

We were a lot more patient a half century ago. Some three weeks ago, I wrote: “There is an increasingly credible argument that the biggest single cause of world economic woes can be attributed to impatience. In short, win becomes lose when “W.I.N.” is an acronym for “want it now”. Easier credit and quicker transactions have resulted in a huge debt overhang, lower savings and big sovereign debts. Sounding an ominous and prophetic warning of “another financial crisis that will be just as bad, if not worse, than the last one”, Sheila Bair, the just retired chairman of American Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation a month ago attributed the 2008 crisis to favouring the short term over the long term, impulse over patience.

A half century ago, critical prices such as interest rates, exchange rates and wages were fixed, pegged, managed or stable. Under the initial drive of the Reagan/Friedman combination, most of these controls had disappeared by the mid 80’s, exposing them again to unbridled speculation. Technology has substantially fuelled short-termism enabling greater speculation and the inordinate growth of quick buck instruments such as hedge funds and derivatives. Far from creating greater balance and efficiencies, these instruments have become detached from long term fundamentals and have arguably destroyed not built market reliability.

Government responses have been equally short-term, running up debts to the hilt in trying to find a balance between market stability, austerity, stimulus demanded by a suffering populace and looming inflation. Much of the additional liquidity has simply gone into fuelling further speculation setting us up for another fall. In the United States, the measures have favoured Wall Street rather than Main Street.

There was a time when government budgets were divided into a “capital” and “current” account. The former covered longer term spending such as infra-structure, and the latter running expenses such as education and health. The deficit before borrowing was assessed against the capital account, and any deficit on the current account was frowned upon. Once current expenditures are built into a deficit, it becomes extremely difficult to contain, let alone reverse. Today the norm is simply the annual deficit and the accumulated debt against GDP It is no longer what governments need to spend but simply what can they can afford to according to this magical benchmark – one seriously questioned by Yale University’s Robert Shiller.

Our previous generation expected less from life but had higher aspirations to improve it. They were largely a self-reliant lot who understood that a better future for themselves and their offspring was only possible through hard work, innovation and effort. This was shattered by the great Depression and in the United States and the West by New Deal economics which increased reliance on governments. This has built in an inflationary bias into these economies.

Although banks have historically been a pet hate of the poor, companies were less so. They seemed to be less profit obsessed in my youth. Statements like those of Bill Kellogg that companies existed to “add value to people’s lives” and not to maximise profit did not ring as hollow then as they do today.

This changed dramatically in the “greed is good” decade of the 80’s when the S&P 500 average price earnings ratio more than quadrupled up to 2000. It ushered in greater concentration of economic power, more frequent company reporting cycles, shorter C.E.O. tenures and much wider pay gaps.

The “what’s in it for me” response to life seems to be more prevalent today than it was 5 decades ago. We have made self-interest and its natural outcome of raw material selfishness with an insatiable appetite for consumption and acquisition a cornerstone of economic growth. At a deeper level, we have, within one generation shifted our aspirations from meaning to means and have inseparably linked the two.

It is a very different world from that of my youth. Whether it is better or worse is by its very nature highly subjective and influenced by much more than material well-being. I would not argue with those who insist that it is a much better world today, but then few could dispute that we have picked up some very bad habits along the way.

Behaviour is mostly a reflection of habits, and habits can change. Indeed I believe they are: both spontaneously and involuntarily, and for the better. But it may still be a long, long winter.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Employee reporting: What, how and why.

If our labour unrest demonstrates one thing, it is the appalling lack of understanding and knowledge among a large group of South African employees about the companies they work for – let alone the disturbing lack of shared goals between business and labour both at a national and company level.

Employee awareness is another subject in organisational theory that accounts for great bodies of literature and discussion. It is recognised as the bedrock of sound relations in any collective. Yet in many companies it’s something of a Cinderella compared with the attention paid to shareholder or external communications. Despite new transparency rules, employees certainly are not protected in law as much as shareholders are in terms of information requirements.

Communication in any collective is a multi-disciplined activity, but often the important central and strategic information is left to a public relations (PR) department, or to the mercies of an inexperienced communications practitioner.

Internal or employee communication can be subjected to the same three-pillar scrutiny that all activities should undergo: what, how and why.

clip_image002The “what” or content of employee reporting should be the easiest to determine. All it really needs is a quick survey among staff about what they would like to know about the company and merge this with both the company’s strategic needs and the development needs of staff. The greater these coincide the more mature the communications system. Despite the simplicity of the concept, it is rife with pitfalls. Research in my previous consultancy showed that most staff both wanted and needed more strategic and important information, such as company performance. Yet leadership often baulked at sharing this – not out of bloody mindedness but simply out of an inability to put the information in a context that could be readily understood by staff. They could not relate as easily to an employee paradigm as they could to a shareholder view. This kind of information is also less “media” friendly to glossy magazines and electronic wizardry.

Content of communications falls into three categories: strategic, ad hoc, routine.

A developmental strategy opens up many areas of opportunity. For example, come personal-tax submission day, a company can open its finance department’s doors for personal-tax queries. Or it can use the occasion to inform staff about how the national budget works.

Strategic communication is not haphazard. It can be designed like an educational curriculum and be informed by the three circles of employee and employer needs and wants. The real departure from employee reporting norms is in its broader view of content and the use of collective resources for sharing this knowledge.

Ad hoc content is literally guided by events both within and outside the company. But the net can be spread more widely. For example, newspaper headlines about one or other corporate fraud are an opportunity for highlighting the company’s own ethics, whistle-blowing policies and views on corruption.

Routine information is self-explanatory and should be scheduled and diarised to ensure appropriate treatment; “routine” doesn't mean “less important”. For example, the publication of annual figures is routine but highly significant for employees. Amazingly, however, I’ve noticed that many communication functionaries are caught off guard by these events. All their energies go into producing information for shareholders and internal communication gets neglected.

Probably the most important element of content is the financial results. The income statement has very limited value in enhancing employee awareness and here I strongly advocate use of the Contribution Account which I will explain in future.

The “how” or techniques used is important but often too predominant. A friend of mine has a PR consultancy that has as its slogan: “It's not what you say but how you say it!” The belief in technique as the most important element of communication has become more widespread with the development of new media and information technology. Here is where the most money is spent and expertise applied. Because of this, it tends to dictate content: from the “happy snaps” in staff magazines to elaborate video productions. We are all familiar with them.

A key problem with all impersonal techniques is their inability to engender trust. Indeed they can become counter-productive in an environment of distrust and their lack of personal interactivity invariably creates a sense of manipulation – which it often is. If one examines the effectiveness of organised labour’s communication with their members, compared with company employee communications, then the answer becomes clear. Shop stewards engage members personally on all matters affecting the company. Companies, on the other hand, rely mostly on impersonal techniques. The only counter is to delegate the task to first line supervisors and hold them accountable. All other media, whether in print or electronic form must be viewed and designed purely as a means to enable that interaction.

The most valid and effective way of transferring information is on a one-to-one basis, from one person to another. All other forms are surrogates and poor substitutes and should be there for the convenience of the communicator, not the recipient of the message; the coach, not the player; the teacher, not the student; the leader, not the subordinate. Where the front-line leader or the first-line supervisor is not trusted, this distrust will generally undermine all efforts at communication, including the CEO’s open forum or walkabout.

Communication is one discipline where one all too often allows “why” to be superseded by “what” and “how”. “Why” is in fact the most important of the three elements. It’s the meaning. The others are form. It’s the substance. The others are consequential – they follow on “why”.

Most internal communication processes fail because they are conducted almost exclusively in the interest of the collective. Seldom is it seen to be in the interest of the one communicated with, unless this interest is wrongly assumed as always being the same as that of the collective.

The Machiavellian stance on internal communication is often not taken at a conscious level or even fully appreciated. Clearly trust and internal communication are mutually supportive but the one does not guarantee the other. I have observed clear suspicion of internal communications during periods of company uncertainty such as wage negotiations, even though the company generally had a good employee trust track record.

The expedient approach to employee communication has been widely practised over decades. The examples of content I have given are not intended to dictate a norm, but rather to advocate a style that has endless possibilities for enhancing knowledge and awareness.

The style is crucial to creating employee empathy with the developmental purpose, which in turn is a critical element of credibility and trust.

Monday, August 1, 2011

When win is lose.

We have lost our cool. And the cost is a lot more devastating than we may think.

The lack of patience or the prevalence of its evil opposite, impatience is not about those irrational moments when you lose it, kick the fridge and break your foot. It is about a way of life, or, as that old limerick would have it: “patience is a virtue; virtue is a grace and ….” You know the rest.

Not many realise that as an individual and collective virtue patience has a profound and positive impact particularly on our wellbeing including our material prosperity. Impatience has a greater devastating opposite effect. It’s a difficult pill to swallow for the quantitative economists and the growth through spending brigade, but there is an increasingly credible argument that the biggest single cause of world economic woes, and even our own problems in South Africa, can be attributed to impatience. In short, win becomes lose when “W.I.N.” is an acronym for “want it now”. The economic term frequently used is “short-termism.”

It is of course, nothing new. Patience as a principle of sound economics has been around for some 700 years if not more. Indeed, the ancient Greek translation for “economics” is simply “good housekeeping”. That certainly will raise a few giggles in the light of recent events in that country. But our much vaunted Adam Smith way back in the 18th century praised “self-command, by which we are enabled to abstain from present pleasure…to obtain a greater pleasure in some future time” as one of the most useful attributes to have.

South Africa is rife with impatience or a lack of “self-command”. We see it across all spectrums of life: individually, collectively, politically, socially and economically. Fuelled by wealth disparities, uncertainty and the virus of high expectations, W.I.N. or immediate self-gratification cuts across our spending, investments, work, social interaction, health and entertainment. The distressing symptoms are everywhere, from labour unrest to a recent reminder of our appallingly low level of savings, provision for retirement and untenable levels of personal debt.

The power of prudence and far-sightedness in economics may have been forgotten in the modern, particularly Western World as it succumbed to the temptation of consumption driven growth, speculative returns and nano-second trading. It really is a simple concept confirmed over time and in many countries: patience generates personal and household savings which in turn are used by companies to invest. Capital accumulation becomes the prime driver of future output, creating solid and sustainable growth.

World Bank director Ruth Kagia has noted that South Africa must increase investment and savings if it wants to grow the economy and create jobs. "Countries that have had growth rates of 6% or higher for a sustained period have also had investments and savings of about 25%," she said. Our current rate is about 16% of GDP. Yet, we seek answers in still higher spending and lower interest rates that will discourage saving.

But of course, we are not alone in this. Impatience or short-termism is a fundamental key to understanding the mess that the West in particular has got itself into in recent decades. This has been clearly and persuasively argued by Andrew G Haldane, an executive director at the Bank of England. What makes his paper so refreshing is the confirmation from a banking technocrat of how fundamentally behaviour can affect systems. His research covers history, psychology, neurology, financial markets and economics itself.

Among the evidence he presents is that by the time of the stock market crash in 1987, the average duration of US equity holdings had fallen to under 2 years. By the turn of the century, it had fallen below one year. By 2007, it was around 7 months. Impatience is mounting. In addition to that, performance reporting intervals have progressively shortened. Over recent decades, companies have migrated from annual general meetings, to a six monthly or quarterly reporting cycle to today’s steady stream of within-cycle trading updates.

This puts pressure on executives to virtually ignore long term sustainability and indeed become a fairly nomadic and predatory breed always seeking greener pastures and fuelling spiralling executive remuneration. Haldane points out that CEO tenure patterns have changed strikingly over recent decades. In 1995, the mean duration of departing CEOs from the world’s largest 2,500 companies was just less than a decade. By 2000, it had fallen to just over 8 years. By 2009, it had fallen to around 6 years.

Sheila Bair, the just retired chairman of American Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is even more outspoken in her condemnation of short-termism. She wrote in the Washington Post: “The common thread running through all the causes of our economic tumult is a pervasive and persistent insistence on favouring the short term over the long term, impulse over patience. We overvalue the quick return on investment and unduly discount the long-term consequences of that decision-making.”

Can we ever turn this around? Bair is pessimistic: “Unless all of us — households, financial leaders and politicians — are willing to make some short-term sacrifices for longer-term stability, we are at risk of another financial crisis that will be just as bad, if not worse, than the last one.” Haldane, on the other hand not only offers some sound policy suggestions, but on the strength of historical evidence also hints at a natural, cyclical turnaround in which there’s a return to fundamentals and good money chases out bad.

For me, it is much simpler. Impatience is a self-perpetuating addiction. But ultimately sobriety is sought. The point comes when we hit rock bottom and realise the destructiveness of the addiction and the benefits of abstinence.

Patience is much more than a virtue. It is the most important key to individual happiness and serenity. It is a behaviour that each of us can adopt. It is one we can teach. And research has shown that it is infectious.

So be patient and spread the benevolent virus. The rewards are certainly worth it.