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Postcard from the Edge
The Anvil of "Normal", and the Hammer of Scale
“Normal” has such anaesthetic qualities. It is non-threatening, comforting, predictable, prosperous and safe. It is seen as desirable, like something we go back to after a shock like Covid, or the regular Banking crises, or the equally regular geopolitical spats instead of continual change, which is the uncomfortable reality.
The fact that it is entirely illusory does not limit its appeal or its use as a political weapon. We are normal, they are not.
Normal does not scale, as anybody who has worked in a rapidly growing organisation will know. The '“normal” understood by the founding team stays the same size, even as numbers grow. Eventually, “normal” fragments into departments and locations, each with its own language and joined only by the shared quiet and resigned non-belief in those overarching mission statements issued by the top team. It also does not travel. I have spent significant chunks of my life working in places where the local normal was a strange and wonderful space into which I was never going to enter in anything but a very fraudulent way.
I’m fascinated by the way that the control boundaries of normal are made ever tighter. In the world of our health, everything from blood pressure to eye pressure seems to be on a continual squeeze, so we find ourselves being urged to take medication even though our metabolism has stayed constant. I guess growth has to come from somewhere.
I watch with less fascination than horror as I see my grandchildren moving from a world of play as they enter the first year of school and are shovelled into assessments and measures designed for a world of work. Normal is measured in understanding phonemes and graphemes, whilst creative play, the foundation of healthy socialisation, is sidelined.
“Normal” is highly monetisable. If we fall outside those ever-tightening parameters, someone, somewhere, has a “solution”; for a price, of course.
“Normal” is anodyne and vanilla-flavoured with the creative energy of a wet tea towel. It is a state that those in power wish we would accept, as though waiting years for an operation or being threatened if we protest, egregious profit-taking by state-sponsored monopolies, or starving our infrastructure and regions of investment to keep London healthy is normal and perfectly acceptable.
One of our greatest strengths has always been that we are not normal. We are unique, “normal” in some aspects, outliers in others, and original in sum total. Sometimes, the outliers get us into trouble; more often, they are game changers.
Normal is a celebration of the passive and unquestioning status quo.
How is that working for you?
One of my favourite songs from Harry Chapin Carpenter stays with me….