Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Relative Decline

Published Tuesday 16 June, 2015

Whether it's business, sport or politics one of the greatest dangers to continued and sustainable success is when those in charge, those who make and implement the big decisions, look at progress being made, results that please and (whilst making the usual management platitudes about "always seeking to improve" or "never settling for second-best") settle down for more of the same; big problem......they are measuring success against yesterday's criteria and objectives not tomorrow's; they are marking out the pitch, placing the goalposts and deciding what success looks like, whilst the World "out there" is playing to a new and very different set of rules. The water in which we are all swimming has changed its temperature, its colour, its acidity, its depth....and so many swimmers just keep ploughing on, buoyed up by occasional success or the failure of others.

Just look at the serious plight of the Labour Party. "The Public got it wrong" or "We weren't left wing enough" are the arrogant, indeed ignorant, conclusions of several socialist commentators to its General Election enormous defeat. The World has changed! Move on! There is no place for a left wing ruling majority in this Country; a globally-competitive, better-skilled, aspirational, technologically-connected electorate don't want yesterday, they hanker for tomorrow and "getting on". A few Local Authority seats won at next May's elections will persuade the Trades Unions paymasters and their Labour Party puppets that all is fine.......and the relative decline that has been there for years will continue. The electoral world has passed them by.

On a global basis, a fine (and worrying) example is the EU. With Brussels marching valiantly towards 1970, hobbling the liberating wealth creation of small business with more and more red tape and regulation, with tax-payers' money being spent on subsidising the production of a commodity (agriculture ... where prices can't reflect value) instead of helping the unemployed of all 28 member states get into tomorrow's jobs by investing in the only globally-powerful currency of Asia's Century....the development, transfer and exploitation of knowledge, the unelected, unaccountable Eurocrats are presiding over relative decline on the grand scale. In the only race that matters, globalisation, the EU's speedy path to coming last is disguised by a bit of progress here and there whilst the other competitors (Asia, America, Africa) are storming ahead.

Two examples from the business world; taxis and supermarkets. The consumer attraction and growth of Uber is evidence of a "new world out there". To the backward-looking established way of "doing taxis' across Europe, the rise of Uber is terrifying. But the challenge is not to put up the legislative barriers of protectionism.....adapt now or eventually wither on the vine. This mantra is writ large in the Boardrooms of the big supermarkets. Out of town or High Street? What about Aldi or Lidl? What is tomorrow's customer going to do....even if they don't yet know it themselves! Admit the problem, adapt or die! 

And do you remember the Welsh rugby team of the late eighties and nineties? They were still beating England on a regular basis so they thought progress was being made but....... They were losing to everyone else! Their decline was relative; it depended upon against whom the standard was set, who was setting the bar. Where did it get them? Eventually losing at home to Western Samoa (not even the whole of Samoa!) whilst England went on to win a World Cup!

Decline is easy to see and do something about. But when decline is relative, it is so much more tricky to spot and even more difficult to do something about, mainly because the easiest option is to go for more of the same, usually with the support of those enjoying the status quo. Preventing relative decline is really what true leadership should be all about!