Thursday, 19 December 2013

New father time

At the year’s end Will Mooney, Carter Jonas partner and head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, is looking forward, very far forward.

Whether your view of Old Father Time is that he hands his watch over to New Baby Time on Hogmanay or you’re of the feeling that, much like the Grim Reaper, the old fellow is a fixed feature who watches over us year-in year-out as the sands of our lives slip through the hourglass, is a matter of cultural education or superstitious belief.

What the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations wants us to do is exorcise our habit of short termism and think about the consequences of our actions. When I say us, what I mean are policy makers who are urged in the Commission’s report “Now for the Long Term” which calls for radical thinking in policy and business.

The Oxford Martin School ( is an “interdisciplinary research community of over 300 scholars working to address the most pressing global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century”.

The Commission’s latest report has ideas about transforming the way governments and corporates go about their business. But the ideas are not founded on wishy-washy sentimentalism. How could it be? The international brains of the commission are chaired by the former director general of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy who only left that post in September.

The report identifies megatrends - demographics, social mobility and technology to name but three - that are shaping the 21st Century. A century which, the founder of the School Dr James Martin, says could be our best or our worst ever.

These megatrends are, by default, drivers of change and our institutions need to update themselves or become obsolete.

Business and financial systems come in for criticism for short termism. The sector is urged in the report to re-wire itself for long term investment as opposed to slavishly following quarterly reporting cycles.

Interestingly, on the day Pascal Lamy was fulfilling his media commitments about the launch of the Commission’s report, news broke of the departure from Invesco Perpetual of one of the biggest stars of fund management. Neil Woodford said his decision to leave his role managing a £24.6 billion fund and co-managing another of £6.4 billion was based on where he sees long term opportunities in his industry.

Monsieur Lamy pointed out to one interviewer that the news media seemed to be frightened by the long term too. In a time of rolling 24-hour news schedules to fill, it’s no wonder many journalists and producers look to the brevity and immediacy of Twitter and other social media platforms for news and views to source or reinforce a story or even report social media activity as news in itself. There’s a lot of air time to fill and our attention span appears to be ever-shortening.

Pascal Lamy pointed to a couple of examples where business and policy makers had come together to think about the long term with staggering success achieved in a relatively short space of time. Namely, anticipation of Y2K technology meltdown in the year 2000 and also in setting minds to tackling HIV-AIDS in the late 1980s and 1990s.

It seems fitting to quote Marx here: Groucho Marx. “Why should I care about future generations – what have they ever done for me?” But it seems that the Oxford Martin Commission’s view is that in thinking about future generations, we could actually do ourselves a favour right now.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge

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