What we've been reading: Digital firms, reality, and mediocrityby
Welcome to What We've Been Reading, the AccountingWEB editors’ weekly round-up of the stories that have caught their attention.
Enjoy the roundup of stories from our editors, and let us know if there's something that caught your eye or if you'd like to disagree with any of our choices. Joining us this week is Kat Haylock, community editor on our sister site UK Business Forums.
Richard: The Digital Firm - Will Farnell
Accountants burdened by the rise of accounting technology are surely asking “if only there was a manual for all this digital mumbo-jumbo”. Luck is at hand because Will Farnell has released such a book (and it even includes a quote from yours truly!).
AccountingWEB readers should know Will Farnell by now. He is a bit of a technology outlier. In 2008 he transformed his practice, Farnell Clarke, into a 100% cloud firm. A gutsy move considering there was no Making Tax Digital nudge. But now firms face the onslaught of AI, machine learning and blockchain, and not least the impetus to become a cloud firm.
Farnell’s book is essential reading for firms looking to not only keep pace with the cloud changes but innovate beyond. Because, as Farnell says, “MTD gives us a reason for us to give clients for changing our services” but he adds, “the biggest reason is it’s what our clients want”.
Clients became the hook that motivated Farnell to automate as much as possible. As such, Farnell’s innovation goes beyond just MTD and cloud - it underpins every facet of becoming a digital firm. In the book, Farnell explores what a digital firm looks like, which includes using business culture to recruit, the death of compliance, content marketing and fee transparency.
But I’ll leave the final thought for Will: “Every firm is different, with different characters and clients. There is still time to differentiate yourself. Think to the future, and about more than compliance”.
Valme: What if reality isn’t real?
Philosophy steps in when science can’t provide the answers we look for. This article, based on a conversation with Robin Hanson, professor of economics and a research associate at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute is a good example.
It takes into consideration recent scientific papers that question the nature of reality and yet it quickly falls into the territory of philosophy.
The simulation hypothesis is the argument that our lives and everything we experience was fabricated in a computer. The theory is very difficult to prove or disprove with our current means. Whereas a simulation on the scale of the universe seems improbable, other types of simulation would be easier to run, according to Hanson: “Most likely, you are in a smaller simulation around some pivotal people or events, and you probably have a good guess about who they are.”
But even if we aren’t in a simulation, there are many other ways in which reality could be different to how we think it is - so different that we wouldn’t be able to imagine it. For example, 68% of the universe is dark energy and 27% is dark matter. The rest, all the normal matter, everything we can see, adds up to less than 5% of the universe.
So what does this all mean for us? A way of looking at it would be to fall into a nihilist loop. The second option is to think that it doesn’t affect us at all. After all, whether or not you are in a simulation won’t affect your life, which in turn means that, no matter what, your reality is indeed real.
Autumn is my season. I like the cold sunny mornings, the festive coffees and the comfy jumpers. Most of all, I like the chance to get stuck into the rainy-day pastimes I neglect in warmer weather.
This article, in praise of those pastimes, notes that the concept of leisure is a hard-won achievement; it’s a sign we’ve overcome the exigencies of brute survival. Yet in our increasingly public, performative age, there’s the expectation that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time.
“Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.
“If you’re a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you’re training for the next marathon. If you’re a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolours and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby — you’re a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber — you’d better be good at it, or else who are you?”
So this autumn, when you’re settled in your living room with a cup of tea and a box of Roses, let’s forgo the pursuit of excellence. Instead, let’s break out the paintbrushes, dig out the cake tins and do things we’re shit at.