Reasons to be cheerful

12 December 2022

The baby boomers amongst us will remember Ian Dury who sadly died at the young age of 57 in March 2000. He was a real character and an obituary described him as “one of the few true originals of the English music scene”.

His big hit, with the Blockheads, was “Reasons to be cheerful, Part 3” ( It was essentially a list of quirky reasons to be cheerful, “Being rather silly, and porridge oats”, set to a punky, dance beat. And, naturally, there was no Part 1 or 2.

It resonates with me now because 2022 has been such a difficult year.

Whilst (this) pandemic is largely behind us, and we must marvel at the speed with which vaccines were developed, there is much to be concerned by. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has cost many innocent lives and massively distorted world energy and food markets, inflation has returned, capital markets have recoiled from macro-economic pressures and the adverse consequences of Brexit have become ever clearer.

So, it behoves us to celebrate the “good bits” of the year so that we can Reach for the stars in 2023 ( – do watch this video, it will cheer you up).

Here’s my list:

1. Travel and Live Music

The end of Covid restrictions:

  • re-opened a precious world of travel. Families could be reunited, exciting road trips across Europe were back on the agenda and business colleagues from different countries could meet in person again rather than across a computer screen. Zoom and Teams are amazing tools but live meetings are just much “richer” - bringing the ability to read body language, unfurl a joke that eases a tense moment and engineer that aside around the Nespresso machine that can unlock the intractable point;
  • and, joy of joys, brought back live concerts – the bustle of the concert hall, the sticky floor, the lights down excitement of the arrival of the act (“Hello London”, inevitably) and the highs, lows, big finish and encore of the performance. Aside from the outstanding Keith Urban (Keith Urban - Nine Lessons in Leadership) my highlight this year was Fontaines DC – a bit punky for me but mesmerising performers, two lead guitars and a driving drum and base line.

2. The 8 Billionth person

In November the world’s 8 billionth person was born in Manila. Clearly, in terms of the individual, there is some poetic licence here but a world population of 8 billion is pretty extraordinary, Along with success, however, comes challenge. As the UN said:

“A world of 8 billion is a milestone for humanity – the result of longer lifespans, reductions in poverty, and declining maternal and childhood mortality. Yet, focusing on numbers alone distracts us from the real challenge we face: Securing a world in which progress can be enjoyed equally and sustainably.”

The wonder of 8 billion people thus brings with it the need for us all to focus more every day on combatting climate change and the importance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

While I’m here, I must also highlight the wonder of Nature in balancing the sexes.

Every year slightly more boys are born than girls around the world (a ratio of about 105:100). As you read the literature on this, there seems to be no better explanation than that it is an example of natural selection ( Boys are more fragile than girls and more likely to die in childbirth or infancy. They also do more dangerous things as they grow. Somehow, Nature knows this, takes a global view and compensates by starting with some extra boys. How amazing is that?

3. Western support for Ukraine

The support which the West had provided to Ukraine in its fight against Russia has been hugely important. It is a complicated picture and, as a report from the Kiel Institute in October points out, heavily dependent on the USA - which then accounted for 56% of all military and economic commitments (compared to 40% from European nations combined). Poland has played a very precious role and is still host to some one million Ukrainian refugees.

Whilst the provision of aid may be uneven, we should take heart from the fact that the USA has dug in and that Europe has stood firm and together in the face of severe energy challenges. This vital and worthy support for Ukrainian bravery has exposed the key weaknesses of Russia’s cruel autocracy.

4. The US midterms

Before the US midterm elections in November there was much speculation about a Red Wave. Republican (GOP) candidates, many endorsed by Donald Trump, would do well against a hang-dog Democratic Party and both Houses would fall to the Republicans. This would be the perfect launch pad for Donald Trump’s bid for re-election in 2024.

Many were asking whether the world could stand another Trump presidency?

Instead, the Republicans managed their worst mid-term performance in recent history, with the Democrats doing much better than expected. Pollsters pointed to electoral concern about the reversal of Roe v Wade and distaste for Trump endorsed candidates.

Whilst one should be wary of underestimating Donald Trump’s appeal to his base, many commentators have hailed this as an important moment for US democracy. As the Financial Times said:

“A basic test for GOP candidates must be to pledge respect for the electoral process and its results. But candidates from all shades of Republican opinion should be encouraged to throw their hats into the ring to stimulate a debate over what their party stands for. Senior party figures and donors, too, should think hard about how their choices helped to lead America down the Trumpian path, with all the damaging consequences that entailed. The Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman’s decision to drop support for Trump and back a candidate from the “new generation” is a telling sign of the times. Others should follow.”

5. Gender diversity on PLC Boards

This is a long road but there is gratifying progress - albeit with continuing challenges.

The Cranfield Female FTSE Board Report 2022 highlights:

  • 45.5% of FTSE 100 Non-executive seats are now filled by women compared to 35.4% five years ago (45.3% and 29.1% respectively for the FTSE 250); and
  • 18 FTSE 100 companies have a woman Chair and 31 have a woman SID (37 and 82 respectively in the FTSE 250) – all strong increases compared to five years ago.

The situation on the executive side however is less good:

  • 16.8% of FTSE 100 Executive seats are now filled by women compared to 9.7% five years ago (12.1% and 6.1% respectively for the FTSE 250).

So, whilst cheering impressive change on the NED side, the big takeaways for 2023 are that:

  1. Nomination Committees should be put to proof by the Board to identify the specific actions which they are taking to increase gender diversity in executive succession planning (and held to account for progress);
  2. Chairs need to guide CEOs on articulating, and meeting, diversity objectives in the executive pipeline; and
  3. CEOs have the power to disrupt comfortable precedent - they should use it.

6. Radio 4

Radio 4 is a treasure trove of fantastic content.

You may or may not be a fan of the Today Programme but there is just so much to inform and enjoy on Radio 4, wherever you are in the world, that we should all take a moment to own that. Who could not get lost in:

  • Desert Island Discs (try Sophia Loren, Terry Jones, Daniel Kahneman, Lyse Doucet and Tim Minchin)
  • Great Lives (Katherine Parr, Keynes, Jonny Ramone)
  • In our Time (Echolocation - a hoot and my all-time favourite - the Electron and Voltaire’s Candide) and
  • More or Less (debunking misleading statistics).

And another thing. If you wake up in the middle of the night, put your earphones in and listen to one of the above. You’ll go back to sleep – and, even if you don’t, you’ll know more in the morning than you did last night.

7. Korean Cinema

South Korea has a vibrant cinema industry which really made its mark on the Western world with Parasite in 2019 and Squid Game in 2021.

This year has been blessed by the exceptional Decision to Leave. If you haven’t seen it please do. It is an intricately plotted movie that, as one review says, will seem like a mystery even after multiple viewings but…

“What isn’t up for dispute, though, is how stunning the movie is. It already claimed the Best Director award for Park at Cannes earlier this year and the cinematography matches up to that acclaim. It’s both inventive and beautiful.”

8. The Frog Chorus in springtime

I was staying in the countryside in France in late April. I woke up to a sunny morning and a cacophony of what sounded like ducks outside. I looked out of the window at a pond. No ducks. But, on closer inspection, there were tens of little frogs all croaking away in glorious unison.

Nature does it again.

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul provides independent trusted advice to senior executives and key stakeholders within publicly quoted and privately owned businesses and professional service firms. His areas of focus are governance, succession and the moderation of differences.

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