Last week Curtis and I invited ten interesting people we’ve met over the past few months to join us at Hawthbush Farm for a slightly experimental day coming up with ideas for making work better.
Hawthbush is where I keep my bees and grow vegetables. Toby and Lisa are finally coming out of the treadmill of building and refurbishing and welcomed us to what is now a beautiful place. Most of the accommodation and the function room are finished and feel amazing, so much so that Curtis and Emily have booked to stay for a holiday. The twelve of us sat around an old oak kitchen table in the Granary, ate great food, talked a lot, fended off the occasional curious chicken and a very affectionate cat. By the end of the day I was slightly overwhelmed by the breadth and number of ideas we’d covered. I guess we didn’t actually invent anything physical, but I did leave feeling wiser and curious to try out some of the ideas.
Here are some of the themes that are still resonating with me:
Whether or not it is required for good creative work. Should a manager seek to keep a team in a state of pressure, through deadlines, limited access to information and other techniques? Does this tension lead to better work? It seems rather sinister to think that it should be deliberately managed. Can it be done successfully? Is there a difference between externally imposed pressure and that we generate ourselves?
If we are committed to a project our engagement will drive us to good work, a pressure to do well. Many of us recognise the buzz that comes from time constraints, difficult problems, sometimes we even encourage it. There is a balance to be struck. Perhaps managers can facilitate positive pressure. I suspect they would do that best by stepping back and trusting their people to do good work and generate / feed off positive pressure. The manager’s role might be protect their teams from unhealthy pressure, to recognise when the balance is out and to help get it back rather than to seek to apply and control it as though it were water through a dam.
We need tidying phases, to process expenses, deal with admin, manage diaries. It is not unusual for this sort of activity to be delegated and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe though doing it yourself forces you to slow down and reflect. A day a month put aside for tidying could be a light touch way to ameliorate stress.
We encourage people to review their work weekly, to take time out to plan what they are doing over the week ahead, that’s a kind of tidying. We know well the benefits it brings: clarity, control, focus.
I like the idea that projects might benefit from a deliberate tidying stage, a consolidation of the information, a final record collated before being archived, a road map for others to follow, a dissemination of lessons learned. A quietus.
Matt Locke described how starting The Story exposed him to a whole new network. Now he works for himself doing more of what interests him and that network is generating twice the number of opportunities his older, longer established work based network is.
I like the idea of finding ways to build a network (if that is what it is) around your areas of interest. Perhaps it is not strictly a network, more a community. If it is interest focused, has something to coalesce around, it should be fertile and if you can be a focal point for that, it seems reasonable that it should be more fertile than say LinkedIn. Perhaps it something to do with the physical contact an event such as The Story offers, opportunities to connect in the real world to share stories and ideas face to face. There is common ground, a reason to champion an idea.
So where are the really valuable networks. I don’t mean the ones that lead to work necessarily, but the ones that engage you in other areas of your life. How do we find them, build them, nurture and manage them to find fulfilment? I don’t think that it’s complicated, but perhaps we undervalue them and fail to put ourselves forward and so form a barrier to what really engages us.
Paul Levy suggested that those people who do the least interesting, most repetitive jobs should be paid more, much more, than those doing creative work that interests them. Perhaps a new economy would see creative thinkers housed and fed with access to wonderful working environments, but without pay. Most people who love their work would do it if their salary was halved. It gives them fulfilment. Meanwhile others do uninteresting jobs and must sacrifice their time and skills to be able to pursue interests in the time left to them outside of work. That sacrifice should be rewarded. I wonder how that might play out in a global marketplace where outsourcing might remove a whole class of activity from a country such as Britain.
New models for businesses
A number of people were transitioning from large employers to working for themselves. We explored the dynamics of that. The idea of doing a not job: a job that is not what you used to do. In that reaction might we be abandoning some things that are good? Working alone or in a small team is exhilarating but limiting. What models are there for building a networked business that expands with demand and shrinks with desire that allows you to do big stuff and keep small. Should growth be a consideration, why is it necessary, should it be a goal, what other objectives could be set that might make for a better experience for ourselves? We unpacked a lot, and some of us will be experimenting over the months ahead.
I got quite interested in the idea of a tool or check list for people to work through who were considering a not-job, of breaking ties and trying something new. I might come back to that.
There was a lot more besides. Curtis and I will run another soon, maybe one a quarter. We’ll tweak the format, invite new people, maybe invite clients to part of it, maybe do it over two days, maybe make it bigger. Perhaps this will become a network/community thing that takes on a life of its own complementing and extending what we and others who share our interests can do. We’ll see.
(If you’d like to come to the next one, get in touch.)