Brake or Break? A new pace for business in the new year
Even if you’re not a huge fan of Formula One racing, it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill and excitement of watching the skilful Lewis Hamilton, now heading the list of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. Yet, any of one of these F1 heroes will tell you that it is not difficult to simply drive fast. The real skill is in the timing of using the brake—knowing precisely when to slow down and when to accelerate.
In business, we have certainly mastered the accelerator pedal. Indeed, we’ve had a proverbial foot planted firmly on it for the past few decades. It’s not that we’re less skillful with the brake—I believe we’ve forgotten it even exists.
Having worked in large global businesses for more than 25 years, I recall days packed with conference calls, meetings and plenty of travel. The nine to five had become more of a five to nine for many people. Working through lunch or responding to e-mail at the weekends was seen as evidence of commitment and loyalty—actions to be admired or copied.
As many regular Bullogers will remember, by forgetting to apply the brake, I found myself having a breakdown and spent almost a week in a Glasgow psychiatric hospital just over 6 years ago. To my surprise at the time, I wasn’t the only business professional in residence. That episode was the catalyst for writing my book which seeks to shift the debate from a singular focus on the mental health of individuals, to looking at the mental health of the system in which we are operating. Breakdown, burnout and disengagement are perfectly normal human responses to a corporate system whose pace and expectation has escalated, as a result of digital technologies, so that it is now unsustainable.
For a while, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to offer one ray of comfort in its bleak onslaught on our economies and societies—an opportunity to step off the hamster wheel and slow down. No longer would we be judged by the number of hours spent conspicuously at our desks under the watchful eye of our bosses and peers. Instead, our contribution would be calculated solely on the outputs and results we achieved.
During the first lockdown, I recall the feeling of having the luxury of time—no international travel, social restrictions and the absence of the daily commute meant I suddenly felt free to think and be in a way that I could barely remember. Unfortunately, for many, these time savings did not translate into more downtime or the opportunity for more breaks. They were used to add even more hours to the working day. LinkedIn noted in May 2020 that the working day had increased by 15 percent, with people beginning their day 45 minutes earlier and ending their working day 40 minutes later than usual. It’s a fast track to more burn out.
The second lockdown offered a second chance for us all. As a “knowledge worker” myself, I can work remotely and have managed to carve out a different cadence to my daily routine. I now include yoga, meditation and a lengthy walk into my day and give myself a deadline for shutting down the computer. Of course, I catch myself drifting back into bad habits, but so far the legacy of the second lockdown is more beneficial than the first.
I believe we need to fundamentally rethink what we do as business professionals and why we do it. It’s why I set up a business “decelerator” on The Isle of Bute where I grew up. It’s a direct and deliberate challenge to our current corporate culture which appears obsessed with a “bigger-must-be-better” mindset. If businesses are going to be a force for good in the world, then we need to create the headspace for people to help them do so. A collective new year resolution could be for us to be quicker at slowing down. After all, a gentle press on the brake pedal might give us a chance to break the system rather than ourselves.
(N.B. The above section will appear as an Op-ed in The Scotsman on Saturday 9th January)
Ready for a Reset?
I don’t think that there are many of us who will be too sorry to see the back of 2020. It was something of a write-off year, although as I’ve often said and alluded to above, there are many upsides that we do need to keep reminding ourselves of. As for the planet, I’m sure it’s been absolutely delighted by the lack of air travel we’ve seen over the past 9 months. I’d imagine that Gretta Thunberg, who turned 18 just last week, couldn’t have asked for better Birthday present than a 7% year on year reduction in carbon versus 2019. Happy Birthday Gretta!
As we begin the new year there has surely never been a better time for a reset – an opportunity to rethink the pace and purpose of what we’ve been doing. It looks like in the UK and beyond there is not likely to be an immediate return to our offices or “normality” any time soon and so we might want to start off the new year as we mean to go on. Right?
#RESET2021 is the Craigberoch Business Decelerator’s attempt to offer an opportunity to press the reboot button – a collective <Ctrl>+<Alt>+<Del> for our online lives. We will be having sessions that involve many of our existing Craigberoch Cast and also a few new faces having their debuts which is going to be exciting. The event is completely FREE and open to all and you can join Session 1 in the morning from 10am GMT or Session 2 in the afternoon from 4pm GMT – or you’d be welcome to join both!
We hope there will be something for just about everyone – especially the workaholics amongst you (or should say amongst us), irrespective of the timezone you are in across the world. Click this link and provide your name and email address which take about 20 seconds. What have you got to lose?
I was invited to give two online talks during the month of December: The first was to the International School in Geneva which (thankfully) does all its lessons in English as my French is still not as good as it should be. This had been planned almost a year ago and was originally intended to be in person. However unsurprisingly, although the school has remained open, they’re not allowing any external guests on campus. I don’t often speak to an audience of 16-18 year old’s and had to tailor my messages accordingly. However, I remain firmly of the belief that a career in business in the coming decades will offer the best opportunity for students who aspire to change the world for the better.
I echoed this same theme in a talk to Georgetown University Business School in Washington DC, whose students are perhaps closer to entering the business world. My mantra continues to be that in order to change the world through business, we must first change the business world. Sure, it’s a work in progress and there’s a lot that needs to be done.
Best of the rest……
Christmas came early this year in the form of being granted Planning Permission for the Craigberoch Farm renovation on Bute. Hoorah, hoorah. I mean, most years I tend to get given a pair of socks! You can therefore imagine that even a bundle of bureaucratic paper and planning policy statements came as something of a thrill. To say that the process had not been quick would be an understatement – it has taken well over a year, has involved community consultations, a few back and forths on a variety of different questions and a whopping price tag of almost £9,000! Ouch.
However, it’s a huge boost to the programme and I’m very keen to build on the momentum in 2021 and more importantly, start building on the site before the end of this summer. If you happen to know any High Net Worth (don’t you hate that expression?) individuals with some spare millions then do point them in my direction.
On the personal front…….
I’m writing this as I return from what will be probably go down as my quietest Christmas and New Year ever – by a factor of 10. I have to say that it was also probably the most relaxing Christmas holiday ever, again by an order of magnitude. I spent almost three full weeks on the Isle of Bute visiting my mother (aka “Wee Marj”) and given it’s probably my favourite place on earth, I can’t really complain. I had hoped to also see my sister, Loobs, and her family for the first time in months but that was kiboshed at a few days’ notice as we were encouraged not to travel across the country.
The weather was cold but we had many crisp blue-sky days when the views were simply breathtaking. Speaking of breathtaking, I actually swam in the sea on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day along with over a dozen locals all socially distanced of course (although I doubt even Covid-19 would survive for long in the freezing cold Scottish water). Open sea swimming was offered to the participants of our inaugural Decelerator Lab back in November 2019 and it seems to have caught on, together with many other benefits according to participants.
OK, that’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up here. Until next month,
* The Bullog = Bulloch + Blog
Make sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.